Conflict in relationships is often attributed to the ‘drama queens’, but it takes two to tango. Rarely do we speak about the type of man who is likely to lead a woman into a chaotic relationship.
We asked Dr Chris Hart, psychologist and relationships coach, to help us analyse some male characteristics that bring the worst out in even the calmest woman.
THE ‘I DON’T WANT TO TALK ABOUT IT’ MAN
Even after 10 years of marriage and three children, 38-year-old Joan Ngatia says her husband’s cold war strategy is still the most frustrating thing about him.
“When we have a disagreement or he is feels troubled, he will go silent for days. The more I try to draw him out, the more he retracts, and the angrier I get. That’s when I lose my cool. At this point, it seems like I am just being a drama queen while he is innocently sitting there, saying and doing nothing.” Joan admits that she gets so frustrated that she ends up crying, “In the few times that tears get his attention, it is to ask me why I am being so emotional. ME!”
Hart says: “It’s all about the way male and females are socialised to deal with conflict. Women have the tendency to want to talk about something right away. Men think in terms of solutions. They don’t explore the problem. They are also socialised not to show vulnerability. If you bring something up and say we need to talk about it now, he is going to feel ambushed and do everything in his power to wiggle out. What he wants is time to try to find a potential solution.
THE ‘CHAOS IS MY CHARM’ MAN
“There is something about all the TV characters that I am thoroughly attracted to,” says Christin. “Gregory House MD, who is a genius doctor but a pill-popping sociopath; Tommy Shelby, who is a successful business man but a ruthless gang leader; Will Graham, a brilliant mind but emotionally scarred … you get my drift, right?”
Christine says her revelation came after she met and ‘dated’ such a character in real life. “He was European, ex-military, travelled the world sailing and climbing mountains. But he was only with me when he was with me; as soon as he packed his bag for his road trips, I didn’t exist. When he came back into town he was perfectly present and loving. When I told him how I felt, he said I was overthinking it – that we should just have fun. I didn’t want to be un-cool and lose him so I played along for a year. Some other times he would be in these depressive episodes where even when he was in town, he was distant and isolated. I later realised that there is something about me that draws to and wants to nurse the broken man.”
Hart says: “We romanticise this chaos because we are attracted to excitement – to people who talk a lot, do exciting things, rush around and are unpredictable. Yes it is exciting but they also come with a tremendous amount of baggage. Some of these (broken) people have underlying personality issues. Relationships can be the best thing that happen to us, but only if you rule out the no-hopers; the people who are weird in some way or other that you just can’t cope with them. The solution is to walk away”
THE ‘LET’S PLAY IT BY EAR’ MAN
When Lindsay* met him, he seemed genuinely interested and invested in her. But after dating for two months, he got a transfer to another city, and that’s when trouble begun. “On the one hand, he kept saying he was coming back,” she explains, “but when I asked him whether that meant we would be having a long distance relationship and therefore not seeing other people, he said he didn’t know, that it was up to me.”
Lindsay says she found his mixed signals extremely frustrating, “I would chalk it down to him not being really interested but then he would call and say he really missed me. And then he would evade the whole ‘where-we-are-at’ conversation. I wanted clarity so that I would know how to proceed with my life but he made me feel as if I was forcing him to make a decision.”
Hart says: “You are more invested in the relationship than he is. At each stage both of you should be defining the progress – like agreeing that you are an item, working towards commitment, going to get married. And if you find that one of you does and the other doesn’t, go find someone who does. Some men will not tell you the truth because nobody likes to be the bad guy. It’s is hard to say, ‘Look, I don’t want to do this anymore’ so people just try to send subliminal messages, like being less available. Some know you are not really the right person, but since they haven’t met the right one, they carry on with you. That’s why you’ll be going along and everything seems fine then all of a sudden he disappears and marries someone else in three weeks. So if you sense anything less than real enthusiasm, don’t continue with the relationship.”
THE ‘SHE IS JUST MY FRIEND’ MAN
“It’s not that I don’t trust my boyfriend” says 30-year-old Alice who’s been in a relationship for nine months, “but he has a LOT of female friends! The fact that he is a flirt is part of his charm, but now that I’m his girlfriend, it’s unsettling.” That’s not all. “He also always seems to hang out with this particular girl. When we first started dating, he introduced me to her as his girlfriend and her as a longtime friend. But it always nags me that they hang out together alone – even though they do it in public. But then again, he’s open about it. Yes, of course, I’m jealous; but is it fair for me to tell him to end it? My worry is that if I do he is going to resent me. I don’t want to be that crazy girl who makes things out of nothing.”
Hart says: “It’s a question of where the boundary is. If you feel the boundary is in the wrong place, then it is. The only way cross-gender relationships will not cause conflict is if it is completely open and you feel comfortable about the things they talk about.
Jacqueline swears she knew better than to call another woman to ask her how she knew her husband. “From the minute I picked up the phone, I knew I was being crazy,” she admits, “but there is something about that moment that isn’t about logic. When someone is cheating, you just get this feeling. So I snooped in his phone and found this number he was always in contact with. I asked him who Rose was and after getting angry that I was snooping in his phone, he said she was a colleague he was trying to set up a business with – a business he hadn’t mentioned to me.”
Jacky also swears she is not a snoop or a nag. “It turned me into someone even I didn’t like. I checked his phone again. He was still in frequent contact with this woman, only this time, the contact name had been changed to ‘fundi’. I didn’t ask him about it again because I knew he would lie. I decided to call her. She picked up on the first ring and when I said hello, she hang up. I texted her and called her a few choice names. I don’t think it’s fair that when a man is cheating, I am the one who comes off looking like the bad guy.”
What’s with him? It comes back to the same thing – if you start going out with someone and you see that behaviour, don’t bother to say anything about it; just leave. There’s only one thing worse than being single and that’s being married to the wrong person wishing you were single.
THE THING ABOUT DRAMA…
Dr Hart warns that what you see in the early days of the relationship is what you get, and that it is going to stay that way. “It doesn’t matter what you are talking about; habits, addictions, personality issues or just the way they spend their time,” he says. “People don’t change habits very easily.”
Hart therefore argues that having a successful relationship is actually a selection process more than anything else. “I think people are unwilling to put an effort into selection at an early age,” he says, “so they leave it till it’s too late and they rush around and try to find someone at the last minute, and they settle.”
Last week a viral video popped up in which a group of women stormed a love rival’s house and beat her up. Hart underscores that while nobody should resort to assault, “if you stress somebody enough, they will become violent. “When stretched thin, people get to a level at which they are no longer themselves – they get angry and aggressive. The moral of that story is to not put your partner in a position like that because you really don’t know what’s going to happen.”
But of course the best strategy to avoid conflict, Hart states, is to watch for red flags early on in the relationship and get out as fast as possible, “Don’t think, oh, I can be his princess and I’ll cure him,” he says. “I’m afraid where things like personality disorders are concerned, you can’t. Frankly, there are people around who’ve got a screw loose and are not worth the effort”.