Don't Fall in Love With a Schemer

“False face must hide what false heart doth know.” –MacBeth

Posted Dec 17, 2020

Recently I received the following message from a reader, who has given permission for me to share it here. I have changed a few details to protect the privacy of the people involved.

My favorite uncle who is in his late fifties recently remarried after his first wife died. His second wife is someone he’s known for several years as a member of the same church. She is about his age, and this is her first marriage. I had also met her a few times while my uncle was still married to his first wife, and she seemed a nice and likeable person. 

After he became a widower and was “available,” she began pursuing him. He was vulnerable to her overtures, and they married after about six months of courtship. I and other family members were surprised at his quick remarriage. We also saw this romantic pairing as too contrived, since they were not friends in the past, but only acquaintances through church. But none of us disliked this lady, and no one had any reason to distrust her or to interfere in their business. We wished them well in their new life together.

Their honeymoon phase didn’t last long. We soon began hearing stories from my uncle that she is extremely paranoid and delusional. She had never seemed this way in public encounters with her. My uncle said that she persists in accusing him of having affairs and cheating on her. This leads to fights and hysterics on a daily basis. No amount of reasoning with her, proving where he has been, who he has been with, etc. can satisfy her. She seems to enjoy the drama, and their fights play out like rituals. She accuses, screams, cries, etc. He moves heaven and earth to calm her, reassure her that he loves her and is faithful, provides her with proof, etc. She gradually comes to accept his reassurance, apologizes for distrusting him, professes her undying love, etc. And then they collapse into a kind of stalemate that lasts until the next day, when she starts the same paranoid argument all over again. Her insanity is making my uncle physically and mentally ill.

If that’s not bad enough, my uncle found out last week that she has been having an affair herself with a married deacon of the church. This was going on when she first began pursuing my uncle and has continued throughout their courtship and marriage. My uncle knows he needs to divorce her and rescue himself from marital hell, but because of his religious beliefs he thinks they need to try counseling to save the marriage. We’ve tried to tell him that you can’t save a marriage unless both people want to and are willing to try. But he’s too mentally exhausted to think clearly. 

The person who sent this to me wanted to know, is her uncle’s new wife a Machiavellian? And do I think she could be a danger to her husband? 

The answer is yes to both questions:

  • We are all Machiavellians in that we all have the capacity to lie, cheat, scheme, and deceive. However, the majority of people prefer not to behave that way most of the time. When mental health professionals refer to Machiavellians, we mean High Machs—people who are hard-wired to be connivers and manipulators. When you observe someone behaving as this new wife does over an extended period of time, in a variety of settings and situations, and with many different people, you can probably conclude that she is a High Mach. However, it’s really not necessary to categorize her one way or the other. You can see by her pattern of behavior that she is predictably devious. That consistent malignancy is your flashing red warning sign. 
  • If this were my uncle, I would do whatever was in my power to convince him that he is in danger. Without delay, I would explain that he should immediately separate himself from her and not be alone with her again under any circumstances. If convincing him requires an intervention with family, pastor, and mental health counselor, so be it. But I would not wait on the group to make a determined effort to convince him. 

If the above narrative is a fair description of the new wife’s shenanigans, then she manifests enough abnormality to indicate one or more personality disorders. The paranoia, histrionic behavior, ritualistic drama, smoldering suspicion, latent aggression, disregard of consequences of her actions, lack of empathy, and manipulative lifestyle represent a cocktail of high-risk symptoms. The uncle should without delay start singing that old Loretta Lynn song, “All I Want from You Is Away.

"When someone shows you who they are, believe them." –Maya Angelou