Jason is a forty-six year old man, who is six feet tall and built in proportion to his height. He has a large, deep voice and presents himself in a highly authoritative manner. In Carol’s eyes, he is an ominous, threatening force that you do not dare to provoke, criticize, find fault, or disagree with. When he barks out his orders, you listen and follow. When you don’t, in her words, the price is too high . He threatens that he’ll leave, says he doesn’t need her, and that she can be replaced by a housekeeper and a younger, better looking woman, many of whom are very available. He is also prone to point out the kind of car she drives, the large house she lives in, and the opulent lifestyle that he’s made available to her, but which he can deprive her of in a minute’s notice.
As you might expect, Carol is intimidated by his threats and frightened of being left or abandoned without financial support. Most of all, she is angry. Angry at him for the way she is treated and enraged at herself for her acceptance of his mistreatment. Clinically, she is a very depressed individual who has little emotional or physical energy, readily sheds tears, and blows up over insignificant issues. She speaks in an anxious, defensive manner, and demonstrates no feelings of love or sexual attraction toward Jason, a man she once looked up to and thought was salvation.
I could go on at length about her childhood, the emotional pain she experienced growing up, and the absence of any sense of security or love from her parents. In her eyes, she is a poor victim who has been mistreated by everyone she has ever loved or been involved with. Although none of those facts change anything, they do explain why she tolerates her present situation.
The real question is, what can or should she do now?
1. Accept that what she has is the most she’ll ever have, and learn to tolerate the relationship she’s in.
2. Stay. Try to make the best of it, but hope that some time in the future, her husband will change, and become a more benevolent individual.
3. Leave; get a divorce and place herself in a possibly worse situation than she’s in now.
4. Stand up, argue, fight, and risk that he’ll come to his sense and magically be transformed into the husband she desires.
5. Grow a backbone and fix herself first before she attempts to deal with him.
The answer is, of course, #5. The real problem doesn’t lie with Jason. Before Carol can ever adequately deal with her overbearing spouse, she must first learn to deal with herself. It stands to reason that, if you can’t come to peace with who you are, voice what you feel, or stand up for what you believe, how can you begin to assume that you can stand up to someone of Jason’s ilk? The answer is, you can’t. Why? Because the partner or spouse that you perceive is always the one you eventually have to deal with.
Let me try to explain:
Carol sees her husband in an ominous fashion. She’s frightened of the way he acts and the course of action he may take. As a result, it’s understandable that she has no loving or sexual feelings for him, and perceives him as threatening. But her perception may be totally erroneous with regard to the person he truly is beneath the image he presents.
On the surface, Jason appears 180º opposite from Carol. He is the consummate warrior. She is the quintessential wimp. You already know she is an inadequate-feeling, emotionally needy individual who subjugates and mitigates her own feelings in hope that it will win her the emotional security she desperately desires. Despite outward appearances, Jason feels equally inadequate. He feels so lacking that he has to criticize or depreciate anyone he loves, in order to ensure that they’ll stay with him. If Carol could see that the ogre he appears to be on the surface is only a contrived image that obscures the insecure person he is on the inside, she might act differently toward him. The truth that emerges is that you have to read between the lines when you deal with others, in order to ensure that the way you interact with them is congruent with who they really are, as opposed to how you perceive them, or how they behave.
For a moment, imagine if Carol had sufficient sense of worthwhileness to not view herself or behave as a victim. She might then clearly see that Jason is similar to a little kid who shouts at his mother, ‘I hate you and don’t want to live with you.” Instead of acting as an insecure mother who punishes, hits, or rejects him, because she’s hurt. She might be able to say, “You can hate me and not want to live with me, but you can’t stop me from loving you. So, I’m going to kiss and hug and love you until you hug me back.” You can immediately see which mother Carol was in the past, but I would like to believe that you can also see the mother Carol can become, if she learns that she’s worthy of being loved, and develops the strength to go after what she desires. In that instance, Carol might be able to say, “You can continue to threaten and say all those hurtful things you’ve said about me in the past, but I know inside you love me. You’re just frightened that the only reason I’m with you is for your financial support. But that’s not the case. I love you and I’m going to keep showing you my love until you love me back, or you so painfully push me away that I have to leave - not because I don’t care, but in order to protect myself.”
It is truly amazing, but at the same time, evident, that the way you perceive someone determines the way you react to them. What is even more evident is that, no matter what the end result may be, when you behave out of strength that stems from what you wish for and desire, rather than from what you fear, your sense of self is always augmented. The best way to describe this change is that you have replaced your wishbone with a backbone and you have grown because of it.