A Couples Therapist Explains How Johnny Depp & Amber Heard's Traumatic Childhoods May Have Triggered Mutual Abuse

Heard instigated fights with Depp to avoid him from leaving because of her fear of abandonment

amber heard and johnny depp Tinseltown / Shutterstock & Pexels

The details revealed publicly during testimony at the Johnny Depp and Amber Heard defamation case offer a glimpse into the potential underlying causes of their conflict.

A couples therapist, Dr. Laurel Anderson, who testified about Depp and Heard's marriage, described it as "mutually abusive." She mentioned that Depp was triggered by Heard.

While I am not attempting to diagnose Heard and Depp's relationship problems specifically, I think it's important to ask relevant questions and explore the dynamics of couples when they end up reacting poorly as a response to trauma.  


What does the case reveal about relationships? When we get caught in our emotions, stuck in the trauma of the past, we don't see each other for who we are and respond according to our unmet needs.

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What Johnny Depp and Amber Heard's volitile relationship teaches us about childhood trauma and mutual abuse:

According to Dr. Anderson, Depp experienced abuse from his mother growing up, and Heard was also beaten up by her father. So how did this marriage trigger their trauma responses?

Whenever Depp would leave to try to deescalate a fight, Heard would start a fight to keep him with her because of her fear of abandonment, and having him leave was her worst nightmare. It was reported that she would rather be in a fight with him than allow him to leave. 

Depp appears to have chosen a wife who instigated fights with him, like his mother. Could he have been replaying the same dynamic with his mother by placating Heard and retreating in order to feel safe? Did he simply "marry his mother" who abused him? Did he put up with it and eventually give it back?

Was Heard trying desperately to get back the love she needed from her father to escape the abandonment feelings? 


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Even though Dr. Anderson stated the relationship was mutually abusive, was Depp simply pushed to the limit and reacted to abuse? On the other hand, did Depp’s withdrawal trigger fears of abandonment in Heard, causing her to spiral out of control?

It seems they were reacting from the place of their wounds and not able to recognize what was happening to each other.  

What happens when you cannot see how your partner feels because you’re locked in your past?

We end up reliving the past and not connecting with our partner. We don't see them for who they are. We can only relate to each other from the place where we've healed.


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Making a partner stay and talk when they feel unsafe can scare them off, especially if they feel triggered by an abusive parent. This is how the fear of abandonment pushes a partner to abandon you. It might temporally alleviate feelings of abandonment, but it certainly causes a partner to seek distance.

Heard and Depp might have been protecting themselves in ways that were mutually abusive toward one another.

Like many couples, Heard and Depp reacted to protect themselves from the pain that was stirred up, which caused them to end up re-enacting the patterns that they believed protected them.


Did Depp and Heard unconsciously attract each other to make up for unmet needs, but recreated the same dynamics that destroyed their marriage?

When couples end up triggering one another’s wounds, they re-enact the same dysfunctional attachment patterns with each other. It seems Heard associated love with abuse and instigated fights to feel loved. Meanwhile, Depp kept his distance to avoid the threat of danger.

It's the kind of relationship that stirs up our deepest wounds and can re-activate them all over again if we don't do the inner work to heal.


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Nancy Carbone, MSocSc, is a relationship therapist and author who works with couples on traumatic relationships