The Emperor Has No Clothes

You know how the "obvious" isn't so obvious when you're in the thick of things?  Well, a few weeks ago I finally realized what's probably obvious to the folks reading my stories - by being the Good Guy, I'm just reinforcing bad behavior.  After all, if I'm upbeat, affectionate, and attentive, things must be great and she should continue as she is, right?

No more.  My "game face" is exhausted, and I can't keep up the charade.  I can't keep pretending my emotional tank is full when it's really running on fumes.  I need to feel desired, not just an acknowledgement of my affections.

So, I've stopped trying to hide my emotions.  I still respond passionately when she's affectionate, but I'm tired of being the love-sick puppy dog that keeps getting pushed away.  If she wants affection, I'm here and I'm not bitter, but I'm not going to keep pushing my affections on her.

I'm not sure whether she's missed my affections, but I think she sees I'm not the chipper person I normally try to be.  She's been a little more attentive the last few weeks, and even a little bit affectionate.  I don't know where this will lead, but it's at least a small improvement on her part.

DC

DryCreek DryCreek
46-50, M
14 Responses Feb 12, 2010

Mem - I think we're on the same page, but perhaps varying degrees. I see no reason to be less civil than I would a co-worker, but emotionally I've become detached; she's getting the hint. I'm not going to live a solemn life to get a point across, but I won't keep investing emotionally (being actively affectionate) when the response is lackluster.

This is not about "making someone miserable" this is about detachment and indifference. This is about NOT expending emotional energy on someone who is not expending emotional energy on you.

PB - I have a tendency to stick it out in bad situations - probably because the Problem Solver in me can't be at peace unless I've exhausted all options. Unlike other situations, I can't step away from this one and leave it for someone else to fix; I own this problem to the end. As a colleague of mine is fond of saying, "Die hard and taste bad"... fight to the end.<br />
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Being ob<x>jective, if I were looking in from the outside, I'd make the same assessment as you and give the same "cut your losses" advice others have offered. As we all know, it's much harder to be that black and white when it's your own situation. I don't know if I'll ever have the guts to admit failure and pull the plug -- there will always be "one more thing to try" -- but if it drags on, one day a straw will breaks the camel's back. If that happens, my hope is that we're exhausted from trying and it comes as no surprise. Really, a lot rides on W's motivation to change; this can't be a one-sided effort.<br />
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Cheers,<br />
DC

DC, I think this is an excellent first step and I'm glad to hear the resolve you have to follow through with it. Being genuine is so very vital to our mental and emotional health.<br />
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You say you haven't got the guts for the other two options yet. You will. I give you great credit for wanting to stay and work on this. That takes guts too! But, I have to be honest and say that I see it going nowhere. Once you stop pretending, her house of cards will start to come down too and she won't like it. She will fight you and this process every step of the way. <br />
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But, this genuine thing, it's worth the trouble. Carve out every little niche of truth that you can. Control what you can and let her know that you are making decisions again. <br />
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Be well, my friend!

Mem - This is about more than sex; I haven't pressed for sex in a long while. I've stopped pretending that I'm content with our situation, which includes catering to her happiness. I'm not out to make her miserable, but I need her to realize she has to be an active participant in our relationship, not just the household task list.<br />
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Reflections - I see what our future holds, and it saddens me; I see a very hollow relationship once the kids aren't here to fill the void. I also know the turnaround rate on ILIASM has been very, very low, despite the fact that we're all here looking for a solution. And I know my three options. I'm choosing to stay and work on it; I haven't got the guts for the other two options yet.<br />
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DC

Excellent comment above. I agree 100 percent. I believe you're wasting your time. Fix things or move on. Times a ticking away.

