Is Your “Ex” Running For President?

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In a career of doing marital therapy, I’ve heard many, many complaints from the female side of the marital equation. And, as I hope to make clear, thinking about those concerns just might help you decide how you vote in the next election.

To start, a few of those complaints:

1. He is very critical. He rarely says anything nice. He makes fun of me in public.

2. My mistakes aren’t forgiven, but he never even admits that he makes a mistake.

3. He doesn’t have a better plan than I do for taking care of our family and he isn’t home as much as I am. Since I’m the one who actually has to do most of the parenting, he comes out looking better than I do. He doesn’t have to get his hands dirty, I do.

4. When he makes a mistake, he makes an excuse. When I make a mistake, there is no acceptable excuse.

5. He isn’t honest about what he said or did in the past. His memory seems awfully convenient and he even claims I said or did things that are completely off-base. Sometimes I’d like to carry around an audio recorder so that I would be able to remind him of what really happened between us.

6. When things are going badly it’s my fault; when they go well, he either says nothing positive or takes credit for it himself.

7. I don’t like his friends (or relatives), but he doesn’t see their faults and defends them; in fact, he puts their needs over mine.

8. He never compromises. When I suggest a compromise, he acts as if I’m disloyal and advocating apostasy. It’s his way or the highway.

9. He is too darn full of himself and he isn’t sensitive to me and the kids — to our needs.

I’m willing to bet that you recognize this guy. He is an ex-boyfriend, your current or past husband, a father or an uncle or a boss. Sure, you appreciate his self-confidence. Maybe he is charming and able to make a good living. There are likely a number of people who admire him enormously.

But those things aren’t enough, are they? They don’t really make up for the bad stuff, do they?

So why, I ask you, are you thinking of voting for someone just like that, who is running for President of the United States of America?

OK, let me try to give these men (and one woman, as of this writing) a break. In order to become President you must have a number of characteristics. It helps, of course, to be attractive, and there are several candidates who have “movie star” good looks. In romance and in politics, this surely doesn’t hurt.

Moreover, men and women in power need an enormous amount of self-confidence, decisiveness, and resilience. They simply cannot take every criticism to heart without crumbling in the face of the plethora of accusations that are routine in day-to-day political life. They must have the capacity to tune-out almost all of the critical voices.

But sometimes that kind of “bullet-proof” quality is too much of a good thing. To succeed, a President needs to be sufficiently self-reflective and open to new ideas to recognize when he is on the wrong track. Equally, he must adjust to changing circumstances, not just stay-the-course in a stubborn, inflexible, bull-headed fashion. The President requires advisors who will tell him when he is wrong, not a cadre of “yes men” that he has chosen because they will say “yes.”

In light of the above, let’s frame the nine marital complaints slightly differently, so that they are recognizably the same but can be applied to the candidates for the highest office in the land:

1. Does the man or woman who wants to be President simply vilify his opposition? Does he ever give the other side credit for anything?

2. Does he admit to having made even one mistake?

3. What is his plan? Does history suggest that the plan has a chance of working? Does he have an impressive track record under circumstances that approximate those of the position he aspires to?

4. How often does he ignore or excuse his own behavior, while failing to show the same kind of consideration to the other side?

5. Is he honest about what he has said or done in the past? Does he tell the truth (and require his staff and advertising men to tell the truth) about his opponent. Is his memory awfully convenient?

6. Does he take credit for things for which he didn’t really have much responsibility?

7. Is he willing to see and talk about flaws in his own political party, or is he simply a hostage to them? Does he criticize anyone within his party? Is he a slave to his “base?”

8. Is he open to the possibility of compromise in order to achieve some partial (if imperfect) “good” or avoid a disaster, or does he recklessly insist on having his way as the only way forward?

9. Does he have real compassion for — real sensitivity to — the plight of the people in the world who are suffering, the ones without a job, lacking medical insurance, and who can’t afford college. Is he sensitive to the motto to be found at the Statue of Liberty’s pedestal, not just in words, but in deeds and his voting record?

“GIVE ME YOUR TIRED, YOUR POOR, YOUR HUDDLED MASSES YEARNING TO BREATHE FREE, THE WRETCHED REFUSE OF YOUR TEEMING SHORE. SEND THESE, THE HOMELESS, TEMPEST-TOST TO ME. I LIFT MY LAMP BESIDE THE GOLDEN DOOR.”

