“American Murder: The Family Next Door” is one of the most shocking true crime documentaries on Netflix. It’s a story about the murders of Shanann Watts and her two daughters (and one unborn baby) carried out by none other than the husband and father Chris Watts.
The reason why this case is so horrific and triggering to many people is that Chris Watts seemed like such a normal guy with no previous history of violence. He had even reportedly been a loving husband and father for many years. He really could be any guy, and so any woman who has seen this documentary couldn’t help but wonder what if their partner would one day snap and commit the unimaginable act like this guy did. It’s deeply unnerving.
Personally, I had come across an article about the case before I saw the documentary so I wasn’t surprised by the ending. However, it upset me to find out how cold-blooded he was about the whole thing — especially what he did to the two daughters. Like many people, I couldn’t make sense of it. Their marriage might have been broken and Shanann had her flaws, but nothing could justify his cruelty.
Now, I’ve given up on making sense of this guy. It’s normal that we can’t understand Chris Watts. We are not supposed to understand Chris Watts. He’s an outliner and a monster. Even though this article is about the relationship lessons learned from this case, I want to make clear that it is NOT the victim’s fault that she’s violated to any degree. The fault and guilt fall entirely on the perpetrator.
I send my condolences to Shanann, her three babies, and the rest of her family.
In this article, I wish I could teach you exactly how to spot the nice-guy-turned-murderers from afar and be safe for the rest of your life, but it’s impossible. I can only give you some pointers to minimise your chances of being in an abusive and potentially life-threatening relationship.
Here are the 7 lessons you should carry with you after watching “American Murder”.
1. Don’t get into a relationship when you’re at the lowest point in your life.
Shanann Watts met Chris Watts when she was battling both physical and mental illnesses. She had also gone through a divorce which, according to the Netflix documentary, took away everything from her. She was in an insecure and vulnerable place, which might have led to poor judgment of Chris Watts in the beginning.
When you’re at a low point in your life, your self-esteem is weak and, as a result, your standards are likely non-existent. You might think you don’t deserve the best, so you accept whatever it is given to you. Scraping bottom becomes great, and red flags become just flags, as you think something is better than nothing. Coupled with low self-respect, it’s a breeding ground for abusive relationships.
Remember that someone sticking around with you is not enough of a reason to call them “the one.” If they insist on being with you despite you rejecting them and pushing them away, ask why — why can’t they take “no” for an answer? What makes them so fixated on you, especially if you randomly meet each other off an app where it could have just been anyone? Chances are they have some hidden issues somewhere.
2. Don’t nag — withdraw or get out.
The Netflix documentary seems to have left out many details, but what they did well was to show the text messages between Shanann and Chris Watts as though the viewers were looking directly at their chat window. We could relate to how frustrated and lonely Shanann felt in their deteriorating relationship.
One thing I noticed in those text exchanges was that Shanann nagged Chris Watts about paying more attention to her. She had every right to do this; however, I don’t think it’s effective. You could tell by the way Chris Watts responded — he faked his understanding and gaslit her while dissociating from the relationship and continuing to do exactly the opposite of what she wanted. Nothing changed.
If you’re dating someone and there’s something they do that you don’t like or doesn’t meet your needs, don’t nag. Don’t reward their bad behaviours with your attention.
For sure, you should talk to your partner about what bothers you, but once is plenty. An emotionally intelligent and caring partner will take note and make changes. If they don’t, withdraw immediately. Show them that you have no interest in their inconsideration. If they keep making you unhappy, you need to end the relationship.
Don’t bargain. Bargaining only shows them that you’re willing to put up with their bad treatment— they won’t take you seriously.
3. Don’t be envious of people’s relationships — you don’t know what it’s like to be them.
On social media, Shanann Watts made everyone believe that Chris Watts was a devoted husband and father while she was perfectly happy with their family life.
In reality, she had been miserable for a long time. No one knew behind their smiling photos was a woman who was deprived of love, affection, and sex, and a man who was cheating on his wife and… plotting murders of his entire family.
