I’m sitting in a plane returning from Canada where I spent a day with a couple on the brink of divorce. The husband siphoned off hundreds of thousands of dollars from his wife’s successful business in a desperate attempt to stave off the bankruptcy of his own company which got his wife angry. That he did it behind her back, and flat out lied to her about it, got him thrown out of the house.
This is not a rotten guy. He means well, loves his wife dearly, and has lied to her in ways both large and small ways for 26 years. She says, “We’re not picking up the kids tomorrow; they can take the bus. They were rude this morning.” He heartily agrees and then guess what happens when tomorrow comes?
He tells her that a task he’s taken on is finished only when it’s just begun.
“Why?” I ask him.
“It’s this simple,” he says, embarrassed, philosophical. “I’m afraid of her.” And you know what I’ve come to believe? It actually is that simple. Codependent women have received all the notice over the decades, but there are legions of spineless men who don’t tell the truth to their wives; they manage them.
When I sit with so many men who have cheated, been unfaithful, stolen – they may pull their hair out crying, ” Why I did I lie?” I’m thinking, “My friend, you’ve been lying the whole time!” Every time he’s said yes when he really means no, he’s lied, every promise he’s not followed though one has been a lie.
How do we help them stop?! By empowering them, with our help, to dare to take their partners on. “If all she does when you tell her the truth is blow up, then you’re done. But if you don’t clean this up, your marriage is over anyway – and you’re the bad guy.”
We speak so much about the empowerment of our women clients, but these passive, extremely passive-aggressive guys – along with confronting their entitlement need, in the words of the great Carol Gilligan, “to find their voices.”
Of course, the next question to ask such a man is: Who tried to control you growing up. I have a saying, “I never met a passive-aggressive man who didn’t grow up in a family in which – had he been openly aggressive, he would have had the snot beaten out of him physically or psychologically. Trauma lies at the root of this issue. But as important as trauma work is, at the end of the day such men need to put their adaptive children onto their laps and stop their endless squirming. “Let the bad thing happen,” I tell such men. Dare to tell the truth – show up and speak up. I’ll be with you every step of the way.”
Leaning on us, our strength and support, allows them to lean into healthy conflict with their wives.
Real intimacy is not for the faint of heart. It’s not “safe;” it’s fierce. Go for it!