Friday, August 29, 2008

Being the Protector in Relationships and Marriage: When Should You?

Men are often over-protective of women. It’s in our biological “wiring” in our brains; we’re compelled to do it. However, there are times when that urge must be fought off…

I’ve been working closely with one of my top “students” as he makes a dignified exit from a situation in which he and his soon-to-be-ex are grossly mismatched and have determined that there is just not enough common ground upon which to try to hold it together and be able to treat their differences as complimentary tools.

It’s a pretty typical story of an extremely intelligent and analytical male hooked up with a not-quite-as-intelligent and overly creative female. During good times they get along fairly well, but when trouble comes, she grossly over-reacts, and then gets caught up in that emotional validation thing that women fall prey to, wanting to believe that an emotion justifies itself and demands repentance, atonement, and a permanent change in behavior on the part of the man.

She becomes very morally ambiguous and even hypocritical in trying to defend the bad choices she makes because she over-reacts instead of either thinking things through or relying on his analytical skills to cut through the emotional madness and restore order. She went too far, then painted herself into a corner, and exposed a weak and deceitful character that he has chosen to stop supporting and enabling.

She continues to make very bad decisions and is digging herself a deeper and deeper hole, and he’s having a hard time not stepping in front of the train to try to save her. She’s about 40 years old with the emotional maturity of a 15-year old, and her biggest problem is that she needs to grow up and take responsibility for her life and achieve a thing or two to have some sense of self-esteem, so bailing her out of problems would work against her in the long run.

Now that you have the situation, let’s dig into our correspondence a little for a lesson for you to ponder, one which applies to not only to ex’s and soon-to-be ex’s, but often to a partner in a good relationship, children, other family, and friends:

Him: “I wouldn't dream of sacrificing my future in a doomed attempt to relieve HER heartbreak, but through all of this, I have never wanted one bad thing to happen to her. She may well deserve it, but I'm not that guy - revenge only interests me for fleeting moments. Part of being rational, I suppose.”

Me: “If she's earned a bad time, stepping in front of it to save her from it is just as bad an idea as giving her an unjust punishment in the name of revenge."

Him: “Thanks for mentioning that - I needed to hear it. There may be a newsletter in there somewhere, because I see men doing that almost as often as parents do it for their kids. It's going to continue to be difficult, particularly since she's [the mother of my son] and I'm reasonably generous, to let her wallow in her own mess. But I'll manage."

Do you see the point? It’s part of a man’s make-up to be a protector, and sometimes we work too hard at that part of the job of being a man, so much so that we undermine the development of those around us, or weaken their self-confidence by inadvertently making them think that we’re trying to “save them” because they’re not up to doing it themselves.

There are times when we want to help and try to help that our help really isn’t wanted or needed, and is in fact offensive, as our wives and girlfriends, our children, our other family, extended family, friends, coworkers, etc., try to meet challenges and grow. Think about that…

If I could teach you only one thing in the rest of my life about relationships, it would be this: Self-esteem and independence come from only ONE source, and that is ACHIEVEMENT. Meeting challenges and coming out on top builds the confidence to stand alone and have a life, allowing a person to enjoy your company and share a life. Anything you do that impedes others’ ability to rise to meet the challenges of their life puts them one step farther from independence and one step closer to being a dependent, not to mention resenting your involvement in their becoming less independent.

So what do you do?

No, you don’t just say “screw the world” and become a hermit so you don’t impede anyone’s ability to grow. Don’t’ be silly. What you must do is be patient enough to let others ask you for help before you go jumping in. If you can tell that somebody is in a bind, but don’t think they will ask because they are too proud, you can subtly offer: “Man, that looks tough (or “fun” if you think you can get away with it). Can I do something here?”

Asking in that way doesn’t force them to say they “need” your help; it allows them to say that you could be of help, which is far less demeaning if they are trying to remain independent. It also allows them to say something like, “I think I can cover it, but if you’ve been through this and have any tips or tricks to make it easier, I’m interested,” or something like that. Whatever they say, they mean it, so if they refuse, just acknowledge their choice by saying something like “very well,” and DON’T add on something that expresses a lack of confidence like, “You know you can call me if you change your mind.” If they change their mind, you’ll be the first person they call because you offered to help.

The hardest part about being a protector isn’t the protection, it’s knowing WHEN to protect and when to let somebody take their lumps and learn their lessons so they can grow. As far as your relationship with your girlfriend or wife goes, unless you are indeed with a dependent, they will appreciate you not smothering them and allowing them to give things a try before jumping in. It’s a vote of confidence in both their ability to perform and their ability to assess a situation and be adult enough and responsible enough to ask for help if they need it.

By and large, women are neither weak nor stupid, and they resent the hell out of us when we treat them as if they are. They may not do things the same way we would, and at times may not even come close to doing them the best way if it’s something mechanical, but they usually can get it done, and being social in nature, they have no problem with asking for help because it turns it into a social event. However, when we let them see just how far they can get on their own and they make something work, they feel better about themselves, and they have not only a boost in their security and self-esteem as a result, they also have BRAGGING RIGHTS, which is not something we men have a monopoly on by any means. And bragging is by nature a social activity, right?

And what are bragging rights to a woman? RELIEF FROM BOREDOM THAT YOU DON’T HAVE TO PROVIDE! So wise up and take advantage of one of those rare and wonderful things that makes something good happen without you having to work your ass off to make it happen.

In some ways, women aren’t that different from us; in others, they seem like they’re from another planet at times. (An old friend of mine used to say that there’s something on that extra leg of an “X” chromosome that really messes women up!) Understanding our similarities and our differences are equally important in the quest for a happy and lasting relationship and/or marriage. There are some things that are very masculine, some that are very feminine, and some that are simply and supremely human, and knowing these differences can make the difference in you being with a great woman for a lifetime and you being alone and strapped with alimony and child support payments while everybody in your former family except you enjoys the house that you worked (and are still working) to provide, so I strongly suggest you get wise, and fast!

The fastest path to such wisdom is "THE Man’s Guide to Great Relationships and Marriage," waiting for you in an instant download at
http://www.makingherhappy.com. Get it while you can, because you never know what tomorrow may bring…but you can always hedge your bet with good information, if you can find it, and this is it!

In the meantime, live well, be well, and have a wonderful day!

David Cunningham

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