True Crime Analysis, Breakthroughs, Insights & Discussions Hosted by Bestselling Author Nick van der Leek

Tag: dynamic

Chris Watts – what happens when the other woman is you? [A Thought Experiment]

Have you noticed, months after the murders, people are still split on the Watts case? Some say he was a shit and she was a saint, others blame her and say she drove him to cheat. A lot of these pronouncements are projections and transference made by folks who are married, or cheating [or both] or once were [married, cheating or both].

This means rather than an appreciation of the actual people involved [besides and apart from who you and I are] and what was going on in their hearts and minds, the crowds are really cheering for themselves.

But that’s not really what decent or intelligent true crime is about or tries to figure out. We’re not here to make sides, choose sides or pick a winner. We’re not here to feel better about ourselves or our sins. We’re simply here to figure out what the fuck happened. Believe it or not, that’s a very difficult question to answer accurately and authentically and very few even try. 

To do so takes time and effort. Fixing a fuck-up also takes time and effort. 

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One way to test our bias is to find an analogy to the Watts case where the people are completely different, but the situation is identical. I managed to find one. It’s an anecdote about infidelity from a woman’s advice column. No one was murdered in this scenario, but the pressure and intensity of the dynamic is nevertheless absolutely plain to see.

Read “Lala’s” salacious cautionary tale at this link.

A few obvious impressions we draw from the story are:

1. Cheating in our society is very common. When cheating leads to a child, a less common but deadly serious occurrence and one fraught with life changing consequences, it’s very difficult to know what to do, let alone to actually do the right thing.

2. Many of us learn the skill of duplicity in our society. Few learn the technique [or have the courage] to admit small mistakes, let alone admit to giant gut-wrenching betrayals of those closest to us.

3. We live in a society that is about maximizing profit and so it’s natural to want [or feel entitled to] the best possible deal for ourselves. This includes the mate we choose, the lifestyle we search and settle for, and the kind of sexual behavior we engage in. Sometimes in our desire for safety and security [the big house, the secure lifestyle] we make trade-offs in terms of the likability of our partners [or they do in terms of us]. 

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4. Our greed and materialism is also reflected in a desire for experiences. Once we have the treasure side of things sorted, we still want to be excited. We want to be stimulated. If our partners don’t give us what we want, we may feel tempted if not justified in getting what we want elsewhere. Does it do any harm if it’s a secret? 

5. In the same way that Lala got what she wanted from her husband, she didn’t like his approach to strict schedules. She felt bored and burdened. Being bored seems like a dumb reason to gamble one’s life, to risk one’s home, and yet people everywhere are doing it all the time. The reason? Boredom is like a living death. Risking an experience is like coming alive again. Everyone wants to feel alive, but feeling alive can come at a price.

6. Like Shan’ann, Lala’s husband Michael traveled often. Like Watts, Lala didn’t mind Michael being away as this gave her [him] a chance to indulge in her [his] Other Life.

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7. When the indulgence leads to a pregnancy, the original fairy tale becomes a nightmare. That’s why it is so hard to give up. Most people want to hold onto the fairy tale. And most people who believe in fairy tales don’t like to own up to being responsible for a nightmare that will end it. 

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8. When the nightmare is real, do you acknowledge it and deal with it, or do you refuse to believe it?

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9. If you could lose everything simply by saying a few words [the truth], by the same token you could save everything by simply not saying those words [lying].

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10. Even with expert advice, the outcome is not guaranteed, and the process is likely to be messy, let alone expensive, stressful and unpleasant. Still think you’re be the first one to own up to your sins?

If you’re cheating on your husband, and the infidelity leads to your falling pregnant, the answer is simple, right – just tell your husband what you did.

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It is actually that simple. If you’re not attached to your home, your lifestyle, many of your friends and possibly even your job, it’s as easy [and as difficult] as that. Just say what you did and possibly [probably] lose your home, your lifestyle, your friends [especially mutual friends] and possibly your job. 

The alternative is to be a coward and not to say anything. And you get to have your cake and eat it. Still think it’s so simple? Still think Chris Watts could have “just gotten a divorce”…?

