As a culture, we support the delusion that the fairytale wedding
is the beginning of happily-ever-after, and we have come to
believe in this ideal as the gold standard of a relationship. Additionally,
women are invested in their own entitlement: the idea
that it’s your right as a woman to have wonderful cherishing
relationships and that anything less is settling or selling out. Even
in the face of multiple relationship failures you may believe that
the perfect person is out there and that you can either find him
or restyle your current man to be him.
Where did the idea of this perfect relationship come from? Throughout history, you’ll see economic and social needs taking precedence in a marriage partnership. In fact, it wasn’t until the 1800s that marrying for love became common. Even today, in countries with arranged marriages, there is an unstated contract governing gender roles and expectations, and romantic love is neither expected nor required.
In this modern era, many traditional reasons for marriage have been eliminated: women can now acquire property, have careers, and support themselves and their children financially. Today, many women want to find and be with a soul mate who will complete them—a goal guaranteed to meet with obstacles.
Without a reasonably good relationship model to draw from while growing up, many women may have substituted a fantasy ideal instead. They rejected the problematic relationship of their parents and imagined something perfect for themselves.
Unveil the Delusion
The bitter potion that you may find hard to swallow is that, if you persist in your delusion about having a fairytale relationship, you may morph from the beautiful princess into a dark queen; you will be the one creating havoc in the kingdom when your anger and resentment boil over. In this real world of imperfect humans, you need to realize that your man can’t fulfill this fantasy. I have seen my share of women—beginning with my mother—whose dreams of happily ever after were never realized; their pain is palpable. I also know firsthand how it feels when your hopes and expectations of a perfect relationship begin to diminish and nothing you do can convince your “Prince Charming” that he already has everything you need; he just needs to provide it.
|I’m fifty-five and have been married to a slug for twentyfive years. Why do I start fights to try to get him to care even a little?—Tina|
|Dear Tina: You may have a connection with him that depends on feeling bad. See if you can harvest all the energy you are expending on anger and suffering and focus on creating some good in your life.|
Right now stop everything—the nagging, coaching, and cajoling, and especially the pouting, crying, and acting out your misery. Cease complaining to your partner, but also to your mother, sisters, and girlfriends. Until you can find a different perspective, don’t even run these negative scenarios through your head. You need clarity and this book will provide it, but for now begin by giving up the practices that are exacerbating your problems.
Don’t Expand the Problem
Your intentions were good. You may have thought, if I tell him what I need or what he’s doing that hurts my feelings he’ll change and our relationship will be back on track. However, you may also already have an inkling that your words are falling on deaf ears. Perhaps, as you say these words to him, he escapes to the garage or picks up the TV remote. Maybe it’s even worse than that. As you escalate your attempts to get through to him, he may be building an impenetrable fortress to defend himself from you, and may not remember anything that you’re saying. I’ve seen men who haven’t had a clue what their women have been saying to them, and only remember that they’ve been complaining—a lot!
Please let me be your Fairy Godmother today and tell you that
complaining is not the solution to your problem. Even if your
man tries to listen and does some things to please you, it will be
short-lived and he’ll eventually revert back to his familiar patterns.
There is a way to change this picture and I’ll explain it to
you—but for now, dry your eyes, go to the mirror-mirror on the
wall, and give yourself a pep talk that goes like this: There is no
one to blame here, especially not _______. I’ve tried to get him
to be more attentive and affectionate, but I’m releasing myself
from the task of changing him and releasing him from my need
for him to change. Instead, I’m going to focus on changing the
only one I can change—me.
This is a huge leap and one that may take awhile to completely accept and practice. To help you there are several ways that you can reinforce this new idea. Write in the margins of your day planner, make a sticky note for your computer or dashboard, or with a fine indelible marker and a ribbon make a bracelet for your wrist with this message: Let him be as he is. Some of my clients use just the initials l-h-b-a-h-i to keep their mantra private. You need this constant reminder to truly practice this solution. It is critical to your success and is the most difficult to undertake.
Surrender Your Cherished Belief
I will warn you that it may feel like your heart is breaking when you give up this cherished belief. I certainly felt that way! Being loved by a good man was the thing I wanted above all else. As I began to accept that the man I idealized did not exist and that the relationship I craved would never happen, I felt heartsick. I recalled everything that I did and sacrificed while looking for love and felt ashamed and humiliated. But I also felt compassion for that naïve, needy girl who invested so much in the fairytale that she now realized was an illusion.
Men and Women Are Different
One of life’s realities that you need to consider is that men and women are not only hormonally different, but are also socialized to want vastly different things.
