Wail Sarieh

How Do Different Personalities Handle Divorce


If you are divorcing, you may need to know: Is your spouse bipolar? A narcissist? A gatekeeper? Maybe even a sociopath?

If so, what can that mean for your divorce? How do different personality types tend to handle the divorce process and the aftermath of divorce? You’re about to find out.

Individuals with high-conflict personalities – like narcissists and gatekeepers – seek out drama, and nothing offers the opportunity for playing out dramatic impulses quite like a divorce.

Below is a brief discussion of several personality types and how those types tend to handle divorce. You may learn something to help you cope more effectively with the person you’re divorcing.


The conventional wisdom is that narcissists are in love with themselves. What might be more accurate to say is that they are perfectionists, and they desperately want others to know it.

A list of perfect achievements and the approval of others substitutes for a lack of self-esteem.

A narcissist is insulted when treated like a regular person, but down deep, narcissists believe their value is based only on their achievements and attributes – which they incessantly talk about.

It won’t matter who initiates a divorce. Narcissists can’t abide imperfections, so an ex is likely to get all of the blame for the divorce and for any problem with the children.

Narcissists can be a little self-righteous about their perfectionism, so they can’t be expected to get over a divorce anytime soon, or even to put the children first.

What’s most important to the narcissist is being right – and letting everyone know it.

If your ex is narcissistic, you may have to accept it, because narcissists have no interest in genuine self-improvement.

The way to deal with a narcissistic ex-spouse is to keep control of your own emotions, don’t take anything personally – remember, it’s an opportunity for drama – and keep conversations as brief as possible.


Individuals who have borderline personalities may too easily feel overlooked or ignored. They may have lost a parent, been abandoned by a parent, or be a victim of child abuse.

Their emotional behavior can be their response to a deep sense of being abandoned or ignored.

As you might imagine, while borderline personalities fear abandonment, they fear healthy relationships too – and for the same reason – the fear that they might be abandoned.

Fear, jealousy, and an unwarranted suspicion that he or she is being betrayed – these are the standard expressions of a borderline personality.

Even after a divorce, a borderline personality may desperately try to hang on to his or her ex with unexpected visits and phone calls, long emails, and extravagant gifts.

Don’t expect a borderline personality to get over it anytime soon or to consider the children’s best interests, either.

But unlike the narcissist, whose self-image is hurt by divorce, the borderline personality believes deep down that divorce is the equivalent of abandonment and threatens his or her existence.

For the most part, use the same approach with a borderline personality that you use with a narcissist. Stick to the facts, keep your own emotions under control, and keep it brief.


“Gatekeepers” are parents who – often very manipulatively – obstruct the relationship the other parent has with a child by attempting to restrict their communications and time together.

Gatekeeping can be hostile and vindictive. It hurts the other parent and it hurts the child.

Gatekeeping behavior might include:

1. undercutting the other parent’s authority
2. disparaging the other parent in the child’s presence
3. creating unrealistic expectations in the child for the other parent

It will be difficult, but try not to take the personal affronts and attacks personally.

And again, you want to use basically the same approach with all high-conflict personality types. Stick to the facts. Stay in control. Don’t let an opportunity arise for drama.


A helicopter parent “hovers.” It’s a parent who has an overprotective, unhealthy, obsessive concern with the details of their children’s lives.

Anxiety is the chief characteristic of the helicopter parent. Their parents may have expected perfection, or they may have lost a parent, and deep down, they anticipate losing more people they love.

Helicopter parents may not be dangerous, but they can be controlling and stubborn, and they can stifle a child in ways that may be unhealthy.

They can also aggravate you and try your patience – severely. A helicopter parent’s need to control can work to undercut the other parent’s authority.

Don’t let yourself be aggravated. The way to deal with a helicopter parent is to express confidence, assurance, and positivity.


You can’t do anything about bipolar disorder. It’s a mental illness that must be treated with medication and counseling.

But it’s often difficult to get someone with bipolar disorder to admit he or she needs help, and even when prescribed medication, someone with bipolar disorder may not take it.

Bipolar disorder is frequently characterized by impulsiveness, inexplicable mood swings, hyper-sexuality, anger, grandiosity, substance abuse, and compulsive behavior.

The only thing that can help is treatment. If your ex is bipolar and refuses to seek treatment, you may just have to accept the condition as permanent – and handle it as best you can.


When we say that a sociopath is anti-social, it’s not meant in the sense of someone who is withdrawn and introverted. It’s more accurate to say that a sociopath is “anti-society.”

A sociopath refuses to abide by laws, rules, and appropriate behavior – unless he or she is forced to. But sociopaths are also sometimes charismatic, engaging, and successful people.

Anything’s possible when you divorce a sociopath. You may have to deal with intimidation, deception, and outright lies. Drugs and alcohol are often the fuel for sociopathic behavior.

Sociopaths may be unreasonable. They may disregard court orders. A sociopath will even manipulate your children and try to use them against you. Violence is a possibility.

Knowing what a sociopath is capable of is the best defense.

Everyone’s different and no one’s perfect. But if your ex is cooperative and easy to work with, you’re lucky.

Divorce is never easy, but it’s always more difficult when the person you’re divorcing is a high-conflict personality type.


In southern California, an experienced Orange County divorce attorney can provide the advice and representation you need in a divorce.

After a divorce, you may still need legal help to deal with an ex who is a high-conflict personality type. If you and your ex are parents, more legal disputes may be inevitable.

An experienced Orange County divorce attorney will be there for you – no matter how difficult your ex is or how much conflict he or she generates.

Wail Sarieh
By Wail Sarieh