Ah, the wasted years. We fail to realize that every time we fail to admit our lack of intimacy with our spouses, we have wasted another night of passionate love making. <br />
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One day you will turn around and look behind you at "41 years" of being a married virgin.<br />
Will it be worth it? <br />
Will you be happier?<br />
Will you be wiser?<br />
Will you be where you are today?<br />
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We are all addicted to love ... and to love making.... love makes the world go round<br />
I would rather be making love than fighting with m spouse.<br />
What are the chances that they will appreciate all the years we just left them "alone" and did without? It is unfair, selfless and breaks my heart that so many people are feeling the rejection of the people that were suppose to love and cherish them ..................til death do us part.<br />
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Broken vows are all around us .. yet we convince ourselves that we are doing the good and right thing by continuing to try and try again ...<br />
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How long ? It is up to us

Why would you continue to focus on making her happy - I get that you stopped asking for sex - but why would you keep doing anything helpful to her when she is ignoring your highest priority need?<br />
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Just curious. <br />
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I find that the beauty of being so helpful and fun to be with in "normal" mode is that I can create tremendous distress just by NOT doing the usual stuff and being totally silent other then for "please pass the salt".

Zorba - you're right that taking the blinders off is only part of the solution; action is also required. And I realize that I'll feel very cheated in life if I don't improve my situation. I've been to the other side (before W); I know how intimate we could be and the closeness it can bring - I want that with W.<br />
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I don't have any delusions that I'll change her, but I also don't feel like I've exhausted all options for making this work; far from it. If anything, I feel a little more enlightened about why I feel so unfulfilled. I've started to explore what I'm really missing emotionally, in hopes that we can try to fulfill it together.<br />
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This probably sounds like a bunch of hooey, and maybe it is. But so far my vocabulary has been limited to broad statements like "I don't feel loved" and "We don't have intimacy". Today, I can't be more specific than that, and it's not reasonable to expect her to figure it out if I can't tell her what's missing.<br />
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At the same time, I need the same kind of introspection from her; this is something we've tried and failed with before (with help from counsellors). I need to understand the barriers she has against being intimate, and she's got to work with me to get past them. My hopes for this are thin, but I'm gonna make another run at it.<br />
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DC

Every thing said here is well stated, pertinent and absolutely valid but regardless one thing will remain constant in your marriage and that is that you will be forced to accept and accommodate to maintain tranquility. There is a plus to this of course, in that you may find that she will be greatly relieved that you will no longer pressure her into having any sexual intimacy. In time as you accept this as your way of life you will most certainly regard this as your wasted years, and I hope not, suffer some regrets.

"I believe she really does love me, but not in the ways I need to be emotionally fulfilled. That is a tough thing to accept - that she is what she is, and there's nothing "broken" to be fixed; that the leopard can't change its spots.'<br />
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This captures us perfectly.

LadyA - excellent assessment... my truths are lining up, like it or not.<br />
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Andy - Part of me feels like she takes my affections for granted, but maybe she'll notice their absence. She's been the "hot blonde" her whole life, and I really wonder if it hasn't conditioned her to instinctively rebuff sexual attention; subconsciously, I'm just another guy trying to get in her pants.<br />
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Anne - thanks, that's a very fitting story. It's true that I'm a People Pleaser, and a chronic Problem Solver too. One of the most potent things I've come to accept is that not every problem is mine to solve, and "just because I can doesn't mean I should" - it's tough, but I'm able to be at peace with it now. "No" is one of the most liberating words in my vocabulary, and in the last 10 years I've learned to use it effectively... except in my love life.<br />
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As part of this "epiphany" I'm also coming to realize (after two decades) that W is just not a passionate, sensual, or emotive person. A part of that means I can't get her pulse racing; she's not excitable, and I think this is a huge factor in her not enjoying sex. I believe that drives her other behaviors toward me, avoiding intimacy because it might lead to sex. (That's a whole other story, yet to be posted.)<br />
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I believe she really does love me, but not in the ways I need to be emotionally fulfilled. That is a tough thing to accept - that she is what she is, and there's nothing "broken" to be fixed; that the leopard can't change its spots.

