Love & Relationships

Takeaways from the Watts Family Murders

If you watched the Netflix documentary “American Murder: The Family Next Door”, images of the Watts family may be triggering for you.

Shannan and Chris Watts with daughters Celeste and Bella.

Back in August 2018, Chris Watts, then 33, murdered his pregnant wife Shannan and two daughters, 4-year-old Bella and 3-year-old Celeste, and discarded their bodies at his oil work site. The murders were premeditated and linked (we think!) to his desire to restart life afresh with his mistress.

The term for family annihilation is “familicide”. According to studies, it typically takes place in August, by white fathers in their 30s often with no criminal background. Family annihilators are usually triggered by: sudden loss of access to their children (remember Chris said Shannan said “You’ll never see your children again!” — though it appears he considered the murders well before she made this statement); financial stress; shame surrounding financial failure; belief that they are committing “mercy killings”; the desire to extricate themselves from a family life that they can’t tolerate or inspiration to kill by psychotic delusion or hallucination. Though the family filed for bankruptcy 3 years earlier, researchers feel Chris’ primary motivator was his desire to rid himself of his family and spend time with his mistress. Many feel the evidence points to Chris being a narcissist.

See: Chris Watts Killed His Family After Weeks of Planning. Does That Make Him a Typical Family Annihilator? and Family Annihilators: The Psychology Behind Familicide

As October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month #DVAM, I wanted to share some points that stood out to me as I watched the documentary.

1. Don’t date when you’re vulnerable.

Shannan let Chris in at what she described as being one of the lowest points in her life: “Because of my health challenges, because I got so sick [with Lupus] I let him in. He knew me at my worst and accepted me.”

Many victims of abuse met their abusers when they were vulnerable: lonely, depressed, sick, disabled, elderly, etc. It is important to be aware of your vulnerability for abuse and to not seek or allow romantic partnerships during low points. And if you do, do so with wisdom, prayer and wise counsel.

2. Do not ignore your intuition.

Shannan knew that something was off in her relationship. Chris was not as affectionate, he did not seek to call her or initiate sex with her, all of which appeared out of character. If you have a feeling that something is off, it probably is.

Now how could knowing this have saved her life? We’re not sure. Knowing someone is cheating on you is entirely different from knowing someone is about to harm you or take your life, but if you sense or see red flags do not ignore them.

3. Persistence isn’t always a good thing.

Shannan stated, “I’m so grateful to you for hanging around after pushing you away in the beginning.”

Facebook post by Shannan Watts

That may have seemed cute in the beginning, but Chris’ behavior could also have demonstrated that he did not respect boundaries. According to the blog Narc Wise:

“Using your boundaries through love bombing and hoovering, are how the pathological narcissist entraps you.

Your initial addiction to them is created by delivering on all your needs, wants and desires, and mindfully avoiding the opposite.

This is how they open the door and get you to step into their world of make-believe.”

(Narc Wise, 2018)

Perhaps Chris persistence more so linked to his characterization as a narcissist.

Domestic Violence

Domestic violence could include violence between a husband and a wife, a girlfriend and boyfriend, or gay or lesbian partners. It could be violence between parents and children, adult children and elderly parents, or we could meet it between siblings (Rakavec-Felser, 2014).

The abuse can be physical, sexual, emotional, verbal or financial, and although women between age 16-24 are more vulnerable, abuse can impact anyone (Swanson, 2019).

According to Swanson (2019), early signs of an abusive partner include:

  • Controlling / manipulative
  • Guilt trips
  • Threats
  • Intimidation
  • Isolation
  • Jealousy
  • Name-calling
  • Explosive temper
  • Mood swings
  • Throwing objects
  • Checking phone or email without permission

If you are considering leaving an abusive relationship, it is suggested that you end the relationship at a distance. While the abuser is at work or travelling, leave the premises and break up via text or email. Continue to maintain distance between you both as much as possible. If you do break up in person, do it in a public place. Have a trusted friend or family member wait nearby and bring a cell phone with you if you can. For more details on how to break up with an abuser, click here.


Narc Wise (2018): Narcissists Love Boundaries: Exposing the Truth

Swanson, S. (2019): Chris Watts confesses to killing daughters for first time: ‘I didn’t want to do this, but I did it’

Rakovec-Felser Z. (2014). Domestic Violence and Abuse in Intimate Relationship from Public Health Perspective. Health psychology research2(3), 1821.