Sunday 19 November 2017

How to deal with a difficult man...

Some boyfriends are bad news, says psychoanalyst Dr Bethany Marshall. Here, she reveals the five types that you should definitely dump. STEFANIE MARSH reports

I don't think it's possible to interview Dr Bethany Marshall - PhD, psycho-analyst, marriage and family therapist. What you get instead is an hour-and-a-half of free therapy. "Secret grandiosity," she's saying gently yet firmly over the phone, "you might want to look that up." She listens some more and decides that, "it could also be avoidant personality disorder".

As she continues to dismember another of my ex-boyfriends - her voice musical, her words crushing - I imagine being one half of one of the American couples who come regularly to seek relationship advice in her California-based office. I imagine my imaginary American spouse - open, willing, the fingers of his left hand intertwined with the fingers of my right, a gesture of our unwavering solidarity.

Then I imagine the Irish version: the umbraged male partner being led against his will to the therapist's room, as if to the scaffold; his 101 get-out clauses; his belief that couples counsellors are like cult leaders: they reprogramme your brain.

Would it have helped had I handed him a copy of Deal Breakers?

Marshall's forthcoming self-help book, is "the kind of thing you can give to your boyfriend or husband," she says, but I'm not so sure. The book is subtitled Breaking Out of Relationship Purgatory. There are other words on the cover such as 'loser' and 'you're dumped'.

I imagine casually saying to my boyfriend: "I saw this and thought of you" as if I could pull that off in a country where it is normal to hide your self-help books in a purpose-dug hole in the back of your wardrobe.

But Marshall is convinced that Irish men will go for it. That's because conceptually, she says, the book is winningly male. "Men are used to making deals."

And difficult men who are, as Marshall says, "emotionally unhealthy" will fit into roughly five types: The Man in Charge, The Little Boy Who Poses As a Man, The Man Without Fault, The Scriptwriter and the Invisible Man.

If I were a difficult man I think I might take issue with being shrunk-fit in this way, but then the book is not written for men. Men don't read self-help books, says Marshall, because they contribute to a relationship in more typically male ways, such as mowing the lawn.

"This is a book that tells you when to work on it and when to walk away," she says. " Deal Breakers helps you to identify what you're dealing with."

The Man in Charge is obvious: most Soviet-era dictators fit into this mould. He checks up on his spouse, reads her emails, continually comes up with unasked-for suggestions and advice and doesn't enjoy new experiences. He sounds annoying and I can't think why anybody would want to go out with him.

Apparently, it's because at the beginning of the relationship - the first date - he makes you feel taken care of when he rings you up to give you directions to the restaurant.

More my type is The Little Boy Who Poses As a Man - he won't get a job, forgets to brush his teeth, is sweet and charming, and won't spend time with your family. "I think I went out with one of those," I tell Marshall. But how can I be sure?

"Was he over 25, with intentions to start up a world-famous rock band?"

"He might have mentioned it."

"You were going out with a four-year-old."

Marshall has been counselling a four-year-old and his girlfriend for four years now. Has anything changed? "He'll get a job for a few months to make 'Mommy' happy, then stop again. He can be very naughty."

What I should have done with my four-year-old ex was to take him to one side and say: "I have been noticing that you don't seem concerned with meeting my needs [follow with example]."

But I don't think I could have said it, it sounds so corny. What's wrong with bursting into tears or composing long, self-righteous letters? At the end of the line I can feel Marshall shaking her head.

My neighbour, Jessica, went out with The Invisible Man. It sounds glamorous but in fact he's the kind of guy who is "oblivious to the subtleties of social interaction", who holds up the newspaper at breakfast like an impenetrable barrier, who spends quality time with only inanimate objects (houses, coin collections, cars, sports gear).

Jessica tells me the story of a conference in Paris during which the Invisible Man invited her to stay with him for the weekend at a posh hotel. "The next morning he ordered breakfast for one as he was on expenses, and made me eat off his plate and share his coffee cup. I felt like a dog begging for scraps."

There's a little pause as I digest this information. "Yeah, I dumped him," she says. Which was easy for Jessica because, as a woman working in finance, she knows all about deals and when deals are broken. Barring caller access ranks as one of the top 10 things she likes to do best.