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We swipe, tap and scroll through social media. There is an immediate sense of connection and, perhaps, the fear of missing out. All your pals and the ones you respect have an ever increasing level of stoke. In the 30 minutes I just spent (lost) here I witnessed skiing, climbing and living that, well, makes me feel all of the 56 years I am. I’m as guilty as anyone, perhaps more so. I curate my public life to highlight the highs and obscure the low points. It’s an ever increasing loop that feeds on itself. Alas the game of gravity plays for keeps. The risk of not returning is part of the allure. What would the sports we play be with out risk? Merely games? The down side is our family and friends don’t always make it back. Gravity always has the upper hand. When it plays its card too soon we all loose.For those left behind the pain begins. Was it worth it? Could it have been avoided? If you escaped the vice of gravity along side your bestie, why not me? What do I do next? I’m not one for cemeteries. When in Big Oak Flat I wander through the headstones of family long past, never known, yet part of who I am. I’ll refresh a few flowers and move on. In the mountains the these reminders are more poignant and powerful. The friends memorialized struggled with the “why” vs “consequence” paradigm just like we do. While walking through Dugla, the terminal moraine of the Khumbu Glacier, a series of stone remembrances (chortens) are a stark reminder of how fleeting life is and how the pursuit of gravity has real consequences. Scott, Babu, Alex and Ueli are memorialized with stacked rock. If you’re ambling about, it’s a reminder that we carry our friends with us. How we carry our friends is up to us. Internalize it, over share it, laugh about it, ignore it or stew in anger over it. We go through all the points of the emotion wheel. It isn’t fun. If you are a serious about gravity, it’s not “if”, it’s “when”. When death strikes unexpectedly – be part of the community. Reach out to others and listen. The challenge of being a survivor could well be you. And if you’ve been there, lend your experience to others. We all heal.

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The Dynamic between Chris Watts and Nichol Kessinger that everyone is missing

I don’t usually discuss dynamics here simply because it’s not something you can come to lightly, and it requires a lot of focus, concentration and backstory to understand. The other issue with discussing dynamics on an open forum is it attracts the most biased and closed-minded folks of all.

These types are likely to rush in and begin lecturing on why their opinion is just as informed if not more so, and in fact better. So that’s why I don’t discuss dynamics here.  It’s not about who is right, or who is more right, it’s about figuring out the true nature of this crime and why it happened. So we want to see where the insights take us, not bicker about whose insights are best.

Relationship dynamics are a sensitive subject. Whatever we say tends to reveal our own views of others, and ourselves, and it may expose others and make them feel judged or otherwise uncomfortable. That’s why this discussion sits better in a narrative that one has to pay for and will spend time with – pondering it in private.

What I will say, as I reach the finishing stages of the fifth book in the TWO FACE series, is that the dynamic between Chris Watts and his mistress will never be understood as long as people continue hating and throwing stones. If you wish to feel good about how awful Chris Watts is – go on.  It seems some people don’t tire of this pursuit after weeks, months, perhaps even years. If you think Kessinger deserves to be lambasted and accused and insulted till kingdom come, don’t expect to ever understand the dynamics of why the crime happened. You can’t have both. You can’t have emotional/ego satisfaction and expect to gain any intellectual insight or understanding.

One can’t hurl insults one day and on another, innocently go: “Why? Why don’t we know why?”

To understand their emotional dynamic we have to put our emotional dynamic [our projection, transference, bias] aside. Are you ready to do that? If so, then read on.

An Inferiority Complex

Chris Watts felt inferior in his marriage. His overall introversion suggests a crisis of confidence in general. It’s clear from the videos, he played second-fiddle most of the time to a domineering wife.

Initially he probably liked that she took control and perhaps it worked very well for both of them. Maybe he wanted to take the back seat, wanted her to be in control. But after a while it got old. He tired of being told what to do and how to do every damn thing. That’s not being unkind to Shan’ann – she was OCD so it was natural for her to be antsy about everything. The problem was that he probably allowed it to get out of hand. Instead of setting boundaries, he allowed her to walk all over him, and when he wanted to stand up for himself it was too late. He didn’t know how to and perhaps even if he did, she wouldn’t let him.

With “three girls” in the house, over time he felt increasingly impinged in some way. Probably, over time, the spark did start to disappear in their marriage and probably, at the time, the idea of having a third child made sense to bring them back together.

It’s clear to me that shortly after mutually deciding to have a child, Watts had a change of heart. This may have been because he had an epiphany then about their finances, or because he realized he’d developed feelings for someone else, or both. It may also be that he had the idea but hadn’t thought through what it actually meant, and what consequences came with it [just as occurred with the affair, and the murders].

Rediscovering Himself

It could also be that at the same time the spark was fading in their marriage, Watts’ sense of inferiority was changing. Even though his wife still had him in a box [she thought], a part of him was starting to escape and rediscover himself. His work life was one area where he was growing and enjoying respect. Of all the Thrivers in this story, Watts was arguably Thriving the most – he looked the part, he was developing in his career, he was also living the part [including with the hot mistress from work].