The Female Experience
The female’s nature and conditioning conspire to emphasize feminine virtues like sensitivity and caring for others, making relationships and attracting a man a high priority. While getting an education and finding a job are often practical necessities, it is woman’s biological destiny to bear and raise children, make a nest, and integrate caregiving into whatever else is also important to her.
|How can I stop comparing my husband with my friends’ husbands who seem way more attentive than mine?—Rachel|
|Dear Rachel: You harbor a delusion that there is a perfect man, and in order to support your fantasy you selectively look at traits. This is dangerous since greener grass over the fence still has the same crabgrass. Look at the bigger picture of your relationship for a more balanced view.|
The Male Experience
Your man, however, is biologically and culturally conditioned to suppress his feelings, develop courage, and compete with other men as a precursor to becoming the family protector and making his mark in the world. In fact, the latest research shows that males actually have smaller centers in their brain for communication and emotional processing. The typical man is one who doesn’t have relationships as a top priority or goal, admits to being mystified by women, and has little understanding of women’s moods and feelings. In fact, your man may even believe that—like the fairytale prince—all that is expected of him is to prove his worthiness for the princess’ hand in marriage. He thinks those difficult challenges are behind him at the wedding, while you may see it as only the beginning of the happily ever after he is going to provide.
Men and Women Have Different Visions
While most women’s vision is centered on the home and
family, men are trained to focus on the wider world and often
spend considerable energy mastering something that others deem
important. His team winning the championship or him identifying
with an action adventure hero can be a substitute for this. It’s
a rude awakening for a man to learn that his woman is unhappy
and he may not understand how he could be the cause. It’s likely
that he will tune her out if he is unable to feel successful with her
and turn his attention to another activity where he can achieve
So, when a woman comes to my office to regale me with stories of her man’s ineptitude, indifference, lack of warmth and affection, and inability to relate to her as she desperately wants, she needs to understand that it’s not totally his fault. His role as a partner is no doubt important to him, but his bigger interest lies in doing something great in the world or expressing his manhood in a symbolic way outside the relationship, and that’s not a bad thing. For example, even if you both have difficult, demanding jobs, they will probably mean different things to each of you. His will be tied up with his ego, his manhood, getting recognition, and supporting his family. Yours may be about raising your living standard, saving for your kids’ education, or fulfilling a desire to serve. Even if your money is an economic necessity, you and your man are probably oriented differently to the work you do. There are those who will deny these observations and profess a more gender-neutral world but I believe the contrary.
Women Invest More in a Relationship
Who you are as a woman is not primarily riding on your work performance or income as it usually is for a man. As a woman, your good feelings about yourself may have more to do with how successfully you have attracted a man and how much he adores and cherishes you. Women often compete in this regard. Typically women clients will tell me that they see their friends, relatives, and coworkers with enviable spouses and perfect marriages and think to themselves what’s wrong with me? The truth is that nothing is wrong with you. The glasses you’re looking through are distorting your vision. We can’t know from the outside what a couple’s relationship is really like. It’s unlikely that most women are receiving all the devotion and love that they might want from their man.
Don’t Buy into the Relationship Myth
It’s not your fault that you developed this belief system. The
movies you may have grown up with—especially Disney movies
like The Little Mermaid or Sleeping Beauty to name a few—have
not demonstrated a healthy relationship dynamic and instead
supported the fantasy of an ideal relationship. Every one of these
films focuses on the sexual attraction between the young hero
and heroine and their ultimate happiness together. The fantasy
says that relationships shouldn’t take any work and will arrive
fully formed when the hero and heroine fatefully connect. You
can see everywhere in movies, romance novels, tabloids, and sitcoms
how American culture glorifies sexual and romantic love
and perpetrates this myth.
Unfortunately, when you believe this myth and function this way in your relationship, you limit yourself to a childlike frame of mind—you stay immature and dependent, hoping and waiting like Cinderella for a prince to improve your life and fulfill your dreams. Instead, you should strive to create a brand new version of your relationship in which the challenges and learning opportunities enable you to grow in maturity.
|Discover Your Relationship View|
|1||How do I see myself in relation to my man—as an equal but different partner or as dependent on a certain kind of love from him to complete me?|
|2||How do my need for signs of love and attention and my attempts to get them affect the relationship?|
|3||Am I growing as a more evolved person in this relationship or swirling in negative emotions?|
|4||Am I building a case for my belief (for example, that my partner doesn’t love or care for me or that he isn’t the right one for me), or can I consider a more balanced view?|
Get out of the Victim Trap
You are probably aware of how women are victimized by the
media and portrayed as sexual objects with body images that are
totally unattainable for the average woman. The relationship
victim trap, however, is less well known but more insidious—it
keeps women immature and dependent on men for their primary
fulfillment. By breaking through this erroneous definition of
relationship you will be taking a big step for yourself and another
big step for womankind.
