The chances that you are dating or married to a psychopath are not as far-fetched as you may imagine. About one out of every 100 people is a psychopath, and they tend to be extremely charming and charismatic. Therefore they are often highly successful in mainstream occupations and popular in society. Researchers have found that many respected professions and positions of power – like those listed below – appear to be extremely attractive to psychopaths.
- TV or radio personality
- Police office
- Clergy member
- Civil servant
By some estimates, as many as one in five CEOs are psychopaths. 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. Research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has found evidence that the dysfunctional behavior associated with psychopathy may result in their inability to distinguish factual reality from their own illusions of self-created alternative reality. In some cases, they will only show their true self when they are alone with their prey, making it difficult for outsiders to believe their victims.
They Don’t Necessarily Fit the Movie Stereotype
Although they are often portrayed in movies and the media as easily identifiable monsters, the majority of people who exhibit psychopathic traits do so in more subtle ways that are not so easy to detect. But they will not hesitate to exploit others to get what they want. For example, psychopaths are more likely to be released or paroled from prison than non-psychopaths. That’s because they can be very persuasive and convincingly appear innocent or reformed, regardless of the scope of their crimes. However, data shows that they are likely to commit another crime within a year of release from prison.
Despite their charms, they are incapable of remorse, impulse control, or empathy. Psychopathy is a condition often characterized by callous, unfeeling detachment, and a tendency to be highly manipulative. Psychopaths are deceitful, seductive, and delusional narcissists who are extremely status conscious with a strong tendency to “kiss up and kick down.”
Clinical Definitions of Psychopathology
Psychopathy is not recognized in the current Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV-TR), which is the handbook used by mental health professionals to diagnose disorders. That’s because it is not easy to pin down as a single pathology. Instead, it is regarded as a cluster of pathologies. Since psychopathy is not an official mental health condition, the condition experts usually diagnose it with is Antisocial Personality Disorder (ASPD). A diagnosis of ASPD can only be made if the person is 18 years or older and at least 3 of the following behaviors apply:
- repeatedly breaking the law
- repeatedly being deceitful
- being impulsive or incapable of planning ahead
- being irritable and aggressive
- having a reckless disregard for their safety or the safety of others
- being consistently irresponsible
- lack of remorse
The Psychopathic Personality Traits Scale is a self-reported 20-item measure designed to assess psychopathic traits.
The PPTS consists of four subscales:
- The affective responsiveness subscale assesses a lack of empathy and emotional shallowness.
- The cognitive responsiveness subscale refers to the ability to understand others’ emotional states, mentally represent another person’s emotional processes, and engage with others emotionally at a cognitive level.
- The interpersonal manipulation subscale is used to measure characteristics such as superficial charm, grandiosity, and deceitfulness.
- The egocentricity subscale measures an individual’s tendency to focus on one’s own interests, beliefs, and attitudes.
Does Your Partner Exhibit These Characteristics?
Other common signs that may indicate psychopathology include:
- tendency to lie often
- recurring problems with the law
- manipulating and hurting others
- inability to distinguish between right and wrong
- general disregard toward safety and responsibility
- expressing anger and arrogance on a regular basis
- disregarding or violating the rights of others
- difficulty with showing remorse or empathy
- behavior that conflicts with social norms
Additional red flags include a tendency to be easily angered and to engage in behavior that’s reckless, overly aggressive, impulsive, or may lead to harmful consequences. They may also be abusive in ways that are not necessarily violent.
18 Signs That Your Spouse May Be a Psychopath
The psychopathy checklist is a tool that was developed by forensic psychologist Robert Hare. Long used for identifying psychopaths, it consists of a list of traits that are scored from zero to two (zero indicating no existence of the trait, one showing some evidence, and two with high evidence). A score of over 30 indicates psychopathy. Although the original model dates back to the 1970s, forensic psychiatrists and psychologists still use an updated version.
The detailed checklist below 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.
- 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.
Do These Traits Mean They Are Psychopathic?
The term psychopath, however, should not be used lightly. A spouse who cheats, lies, or abuses their spouse is not necessarily a psychopath. That determination would have to be made by a certified professional such as a psychiatrist. It’s worth noting that if your partner is a woman, it’s less likely, since statistics have consistently shown that there are many more male than female psychopaths. But there are exceptions, such as serial killers Aileen Wuornos and Griselda Blanco.
What Should You Do if You Think Your Spouse Is a 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 they 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.