Most people going through a divorce do not see their spouse in the best light. It’s not uncommon for some people to throw around the word “psychopath” label when referring to their estranged spouses. Your spouse might be incredibly challenging, but are they actually a psychopath?
A psychopath is a person incapable of empathy, remorse, or impulse control. While the media usually portrays psychopaths as ruthless serial killers, the majority of the people who exhibit psychopathic traits do so in more subtle ways. Psychopaths do not hesitate to exploit others to get what they want.
They tend to be extremely charming, while they may be secretly ruining the lives of the very people they are trying to charm. "Functional psychopaths," researcher Kevin Dutton explains, "use their detached, unflinching, and charismatic personalities to succeed in mainstream society."
Psychopaths make up about one percent of the general population. Three to 21 percent of CEOs are estimated to be psychopaths. At least 20 to 30 percent of the prison population is thought to be psychopathic (estimates of this vary greatly, though). Interestingly enough, psychopaths are more likely to be released or paroled from prison than non-psychopaths. A psychopath can convincingly appear innocent or reformed regardless of the scope of their crimes, but a psychopath is likely to commit another crime stemming from their psychopathy within a year of release from prison.
The psychopathy checklist developed by Robert Hare (and updated recently) is considered the gold standard for identifying psychopaths. Each item on the list is rated from zero to two (zero indicating no existence of the trait, one showing some evidence, and two high evidence). A score of over 30 indicates psychopathy. Though the original model dates back to the 1970s, forensic psychiatrists and psychologists use an updated version regularly. Hare, who maintained a psychopathy research lab at the University of British Columbia for many years, has made many interesting discoveries, identifying many professions and positions that commonly attract psychopaths.
If you’re married to a woman, it’s less likely you’re married to a psychopath than if you are married to a man. Statistics have consistently shown that there are more male than female psychopaths, but that doesn’t mean there can’t be female psychopaths (such as Aileen Wuornos).
While some psychopaths are easy to identify, others can maintain a facade of normalcy for many years. Meanwhile, they can slowly ruin their spouse’s life in a myriad of subtle ways. In some cases, they will only show their true self when they are alone with their prey, making it difficult for victims to persuade others that something is amiss.
18 Signs that Your Spouse May Be a Psychopath
No sane person would willingly marry a psychopath. These toxic individuals usually wait until after marriage to reveal themselves.
The term psychopath, however, should not be used lightly. A spouse who cheats, lies, or abuses their spouse is not necessarily a psychopath. This detailed checklist may help you identify some of the most common traits of a psychopathic spouse. Although only a medical professional can diagnose psychopathy, identifying the traits can be helpful, especially if you are going through a complicated divorce.
Look for these traits:
- Early Behavior Problems Most psychopaths had a complicated childhood and/or adolescence. The more severe the childhood abuse or trauma was, the higher the incidence of psychopathy as an adult.
- Juvenile Delinquency Many psychopaths had legal problems as teens in which they exploited others, acted aggressively, antagonized others, and behaved ruthlessly without caring about consequences.
- Shallow Affect A psychopath does not carry any depth of feeling. They normally tend to be very cold and uninterested in others. This true identity is often hidden behind the façade they put up for the world.
- Grandiose Opinion of Self Psychopaths tend to talk about themselves in a grandiose way. If your spouse appears overly focused on their own accomplishments, this could indicate they have psychopathic traits. Grandiosity is often measured using the Grandiose Narcissism Scale.
- Lack of Empathy No matter how many times you explain to your psychopathic spouse how they hurt you, this will not trigger any feelings of remorse. Whatever and whoever they may have destroyed, psychopaths cannot empathize with other people’s feelings.
- Glibness and Charm Psychopaths can fool many people with their outward slickness. Psychopathy serial killer John Wayne Gacy was well-known and respected in his community because he had this trait. Ted Bundy was very known to be very charming.
- Parasitic Lifestyle Psychopaths are often financially dependent on others and have difficulty with self-discipline. They use other people to support themselves and always have an excuse for why they can’t currently be responsible for their own needs.
- Constant Need for Stimulation Psychopaths are often bored and are always seeking excitement. They are willing to take chances to feel that thrill of danger. They also are unable to finish many things because they grow bored easily and cannot manage to complete things.
- Pathological Lying Your psychopathic spouse lies to anyone and everyone. The lies might be big or little. The key is that they do it often and can’t seem to stop. The lies might benefit them or cover up their behavior, or they might be for no reason at all, simply because they can.
- Manipulativeness and Cunning They will exploit anyone if it serves their purposes and will do so ruthlessly. Psychopaths are often con artists and are very deceptive in their dealing with other people. They have no care for the impact of their actions on others and only want to win or come out ahead.
- Lack of Control A psychopath can’t control anger, annoyance, impatience, and other emotions. They don’t think through their actions and let their emotions have full rein. Because of this, they commonly threaten, harass, stalk, or endanger others.
- Lack of Remorse and Guilt Psychopaths are never truly sorry for what they’ve done and simply do not feel guilt. They do not understand the way their behavior makes other people feel. They are cold-hearted and not empathetic. They can also feel disdain for people they have hurt instead of guilt.
- Promiscuity Large numbers of sexual partners are common for psychopaths. If a psychopath is married, they are rarely faithful and have many affairs. The sexual encounters lack any emotional intimacy and may be brief and short-lived. They also are likely to coerce others into sexual relations. They are often proud of their conquests and brag about them.
- Lack of Goals Psychopaths cannot create realistic goals for themselves. They tend to move from job to job, person to person, and place to place because they cannot formulate a plan and execute it themselves. They don’t have the self-discipline to follow through on a plan.
- Impulsivity They act without thinking or planning, often going with whatever emotion they feel or whatever path seems most beneficial to them at the time. They don’t consider consequences or weigh alternatives. They jump in and see where they end up.
- Irresponsibility Psychopaths are not able to follow through on obligations or promises. They may forget to pay bills, ignore plans they made, or fail to honor contracts. When their errors are pointed out, they can’t accept any blame for them and continue to push away any suggestion that they should honor their commitments.
- Inability to Accept Responsibility They will often deny they did anything wrong or that they failed to live up to what is expected of them. Instead, they try to manipulate other people to cover up for this.
- Many Short Marriages A history of short, failed marriages is another trait that raises red flags. This is due to their impulsivity and their inability to honor commitments.
Common Professions for Psychopaths
If your spouse is in one of the professions listed below, they are more likely to be a psychopath. Researchers have found that many respected professions and positions of power appear to be extremely attractive to psychopaths.
- TV or radio personality
- Police office
- Clergy member
- Civil servant
What Should You Do if You Think Your Spouse is Psychopath?
If you think your spouse fits the definition of a psychopath, the first concern is your own safety. If you do not feel safe, you must create a safety plan that will allow you to get to a safe place where your spouse cannot follow you. If domestic violence or threat of violence is a concern, contact a domestic violence shelter.
Do not think that you can cure your spouse. Psychopathy is a personality disorder, not a mental illness. A psychopath’s brain is built differently. There is treatment available to manage psychopathy, but it is not up to you to cure or fix your spouse. You must take care of yourself and any children you have together.
If you believe your spouse is a psychopath, you need an experienced divorce and family attorney who can protect you, present a case that convinces the court of your spouse’s traits, and help you get out of the marriage safely so you can move on to a healthy future.
Still not certain whether you are married to a psychopath? Check out this video describing 10 of the most common traits of a psychopath.