"...I need to feel desired... and I'm tired of being the love-sick puppy dog that keeps being pushed away..."<br />
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I couldn't agree with you more... I have been in the same place... exactly! ...and you are so right, if you continue to be happy, affectionate and never let your real feelings show, they are bound to think everything is peachy. When it is SO not...<br />
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...your responsive, not bitter, but honest approach is good... that doesn't mean it's guaranteed to have lasting positive results, but at least you are being honest with yourself, and with her. <br />
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All the best, <br />
FoP

Sorry this is SO long!! But I think it relates directly to what you are saying DC - and hopefully others will find it helpful too. (If the chanting sounds a bit odd, it is because it comes from a Buddhist website. . . )<br />
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The Good Guy Contract <br />
Posted by Alex Lickerman Print Email<br />
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Twenty years ago, the first woman I ever loved broke my heart. Like many break ups, the end came in stutters and sine waves rather than as an abrupt but mercifully irreversible amputation. However, for reasons I couldn’t understand yet quickly began to resent, my ex-girlfriend continued to ask favors of me. And I continued to grant them.<br />
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Then one morning while chanting I found myself ruminating about how inappropriate it was of her to keep asking, and the more I thought about it, the more irritated I became. My indignation continued to intensify after I’d finished chanting and began showering, finally reaching a peak as I rinsed the shampoo from my hair, causing me to make a sudden and angry determination that the next time she asked me for a favor, I’d refuse.<br />
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At that exact moment, the phone rang.<br />
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I knew it was her calling—and sure enough, after I’d finished showering, one of my roommates confirmed it and added that she’d asked that I call her back before I left for school.<br />
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As I walked toward the phone I told myself that when she asked me for the favor for which I knew she’d called, I’d refuse. I called her up, and—sure enough—she asked me if I would record a television show for her on my VCR (again, this was 20 years ago). In my mind I said, “No.” But then I heard my mouth say, “Yes.”<br />
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I hung up—and laughed out loud. I was as powerless to refuse her a favor as I was to run through a brick wall. Literally.<br />
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So I decided to begin chanting with the determination to free myself from my inability to refuse her favors. And one day, months later, while chanting, I had an epiphany. The reason I remained unable to refuse her requests was that I’d established a Good Guy Contract with her.<br />
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Until that moment of epiphany, I had no idea what a Good Guy Contract was, much less that it was the standard contract I consistently signed with almost everyone in my life. But in that startling moment of clarity I understood not only what it was but why I kept signing it: my self-esteem, which I’d previously believed to be built on things solely internal, was in fact entirely dependent on something external—the good will of others. The Good Guy Contract was simple: I would agree to be nice to you, to advise you, to sacrifice for you, to care about you—and in return you would agree to believe that I was wise, compassionate, excellent as a human being in every way, and finally and most importantly, you would like me.<br />
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This was the contract I’d signed with my ex-girlfriend, the only difference being I didn’t just expect to be liked; I expected to be loved. And for a while, I was. Unfortunately once I’d had a taste of that love, it became my ego’s addiction, and when she took it away from me I became profoundly depressed—not because, as I originally thought, I’d been left by someone I thought was the love of my life, but because I genuinely believed without that someone I couldn’t be happy. Why, then, did I keep doing favors for her after we’d broken up? Because I couldn’t shake the Good Guy habit. Some part of me believed if I continued to fulfill my contractual obligations to her, she’d start fulfilling hers again to me. To say I was shocked to discover my self-esteem had been built on such shaky ground would be an understatement.<br />
