Relationship Responsibility 101 (For All Those Women Not Interested in Being Super Woman)

“How would it make you feel if your husband or boyfriend told everyone he meets that you’re the “perfect” woman? That he’s giddy every time he comes home to you…That there’s no woman in the world he’d rather be with…That he worships the ground you walk on…Would that be pretty cool? Would that FEEL pretty good? I bet it would   . . . there are 13 skills that some women have that make them a man’s ultimate fantasy… the “perfect” woman… the woman he’d never want to leave and wouldn’t even dream of cheating on . . .(this course) teaches you EXACTLY what they are and how to use them to make your man addicted to you. ”

Do we need to be Super Women to make marriage work?

Sounds like some promotion for a primitive ‘magic potion’ to make your relationship just right doesn’t it? In some respects, that description just may come close. However, it’s actually part of a modern, detailed infomercial, which arrived in my Inbox, guaranteeing women the ability to “snarl” their guy, by developing thirteen essential skills (on their way to being Super Woman). To my amazement, this “program” is being supported and promoted by qualified and licensed sex therapists and counselors; I couldn’t believe the advertisement when I read it. It’s sad to see that although we’re in the twenty first century, not much has changed since Eden; apparently. We’re still basically blaming women for everything wrong; including their partner’s failure to stay faithful and avidly interested in them.

There are several things inherently wrong with the philosophy behind this infomercial. Firstly, it presupposes that men are clueless cads just waiting to be controlled by the whims and feminine wiles of the women in their lives; somewhat like “doggy go fetch you’ll get your reward”. It promotes somewhat beneath the surface, the notion of a deep abiding weakness in men, which can only be “fixed” when the wool is pulled firmly but obliviously over their eyes by the women in their lives. By promoting such, this philosophy and by extension the infomercial, seeks to absolve men of their relationship responsibility; a responsibility which should be hinged on their own personal integrity. Instead, it lays squarely at the feet of a woman ALL the responsibility to tend to her relationship and to literally try all the doggy tricks in the bag, to keep her puppy guy wagging his tail. It is in fact one of several, which perpetuates the idea that it’s mainly a woman’s job to fix her relationship.`

And please guys don’t get offended, I mean you no disservice or disrespect, but the point I’m seeking to drive home is that this ad seeks to rob you of your balls. It attempts to divest you of your power of choice and of your ability to abide by sound decisions based on your sense of decency and on your level of commitment. Why should a woman in a committed relationship or a marriage, need to “trick” her partner into being faithful, loyal and trust worthy by developing these ‘secret’ skills? Can’t a man decide for himself what he really wants? This ad buys strongly into the stereotypes about men which exist today and which are for the most part, seriously media-driven.’  For example, it suggests that:

  • Fidelity is unnatural and difficult for men.
  • Men cannot be trusted to do what is right on their own.
  • Women control and manipulate men because men are weak and basically clueless.
  • A man only stays faithful if his woman is an expert at the latest sexual tricks.
  • Men need to be trained by their women, if such women are to experience happiness.

Then there are the female stereotypes:

  • A woman must perform for her man to keep him guessing and interested.
  • A woman can be the perfect “superwoman”, if she tries a little harder at improving herself.
  • A woman can get her man ‘eating out of her hand’ as it were, if she learns the essential tricks of the trade.
  • A woman is largely responsible for her relationship.
  • Any woman worth her salt knows how to manipulate her man.

Must we really play relationship games?

Then there is the underlying idea which suggests that relationships are really all about manipulative game-playing. He’s not behaving as you want, a la “worshiping the ground you walk on” or being “giddy every time he comes home to you”  et al?  Then learn these simple tricks and have him bowing to your every command in no time. Is this really where we want our relationships to be headed in the twenty-first century? We know that there is a certain amount of relationship game-playing which is rife on the dating scene. Men and women both act in particular ways and there is almost a predictable response from either sex. We attempt to learn each others’ trigger-buttons and attempt to work them for all they’re worth. Perhaps the social anthropologists will say that this behaviour is an age-old game between men and women. Some admittedly do have this game-playing down to a Science but maybe this is where we are going wrong in our relationships.

