Read 'Till Death Do Us Part: Love, Marriage, and the Mind of the Killer Spouse Online

Authors: Robi Ludwig,Matt Birkbeck

Tags: #True Crime, #Murder, #Psychology

'Till Death Do Us Part: Love, Marriage, and the Mind of the Killer Spouse (2 page)

BOOK: 'Till Death Do Us Part: Love, Marriage, and the Mind of the Killer Spouse
11.92Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

“Robi, why would a man drug his own girlfriend?”

“Robi, why would a woman run over her husband with a car?”

Real people want to understand the motivations that drive real people over the edge. Despite our fascination with the extravagance of celebrity lives, viewers may never be able to relate to them, but they can relate to the next-door neighbor whose seemingly stable marriage serves as a cover for violent impulses that explode in murderous assault.

I, for one, was always fascinated by the people who actually crossed over the line and acted on their most severe and devastating impulses and fantasies, in part because I was aware of my own vengeful fantasies when I was angry (without ever acting on them, of course). I was curious about why someone
act on such an impulse as opposed to not act on it. What made such a person different from most people?

My interest in those dark impulses widened, and today, between my television work and private practice, I deal with the very real problems of people who, in many instances, revealed their darker impulses, from engaging in affairs to committing violence. In fact, many of the marital homicide cases I’ve analyzed for Court TV,
Larry King Live, Nancy Grace,
repeated a distinctive pattern. For example, it was not uncommon for these couples to appear to be happy and in love. Very often the cases involved “love at first sight” couples who fell head over heels for each other. Many were high school or college sweethearts and the envy of their friends and relatives. These spouses were often considered a romantic pair, beloved by their in-laws and respected within the community. No one would ever have imagined that death was right around the corner. They seemed to be too perfect and in love for that.

So again, we get back to the questions people ask me so often: How could these seemingly happy, loving couples end up killing the other? Were there any signs? Was it true that some intimate-partner homicides were more predictable than others?

The answers are both simple and complex. In some of these marriages there was clear evidence of domestic violence that had escalated to a predictably lethal degree. In other instances the husband or wife just seemed to snap with no warning, no signs. One day they were both alive, and the next day one spouse was dead, killed by the other.

The research and discussion of these cases over the last few years captivated me as much as the audience, and I developed an expertise in understanding the motivations for this phenomenon. So when my literary agent called to ask if I might be interested in writing about marriage and murder, I was intrigued. It also struck me as ironic that I, a therapist who during the day focuses primarily on the unifying aspects of relationships, was now considering writing a book on deadly ones, the very cases I analyzed on television.

In the end, it made perfect sense. Marital homicides raised some powerful questions that needed to be explored and answered in new ways. After some research, I realized that a book examining this specific issue had much merit. Clearly there is a dark side to all relationships, though this side does not typically result in murder. Why is it, then, that some people kill while others have affairs, get divorced, or engage in more benign behaviors like complaining about their spouse?

Sigmund Freud took a slightly dim view of intimate relationships. He thought it was impossible to have a bond that lasted for any length of time without there being some residue of hostility and dislike. For most people involved in relationships, who initially tend to idealize their partner, these negative feelings become repressed, and the repression helps them feel less angry with their partners.

Culturally, we are taught that the romantic ideal is reality, and the quest for romantic perfection is a powerful drive. In some cases this quest can blind us and leave us vulnerable. When loving couples find one another and decide to unite, there is the hope that each partner will finally be cared for and valued. The last thought people have is that they are marrying a hurtful stranger. But the truth is we all marry people who on some level are unknown to us, and part of what intrigues us about couples who express their violent feelings is that they are more like us than not. But how much like us are they? So much of what has been written about intimate-partner homicide does not fully explain why these people do what they do.

Ultimately there are multiple reasons for these crimes and thus, here we are, exploring the question, could anyone marry his or her killer? Who are these men and women who turn on each other in the most deadly way, and can anyone be a victim or a perpetrator?

