Do I Tell My Daughter She’s Married to a Sociopath or Hope She Discovers That in Therapy?

Reader’s Question

I believe my daughter is married to a sociopath. For a long time I could not figure out why she was doing things that went completely against her core beliefs. A friend suggested I do some research, exploring the possibility that her husband might be a sociopath. I investigated and read several books. Every symptom fit her husband to a tee, and every characteristic of victims of sociopaths fits her.

My daughter is in counseling, but she and her counselor are supposedly working on her “co-dependency” disorder. My question: should I explain to her what a sociopath is or hope that she will eventually discover this on her own? I fear both for her sanity and for her safety, but I do not want to do anything that could cause her harm. He has drained her both emotionally and financially, and she needs to be out of this relationship ASAP. She fails to see him for what he really is because he uses “pity” to make her feel sorry for him. What’s a Mom supposed to do?

Psychologist’s Reply

While there’s certainly no way to validate whether or not this man is a sociopath, and although there’s no way for me to adequately judge the degree to which time and counseling will bring your daughter sufficient awareness, I can make some general comments that might prove helpful to you.

Sociopathy (alt: psychopathy) is a relatively rare but very serious disorder of personality and character. I have written extensively about this disorder, the common characteristics of typical victims, and the tactics sociopaths use to manipulate and control others in my book In Sheep’s Clothing — as well as in my upcoming book Character Disturbance. Such individuals have virtually no conscience. Their most important characteristic is a chilling lack of empathy for others that enables them to engage in repeated acts of callous, senseless, and remorseless exploitation and abuse. Sometimes this characteristic is accompanied by a parasitic lifestyle. Psychopathy (sociopathy) is more than just severe antisociality (a pattern of socially and sometimes criminally irresponsible behavior). It’s a pattern of true predation, which is why I refer to the phenomenon as the predatory aggressive pattern.

Sociopaths can be superficially charming and are adept at the “game” of impression management. They “con” people with relative ease. They are good at reading the vulnerabilities and weaknesses of others and are skilled in the use of manipulation tactics. Like getting whiplash, victims of sociopaths usually don’t know what kind of relationship they’ve gotten themselves into until long after the damage is done.

Sometimes, sociopaths seek out relationships with emotionally “dependent” personalities because they’re easy prey. But it’s also possible that what might appear to be “dependency” on the surface is really the outward manifestation of the results of years of manipulation and emotional trauma. The most important thing to remember, however, is that if a partner in a relationship actually is a sociopath, no true “co-dependency” is possible, although the term is, unfortunately, fairly frequently misapplied.

Successful counseling and therapy depends in large measure on accurate assessment and diagnosis. If the true nature of your daughter’s circumstances has been deduced and incorporated into her counseling plan, it shouldn’t be necessary for you to bring things regarding her husband’s character to her attention. It’s also risky for you to attempt to interfere in your daughter’s counseling efforts. Information she discloses to her therapist is protected by patient-client privilege and can only be released by her permission. However, most therapists appreciate objective information about a patient’s circumstances. So, if the lines of communication are open between you and your daughter and you have a bond of trust, you can tactfully encourage her to adequately inform her therapist of all the relevant facts or even offer to provide third party input if doing so would not jeopardize the therapeutic relationship and if your daughter is comfortable with that. This is especially important if you have genuine concerns for your daughter’s safety. Remember, the most risky time for the victim of a true sociopath is when the relationship is terminated. It’s of paramount importance that victims have solid safety plans and a sound support network.

As I mentioned before, making an accurate assessment of your situation or validating your suspicions is impossible. But I do hope the information I’ve provided is helpful to you and to our other readers.

Please read our Important Disclaimer.

All clinical material on this site is peer reviewed by one or more clinical psychologists or other qualified mental health professionals. Originally published by on and last reviewed or updated by Dr Greg Mulhauser, Managing Editor on .

Ask the Psychologist provides direct access to qualified clinical psychologists ready to answer your questions. It is overseen by the same international advisory board of distinguished academic faculty and mental health professionals — with decades of clinical and research experience in the US, UK and Europe — that delivers, providing peer-reviewed mental health information you can trust. Our material is not intended as a substitute for direct consultation with a qualified mental health professional. is accredited by the Health on the Net Foundation.

Copyright © 2023.