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Why do women fall for Drew Peterson?

Former police Sgt. Drew Peterson, 55, isn't exactly the world's most eligible bachelor. Despite being under suspicion for killing two previous wives, he's scored yet another young fiancee. Dr. Gail Saltz explains the odd allure of a man like Peterson.
/ Source: TODAY contributor

The 24-year-old fiancee of Drew Peterson, the 55-year-old man under suspicion for killing two previous wives, is reportedly back together with him.

Why would a young woman like Christina Raines — a single mother — stay with a man like this, who has been married four times before, who is old enough to be her father and who is under public scrutiny for allegedly having harmed two of his former wives?

I haven’t met or treated either Peterson or Raines, but here are some possible reasons for her motivation under admittedly unusual circumstances.

As to why a young woman might be interested in a man so much older — that is explained by the Oedipus complex.

Some women, particularly those with fathers who have been emotionally unavailable, long to gain the attention and approval of a father figure. All girls feel some longing for their father’s attention, but if these longings are adequately filled in the paternal sense, they are able to repress this longing and don’t need to transfer it to somebody else.

But if these longings are not filled, they live on, and a young woman may seek out much older men.

Drew Peterson, a former police sergeant, has one dead wife and one missing wife. His current wife, Stacy, disappeared in October 2007, and his third wife, Kathleen Savio, was found dead in March 2004. More recently, Drew Peterson has caused conflict between his young girlfriend and her father.

It is a huge red flag when a women is told by her partner that she will be loved and protected, but is discouraged from associating with others.

An insecure man may try to make himself feel more powerful by controlling a woman and isolating her so she is dependent on him. When a man systematically cuts off his girlfriend’s relationships with family and friends, the situation is ripe for either emotional or physical abuse.

There might also be an element of the excitement of sadomasochism in this kind of relationship. Many people would run for the hills if asked out by somebody under suspicion for killing his wives. But some women feel excitement at the threat of violence and danger or even may feel they deserve punishment and are therefore are drawn to a high-risk situation.

A sociopath can often be charming, smooth and seductive, so some women easily fall into his trap. And these women might like the idea they are so super-special that they can win the competition — they can be the one to “tame the beast,” so to speak. A young woman frightened by the prospect of being a single mother can be at risk for being seduced with a promise of caretaking, and buy into promises that she is so wonderful he would never hurt or leave her.

Leaving your fiance and then returning suggests intense ambivalence about committing to this relationship. Denial of reality is often used to keep at bay whatever seems most scary and concerning about a relationship. It takes a mature and grounded person to be willing to tolerate the anxiety of examining the pros and cons of an impending marriage, rather than going with the allure of unconscious wishes to be taken care of and the excitement of being the center of media attention. Anyone in this situation should take the counsel of friends and loved ones, and make a thoughtful, rational decision, especially when children are involved.

Dr. Gail Saltz is a psychiatrist with New York Presbyterian Hospital and a regular contributor to TODAY. Her latest book is “Anatomy of a Secret Life: The Psychology of Living a Lie.” She is also the author of “Amazing You! Getting Smart About Your Private Parts,” which helps parents deal with preschoolers’ questions about sex and reproduction. Her first book, “Becoming Real: Overcoming the Stories We Tell Ourselves That Hold Us Back,” was published in 2004 by Riverhead Books. It is now available in a paperback version. For more information, you can visit her Web site, .