Remember back to a time when you were younger and you’d just met the guy of your dreams, or so you thought. In the “honeymoon” stage everything seemed perfect. It wasn’t until later that you saw him as he really was. Well, the honeymoon is over for Barack Obama whether you like him or not, but it is still on for some of the Republican contenders for the GOP nomination, who are less well-know, haven’t been so carefully scrutinized, and haven’t yet had the chance they want — to demonstrate their talents (or lack thereof) on the job.

Regardless of who you vote for in any election, it won’t take forever for the honeymoon of the election campaign to be over. Before you vote, think ahead to what it will be like to wake up, not to the presidential “Prince Charming” of the evening before the victory, but the unshaven, tired-out guy of the “morning after” who hogged the covers overnight.

One last thing. Years ago I heard a story about Hale Boggs, the 17th Majority Leader of the United States House of Representatives, a Democrat from Louisiana. It seems that Boggs had just given a speech and it had gone over very well. His wife and he were leaving the auditorium, driven away in a limo.

Feeling pretty puffed-up as he sat next to his spouse, he clearly was referring to himself as he uttered, “You know Lindy, there just aren’t that many great men anymore.” Lindy Boggs, herself no wall flower, could hardly bear her husband’s overblown ego in that moment. She was quick to puncture his balloon: “You are certainly right dear. And what’s more, there is one less than you think!”

As we consider the presidential candidates, we’d best keep that in mind.

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The top picture is the posthumous Official Presidential Portrait of John F. Kennedy painted by Aaron Shikler. The bottom image is the Plaque of the New Colossus Poem by Emma Lazarus (“Mother of Exiles”) in the museum inside the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty. The plaque was dedicated in 1903. The photographer is Melanzane1013. Both images are sourced from Wikimedia Commons.

Beautiful and Smart, But Unlucky in Love: The Reasons Why

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I have treated many beautiful women who reported a history of bad relationships: unfaithful boyfriends or husbands, frank physical or verbal abuse by their partners, or a loss of interest by the men from whom they most wanted that interest. There are lots of reasons for this. Here are a few:

1. If you came from a home where you were neglected, criticized, or abused, your self-worth is likely to be less than what it should be. Recall Marilyn Monroe: famous, beautiful, and talented, but insecure and unlucky in love. A woman with the background I’ve described often looks for approval from someone who unconsciously reminds her of the person who failed to love her as a child. It is as if the unconscious mind is still looking for the thing never achieved before (love or approval), and it only has value if it comes from a similar person. Since the parent in question was neglectful or critical, the chosen substitute will likely be that way as well, providing the woman with another chance to win loving attention. Given her poor choice of a partner, the sought-for affection and approval are no more likely than they were in childhood.

2. Whether male or female, if you moved too often as a youngster, the insecurity of being the new kid on the block is hard to shake. You may also feel the never-ending need to prove yourself. Once again, insecurity can lead to choosing someone less good and kind than you deserve.

3. Are you too needy? Are you dependent upon your boyfriend or husband to make decisions for you? Are you unable to support yourself financially? Can you bear to be without a boyfriend for very long? Do you need regular reassurance you are “the one and only?” This gets old. While that reassurance will temporarily calm your fears, your lover will almost surely tire of it, leaving you insecure if you don’t ask repeatedly for confirmation of his devotion (or him feeling put-upon if you do). As with a number of the concerns mentioned above, therapy is suggested if your self-worth requires an ever-present escort who constantly bolsters you; and a tendency to lose your sense of self in the relationship, forget about your friends when with a romantic partner, and give-in to the new love-interest for fear he will otherwise leave you.

4. Is your beauty (or sex) all you believe you have to offer? There are tons of gorgeous, sexy women out there and, unlike you, they won’t age! (Or at least it will seem so, since, as you get older there will be a new cohort of young females who eventually will look preferable in purely physical terms). Although men can be pretty primitive in their response to the physical characteristics of women, qualities like wit, kindness, intelligence, good humor, and integrity grow in their value to all but the most unenlightened men. As someone once said, “Beauty fades, but stupid is forever.”