Playing games or learning tricks to keep each other interested or faithful is to my mind the weaker route and is counter-productive. If we begin our relationships under false pretenses, maybe we will feel compelled to carry them on in this manner; even in marriage. My relationship is not a game of predictability which says “If I do this therefore you will do that”. Life is NOT that simplistic. We are all different with individual personalities and life-scripts which influence how our relationships will pan out. Relationships involve a huge amount of sacrificial risk-taking. This one-size-fits-all philosophy robs our relationships of their individual uniqueness and as to my case in point, absolves men of the responsibility which they MUST share if our marriages are to succeed.

Admittedly, as I have noticed in my counseling, a greater percentage of women are reading books and seeking help for marital challenges. We are traditionally the guardians of our relationships. This does not, however, mean that men should not be responsible or held accountable for their actions. The idea that there are specific skills which any woman can learn, which will guarantee that her husband will not cheat on her, is ludicrous! It means that she is being held accountable for his cheating ways (if he does cheat). Moreover, the thinking behind this ad implies that a wife has her work cut out for her, in ensuring that her husband remains “addicted” to her.

This theory raises several other questions. Where is the husband’s responsibility in all of this? And is he too not required to work to ensure that his wife stays interested in him? Where is mutual commitment in this entire scenario? And why pray tell must a woman be “perfect” for her marriage to work successfully? Why are we repeatedly letting men off the relationship hook yet still expect them to grow up?

In order for our relationships to thrive, working on them must be seen as a two-way street. Yes, I do agree that we have to learn each other and find new ways to keep our marriages interesting and exciting; especially as the years roll by. This is, however, a system of give and take and not one where there is a one-sided servicing of needs. We need to navigate away from reinforcing these negative stereotypes which have traditionally governed our relationships. It’s definitely time to beckon the ‘equal opportunity’ relationship of the present and the future.

Are You Trapped In The Relationship Maze?

Are you trapped in a relationship maze?

Many women today, from various walks of life, are making the same complaint; they can’t find a decent guy to settle down with. Most of my single girlfriends voice the complaint, that there seems to be a shortage of good men. Not to be left out of the fray, many males by their defining behavior seem to believe that the girls should perhaps just learn to share. And therein lies the problem. One of the defining characteristics of the male has been his propensity to be fairly generous in his affections and this happens to be the one trait which most of us women find intolerable! We love generosity but not when it comes to intimacies like love and sex.

So what should a girl do? Should she settle? Relax her standards a bit? Get rid of that old, never to be fulfilled impossible list? Accept the “generosity” of her erstwhile male friend? Forget her idea of an exclusive relationship which will lead to marriage? Or should she just settle for spinsterhood? Certainly, critical questions requiring critical answers.

Like any other aspect of life, relationships and our perception of them have the power to define us. From which ever quarters we gather our information, most of us have a fair set of defined standards and I’m not here to suggest that we lay them down by the riverside. It is important that we know what we are looking for, especially in the area of a life-partner. However, having had a couple of conversations with men, I am not at all convinced that the good breed has become extinct. Somehow I believe that the lines of communication have become crossed between today’s men and women and the result has been a polarization of both species. We think we know what each others’ problems are, so we have perfected the art of accusation without pausing long enough to really listen to each other. As it stands, the guys with the really canine activity get all the attention and the really decent ones get branded with the same brush and could perhaps be overlooked time and time again.

In the war of the sexes the fight is not always fair.

Now I really believe that men and women appear to be at cross-purposes because we have easily become locked into exclusive communication styles designed to keep each other out. We have developed an adversarial “us versus them” mentality which deepens our mutual suspicions and keeps each other at arms’ length. But let’s face it, in the war of the sexes, the fight is not always fair. So then how is a girl to spot a decent guy in this crazy relationship maze we have created? More so, how can such a guy get through to a girl without having his tail whacked in a trap as it were? Have we perhaps become trapped in a complex maze of our own making, guaranteed to keep us apart?

