“A man scorned is much more dangerous than a woman #Nigella” tweeted Rosa Monckton two days ago, in reference to her sister-in law Nigella Lawson and the celebrity chef’s ex-husband Charles Saatchi. What will eventually happen in the current headline-hogging trial of the Italian sisters accused of defrauding the couple we don’t know and cannot speculate – but the comment got me thinking: was Rosa right?
As a divorce lawyer, I am accustomed to the sometimes wild actions of women scorned; women who react in truly scary ways when they discover their partner has betrayed them, usually with another woman. I have come across such women on more than one occasion. They look completely sane and normal. But spend some time talking to them and the depth of their hate and bitterness will come through and hit you full force. They often react to the pain and anguish of a marriage ending in irrational, out-of-control ways.
Some, for example, write letters to their partner’s employers hoping to get him sacked if he has been having an affair with a colleague at work. The financial impact on them personally if he loses his job doesn’t even occur to such women and even if does, some think so what? It’s more important to humiliate him, to hurt him as hard as he has hurt her – that’s the name of this particular game. Some go further – writing, for example, to the Inland Revenue in the hope of getting him charged with tax evasion. And some go further still. They may physically attack their spouse or his lover –even both of them. They are so distraught they can seriously injure their victims, even, potentially, kill them. I have known one woman who tried to hire a hit man, but luckily her plot was foiled. More frequently such women destroy property – usually cherished possessions like his car or clothes (with the remainder dumped in the garden). A woman scorned can be very dangerous indeed.
The reaction of the husband in this type of cases is always interesting. He usually takes it straight on the chin, isn’t interested in fighting back, and just gets on with the divorce and attempting to kickstart his new life. Is it guilt that makes these men respond in that way, relief or a mixture of both?
But how do ‘scorned’ men react? Are they worse? In the main, I’d say not. I do see many men completely surprised, angered and bewildered when things don’t go how they planned. “She agreed she wouldn’t go to a lawyer!” is the most frequent complaint I hear. I also often hear “I’m planning on sending this letter to my wife because I want it all sorted out now” and I have to point out that the sharp, bossy tone of the letter will have no effect at all and in fact probably make things worse.
Rarely, though, do I come across men who are intent on seeking revenge, or humiliating their spouse. You don’t normally find men damaging property, shopping their wives to the Inland Revenue, or emailing news of their wife’s affair to thousands of her work colleagues around the world. Perhaps they realise that doing so would make them look weak and foolish.
Scorned men may become very bitter but most tend to just get on with things, whether they were left for a new man or just because their wives couldn’t take any more. They never hold themselves responsible for the breakdown of the marriage, and see themselves – literally for the rest of their lives – as the victim.
Yes, some scorned men can be very, very dangerous. Such men are rare but these are the control freaks, who feel shocked to the core when their wife announces plans for a divorce (often because she couldn’t stand his behaviour any longer). These men then discover to their horror that they can longer do what they want, how they want and when they want. She has stopped listening and obeying. Such men can do very bad things indeed. Some will stop at nothing, including murder.
So do I think your typical man scorned is worse than a woman scorned? No I don’t. I think some men and some women are capable of being equally awful.