According to The National Domestic Violence Hotline, the average domestic violence victim returns 7 times before leaving for good. It took me four attempts to leave my narcissist before I could make it stick. I loved him and struggled with letting go, and I had also become financially dependent on him.
There’s more to think about than just having enough money to go. These 9 tips consider not only the financial, but some of the practical and emotional issues surrounding a long-term transition away from a narcissist.
1. Be okay with being on the fence
You don’t know what the future will hold and you can be committed to your relationship and also act in your own enlightened best interests. Honor your vows, hope for the best, work with whatever good is there, and seek the help of a professional counselor. But don’t be naive and surrender your financial power to a narcissist. Make a dual commitment to your “futureself” and stay open to however that will manifest. (You can’t predict whether your partner will change his or her behavior, so let go of the idea that looking out for yourself is a betrayal).
2. This is a no-brainer, but…
Do not leverage your independence as an ultimatum. Narcissists thrive on disempowerment of their victims and knowing that you’ve got resources will be threatening.
He may retaliate by hiding assets, denying you access to important papers, and if you are financially dependent on him, put even tighter restrictions on your access to money.
3. Don’t assume the unhappy narcissist wants out
It’s not you he’s vested in, it’s control of what he believes belongs to him.
Your presence may serve your narc’s stellar reputation as a pillar of the community or church but when he loses you, he will see himself as the wronged party no matter what he did. If his manipulations don’t work to get you back, he may publicly exploit his victim status to gain sympathy while trying to financially destroy you in court.
Bottom line, if he is controlling and a financial bully during the relationship, he will be that same guy during a divorce, but with a score to settle. You need to look out for your own interests now.
4. Set up a top-secret email account
Do not access it on a computer you share with a narc. Use this for e-statements for your private bank account and credit card transactions. Use the document storage system attached to the email to create a resource database of useful information you will need later such as contact information for apartments, utility companies, job leads, support groups, and also upload any important documents you might need like your resume, insurance information, medical records and school transcripts.
Don’t assume that you can rely on your resourcefulness to find this information later. You are going to feel like crap on the days leading up to the breakup, more than likely fatigued and in a brain fog. Use your good days now, when your mind is feeling sharp, to upload resources as you find them. You futureself will be grateful.
Get a decent smartphone, (preferably with a separate bill in your own name), and learn how to use it because it can literally serve as a hub for most of your important information and transactions. You can keep it on you, and you can lock it with a secure password or fingerprint.
5. Put aside money the narcissist can’t touch
Financial abuse is a common tactic of narcissistic abuse. If you’re the breadwinner or if assets are shared, your narcissist can strip your joint accounts bare without your knowledge.
There are also those “generous” breadwinners (read: financial bullies) who pay the bills, but deny their spouses access to disposable income and assets on the grounds that “they didn’t earn it”. Either scenario can financially devastate a trusting partner because everyone needs financial autonomy and a decent credit rating. (Don’t think your narcissist isn’t aware of this). Even if leaving is not something you’re planning, if you’re with a financial bully, create a separate account and find creative ways to add to it.
6. Build and protect your credit
Get a checking account in your own name and keep it somewhere other than where your narcissist banks. It’s technically a joint asset if you’re married, (he will be entitled to see yours in discovery too) but these funds will be available to you and can be used for your escape before he knows they exist. Be sure to set up online banking and e-statements to your secret email account so your narcissist won’t see paper statements.
If you don’t have a credit card in your own name, get one. Use it for your normal expenses, and pay most of it off every month. The key is to establish credit but not to amass a burden of heavy debt and interest you can’t pay. Your good credit rating will help you qualify for practical things when you leave like better insurance rates, and waiver of apartment application fees, and get you better deals on credit for major purchases when you get re-established later.
Be sure to keep your your money in a regular checking account or safety deposit box NOT a CD or interest bearing account on which you will receive 1099-INT form. Your narc will see this at tax time and your stash will no longer be secret.
7. Find and copy relevant financial documents
Your narcissist may not want to cooperate with disclosing financial information at the time of a divorce. (Click here www.lawyers.com to see what will be relevant in discovery). Quietly make copies of the information while you have access. This could include bank statements, retirement accounts, insurance policies, investment portfolios, and tax returns. Keep your copies in a safe deposit box or at a friend’s. If you can’t make hard copies, copy them with your smartphone and upload to your database of important documents. While this may feel uncomfortable, advocating for yourself against financial abuse is not unscrupulous and could protect you against stonewalling, stall tactics and narcamnesia later.
8. Increase your income stream
Get job, a better job or a side-hustle. If leaving isn’t eminent, you won’t be feeling a sense of urgency and can use this time to ask for a raise, work toward a promotion, update your resume or develop some new skills to improve your earning power. You will also perform better on job interviews and make better choices if your emotional state is manageable. You will be feeling unpredictable emotions in the months directly before and after leaving so you may feel more secure about leaving after you’re established on your new job.
I learned to leverage the silent treatment to my benefit. Since I wasn’t required to use that time catering to my narc, I used it to network, take on-line classes, made crafts to sell, and sold my unwanted items on eBay. I put away every penny in my escape fund.
Your narcissist may balk at the idea of new income streams for you, so sell him on the benefits to himself, not what’s in it for you. You can garner his support through his self-centeredness. Just be sure you maintain control of the extra income that comes from it.
If you are professionally connected with your narcissist, you should also begin narcproofing your social and professional networks and quietly begin building your own brand and networks independent of him.
My networking helped me find a roommate, a part-time arts side-hustle, a 12-step program, an affordable therapist, and led to innumerable doors opening later on. But for any of this to happen, I had to learn to leave the house for social occasions-without my narc.
9. Get a complete health workup
Pap smear, mammogram, eye exam, dental, therapist, and anything else recommended for your age group. Follow up with any care recommended by your physicians, and get maximum refills of any prescriptions for yourself, your kids and your pets. Keeping up with doctor visits or coping with an illness may be overwhelming for you later.
Whether you’re in the purgatory of “too good to leave/too bad to stay”, or you’ve committed to an exit plan but simply can’t afford to go yet, committing to your futureself will empower you and put you more in control of what happens next.
Having some means to escape and re-establish myself gave me a sense of personal empowerment during the desperate times. I never felt financially secure, but when the abuse escalated to intolerable levels, I had basics: somewhere to go, enough money to get started, and an income stream sufficient for basic necessities.