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I didn’t realize at the time, but at the moment I had the epiphany about my propensity to sign Good Guy Contracts with everyone in my life, I stopped doing it. This was proven to me three months later when my best friend came to me asking me why I had recently become such a jerk to all my friends. My first reaction was to become defensive and deny it. But then I stopped myself, realizing that he was absolutely right. I began to wonder why I had in fact become so dismissive of so many of my friends and realized that I’d somehow stopped needing their approval to sustain my self-esteem and had somehow torn up all the Good Guy Contracts I’d signed with them (these were people, it turned out, with whom I had little in common to bind us together in genuine friendship). I’d somehow discovered a way to love and value myself without feeding off the love and esteem of anyone else. And most fascinating of all, without my ever discussing this with my ex-girlfriend, she never asked me for another favor again.<br />
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THE BENEFIT OF TEARING UP THE GOOD GUY CONTRACT<br />
I’m not arguing there’s anything wrong with wanting to be liked. Nor am I saying I no longer care if I’m liked or not. What I am saying is that in freeing myself from the need to be liked—in learning to derive my self-esteem from internal support—I can more easily let go of the dissonance that (still) occurs when I’m disliked. Ridding myself of the need to sign Good Guy Contracts has brought me tremendous benefits, including enabling me to:<br />
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Stop suffering when people don’t like me. I can’t control how others respond to me, and being freed of the need to write Good Guy Contracts has freed me of the need to try to influence others to like me as well—which has freed up an unbelievable amount of my time. <br />
Become an effective leader. If your primary concern is to please everyone, you won’t be able to make good decisions for the right reasons. I could never have taken on the leadership roles I have had I not eliminated my need to be a People Pleaser (another name for a Good Guy). <br />
Establish more genuine friendships—friendships based on mutual interest, free of the underlying agenda in which I would use the goodwill of another to support my self-esteem. <br />
Be compassionate. Freed of the need to be liked, I can now contemplate compassionate action motivated only by the desire to add to the happiness of another person and not by the imperative to sustain my self-esteem, making it far more likely my actions will be wisely compassionate, the importance of which I discussed in a previous post, What Compassion Is. <br />
Avoid explosive ex<x>pressions of pent up resentment. Being unable to say no leads to resentment toward oneself that often gets projected onto others but that’s paradoxically rarely expressed (becoming angry at someone would violate the terms of the Good Guy Contract)—until it builds up to the point where it must be expressed and then often is in explosive and damaging ways. <br />
Avoid feeling overwhelmed by too much responsibility. What a relief it’s been to be able to own what’s mine and not what belongs to others. <br />
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HOW TO TEAR UP THE GOOD GUY CONTRACT<br />
People sign Good Guy Contracts all the time. It’s especially common in younger people, less so as people mature naturally into independence. Yet it persists in many—as I believe it would have in me had I not confronted the suffering my signing a Good Guy Contract with my ex-girlfriend caused me.<br />
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If you’re a chronic People Pleaser who can’t stand to disappoint others when disappointing them is appropriate, then you have a great opportunity to become happier. First, how can you confirm that you sign Good Guy Contracts in your relationships (both romantic and platonic)? Try asking yourself the following questions:<br />
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When you disappoint someone, anger them, or cause them in some way to dislike you, does it create disproportionate anxiety for you? <br />
Do you have difficulty enduring even a mild degree of conflict with others? <br />
Do you become obsessed with manipulating how others feel about you? <br />
Are your actions predominantly motivated by how they’ll cause others to view you? <br />
If so, these are reasonably good indicators you’re working too hard to be a Good Guy.<br />
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What, then, can you do to stop? Other than taking up the practice of Nichiren Buddhism, the most effective method I’ve found is to practice disappointing people. That is, when disappointing someone is genuinely necessary, I approach it as practice for developing my self-esteem. If I fail, that’s fine. After all, it was only practice. I get back up, dust myself off, and make a determination to try again next time, reminding myself as I do so that violating the Good Guy Contract and setting appropriate boundaries doesn’t usually lead to being disliked as we People Pleasers fear, but rather to being respected.<br />
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In all honesty, even now, two decades later, I sometimes still feel the tug of the need to please. Though the wisdom I activated all those years ago has never stopped functioning in my life, sometimes it functions less strongly than others, depending on my life-condition. Sometimes I still have to remind myself consciously not to be overly affected by the opinions of others. But the ability to let go of my need to be liked, even if it sometimes requires conscious effort, is one of the greatest bits of human revolution I’ve ever accomplished and absolutely worth every bit of suffering it required.