I’ve seen this happen over and over again among family and friends, and it hurts to watch. And as far as I can see it never ends well.
To generalize this, let’s make up a story about Dick and Jane. I’m making Dick the controlling partner, because I usually see it on the male side of the relationship, but it isn’t always so. This is written hopefully to help Dick understand why it seems the world has turned against him, and what he needs to do makes things better for himself and those he loves.
So as our story begins, Dick and Jane fall in love and get married. Immediately afterwards, Dick’s attitude toward Jane changes. She’s his property now, his wife, and he is the husband. Dick is now the Lord and Master of his castle.
Incidentally, we can’t blame Dick for this sudden attitude shift. This is what he’d been taught by his parents, which they in turn had been taught by their parents. This is not what you’d call an enlightened family, more a traditional one. In the old days this was the accepted rule of thumb.
Fast forward to the new millennium. This is no longer how society works. Change which began a half century before has now come to fruition. Man and woman are equal partners in a relationship, and in society.
Jane has been taught this, if not by her family then by society itself. She is a equal and free person. She has equal rights, and no limits to what she can pursue in life. She can run for President of the United States if she so chooses.
This archaic rule her new husband is now trying to impose upon her does not sit well. Jane has sudden and serious second thoughts about this marriage, but something keeps her in it. Be it love, or a sense of obligation, or stubbornness – or most likely, the false hope that she can change him – something makes her stay.
The first few years are a period of adjustment anyway. Quibbles and quarrels are part of the natural landscape. Over time they settle into a sense of equilibrium, especially as children arrive into their marriage.
But slowly, over time, Dick has devised (or perhaps, evolved) ways to control Jane so that he feels secure. Here’s a few examples:
- Monetary controls – she only has access to specific amounts of money, if any at all.
- Communication controls – he checks on her constantly.
- Transportation controls – she doesn’t have a car, or at least not a reliable one.
- Social controls – he has approval/disapproval powers over who she can have as friends.
If Jane has accepted this – if she has the type of psyche where this makes her feel secure – then she may grumble but that’s the end of our story. But our story is not about that type of Jane. Our Jane is resentful, feels trapped, and against her will has started thinking of Dick as The Enemy.
Now, you see, Dick loves Jane. To him, he’s taking care of her.
Jane, however, is now starting to resent, and starting to fall out of love with, her own husband. She begins pulling away, trying to free herself, to demand some autonomy.
Dick will have none of that. In fact, the moment he feels he’s losing control he starts to panic, and does rash things. He lashes out, tells her she’s misbehaving, tells her she’s causing all sorts of trouble. He punishes her psychologically and sometimes even physically. Worst of all, he puts all the blame on her.
This does serious damage to the marriage. Jane now goes undercover, pursuing her freedom in covert ways. Dick has ceased being a life companion and has now totally become The Enemy. Her love for him may not be fully extinguished at this point, but hate has crept into the picture … it’s become a love/hate relationship.
Dick doesn’t know what else to do. He was brought up with the understanding that control is the only path, that he must remain in charge. When he inevitably catches Jane doing the unthinkable – outright defying him – it throws him into blind panic. He doesn’t understand why the woman he loves has turned against him, and so now he feels betrayed. As far as he’s concerned, he’s given her everything.
And he may have – as far as all her material needs, and her physical needs. But he has denied her the one thing she needs most: freedom.
At this point it’s probably too late to save this relationship. Too many bridges have been burned. Dick and Jane are getting divorced.
Sadly, if Dick doesn’t learn what caused this disaster, he’s doomed to repeat it with other people in his life. He’ll drive away his own children, and probably his next wife as well.
However – and unfortunately – Dick is usually the type of person who blames everyone else for all his problems, as he literally doesn’t see or understand that he caused them. So step one for Dick is to accept responsibility for his own actions.
Dick needs to do something called “root cause analysis” on his own life. He has to look at his problems and ask himself, sincerely, “What did I do to cause this,” and he has to be brave enough to accept the answer that will inevitably come to him.
It is never too late to change. It’s never too late to turn a new page in your life and start again.
Here’s a to-do list for Dick:
- Accept responsibility for your actions and stop blaming other people.
- Accept that you need to change, and truly want to do so.
- Accept that in many cases you’re not the victim of your problems, you are the unwitting culprit who caused them.
- Accept that the choices you make cause the things that happen in your life.
- Accept that you make mistakes, and that’s okay as long as you learn from them.
- Learn to let go of the illusion that you can control people. You cannot. The only person you can control is yourself.
- Accept that the only person you can change is yourself.
- Learn to accept people as they are.
- Learn to love unconditionally. Do not demand or expect things in return.
- Learn to trust people, especially those you love.
- Learn to give people freedom, and trust that – because you’re sincerely trying to be the best person you can be – they will not abandon you.
- If they do leave you, you have to let them go and trust that it wasn’t meant to be. If you let them go graciously there’s always the chance they’ll come back.
- Always focus on trying to be the best person you can be.
The most important thing Dick has to accept is that you cannot force people to love you, and that you cannot force people to stay with you. Instead you have to learn to become the type of person people would never dream of leaving. To do that you must be willing to give them:
- Unconditional love
- Unconditional encouragement
- Unconditional freedom
If Dick cannot do that, then he is doomed to repeat his failures.
And he will always be a Dick.