5. If a man shows interest in you too early, are you turned off? It’s true that there is an element of gamesmanship in dating and mating, but don’t choose the intrigue of a man who is hard to get and miss the devotion and decency of another.

 

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6. Are you entitled? Do you believe your boyfriend or husband should keep you on a pedestal, shower you with gifts, and buy the best house in just the right neighborhood? Do you value money, status, and material things too much? If you do, a well-grounded man will tire of you or avoid you. One who is less secure or less enlightened may simply become weary of your demands for “more,” and instead seek a woman who is less self-involved and shallow.

7. Are you a good listener? I hope so, because relationships demand this. If you aren’t, your partner will not feel understood. Unless you respect the differences between yourself and your lover (which very likely were initially attractive), you will find the relationship works poorly or not at all.

8. As I’ve said before on my blog, sexual interest and enthusiasm are necessary parts of a good relationship. Abandon them at your own risk. However, this is not to suggest you should have sex simply because your partner wants (or worse) demands it.

9. Do you allow yourself to be demeaned in public by the man you are with? I always ask marital couples seeking therapy what attracted them to each other. One male I recall said, “She ‘shows’ well,” about his beautiful wife. The words and tone were demeaning, in no way a compliment. Indeed, the man might have said the same thing about a show dog or show horse. The lovely lady remained silent. A more self-respecting woman might have walked out of the room.

10. Do you have a drinking or drug problem? Does your male friend? How do you know you don’t? Just because friends and acquaintances drink as much as you doesn’t mean you can avoid the alcohol or drug-driven downside of heartache, arguments, and a bad end to the relationship. Read up on alcohol abuse to get a sense of where you stand: http://www.alcoholscreening.org/

11. Do you wind up with men you feel sorry for? Not a good choice. Do you give in to men who pursue you relentlessly, even though you aren’t enormously attracted to them? Again, this is not destined to lead to a successful match.

12. Do you believe you can change the man you are with? A miraculous transformation is unlikely to occur. Meaningful alternations in any of us take their own time and much painful effort. As the old therapy joke goes, “How many therapists does it take to change a light bulb?” Answer: “One, but the light bulb has to want to be changed.” Take a measure of who you are with while you are still capable of being objective, which means your evaluation needs to be done early in the relationship. Once your heart takes over, rational judgments are either too late or altogether impossible.

13. As a father two two career-minded, married daughters, I applaud independent women who forge careers. But just as a man needs to remember his wife and children require attention, so do women in high-powered careers need to live by the same rules. If you are neglectful of your partner, mentally or physically exhausted by the work you do between 9 and 5, and consumed by issues related to your vocation, the relationship is at risk.

14. Are you too critical? If you experienced or observed a fair amount of criticism growing up, it is easy to become like the person who did this. Indeed, we are often at risk of becoming the thing we hate, or of normalizing the unfortunate characteristics we observed in our parents because we had no other family to compare them to. Compassion, understanding, forgiveness, and acceptance are needed in any good relationship, and in large quantities.

15. Do you expect your boyfriend or husband to fulfill your life and make you happy? No one can really do that for you, although having a companion can be worthwhile and important. But a relationship will not solve all problems or make life perfect. Don’t expect it to. The weight of that expectation is more than most lovers can bear.

16. One final point, and a sad one. If you are smart and beautiful, and especially if you are professionally accomplished, there are men out there who will be intimidated by your competence, intelligence, authority, and attractiveness. As a result, you might have to generate more than the usual amount of effort to find a good match. Unfair, but true.

In closing, I should say that making a good choice of mate, regardless of whether you are a man or a woman, is challenging. But there are a lot of good people out there (albeit fewer men than women), so if your history shows a pattern of failed choices, its best to look in the mirror and ask why. And, if you can’t come up with an answer or change your pattern even though you are aware of repeating the same mistakes, therapy often helps.

This post has generated one very heated and critical comment. You might want to read it and see what you think: Dealing with Online Criticism of that “Bald, Ugly, Old” Man: Me.

The top photo is of Marilyn Monroe, a cropped frame from her 1953 movie, Gentlemen Prefer Blonds. The second image is of CĂ©line Du Caju, Miss Belgian Beauty 2006, taken by Eddy Van 3000 and sourced from Wikimedia Commons.