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I have observed over the years many wonderfully bright and successful women who are obviously mismatched with a life partner or significant other. For some this is not a single experience but rather a pattern of choosing partners who are needy and dysfunctional. Woman who are charming, well educated, and successfully employed who compromise their lives and futures by committing to a man that is obviously Mr. Wrong.
I write this article as the common denominator of two failed marriages and other unsuccessful significant relationships. I say this so you know that I am not judging or writing about material that I have not experienced. I have been on a twenty year journey of being compelled to understand the “why” of it all. Through understanding I hope to help other women understand too. I call myself the “common denominator” as a constant reminder that I was a free and willing participant—and sometimes the aggressive seeker—in these relationships. I will not excuse my actions by assuming the role of a victim. I also refuse to cast the men as the villains in the relationships. In reality we were dysfunctional people, trying to find happiness and making each other miserable.
I previously wrote an article about the destructive attraction between narcissists and codependents. It was cathartic for me in understanding one of my relationships. But what it didn’t explain was my pattern of unhappy relationships because certainly not every man I “loved” was a narcissist.
John Farrar, an author and counselor at Central Michigan University, says, “It appears to cross all age, ethnic, and socioeconomic lines. More descriptively, the pattern is one in which females of virtually any age, from teens to seniors, attach themselves to males who are significantly less capable, achieving or functional than they are.” Mr. Farrar refers to it as a “recurring nightmare”. His published research comes from working with and surveying over 300 women.
“My investigation has led me to the identification of six causes, or ‘strands’ as I identify them, that lead to these relationship decisions,” Farrar says. “I refer to them as strands because there appear to be many ‘fibers’ that combine to produce the motivation embodied in that strand. In addition, often women have been able to point to more than one motivation, one strand that generated (their) relational choice.”
The first strand that he identified was poor self-esteem or poor self-concept which leads the woman to believe that she is getting all she deserves in her relationship even though friends and family may clearly see the obvious mismatch.
The second strand was nurturing which many anthropologists identify as caretaking and believe is biologically rooted in a woman’s nature. While men, through the millennia, have been hunter-gatherers, women tended to the nest and the offspring. It is a traditionally held view that, even in the age of the computer, feminism and the two-income household, women retain their biologically driven instincts to look after others.”
The third strand was excitement, which explains certain women being drawn to “bad boys.” So do nice guys finish last? To the women and girls in this strand, the answer is yes. These men are seen as more challenging and more exciting than more conventional good guys.
The fourth strand was the need to be nurtured which makes many women vulnerable to a “sugar daddy”. This man brings elements of status to the relationship, Farrar says, such as a nice car, extravagant trips or lavish spending.
The fifth strand is control. This is a common strand identified by more mature women, Farrar notes. “This strand is, in many ways, more complex and difficult to understand fully than many of the others,” he says. “Its origins may be the most difficult to trace and, in all likelihood, probably has its beginnings in many disparate areas. The female who is seeking control, either consciously or unconsciously, may be exhibiting learned behavior from a dominant mother.” In these relationships, he says, either underlying insecurity is guiding these women to needier males, or the women are simply acting out their commitment to a feminist view, which makes them determined not to be dominated by any man.
The sixth strand-chemistry-is the miscellaneous, “there’s just something about him — a certain je ne sais quoi,” catchall strand. “Chemistry addresses the inexplicable biological magnetism and is aimed at accounting for relationships which do not fit into any of the previous five (strands),” Farrar says. “It accounts for relationships between individuals for whom there are no obvious common interests or personality matches. It also explains why a woman is drawn to a male who, on a more rational, cognitive level, she concedes has seemingly little to offer in terms of physical appearance or social status.”
Although I admittedly don’t know how researchers judge the scientific basis of Mr. Farrar’s conclusions, as a woman with life experiences that qualify me to have an opinion, I think his identified “strands” make a lot of sense. I can relate! Can you?
So how can you change and start to make healthier decisions about relationships? After identifying the strands, Farrar took his research a step further and developed strategies to help women choose healthier relationships. Among his suggestions:
- Recognize personal tendencies.
- Recognize that sense of self determines direction.
- Understand that personal beliefs and ideas are the basis of personal choices.
- Learn the differences between healthy and unhealthy relationships.
- While biology is a powerful influence, understand that individuals ultimately retain the power to shape their choices.
- Do the right thing. Come to grips with family background, values and cultural influences.
Therapy will be very helpful on your journey to finding happiness and fulfilling relationships. Therapy will help you identify your faulty thinking and understand the “whys”. Our thoughts affect not only our individual lives but also the totality of life around us. Where you put your energy in thought is important. If your thoughts are based in negativity and limitations you create a very different life than if your thoughts are rooted in abundance and love. You have the ability to create a meaningful life by changing the way you think.
There is one more element that I would add as significant to a pattern of unhealthy relationships. It is my belief that casual sex or sex outside the bounds of a mature and committed relationship leads many women down a slippery slope. It is said that women have sex to get love and men say they love them to get sex. Said another way, sex represents commitment to most women while to most men it’s just sex…. My coaching for women who are dating is built on a foundation that abstaining from sexual activity is very helpful in realistically evaluating the long term potential of the relationship.
Bonnie Harken, NCLC, Founder and CEO of Crossroads Programs for Women, has been in the mental health field since 1987. Look for upcoming programs at Crossroads Programs for Women, where you can begin your journey of finding renewal, hope, joy, direction and passion. www.crossroadsprogramsforwomen.com 800-348-0937
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