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9 Signs You Might Be Married To A Psychopath, According To Experts
by Meg Kehoe
Originally Published: 

When entering into a marriage, nobody thinks they're marrying a psychopath. If you've been with someone for long period of time, you think you know their best and worst qualities. But sometimes you end up marrying someone and their worst qualities don't come through until after the "I do." If you have suspicions about your partner's behavior, there are some signs you're married to a psychopath that you might not have recognized at the beginning of your relationship, but can be on the lookout for going forward.

Unlike a lot of other mood and behavioral disorders, psychopathy isn’t something that a person can be clinically diagnosed with. “The closest formal diagnoses to psychopathy are probably antisocial personality disorder and narcissistic personality disorder,” psychologist Peter Langman, Ph.D., tells Romper. “Some psychopaths are chronically belligerent and abrasive, creating conflict wherever they go; others are charming, charismatic, and deceptive. They can be very likable and attractive at first.” Whether they show some of their true colors from the start or they initially sweep you off your feet, “the more time spent with them, the more likely that their narcissism, lack of empathy, and disregard for moral behavior will be evident.”

Still, someone who is labeled psychopathic likely demonstrates some signature behaviors. What sets psychopaths apart is their narcissism and use of manipulation. In an email to Romper, psychologist Timothy J. Legg, Ph.D., Psy.D., explains that “deceit and manipulation are the central features of [psychopathy]” and “individuals with this disorder are often excellent at explaining why the problems they experience have been caused by others.” These behaviors in and of themselves are problematic in a marriage, but that’s not even where the list of signs ends.

It’s important to understand that “psychopathy exists on a spectrum,” says Langman, meaning there are varying degrees of intensity a psychopath may display in their behavior. Still, even mild behaviors should be taken very seriously, because “this is a notoriously difficult condition to treat.”

“Safety is always your main concern” if you’re married to a psychopath, says Legg, so seek professional help on your end before trying to address the topic with your partner. All of that being said, here are some behaviors that could be red flags.


They Had Early Behavioral Problems

A record of bullying and altogether bad childhood behavior are early warning signs of psychopathic behavior, author Jon Ronson wrote for HuffPost. "Psychopaths are very good at hiding their psychopathy beneath a veneer of normalcy," Ronson explained, which is why early childhood behavior can be such an important indicator. You don’t necessarily need to know much about what they were like as toddlers or very young kids, however. “Psychopathy often begins in childhood or early adolescence and tends to last into adulthood,” says Legg, so if the problematic behavior didn’t start until middle school, don’t brush it off.


They Never Take Responsibility

If your spouse refuses to take the blame for anything in your relationship or lives, they repeatedly attempt to wiggle out of blame with deception or jokes, or they blame your emotional sensitivity for whatever happened, you could be dealing with a psychopath. “[Psychopaths] not only have an inflated sense of themselves, but see themselves as being above the rules,” says Langman, “They lack empathy for other people and thus feel no guilt or remorse when they cause others to suffer.” This could be particularly easy to spot when they’re caught in a lie. “[Psychopaths] repetitively lie and attempt to manipulate,” says Legg. “In fact, these are the most outstanding characteristics of those with this disorder. When the person with this disorder is caught in a lie, the individual may deny having lied even when you present them with evidence to the contrary.”


They Engage In Promiscuous Sexual Activity

As Reader's Digest reported, a University of London study showed that psychopaths were associated more with promiscuity and not commitment. For psychopaths, sex is not about the other person involved, but about themselves, and their ego. The consensus among neurologists, Ronson wrote, is that psychopaths lack the proper functions in the part of the brain that produces the signals of remorse, fear, and distress. This in turn lets them behave in atrocious ways without feeling guilt or worry about it.


They Are Impulsive

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Psychopaths “can also be quite impulsive and demonstrate a reckless disregard for the safety of themselves or others,” Legg explains. This impulsivity is a major safety risk, as it can lead to violent behavior. “Just because they weren’t violent in the past does not mean that they may not become violent in the future,” he says, “If the person has a history of irritability and aggressive behaviors (have been involved in physical fights, assaults, altercations, etc.), and if they have a lack of remorse for having hurt somebody in the past, then this would be the individual I would be much more concerned about.”


They Have A Grandiose Sense Of Self Worth

“The fundamental aspect of psychopathy is severe narcissism,” says Langman, which is why the condition is difficult to treat: “Most psychopaths don't seek treatment and don't see anything wrong with them; they like who they are and feel no need to change.” Psychopaths think they're better than everyone else around them, they tend to highlight their own accomplishments, stories, and assets, constantly. They might take control of every conversation and shift it back to them or be obsessed with their looks or possessions.


They Are Chronically Bored

In an interview with Reader's Digest, psychologist Randall Salekin said that psychopaths are hardwired to be more under-aroused than other people. "A psychopath’s nervous system is wired so they need to keep doing exciting things to feel normal and reach normal levels of arousal," he said. Salekin added that this means that psychopaths are the most likely to initiate fun-oriented activities for you to do, in an attempt to cure their ever-present boredom.


Their Psychopathic Behavior Is A Pattern

Dr. Robert Schug, a neurocriminologist and clinical psychologist specializing in the biology and psychology of the criminal mind, told Reader's Digest that while it's everyone can get swept up in occasional moments of road rage, or extreme fantasy, this behavior is a pattern for psychopaths. “[With a psychopath], these are things happening over and over again,” Schug said. These patterns can manifest in a variety of ways, according to Legg: “If you find that they are deceitful and constantly lying to you, or are irritable or aggressive, or demonstrate considerable irresponsibility (constantly losing jobs, or always in trouble with their boss), then these may represent signs that there may be other issues at work.” A one-off isn't enough to categorize your spouse as a psychopath, but if you find yourself facing the same irrational and negative behavior over and over again, you may want to consider digging deeper into your spouse's behavior with a medical professional.


They Have Questionable Morals

Deceit and manipulation are high on the common traits for a psychopath to have, which point to questionable morals. Psychopaths “may lie, use aliases, and con others for the purpose of personal profit or just for the fun of it,” says Legg, and also “often engage in behaviors that can (and often do) result in arrest.” Even manipulation alone seems to be a motivating factor. “I have also seen people with this disorder who, when it becomes clear that they are not succeeding in their manipulation of the other person, may just basically ‘shrug’ their shoulders and move on and seek out a new target for their manipulative behaviors,” says Legg.


They Lack Basic Social Skills

Maybe the most jarring and easily noticeable part of a psychopath's behavior is their lack of basic social skills. Legg explains they often “lack remorse and, in fact, are indifferent to the way they have hurt or mistreated somebody, whether it is physically, financially, psychologically, etc.,” and “typically demonstrate a blatant disregard for societal norms.” This could be because, he adds, “some studies have suggested that individuals with psychopathy lack the ability to understand emotions.” Regardless of the situation, your partner should not need reminders on how to treat you or other people with the basics of human kindness, fairness, or respect. If your spouse consistently has to be reminded of these things, you should consider looking deeper into your their behavior with a medical professional.


Dr. Timothy J. Legg, Ph.D., Psy.D., and adviser

Peter Langman, Ph.D.

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