I will show you that, by growing up and becoming a fully mature woman, your relationship can bloom into something that will work in a real life way and be satisfying on many levels. Accepting responsibility for your part of the dilemma can reenergize your relationship and allow you to take a step toward conscious womanhood, a place of true beauty and radiance.
Respect Comes Before Love
You may recognize that if your man made you and your feelings the center of his existence and gave up what was important to him in order to please you, you’d probably disrespect him, maybe even despise him. To keep your trust, respect, and love, he has to show strength of character and autonomy, and demonstrate the integrity that makes you admire him. He must have a greater purpose than your relationship and be successful in worldly pursuits or you’ll see him as weak because he was so easily manipulated in succumbing to your desires. You should be relieved that your man didn’t yield to your demand that he change. He will be more sexy and attractive to you if he can maintain his strong, authentic persona. You may not see this now, but in time you will recognize his resistance as a blessing.
Acceptance Is Power
I want you to find your true self, your biggest best feminine evolution, your wild and wonderful soulful existence, your fullness, your ecstatic love of life that only a totally grounded woman could have. And then I want you to be with your partner as he is without trying to change him. My challenge to you is to grow, inspire each other, learn how to be in a real relationship with your partner, and, more important, learn how to be with yourself. This won’t be an easy ride in a pumpkin carriage. Instead it will demand everything of you.
|I am having a hard time with the acceptance idea. Isn’t that just giving up on him when I know he’s capable of more?—Lorraine|
|Dear Lorraine: Your non-acceptance hasn’t been working for you, has it? Try acknowledging the positives and see what changes for you or for him. You may get the more you are wanting.|
Surrender the Child Version of Relationship
Karen, now forty-eight years old, had two marriages and a
long-term, live-in boyfriend before she met and married Greg, a
childless widower. He is a physician and she is a nurse educator
in the hospital where they met. Karen so longed for a love connection
that she plunged into marriage with Greg and feared that
this was yet another relationship that wasn’t going to make it. “I
had qualms about marrying him,” She told me at our first session.
“But my kids liked him and my friends thought he was a great
catch. But even while we were on our honeymoon he was doing
stock trades, keeping track of patient problems, working out, and
playing golf. I felt like a tag-along.”
Recently, Karen started on an antidepressant to deal with her negativity, insomnia, and irritability. As an only child of parents who owned their own small auto repair business and worked long hours, she buried herself in books and school. Cared for by a devoted grandmother, she saw her weary parents for only a few hours each night and never felt important or cherished by them. Not surprisingly, Karen was attracted to men who had demanding careers and had difficulty paying attention to her as well. Food became a replacement for the missing love and Karen complains she’s even less attractive to Greg since gaining weight.
Despite her incredible intellect and successful career, Karen still holds a childlike view of a relationship and dreams of a powerful man sweeping her up on his steed and galloping them off to a life of devotion and love. She’s magnified what’s missing from her life, and every sign that Greg’s preoccupation is not with her and their relationship stabs at her heart. She reluctantly admits that there are a lot of positive things about her life now. Greg is committed to educating her two children and considers them his own. He gives them a high standard of living and wonderful family vacations. He gifts her with beautiful jewelry, which she rarely wears. They have an active social life based around the symphony where he is a major contributor. However, Karen laments, “It’s mostly his money he gives me. I want more of him.”
Karen agreed to look at the bigger picture and what she discovered surprised her. Practicing the affirmation I am open to receive love in all its forms and in all ways was, at first, a teeth-gritting mantra as she struggled to drop the negativity that she had held onto for so long. But, by reframing events to see the positive, she began to soften and experience love in its broadest definition. When she dropped her preoccupation with Greg, the world became brighter, the roses in her yard smelled sweeter, and the interest of her friends felt warmer. When they went to a symphony fundraiser where Greg was an officer, Karen stood back from the crowd and, instead of feeling ignored and devalued, saw how his commitment to giving and supporting the arts blessed her and gave her more stature in the community. Afterward she reported that, instead of overeating, complaining about her boring evening, and making him wrong for his behavior, she complimented him and said something like, I’m proud to be with you when you take on this work for the community.
Karen said that they actually made love that night. “He commented on how beautiful I looked. I think the difference in my appearance was that I was more open, more positive.” In the following weeks Karen saw that, while Greg cared a lot about money and the things that it would buy, he had a generosity of spirit that she could view as a loving gesture. Especially when it came to her two children, she felt grateful.
