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5 Most Toxic Couples on Television Filled With Narcissistic Manipulation and Red Flags

Certain couples and characters from popular television shows are likely to be romanticized, yet it is evident these relationships were stuffed with narcissistic manipulation, abuse, and red flags. Here are five of essentially the most toxic couples on television that embodied the dynamics of emotional abuse and narcissistic manipulation.

Don Draper and Betty Draper from Mad Men

Audiences are drawn to Mad Men because they love the 1960’s nostalgia, aesthetic, and fashion, but there’s a certain level of ethical depravity that’s consistently minimized under the guise of “charm” and the disturbing illusion of the “good old days.” Don Draper is a successful, charismatic advertiser who often cheats on and emotionally (at times even physically) abuses his wife Betty Draper with whom he shares three children, and in addition finally ends up cheating on his next wife, Megan, who also happens to be his secretary. Characters who commit serial infidelity, engage in pathological lying, weaponize verbal abuse and violent threats, are related to dark personality traits similar to narcissism and psychopathy, but these behaviors are rarely called out by viewers of Mad Men resulting from the romanticization of Don Draper’s character and his lifestyle, in addition to over-rationalization of Draper’s actions with some viewers casting him as a sympathetic character who’s “broken.” Draper keeps his double lifetime of infidelity hidden and under wraps from his wife, and subjects her to double standards when she finally cheats on him, verbally abusing her quite than his own history of cheating. He also issues violent threats, pushes her aggressively and throws things at her if she dares to call out his distant and emotionally negligent behavior. Through his affairs and abusive behavior, he exposes his young daughter to a hostile environment where he’s seen getting intimate with other women and even gaslights his daughter to maintain quiet about his affairs.

Draper also commits identity fraud and assumes a false identity stolen from a lieutenant he went to war with. Throughout the show, we see the problematic trope of “victim turned to bully” being promoted and justified. The reality is far darker – while Draper does have a dark childhood, this doesn’t justify his mistreatment and abuse of girls throughout the series – the truth is, such trauma can often make survivors much more careful about how they treat others because they’ve been through the identical. This is one couple where viewers are conditioned to normalize abuse and aggression while painting the fundamental character as sympathetic.

Ezra Fitz and Aria Montgomery on Pretty Little Liars

One of essentially the most infamous student-teacher relationships to be displayed on television was the one between 15-year-old Aria Montgomery and her 22-year-old English teacher, Ezra Fitz on the favored television show, Pretty Little Liars. Throughout the show, the manipulative Ezra pursues Aria, even stalking her and her friends without much guilt or remorse, appearing to only break up together with her quite a few times only to create a good stronger trauma bond that keeps her attached to him. Young viewers were ingrained with the concept such relationships were “normal” and even romantic with the constant “will they or won’t they?” push-pull dynamic between the 2. Except, unlike “normal” relationships, this one involved a predatory teacher and an underaged student – one we later discover he was aware was underage after they first met and targeted specifically. Spoiler alert: it also finally ends up that Ezra also became romantically entangled with Aria’s young friend Alison too and pursued her even when he found her real age. In hindsight, this relationship aged terribly now that more details about grooming and manipulation tactics at the moment are available, and Ezra is seen as more of a predator, and rightfully so. Yet the tv show tends to romanticize the connection as Aria’s friends encourage this relationship and her parents are solid in a negative light for attempting to end it. In the book, Ezra’s narcissistic and manipulative tendencies are more heavily highlighted as problematic, and he actually gets arrested. In the tv show (spoilers ahead), Aria and Ezra find yourself getting married – again, normalizing this highly problematic relationship.

Mr. Big and Carrie Bradshaw / Samantha and Richard from Sex and the City

There are viewers who will likely see narcissistic traits in each the characters of Mr. Big and Carrie Bradshaw, since Carrie is commonly a self-centered and self-absorbed friend who often fails to take accountability for actions that harm others, and even cheats on her fiancé Aidan with Mr. Big while Mr. Big continues to be married. The impulsive and compulsive have to run back to Mr. Big even while in a completely satisfied relationship and never care in regards to the feelings of her fiancé are definitely narcissistic. Yet the dynamic Mr. Big has with Carrie may be very paying homage to many narcissistically manipulative relationships where the person with more “power” and wealth uses it to overpower their partners. Mr. Big is an emotionally unavailable narcissist who seems to take great pleasure in toying with Carrie’s emotions, continually upsetting jealousy in her by parading around his dates and his trophy wife while they’re seeing one another and only coming around with the false hope of commitment and even marriage when he senses she is moving forward right into a happier latest relationship.

Jealousy induction is a significant narcissistic tactic in keeping with research, and so is attempting to carry some semblance of power and control over a partner once you “fear” they’re moving forward and healing. Mr. Big goes out of his strategy to sabotage Carrie’s relationships by showing interest every time she is finally with a healthy partner, only to run off and abandon her after they are finally on the altar.  Viewers will likely find parts of each characters illuminating in relation to narcissistic tactics. Samantha and Richard’s relationship dynamic can be similar, and on a good more extreme level on the show – Richard guarantees commitment to Samantha, only to proceed having affairs with other women and break her heart when he sees she is feeling more self-empowered and moving forward into healing. Richard is a brutal narcissistic and greedy man who continually makes false guarantees he cannot keep.

Karen Miller and Kit Parker on Tell Me Your Secrets

The show, starring Lily Rabe and Hamish Linklater, skillfully creates suspense as we follow the journey of three characters who’re all connected to a dangerous serial killer and psychopath, Kit Parker, who has a history of grooming young women to being his accomplice, and in addition murdering many ladies in brutal ways. Karen Miller is the ex-partner of notorious serial killer Kit Parker. Due to the traumas she’s experienced, Karen suffers from large gaps in her memory which makes her unable to discern how involved she was in Kit’s murders of varied women – although she begins to get gradual flashbacks of the night of certainly one of the murders in addition to the beginnings of their love story, where he manipulated and love bombed her right into a relationship after discarding his previous partner (who he groomed as a young woman) callously. The erosion of her memory and identity and her confusion post-trauma will likely be relatable to many survivors of gaslighting. Kit and Karen’s “love story” also resonates with partners of narcissists and psychopaths because it illustrates the struggle between reconciling a psychopath’s false mask and fairytale romance with the ruthless reality of their true nature. Yet a few of the vicious predators of this show are unlikely to be guessed until the very end, and this thriller reminds us that a few of the worst monsters are usually not those who’re readily identified but quite are those who hide in plain sight.

Perry and Celeste on Big Little Lies

Through the connection of characters Perry and Celeste, the show Big Little Lies captures the secrecy of an abusive relationship and the subconscious coping methods the victim often engages in to survive such a toxic relationship. Perry and Celeste are presented because the “ideal” couple yet Celeste experiences sexual, physical, and emotional abuse that takes place behind closed doors. Celeste tells her couple’s therapist that she is in love and that Perry treats her like a goddess – yet she is commonly seen bruised, laying on floors, or aggressively shoved and hit by Perry. Perry is the quintessential narcissistic “charmer” who appears to be a loving father and husband to the skin world yet exploits his wife and subjects her to deranged sexual and physical violence. The scenes of Perry and Celeste at couple’s therapy with their therapist Dr. Reisman are a few of the most illustrative scenes of gaslighting ever to hit the screen, as Perry is invested in maintaining the façade while Celeste progressively involves terms with the undeniable fact that she’s in a relationship with a malignant narcissist who seeks power and control over her.

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