I'm still uneasy with the idea of bargaining with a man I'm supposed to be in love with. "Little boys don't think about the future because their mothers are always there to take care of them," Marshall trills. "Part of each relationship is reciprocity."

The Scriptwriter tells you how you feel and who you are, and it turns out I've been out with him, too. He tells you that you're flirting with other people when all the time he's been doing it with your best friend. You tell him you don't love him any more and he gives you a hug for being so insecure.

He does all these things because his mother apparently projected her feelings on to him when he was a boy. She was hungry so she fed him. She was lonely so she convinced herself that her son had no friends at school.

One of the irritating things about therapists is their conviction that the only way to fix a relationship is to go to therapy. In California couples go all the time, as if to the cinema. Three months into the relationship and couples are going to couples counselling even if there isn't anything wrong.

Fifty-one per cent of Americans are single. Ireland is heading that way. People break up, says Marshall, because "they don't know what deal they want when they go in" - ie, buy the book. Start running your relationship like a small business, that is the current thinking.

Find happiness and fulfilment by casting out the old and finding somebody better. What if you have kids? "You have to think about how your bad relationship may be affecting your children in negative ways," says Marshall.

What if there isn't anybody better? "You can always go on antidepressants," says Jessica. "They lower your sex drive too, which kind of solves the problem."

'Deal Breakers', by Dr Bethany Marshall, is published by Simon & Schuster, ?19.36.

What's he like?

THE MAN IN CHARGE First impressions:

You admire him because you can rely on his help.

Warning signs:

Feels mistrustful towards people not under his influence or control.

May become worried if he cannot comment on your private conversations, schedule or emails.

Believes without his help you cannot run or succeed in your life.

Begins to question your decisions.

One or both parents dominated him.

Constantly offers suggestions or advice.

Gets annoyed if you don't follow advice.

Becomes anxious when you are looking sexually attractive.

Proud of his own refusal to give in/ inflexibility.

Deal breakers: He thinks he's your boss.

THE SCRIPTWRITER First impressions:

Tells you on your first date that his last girlfriend lied to him.

Warning signs:

Decides who you are without consulting you, embraces the belief 'I know you better than you know yourself'.

Is convinced you are keeping things from him/ never there for him/ would be nothing without him/ a gold-digger with little supporting evidence.

You start to feel coerced into expressing thoughts and feelings that are not your own.

Projects his ideas on to you and you are acting them out.

Thinks he knows your true motivation.

Deal Breakers: You feel uneasy, insecure or invisible with him.

THE MAN WITHOUT FAULT First impressions:

He feels his life is more valuable than anybody else's.

Warning signs:

Cannot self-reflect or take responsibility for his actions and feelings.

Your relationship revolves around him.

Overvalues his own achievements, dismisses negative impact his behaviour has on others.

Prone to moralising.

He loses his temper when you mention the future/commitment.

Thinks he is bigger than God, but is subconsciously insecure.

When his feelings are hurt he will attack back cruelly.

Deal breakers: Your concerns are trivialised.

His future with you looks bright; your future with him looks dim.

THE INVISIBLE MAN First impressions:

A quiet and shy man who is steady.

You're confident you can pull him out of his shell.

Warning signs:

Emotionally constricted. Trusts hobbies more than women.

Goes to great lengths to avoid anger, conflict or passion.

May dress embarrassingly.

Lacks responsiveness, isn't really 'there'.

Rarely initiates or contributes.

May be depressed.

Most conversations do not lead to anything new.

Sexually disinterested and refuses to talk about it. Then you discover he's gay/been downloading internet porn.

Deal breakers: He calls you hypersensitive.

He refuses to socialise with your friends.

THE LITTLE BOY First impressions:

You fall in love with him fast because he needs you. He is fun and exciting.

Warning signs:

Allergic to commitment, responsibility, reciprocity and emotional growth.

Believes relationship will run smoothly without personal investment or compromise.

You give and he takes.

You earn the money, he spends it or refuses to produce resources of his own.

He believes things come easily to you.

'Isn't my love enough?' is his favourite phrase.

May cling but also cheat/flirt.

He passively gets by because he has a history of being taken care of by others.

Deal breakers: He does not groom himself.

Won't make financial plans for the future. Attacks you if you mention it.

He refuses to help around the house.

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