I have determined that there are ten specific motivations and triggers behind such murders, and this book will crystallize the profile of individuals who kill their spouses and address these relationships and the fatal moment of the crime, replaying it in slow motion so that the motive, the mind-set, and the red flags of such relationships can be illuminated. You will understand that the reasons cannot, in most cases, be reduced to the simplistic motives of control and greed. No, many of the issues are far more complex.

You may be surprised to find that these spousal killers may not be so different from the intimates in your own life, and that your spouse or intimate partner may exhibit some of the traits evident in those who kill. That’s scary but surely worth knowing and understanding. After all, when loving couples exchange their vows and say “till death do us part,” it’s not supposed to mean “or until I get angry and decide to kill you.”



Why Marry?

is a dynamic and ever changing institution with its share of potentially major problems. Although many couples find it extremely fulfilling, just as many, if not more, find it difficult and heartbreaking.

The stark reality is that the majority of marriages fail. And many marriages are full of violence and abuse, which sometimes escalates to murder. In light of these potential drawbacks, one can raise a very good question: Why marry at all? In fact, why do human beings pair off knowing there’s a greater chance the emotional and financial investment will be for naught? One could ask the question, “What’s the point?”

Marriage emerged some forty-five hundred years ago and evolved into a widespread and accepted institution that bonded families, maintained order, and created wealth. Unlike today, where many of us are searching for our romantic “soul mate,” marriage was originally more about economics than deep emotion. In her book
Marriage: A History,
Professor Stephanie Coontz writes that until recently marriage was considered far too important to be determined by something as irrational as love and was more or less a business venture, an institution that provided for the necessities of day-to-day existence and survival of the species. It was only over the last century that the primary motivation to marry was based on feelings and emotion rather than the ability to provide stability.

* * * * *

, given the stark reality that marriage is prone to failure, are there psychological and biological underpinnings that pull us in this direction, and not only once or twice but over and over and over again?

According to Professor David Buss, an evolutionary psychologist from the University of Texas, we as humans are designed to fall in love. However, we may not be equally as inclined to stay in love. Buss and others believe that it is “natural” for both men and women to become disenchanted with a mate, suddenly finding him/her irritating, unattractive, or totally unreasonable, their flaws revealing their true selves and the mind going into “the grass is greener” mode. For married adults this often leads to adultery.

One look at the numbers and it’s easy to see that many people find their mates unsatisfactory on many levels. According to several studies, a whopping 80 percent of married males and 50 percent of married females have sex with outside partners. It’s also natural for many married individuals to find some other person superior on most counts when compared to the terribly flawed spouse one is saddled with. Although this may sound hopeless in terms of achieving a successful relationship, what is natural is not necessarily unchangeable. On the flip side, long-lasting, happily married couples do feel better about their lives, and they live longer, too.

According to biological logic, men tend to look for women with physical characteristics that indicate they are at the peak of their childbearing years, while women seek security. But some believe the so-called logic of this theory is flawed.

All of us are evolutionary survivors. We had to be made of strong stock in order to survive the environmental challenges thrown our way. While both sexes are certainly vulnerable to infidelity, men are much more inclined to actually acquire additional mates (like a harem) or to engage in a casual fling.

If we look at the DNA of love, genes don’t speak per se, but they do affect our behavior by creating feelings and emotions that build and are maintained, thereby altering our brain chemistry. Anthropologists have discovered what laypeople have known for years—that love between a man and woman is universal. Marriage, like love, is also universal. So marriage, at least from an evolutionary perspective, functions as a social reproductive arrangement that customarily involves the extended family and provides a way to raise a stable and healthy family.

