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Co-parenting with a narcissist: Is it even possible?

You might not know the definition of a narcissist. But you probably can say with some assuredness, "I know one when I see one." Psychologists know the hallmarks of what's called Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). In the simplest terms, those with NPD "exhibit a lack of ability to empathize with others and inflated sense of self-importance."

In the context of family, NPD can be a major destructive force to a couple's marriage and to any children of the union. Those with deep experience in family law know divorces involving individuals displaying NPD tend to include a lot of conflict and the struggles aren't likely to go away once the divorce is final. Shy of evidence the NPD is translating into abuse or neglect, child custody will probably be framed by a co-parenting plan that requires interaction with the ex-spouse - like it or not. 

How to cope

Psychologists know that one tool narcissists use is emotional button pushing. If your ex is good at raising your hackles, he or she probably will keep doing it for attention and to feel they're in control. So here are thoughts some experts recommend to mitigate conflict.

  • Have clear boundaries over communication: You can't avoid your parenting partner. You can restrict means of access. Limit communication to emails to give yourself time before responding.
  • Consider seeking a parent coordinator through court: Whether this service is available depends on the jurisdiction. The appointment of a coordinator means scheduling and communication is done through that person, rather than parent to parent.
  • Keep your children out of the middle: A narcissist, faced with strict communication boundaries, may try to use the child as an alternate channel. Don't allow it. This advice also works in the opposite direction.
  • Make the custody terms as clear as possible: The more detail you put into the custody agreement, the easier it is to draw upon it when conflicts erupt.
  • Seek counseling for your child: You might be getting help because of the trauma, but don't forget that children pick up on nearly everything around them. Your conflict can rub off on the children and there's no reason they should suffer.

You can't control the actions of a narcissistic parent, but you can control how you respond to them and take steps to limit the effects on your children. An attorney committed to understanding what you're going through can help. 

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