Never look at a couple on social media and think they have it better than you. You are not in their relationship with them. You don’t know about their intimate life. It’s all your imagination filling in the blank. Better yet, you should check in with your committed friends to see how they’re actually doing, despite seeing their happy photos with their partners.
4. If his family doesn’t like you, it’s a losing battle.
Chris Watt’s mother openly disapproved of Shanann, for example by not attending their wedding. Inevitably, it caused Shanann a great deal of stress and the couple on-going conflicts. More disturbingly, Chris Watts’s mother fed CeCe, their daughter, nuts despite knowing her severe allergy. Some viewers commented that, apparently, the apple didn’t fall far from the tree.
There are insights about your partner that you could draw from his parents and his family relationships. So, if possible, go for someone who grew up in a healthy and happy household. If you can’t get on with their family at all, it’s worth regarding it as a compatibility issue and deciding whether it’s a dealbreaker. It tends to only get worse.
5. Always question a partner who makes drastic changes in their personal life or is fine being away from you for a long time.
Before committing the horrendous crimes, Chris Watts went through an unbelievable transformation — he changed from being overweight to shredded in a suspiciously short time. He was also indifferent to being away from Shanann for weeks. These were clear red flags that he was up to no good.
His drastic changes in appearance could also be a sign of him dissociating from the relationship and needing a new obsession to fill a void. Slowly, he became a machine, a stranger to Shanann — he looked like a totally different guy compared to the one she had married, and his eyes were soulless in their photos together.
If your partner changes dramatically in some way without your input or knowledge, or they don’t mind being far away from you for weeks, give yourself permission to doubt them. Don’t blindly trust them or waste your energy nagging them.
Raise your concern with them, set firm boundaries, take definite actions to show them you’re not putting up with their bullshit, and don’t bargain. If necessary, plan your exit quietly so they wouldn’t have a chance to react violently to it.
6. Trust your gut instinct.
Even though the Netflix documentary portrayed Shanann and Chris Watts’s relationship before the murders as mostly perfect and free of red flags, I doubt it. There must be something off along the way that Shanann might have brushed off or simply missed.
One way to not miss red flags and keep the relationship’s quality high is to make sure you have a life of your own outside your romantic relationship and build a strong connection with yourself.
It’s important to have good living conditions, so you won’t stay with someone out of desperation or get clouded by your anxiety. Your head should be clear and your feet should be grounded. When your stomach knots, it’s a sign that your boundary has been crossed — pay close attention to it and act accordingly.
See, if you let someone get away with disrespecting you once, they will do it again. Worse, you will also lose respect for yourself and accept less and less until the bar is on the floor. To avoid this outcome, call out the disrespectful behaviour the first time it happens, and don’t give anyone a free pass to walk all over you.
7. Don’t deal with your problems alone.
There are two heroes in “American Murder”: One is the neighbor who noticed that Chris Watts was acting weird and the other is Nicole, Shanann’s friend who looked for her just after a few hours of not hearing from her.
My bet is that Nicole must’ve known about Shanann’s marriage problems and unhappiness for a while and was instinctively worried about Shanann’s fate. Regardless, Nicole did the right thing — she’s a friend everyone needs in their life.
If you have problems, don’t keep them to yourself. When you let others in, they can support you and watch out for you. If something happens to you, they will be able to trace you and might even save your life.
The Netflix documentary “American Murder” has left many viewers with chills and trust issues. Nevertheless, it has successfully raised awareness for domestic violence and helped women become more alert when putting themselves out there.
Here’s a recap of 7 important relationship lessons learned from this documentary and criminal case:
Don’t get into a relationship when you’re at the lowest point in your life.
Don’t nag — withdraw or get out.
Don’t be envious of people’s relationships — you don’t know what it’s like to be them.
If his family doesn’t like you, it’s a losing battle.
Always question a partner who makes drastic changes in their personal life or is fine being away from you for a long time.
Trust your gut instinct.
Don’t deal with your problems alone.