Helen Fisher’s essay “The Nature and Evolution of Romantic Love” concludes that all of these qualities—love, attraction, sexual chemistry—result in raising a family with children and increasing the chances for survival. So, to love a child and develop the appropriate paternal investment requires having certain relationships in place. From the biological perspective, the first step toward becoming loving and devoted parents was for a man and woman to develop a mutual attraction. The genetic payoff of having two parents committed to a child’s welfare seems to be the main reason why men and women fall in love and swoon over one another.

Having two parents rather than one ensures a better chance for the offspring to survive and procreate. Unlike our nearest animal relatives, humans are a species of “high parental investment.” In every known hunter-gatherer society, marriage is the standard—not necessarily monogamous marriage, and not always lasting marriage, but nonetheless a marriage of some sort.

* * * * *

marriages in the past were more practical unions than they are today (when marriage is supposed to be loved-based) people have been selecting mates since the beginning of time. And when we look for a person to spend the rest of our lives with we often imagine an ideal Mr. or Ms. Right. An ideal life partner is someone whose personality, compatibilities, and purposes align with our own. If someone corresponds to our internal image of the “perfect” dream lover, we may “fall in love” with him or her. But the fact is we can easily get turned on by men or women whom we would not and should not consider an appropriate marital partner.

So, if we decide we are going to spend most of our adult lives married to one person, we have probably built up some specific ideas about what kind of man or woman this person should be. The ideal mate for most of us would be someone who turns us on sexually, who would be a great parent, and who we can feel romantic toward. The more discerning person may select someone who he or she can live with even if their romantic feelings are not as intense as they may be with other people.

Even as adults, men and women still want to be taken care of, and many of us balk at the idea of committing ourselves to the often multiple grim realities of responsibility and adulthood. This inability to accept adult responsibility contributes to our romantic fantasies, in which we are completely and effortlessly cared for.

And that takes us back to our childhood.

Some of the most popular love songs could also be describing the mother/infant relationship, i.e., Leanne Rimes, “How Do I Live without You?” or Celine Dion’s “I’m Everything I Am Because You Love Me.” We’re often pulled back to that blissful, chronic state of infantile helplessness. In other words, we hope when we marry, our childhood needs and wishes will be met.

These powerful fantasies and wishes underscore our deep yearning for an intimate connection to another person. This is ultimately who we want and hope we will end up with when we finally fall in love, choose our mate, and get married.

The characteristics of a person’s attachments exist the day a person is born. In every romantic relationship our adult attachment style mimics the way a baby feels toward his or her mother, who is usually the main caregiver. Lovers can also see each other as a child that needs to be taken care of. From the crib to the tomb, this biological behavioral system governs our close relationships. And there is no adult relationship closer or that has more expectations placed on it than the marital relationship.

Freud viewed love from the perspective of the sexual drive and theorized that love and sexuality are rooted in infancy. A person’s first love is his mother. The mother/first-love object provides the infant with not only food and nourishment, but also with a supply of sexual pleasure that he or she will later on seek from his or her adult lover. Freud looks at adult love and sexuality as an extension or rediscovery of motherly love.

According to researchers Arthur Aron and Elaine Aron, authors of
Love and the Expansion of Self: Understanding Attraction and Satisfaction,
love can be viewed as an expansion of the self. We are attached to others because they will help us be everything we can be, which, in addition to familiarity, is a major prediction of attraction. In the beginning of a relationship, similarity draws us to a person, helping us to feel familiar with and in sync with him or her.

Many people in the psychological community believe the unconscious mind plays the most significant role in who we fall in love with. Some profess that we fall in love because the unconscious mind believes it has found the partner who will finally make up for both the emotional and psychological damage we experienced in our youth, thus making us whole again. According to psychologist Dr. Harville Hendrix, from the moment we are born we are complicated and dependent beings who continue to have an ever-changing circuit of needs. Freud noted correctly that humans are “insatiable beings and no parent, no matter how devoted, is able to respond perfectly to all of these changing needs.”

BOOK: 'Till Death Do Us Part: Love, Marriage, and the Mind of the Killer Spouse
11.92Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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