Mark was the most amazing man KellyAnne had ever met—charming, articulate, seemed to sense her needs before she did, romantic to a fault, a passionate lover—with him she felt things she had never felt before, and at every level. On the dating site where they met, Mark described himself as devoted, loyal, honest, interested in the arts and culture, a diehard romantic, and financially stable. He talked about his exploits as a traveler having climbed various peaks and visited numerous countries. To KellyAnne, he was the embodiment of everything she had fantasized about since she was in her twenties.
Initially there were no red flags
After six months of dating, Mark moved in at her urging and the relationship intensified as he continued to be attentive, considerate, romantic and affectionate. He traveled for work so was gone a few days every week. When he was away on work assignments, she felt a bit empty, mildly lonely, and she yearned for him: after all, he was an endless source of interesting conversation, laughter, wit and worldly knowledge. Because she saw him only a few days a week, each day he was home was an endorphin rush. One month after moving in, he suggested they combine their finances. Although he made much made less than her, she considered this immaterial and readily agreed. Four months after moving in, he asked her to marry him. She was elated and immediately said yes—she had found her soulmate, someone who got her, got her humor, her ideas, her love of nature, the arts and cultural events. She believed and told her friends that he “looks into my soul,” and her friends supported her after meeting him. There appeared to be no red flags: her friends saw what she saw.
He became aloof, irritable and defensive
A few months after the wedding, however, slowly but steadily, she found her reality changing. A distinct coldness and distance had set in with Mark and she began to sense that he was aloof, irritable, and defensive. She saw him becoming increasingly and deliberately manipulative to the point that she found herself questioning her perceptions, and memory of events and feelings. She felt as if she was frequently forced to question her instincts, ones she had relied on throughout her life, making her no longer trust her judgment, logic, reasoning and senses.
She described incidents where he would drink to intoxication (something he had never done prior to marriage) and would go into a rage, slamming kitchen cabinets and destroying her potted plants in the home. He would then blame her, telling her it was her fault he was angry. If she only learned to treat him better, to listen to him, do as he asked, things would be better, he would adamantly pronounce. The triggers were unpredictable, as were his moods, and often she would not know who would be walking in the door at the end of the day—the loving affectionate man she met over a year ago, or the angry, argumentative and hostile man who now lived with her. She often dreaded the evenings he would be home, primarily because of the “silent treatment” that she would have to weather for days if there had been an argument the day before.
He attributed their conflicts to her “mental illness”
If she asked for affection, he would reject her and then tell her she was too needy and clingy. Their arguments and disagreements were, according to Mark, due exclusively to her irrationality, mental illness, “craziness” and misperceptions, and his behavior was designed to protect himself because she was not in her right mind and he needed to keep her in reality. As the relationship deteriorated, she began to question her reality and even her sanity.
One of Mark’s most distressing strategies was to use a countering approach, where he would heatedly insist that KellyAnne was not remembering events correctly when in reality her memory was entirely accurate. Another common tactic would consist of Mark blocking or diverting the subject matter of a conversation by questioning the validity of her thoughts and feelings, redirecting the conversation to the supposed lack of validity of her experience as opposed to addressing the issue at hand.
He raised his
voice and cursed her
In other situations, she described him as pretending to forget things that occurred, or breaking promises he had made to her and then denying that he had ever made such promises. If she questioned or was on point in a discussion, he would become belligerent, raise his voice, call her names (e.g., retard, idiot, crazy, delusional, mentally ill) and curse at her. Sometimes he would flip the conversation, turning it against her so that the real issue was obscured and whatever was the source of the argument was her fault.
In session she described feeling overwhelmed by his moods, engulfed by the size of his ego and controlling behaviors, manipulated into questioning her reality and judgment, and losing her sense of self.
She described a relationship with two sets of rules:
one set for him and one for her. He would go out on weekends (often without telling her)
she needed permission to go to dinner with her best friend.
He would look through her text messages and question her if there was text from a male; however, his phone was password protected and always with him. Her feelings were dismissed, discounted as if they were irrelevant; she felt as if she did not matter and felt devalued because she was continually being accused of being delusional, needy and unreasonable. From a financial perspective, he had stopped putting money into their joint account and in fact was irresponsibly spending money needed to pay off credit card debt, bills and rent. If questioned on finances he would angrily deflect the conversation to how she did not keep the apartment clean, needed to make more money, or how she had bought “expensive” jewelry last month. As his anger intensified, he would drink more, and he would blame her for “stirring the pot” and trying to start a fight by asking questions about finances. He blamed her for his drinking, stating that he drank to self-medicate because she drove him “crazy” with her incessant neediness and need to be right.
