Dirty John and Love Addiction: How to Avoid Relationship SCAMS

Stanton Peele By: Dr. Stanton Peele

Posted on February 20th, 2022 - Last updated: November 20th, 2023
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Kaila Yu contemplated in the Times whether love addiction is real, an actual motivation for behavior.

It was strong enough for a young woman to stab to death her identical twin with whom she was involved in a love triangle.

In fact, the single largest category of murder is between love partners.  Dirty John is a Bravo-Netflix series about true love gone wrong. The first season (for which the series was named) concerned John Meehan and his affair with Debra Newell.  (The second was about Betty Broderick, who assassinated her ex-husband and his replacement wife.) The Meehan-Newell case, originally a series in the LA Times, is also a multiple-part Apple podcast.

Let’s remove all spoilers by getting to the end of the story. The youngest of Newell’s four children, daughter Terra — fighting an attack and attempted kidnapping by Meehan — killed him with his own knife.

It’s amazing Terra could ward off Meehan, who was a foot taller than she. Her mother, who had previously been married and divorced four times, married Meehan in her 50s after dating him a couple of months.  Her family was appalled by Meehan’s off-putting, often crazy behavior. That, and the fact that he dressed like a homeless con man just released from prison — which he happened to be.

Not that Meehan didn’t have assets. He was tall, good looking, an exceptionally quick study (he had a nursing degree and certificate in anesthesiology), and was a master of deceptive manipulation.

But if Debra Newell’s kids quickly sniffed out Meehan’s scams, why was Debra so slow to figure out what was up with her lover-husband? He was a man who — despite claiming he was an anesthesiologist — didn’t have a job. Thus he lay around the home she bought for them all day, regularly stole cash from her, sold and took pharmaceuticals, had a criminal and scamming past with women dating back decades, and flipped out when anyone questioned him about these things.

Those who sniffed out that Meehan was a total scammer and human swamp included Debra’s two older daughters, who refused to have anything to do with him.

Couldn’t Debra, a savvy businesswoman, see any of these red flags?

Actually, she detected and wondered about all of them, but not enough to leave Meehan. She learned from her daughters and a private detective they hired about Meehan’s criminal rap sheet, frauds and the multiple restraining orders against him in his previous relationships, including his ex-wife and the mother of his two daughters.

Yet, after discovering all of this, Debra reconciled with Meehan and moved in with him again — to her children’s horror.

Oh . . . One family member (besides Debra) found Meehan alluring. That was Debra’s mother — Arlane.

There’s something you need to know about Arlane. She testified on behalf of another son-in-law who had murdered Debra’s older sister, then reconciled with him after he served a brief sentence for intentional manslaughter. He was so devoted to the older sister — so jealous and controlling of her — that he refused to let her leave the house on her own.

Thus, when she broke up with him and moved out, what else could he do but kill her?

Meehan too showered Debra with this kind of controlling attention. He made her smoothies, ran errands for her, bought her presents (with her own money). Who could want more from a husband — even though many women would have found Meehan intolerably cloying.

Indeed, Debra and mother Arlane are models of forgiveness, tolerance — one might call it naïveté— when it came to dealing with men willing to assault —to kill — their daughters.

What made these two women so vulnerable to dark, murderous human beings who could be so ingratiatingly servile when it served their purposes? Why were they both so willing to accept professed love from men willing to kill women who thwarted their desires?

They were addicted to the kind of transparently crazy love these men offered — even though the “love” in each case was a needy way for the man to manipulate a woman for his own selfish purposes. That controlling, desperate, clinging love appealed to Arlane and Debra — as it did for a time to her sister.

But the behavior, on the part of perpetrators and victims both, actually showed the power of their “love” addictions.

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Stanton Peele

Dr. Stanton Peele, recognized as one of the world's leading addiction experts, developed the Life Process Program after decades of research, writing, and treatment about and for people with addictions. Dr. Peele is the author of 14 books. His work has been published in leading professional journals and popular publications around the globe.

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