The relationship maze speaks in fact to the walls which are built between men and women, as a consequence of our flawed perceptions and mindsets; walls of misunderstanding, distrust and generalization. If we are to surmount the relationship barriers which we have erected, we first have to recognize, understand and then hopefully circumvent them in our quest for true love. Here are a few examples to go by:

What Women Say What Men Think
  1. I’m confident, independent and capable of making my own decisions.
  2. All a man wants from a woman is sex.
  3. I’m not yet ready to take our relationship to the next level.
  4. My biological clock is ticking.
  5. I wish you would be more supportive.
  1. You don’t need a man because you have it all going on; so I’m not that important to you.
  2. You don’t plan to give up the apple without a fight.
  3. You think I just want to use you.
  4. You’re ready for a marriage proposal and I’m the lucky guy.
  5. You want me to agree with everything you say.
What Men Say What Women Think
  1. I want to spend more time with you.
  2. I can’t get you out of my mind.
  3. I want you to look out for my needs; I have feelings too.
  4. Maybe we can start an exercise routine together.
  5. I want to take care of you.
  1. You want another opportunity to jump my bones.
  2. You want to wear down my resolve with sweet, flattering words.
  3. I can’t stand a sniveling guy and I’m definitely not your mother.
  4. You think I need to lose weight.
  5. You want to control me with your money.

Of course these are just a few examples which are not exhaustive by any means and according to culture and socialization they may change. They however do bring home the point that what we hear/think, is often filtered by our past experiences, the stories we’ve been told by our friends, what we witnessed as children and even by the male-female script presented in the media. The problem with this super-script is when we allow it to become gospel and accept it as the defining parameter for all of our relationships.

There will always be men who are unscrupulous and women who are users. This tendency to look out for numero uno at all costs is just a part of human nature which is unlikely to change. If we hope, however, to find true love, then we have to be willing to give each man or woman we encounter the courtesy of a “clean slate”. So if you’re hoping to get yourself out of this maze, take some advice.

Try not to lump all male and female behavior into the same mold, no matter how tempting it is to do so. Yes we do share several traits but give your new interest the opportunity to shine. Allow a guy or a girl a chance to prove themselves. Keep the channels of communication open and don’t assume that this guy is exactly like your last. Resist the urge to channel your past pain into a new relationship prospect. This does not mean acting naively or putting aside our common sense or our intuition, but it means giving that individual a brief opportunity to prove us wrong. It means keeping hope alive and not being deliberately adversarial or negative in our expectations. Basically it means practicing grace and graciousness, while admitting our own foibles.

Navigating the relationship maze does not mean dropping our guard or lowering our expectations or standards but it does mean adopting a mature response to the exciting opportunity of meeting new people. More importantly, navigating that maze also means looking inward to ensure that we are perhaps somewhere close to the ideal, we are so steadfastly looking for in a mate.

When Your Partner is NOT Into You

I’ve just finished watching the movie ‘Marriage Chronicles’ produced by One Truth Media. It was an interesting depiction of the things which can and do go wrong in marriage relationships. The story-line surrounded three couples who were invited to a marriage retreat by a therapist with some fairly unorthodox methods. From the movie’s outset, there was however one couple that I had my doubts about. While the other couple’s problems were equally serious, what caused me to doubt whether this particular couple’s marriage could be saved, was the nature of their challenge; narcissism. Yes, the wife was a full-fledged narcissist who was not in anyway into her husband because she was fully and completely into herself.

While it definitely takes two to tango, it also takes two to untangle. When the chief problem facing a relationship is however the self-absorption of one or both parties, one could well imagine that trying to resolve any serious issues which emerge, would be akin to pounding one’s head into a brick wall which does not intend to give; ever. We first have to get past the colossal barrier which narcissism itself is. And what exactly is it? One dictionary defines it as “extreme selfishness, with a grandiose view of one’s own talents and a craving for admiration” as well as “inordinate fascination with oneself, excessive self-love and vanity”. By its very telling definition, we can immediately recognize how easily this trait can be the enemy of intimate relationships or marriage.