KellyAnne also described being “gaslighted” by Mark.
It had become a malicious game of mind control, intimidation and bullying. She was a pawn on his chessboard, as she described it, and was constantly “walking on eggshells”. She no longer felt loved, important, cared for or safe, and the man who took over her life as a knight-errant had devolved into a hostile, domineering, parasitic cad.
Sociopaths are hard to detect and many can maintain the early charms, affection, attention and passion for months.
They hide in the most vulnerable, blind spot of our emotional and rational mind, taking advantage of this emotional vision loss and awareness in unpredictable ways. They hide between the walls of our mind and heart, in undetectable and subtle ways, slowly, and at times methodically, creating partitions within ourselves.
A relationship with a sociopath may be one of the most disturbing, traumatic and reality challenging experiences many partners will have. The superficial charm, intelligence, self-assuredness and daring of the sociopath are, in the early days of getting to know them, sources of exhilaration and anticipation for their partners. This layer of their persona masks the underbelly. By keeping the surface level activity in adrenaline charged motion, they disguise a deeper absence of genuine honesty, conscience, sincerity, and remorse.
Red flags to look for if you think you may be in a relationship with a Sociopath:
- Sociopaths are masters of deception, influence and manipulation. Stories rarely have a factual basis, and who they proclaim to be rarely checks out—but they are highly skilled at creating a believable storyline, even when forced to do so on the spot.
- Following an argument, a sociopath will rarely give a contrite apology or show remorse. Instead, the responsibility for repairing the relationship will be on you. Your repair efforts will often be rebuffed or used against you as a sign that they are right.
- Most sociopaths believe their own fabrications, and will go to great lengths to prove their point, even if it is groundless. Their need to prove that their lies are the truth will come at the price of your reality and psychological health. Essentially, over time, like Novacaine whose anesthetic effects slowly numb your reality, their outlandish claims and assertions will have you questioning your sanity.
- They frequently use anger to control the conversation.
- They are skilled at deflection. An argument or discussion regarding a destructive behavior on their part can result in a quick distraction using any number of logical fallacies, such as:
- Appeal to the stone: discounting your argument as illogical or even absurd simply because they say it is.
- Appeal to ignorance: any claim they make must be true because it cannot be proven as false, and any claim they state is false must be false because there is no proof that it is true.
- Appeal to common sense: if they can’t see your point as true or realistic, then it must be false.
- Argument with repetition: if an argument from the past resurfaces, they will claim it no longer matters because it’s an old issue and has been beaten to death. An old argument, because it’s old, and even if it hasn’t been resolved, is unimportant now because it’s in the past. However, if they raise an issue from the past, it automatically is relevant without question.
- Argument from silence: any absence of evidence to support your claim or position means it’s baseless. If you do provide evidence, it often means that the “goalpost” of the argument has to be moved by them in order to maintain control.
- Ad hominem argument: your argument, even if based in reality and demonstrably true, is nonetheless invalid because you are crazy, irrational, too emotional, etc.
- Ergo decedo: because you associate with someone he dislikes or hold ideas he rejects (e.g., you’re a republican or democrat, you belong to a certain group or religion), your argument is baseless and therefore does not merit real discussion.
- Shifting the burden: You are required to prove all claims or assertions, but they are not. Further, even if you do prove the validity of your claim, it will be discounted through the use of another logical fallacy.
Being “love-bombed” is a phrase often used by women who become involved with sociopaths, at least in the early days. This term highlights the superficial charm, charisma and passion that so frequently overwhelms their typical sense of caution. However, the real person underlying the charismatic exterior is one with a lack of conscience, shame/guilt or remorse, and limited genuine emotion. The life of a sociopath is a well-crafted and strenuously defended lie, their compelling stories are but fabrications, and you end up as a pawn on the chessboard of their life.
Sadly, for most sociopaths, therapy is not an option—self insight, self-honesty and self-responsibility, critical qualities for a successful therapeutic experience, are simply not part of the sociopath’s repertoire.
Couples therapy may result in a few behavioral changes, but these tend to be short-lived and disingenuous—lasting only long enough to “get the heat off”. This is not to say that there is absolutely no hope for change in a sociopath; some will, at times, make changes that reduce the strain on their relationships. But it is the rare sociopath who can sustain such changes over a period of months or years.
Want to have a happier, healthier marriage?
If you feel disconnected or frustrated about the state of your marriage but want to avoid separation and/or divorce, the marriage.com course meant for married couples is an excellent resource to help you overcome the most challenging aspects of being married.
More by David Saenz