But despite Watts’ newfound freedom [to cheat, to go camping, to eat out and hire a babysitter], the other aspect was that because Shan’ann was in total control of everything, she was also in total control of the finances. Her control of the finances meant at the end of the day she was in control of Watts’ ability to conduct an affair [especially once she arrived home].

Whether you wish to believe Watts was bringing in 100% of the income, 90%, or 50%, whatever is the case Shan’ann was the one controlling the money and also spending a lot of the money. Besides the mortgage they couldn’t afford, a lot of the money was going to medical expenses for Shan’ann and both children. Watts had virtually zero medical expenses; he didn’t even spend money on a gym. If Watts was contributing most of the money to the household [and I believe he was] but spending hardly any of it, then this was cause for massive resentment when he found out how little money they actually had.

Realizing the True Scale of their Financial Debacle

Throughout this case people have pooh-poohed the financial situation. Even the District Attorney did at the sentencing hearing. A triple murder happened, no one knows why. And the finances weren’t really that bad. Really? Watts must have felt they were really that bad for him. Three months behind on their mortgage, a mortgage payment due the day prior to his arrest, hefty private school bills that he did his damnedest to avoid on the day after dumping their bodies, about $10 000 in credit card debt [all credit cards maxed out]and another $25 000 still outstanding on Shan’ann’s neck surgery.

How was Watts going to continue to conduct an affair with no money? And why had they fallen behind on their mortgage in the first place? Who was supposed to be paying for that? And where did the money for the house go if it didn’t go to the house? Did it go to San Diego, North Carolina and the flights to and from Arizona?

Giving Away Control – Then Taking It Back

Watts had given control over many things to Shan’ann, and one of those included control over the finances [including his money]. Possibly he discovered the true extent of their financial woes while Shan’ann was away. He took some time off and maybe opened a few bills, looked at their account online, looked at the accounts in her office.

I believe a huge area missing in the Discovery Documents and the text messages on their phones, are arguments about money. Put otherwise – why are there no arguments about money given their disastrous financial situation?

When Watts bought a meal for two for $62 on Saturday, August 11th, Shan’ann immediately alerted to this expense. What about all the others? That conversation leads somewhere, and somewhere very serious, but I won’t be discussing that dynamic in any more detail here either. Let’s deal with one dynamic at a time.


At some point in 2018, Watts found himself in an affair that allowed him to be someone else. He wasn’t being ordered around any more. He was being listened to. He had become someone again. Moreover, he was interested in and wanted to know about the woman he was with, and wanted to converse with her, and be with her. But he also felt incredibly inadequate around her.

He had good reason to feel inadequate. She was better educated, solidly middle class [whereas he was blue-collar trying to be middle class], and probably better paid than he was. Kessinger’s finances were clearly in far better shape than his were but besides that, his wife was pregnant, and their finances were eating them alive. Plus he had two children to take care of as well.

So there was no way on paper he “deserved” Kessinger unless he lied to her. He knew that. If he told the truth he knew wouldn’t have been “good enough” for her. He wanted to be good enough. He didn’t want what he had in his marriage, which was to be relegated to an ATM, errand boy, video prop and baby maker.

So all things being equal, Watts found himself in an affair with someone who liked him, and whom he liked, but nevertheless wasn’t right for him. She was smarter, she was available but in a sense, was out of his league. Most of us can’t see just how out of her league he was because we can’t stop demeaning her as the wicked mistress.

But if we look at them as people on paper, he wasn’t as smart as she was, he wasn’t as available as he pretended to be, and financially he definitely couldn’t afford to be in a romantic relationship [with all its ancillary expenses] with anyone.

In order to be in a relationship with Kessinger, he needed to be divorced. But if he divorced he’d likely lose the house directly or indirectly in terms of alimony and many other mutual debt obligations.

He would have calculated that in order to be with Kessinger he needed the house. Not to keep or to live in, to sell. To be engaged in a relationship with a woman, especially one a man feels is better than he is, he’s going to feel he needs a lot of “spending money” as the old George Harrison song goes.

To understand the dynamic between Watts and Kessinger, we must understand how and why he felt inferior to her and with her. His appearance counted in his favor. She found him sexy and attractive, and obviously his Thriving and jogging and working out at home had imbued him with a good physique. So that part was good.

But the rest wasn’t. He needed to be divorced and he wasn’t [hadn’t even discussed it]. He needed there not to be a pregnancy [but there was]. And he needed money [money that wasn’t there unless he sold the house soon, and at a profit].

Murder was Watts’ way of balancing out the equation, at least in his mind. Of course, as soon as he committed the murders his inferiority to Kessinger became manifestly clear, both to her and to him.