So how exactly does the narcissist in a relationship behave and how does this affect the relationship? The individual locked into this style of functioning is typically:

  • Obsessed with having his/her own needs met and will pout, throw tantrums or disconnect physically or emotionally from their partner when this does not occur
  • Inflexible, stubborn and unwilling to compromise; there is usually no middle-ground for this individual who MUST have things done their way and who believes that he/she is ALWAYS right
  • Sexually self-centered and performance oriented; this means that such individuals will attempt to foist their sexual preferences on their partner without asking or will care little about truly meeting their partner’s sexual needs; concern for their partner’s pleasure is not based on a desire to really please or communicate love but is really linked to whether or not they appear to be a good lover “for the record”
  • Vain and overtly concerned with their physical appearance; while nothing is wrong with wanting to look great, individuals who are narcissists do not care as much about their partner’s up-keep and will spend inordinate sums of money to ensure that their own physical appearance is always “near-perfect”; this may involve inappropriate splurging on designer-wear or other cosmetic enhancements
  • Selfish about their own personal development; while each member of the partnership may be individually responsible for things like education and career advancement, narcissists are unwilling to make sacrifices to assist or enable their partner’s development but prefer to have their spouse sacrifice for them, after all, they want to be admired, praised and lauded for their academic or career success
  • Quick to lay a “guilt trip” on the partner who fails to give in to their every whim and fancy and is quick to play the “blame game” with respect to their own lack of happiness

Living with a narcissist cannot be easy in any way. The relationship is likely to be plagued by constant tension and an underlying sense of unrest. The other partner may feel constantly nagged, blamed, insufficient, inadequate and isolated. Failure to address the issues can also impact the sense of goodwill that should characterize a healthy relationship and could lead to real division. The self-absorption of narcissists makes it doubly difficult to pinpoint their contribution to problems in the relationship as they are usually unwilling to acknowledge responsibility. What then are the options for salvaging such a relationship?

Confrontation

There is no easy way around it. A selfish individual must be confronted with the truth of their behavior. Specific examples should be drawn to show how the offending spouse has continued to act in selfish and self-serving ways. The spouse who is constantly being hurt must also be honest and specific about how this behavior hurts or offends. While directness, assertiveness and clarity should characterize these confrontations, they should be done as much as possible without aggression or anger as this may serve to make matters worse.

Tough Love

The offended spouse should also be willing to establish “boundaries of intolerance”. In other words, he or she must be firm and clear on what behaviors will not be tolerated in the marriage repeatedly. “Tough love” also means redefining notions of love and loyalty. So often we are schooled into thinking that unconditional love means a willingness to accept whatever is dished out to us. The truth is, that while our love may not change because of our spouse’s “bad behavior”, we should still recognize that healthy self-love also means valuing ourselves enough to state what makes us unhappy. Very often abuse continues because we assume the role of helpless victim and our spouse is empowered by our weakness or lack of back-bone and the vicious cycle continues.

Intervention

Very often the truth is established among more than one “witness”. When all else fails, the offended spouse should seek intervention from a third-party be it a counselor, therapist, pastor, family member or trusted friend. Valuable input from a third-party who is divorced from the day-to-day realities of the couple’s challenges, but can look at them objectively, may play a vital role in challenging the narcissist to see his/her behavior as offending. This admittedly may be no easy feat, as we often become comfortable with our own negative behavior, especially when it has been tolerated for a long time. Nonetheless, seeking assistance from others can only be a valuable strategy in the long term.

Mutual Responsibility and Modeling

While it is so easy to point the finger at someone who we think is perpetuating all or most of the undesirable behavior in a relationship, the truth is that both parties usually contribute in some way to the dysfunction. Narcissists can continue to “thrive” in their relationships because very often their behavior is enabled by a partner who lacks self-esteem, who is afraid to be confrontational or who is simply too plain lazy to do anything about the challenges faced. Both parties must be willing to assume personal responsibility in the relationship, which means a willingness for the offended spouse to see where he or she has also done wrong. Third-party intervention is often critical in pointing this out or in facilitating this. While our natural human response in a relationship crisis is sometimes to seek revenge, adopting an attitude of “tit-for-tat” will be counterproductive. At the same time, the partner who appears to have a more mature outlook or the one who seeks to initiate change must also be prepared to model the behavior, which he/she wants to see.