Gratitude Expands Your View
Gratitude is closely connected to happiness. People who note the things that make them grateful—from everyday things like the air they breathe to beautiful sunsets to acts of kindness from others or events that turn out well—report more positive feelings and less depression. Karen began wearing the beautiful jewelry that Greg had bought her over the years. He enjoyed seeing it on her even with t-shirts and jeans, and she used it as a reminder of the intangible ways he loved her.
|Love Is Abundant|
|1||Throughout the day practice this affirmation: I am open to receive love in all its forms and in all ways. Test out this affirmation with everything that happens, even those things that at first appear unwanted or negative. See if it fits in some way. The idea is to expand your definition of love from a narrow fantasy to accepting love in other manifestations and from other things and people—a smile, a beautiful flower, a parking place, a helpful clerk.|
|2||Consider sending love and healing to those situations and people who irritate and exasperate you regularly. Recognize that responding in kind to bad behavior doesn’t make you feel good and rarely improves the outcome.|
Entitlement Is Off-Putting
Entitlement—a state demonstrated by Cinderella’s spoiled stepsisters—
is the sense that you are owed something. Do you feel
angry or hurt if you did not receive the respect or attention you
felt you were entitled to? If so, it is better to use this realization to
humble those entitled feelings than to strengthen them by complaining
to others. Interpreting what your partner says or does as
a personal attack or claiming that he makes you feel insecure may
cause him to see you as difficult. Give up that line entirely—you
know, the one that begins you make me feel. By attributing your
feelings to his behavior you will be expending your energy focusing
on him rather than seeing where you may need to change.
Walking on eggshells and tiptoeing around a high-maintenance
woman can be stressful for your partner.
When you act like the princess in “The Princess and the Pea” who can still feel a pea under eighteen mattresses, your partner may decide you can’t ever be pleased and will stop trying. I can hear you asking, You mean if someone hurts my feelings I shouldn’t tell them about it? The short answer is no. This advice, of course, assumes that there was no intention of hurting your feelings in the first place. It is an impossible task to try to teach people to be the way you want them to be. You will only be creating distance and conflict by expecting them to know and provide the sensitivity you need. When you feel hurt or angry it is an opportunity for you to support yourself and accept that others are imperfect and can’t always be as caring as you would like.
When your feelings are hurt, take the opportunity to consider
whether this is an old wound from the past surfacing in another
form or if you are sensitive for another reason. It would be better
for you to allow these hurt feelings to work themselves out rather
than trying to shape your world and your mate into being different
so you don’t have to experience them. It is ultimately more
rewarding to allow people to be as they are.
When she understood herself and her childhood better, Karen realized that she couldn’t expect that Greg would make up for what she didn’t get growing up with busy, distracted parents. It became apparent to her that she would have to find the support and love to be alright within herself—even without constant reassurance in the form of affection and attention from him. She was surprised that when she was not appreciated she could actually tolerate some intense pain, accept that it was old stuff, and let it be OK. Over time, these feelings lessened and became more manageable.
Giving up the antidepressants was the next step in her process and she learned to deal with her emotions without them. She accepted that Greg worked hard to be highly regarded in the world. Karen also restructured her beliefs about Greg and understood that his lack of interest in her at times was not because he didn’t love her.
When women stop complaining, blaming, and explaining and realize that it is okay for their partner to be as he is, wonderful things may occur. You can also extend that same acceptance to yourself and let your feelings exist as they are without judging or trying to change them. Relationships help women mature and evolve through their adult lives. By breaking away from your preoccupation with how things ought to be—how love should be conveyed based on your fantasies and unrealistic stories of romantic love—you are taking a step toward a more realistic partnership based on self-responsibility.
At the end of every chapter I will propose some questions that would be useful to discuss with other women you know. A women’s club, support group, church group, or your own circle of friends may be a place to share ideas about the topics explored in the chapter. This could be an informal occasional get-together or regularly scheduled meeting times for each of the fourteen chapters. The format is simply to let each woman answer a question and share her experience. Because each of you will have your own personal views and unique opinions the discussion can be an opportunity to learn from each other and come to a deeper understanding of these issues for yourself.
|1||Has your dream life gotten in the way of your real life? Just as the media’s beauty standards have made it hard to accept our normal bodies, has the myth of happily ever after contributed to disappointment with your relationship?|
|2||How do you take to the idea of allowing your partner to be as he is without pressuring him to be more attentive? What do you see happening for good or bad if you stopped trying to change him?|
|3||What experience have you had with gratitude? Has it made a difference in your mood or behavior?|