Dating A Sociopathic Person: What To Be Aware Of

Medically reviewed by April Justice, LICSW
Updated April 26, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Content warning: Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that include abuse which could be triggering to the reader. If you or someone you love is experiencing abuse, contact the Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). Support is available 24/7. Please also see our Get Help Now page for more immediate resources.

Note: The term “sociopath” is not a clinical or diagnostic term in the most recent versions of mental health diagnostic manuals. However, it may sometimes be used to refer to people who have traits of antisocial personality disorder (ASPD). Due to mental health stigmas, it may be best to refer to individuals with these traits as those exhibiting “sociopathic tendencies” unless they have been diagnosed with ASPD, in which the correct terminology would be “a person with ASPD.” 

Dating a sociopath or someone with sociopathic traits can be dangerous and potentially emotionally damaging. However, it can be possible to identify the signs of someone who may exhibit sociopathic behaviors before entering a relationship. 

Sociopaths lack empathy and may use emotional manipulation techniques and verbal abuse to achieve their goals. With knowledge and awareness, individuals may spot these behaviors in a relationship before they become vulnerable to trauma and potential emotional distress. 

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Dating someone with sociopathic traits 

Dating someone with sociopathic traits can be dangerous and may lead to long-lasting emotional or physical harm. In some cases, these traits may be symptoms of antisocial personality disorder (ASPD). However, anyone can have some sociopathic tendencies or attributes, and these behaviors can be unhealthy in anyone who acts on them. 

ASPD is characterized by an inability to form close relationships, feel empathy, or show remorse for actions. In some cases, it leads to dangerous or criminal behavior. However, not everyone with an ASPD diagnosis is dangerous or acts on their urges. For this reason, it can be crucial to understand the difference between sociopathic behavior and a person diagnosed with ASPD. 

Sociopathic traits in relationships 

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People with sociopathic tendencies may regularly use manipulation tactics to achieve their goals. They may act extremely charming in the beginning stages of a relationship and appear genuine and caring. However, once the relationship progresses, they may become more controlling and manipulative as they seek power and control over the situation.

These individuals may act impulsively and aggressively when a situation does not go in their favor, potentially resorting to verbal abuse or physical violence. They can be skilled at manipulation tactics like gaslighting, attempting to make someone question their perception of reality. Signs of sociopathic behaviors in a relationship may include the following. 

Sudden changes in mood or behavior

Those with sociopathic tendencies may change their minds often due to their fears of changing circumstances. These sudden mood changes may be a result of their fear of losing control or the presence of co-occurring disorders such as bipolar disorder or depression. 

Pathological lying 

People with sociopathy may be pathological liars due to their lack of empathy, difficulty experiencing guilt or remorse, and manipulative behavior. They may lie to gain from the situation or cause emotional distress in their significant other. 

Extreme jealousy or possessiveness

Those experiencing sociopathic tendencies may display extreme jealousy and possessiveness. Often, these people may lack empathy and emotional intelligence, which means they may struggle to trust another person or be loyal. They may also have little regard for the feelings of others and may become jealous if their partner engages with other people.

Impulsive behaviors 

Impulsive and unpredictable actions often characterize people with sociopathic behaviors. This impulsivity may lead them to engage in risky activities to maintain their sense of power and control. Additionally, they may have difficulty controlling their emotions and become easily overwhelmed when presented with stressful situations.

An inflated sense of self and entitlement

Some people with sociopathic tendencies may experience an inflated sense of self because they lack empathy for others. They may believe that they are superior to those around them and can use manipulation tactics to gain control over a situation or person. This trait can lead to emotional abuse, as the individual may not understand the emotions or thoughts of their partner. Instead, they may view relationships through power and control dynamics with themselves as the dominant figure. 

Note that frequently inflated self-esteem paired with these behaviors may be more of a sign of narcissistic tendencies, which can also be common in those experiencing sociopathy. If any of these behaviors are present in your relationship, it's important to protect yourself by setting boundaries and seeking help from a professional. 


Sociopathy and antisocial personality disorder (ASPD)

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), a diagnosis of antisocial personality disorder (ASPD) requires an individual to exhibit a consistent pattern of disregard for and violation of the rights of others.

The diagnostic criteria for ASPD include displaying at least three of the seven attributes outlined in the DSM-5: 

  • Failure to conform to social norms concerning lawful behaviors
  • Repeated lying or conning of others
  • Impulsivity 
  • Irritability and aggressiveness, such as repeated physical fights or assaults
  • Reckless disregard for the safety of self or others
  • Consistent irresponsibility, such as repeated failure to maintain consistent work behavior or honor financial obligations
  • Lack of remorse after having hurt, mistreated, or stolen from another
Sociopathy is not recognized by any medical organization as an official diagnosis but rather as a broader category of ASPD. While sociopathic tendencies can vary from person to person depending on their environment and experiences, those who qualify under the diagnostic criteria for ASPD may display varying levels of sociopathic tendencies.

Sociopathy in men vs. women

Relationships often involve a degree of power dynamics. However, relationships with someone with sociopathic tendencies may have a more noticeable gap. These individuals may not feel emotions like empathy or remorse as profoundly as others, which could lead them to use manipulation and deception to get what they want. There is no universal behavior that defines a sociopathic relationship. However, men and women may display different behavior patterns in this dynamic.

Men with sociopathic tendencies 

Men with sociopathic tendencies may take an aggressive approach to relationships, using physical and psychological intimidation to control their partner. They may be more likely to be verbally or physically abusive, setting up rules for their partner and becoming enraged if these rules aren’t followed. These individuals may also threaten divorce or abandonment if their partner doesn’t conform to their demands while still attempting to maintain the outward appearance of a perfect marriage. 

Having a sociopathic husband can be a challenging and trying experience. Sociopaths feel a lack of empathy and may have internal boredom that drives them to have difficulty establishing and maintaining genuine human connections, which can lead to severe relationship conflict. With more serious issues, a sociopathic husband may demonstrate abusive behaviors like physical violence or emotional manipulation. 

A man with sociopathic behavior may try to control their partner by isolating them from family and close friends, keeping them from having healthy relationships with anyone else. They may also make false accusations about their partner or threaten them with violence if they do not comply with their demands. 

Women with sociopathic tendencies 

Women with sociopathic behaviors may demonstrate similar characteristics to men, such as a noticeable lack of empathy and a disregard for others’ feelings. Sociopaths often have difficulty relating to the emotions of their partners as well as those around them. 

Sociopathic wives or partners may also display controlling behavior in relationships. For example, they may manipulate information and create false impressions about themselves to demand that their partners act in ways they may not normally act. They may also lie often or use manipulation tactics like gaslighting or guilt-tripping to maintain a sense of control. Some women may withhold information from their partners to control them or gain an advantage over them.

Note that just because someone has certain behaviors consistent with being labeled a sociopath, it may not automatically mean that they are experiencing a mental health condition. Recognizing certain warning signs may protect you from entering into or continuing an unhealthy relationship with a true sociopath. It may also enable you to know when to seek assistance from a mental health professional. 

Therapy for sociopathic behaviors 

Therapy may be a beneficial avenue to explore for individuals who are in an unhealthy relationship with someone who may have sociopathic tendencies. Through therapy, you may gain insight into what constitutes a healthy relationship and develop the skills to recognize unhealthy behavior patterns. 

During therapy, individuals may also benefit from learning about the stages of relationships and how they vary between healthy and unhealthy partnerships. They may be able to gain further insight into the cycle of abuse that often occurs in relationships with a sociopathic husband or wife. This process may enable them to recognize when the cycle begins and take steps forward before the relationship becomes abusive or traumatic. 

Mentalization-based therapy

Treatment for sociopaths can be complex, as the causes of sociopathic behavior can vary. Conditions like ASPD are often treated using extensive therapy and medication. In addition, some people with these traits may not be willing to accept they are living with unhealthy behaviors. In some cases, studies have shown that therapy may enable sociopaths due to their tendency to manipulate treatment providers and not engage in the stages of therapy. 

Mentalization-based therapy (MBT) works by helping clients identify and reflect on their thoughts, feelings, and behavior, as well as those of others. This process may help them gain insight into why they act in specific ways and how it affects their relationships with people around them. 

MBT is based on the idea that all humans have an inherent capacity for mentalizing, or the ability to recognize one's thoughts, feelings, and motivations, as well as understand the thoughts and behavior of others. Therapists may implement techniques like “decentering,” which involves encouraging clients to step back from their mental states to better understand why they are feeling and thinking a certain way. Other techniques used include “mirroring,” which involves therapists mirroring clients’ emotions to encourage them to express themselves.

Recent studies have shown that the use of mentalization-based therapy techniques may offer a more practical approach to the reduction of harmful sociopathic tendencies found in individuals who experience ASPD. In one study, researchers found that mentalization techniques were able to help individuals who experienced borderline personality disorder as well as sociopathy and ASPD reduce the presence of symptoms like anger, hostility, and paranoia

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Alternative support options

If you are living with sociopathic traits or are in a relationship with someone with these behaviors, you’re not alone. Therapy may be an effective way to move forward. However, it can be challenging to access in-person support when experiencing shame, financial challenges, and other barriers. In these cases, it may be helpful to try online therapy through a platform like BetterHelp. 

Online therapy can offer unique benefits for individuals who experience personality disorders and other common co-occurring conditions like depression and anxiety. For these individuals, getting out of bed and engaging in meaningful conversations in a face-to-face setting may be challenging. You can attend online sessions from home and choose between phone, video, or live chat sessions, allowing greater convenience and accessibility.  

In a recent study, researchers looked at the ability of internet-delivered therapy to address the needs of individuals experiencing personality disorders like ASPD. In the study, their team found online therapy was an effective means of treating personality disorders when therapists provide inclusive and individualized treatment strategies. 


It may be helpful to be aware of the signs of sociopathy in a relationship to protect yourself from risks and seek professional assistance. One way to start is to recognize the risks of relationships with true sociopaths. If you’ve been dating someone for an extended period, getting professional advice or seeking couple counseling may be helpful before making decisions about the future. 

Therapy services may be able to provide personalized support and guidance on dealing with difficult situations relating to sociopathic tendencies in a relationship. For further support, contact a therapist online or in your area.

Explore antisocial personality disorder in therapy
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