Repairing Relationships

Building intimacy and joy into your relationships

Why Do Men Put Up With The Short Leash?

Do men secretly like it?

Dr. Helen Smith, author of "Men On Strike", wondered aloud this week why men put up with being "kept on a short leash." This was listed as one of the "Ten Ways Women Can Destroy Their Man" by Doug Giles on Dr. Helen wrote, "Why do men put up with this? Is it just resignation that nothing can be done? Are they afraid to confront her due to the backlash of anger or retribution? Do they secretly feel wanted? Help me out here! What is the deal?"

We are glad to help, Dr. Helen. To explain WHY men put up with this, we must explore first HOW such toxic relationships develop in the first place.

Many American men have ceded control of the relationship to their wives and their girlfriends. This acquiescence of responsibility in the union occurs early in the initial courtship of the couple. Quite frankly, many American men don't mind being controlled by their lover in return for acceptance and romance. They bury their needs, feelings and goals to accommodate their mate's. They surrender unconditionally due to their natural desire for sex and their fear of being alone. They would rather be in a poor relationship than NO relationship. But there is a terrible cost to their short-term pathway to romantic bliss. This century-long trend of submersion of the male in love and marriage is a major cause of the unprecedented failure of heterosexual relations in 2013 America.

It wasn't always like this. Men like those described by Doug Giles used to be referred to as "hen-pecked" and they were a source of derision a century ago. Back then, society, for all its faults, had it right on courtship. It was an often long process lasting months or even years with its stated goal of linking two people of compatible personalities and shared interests and goals in a union that would last a lifetime. Caution in marriage was key as the married couple had to live and work together as a team in primitive accommodations, with constant hardships including almost immediate motherhood. If you didn't get along there was no escape living out in the wild frontier.

One would think that 21st Century America would improve on the institution of marriage as the quality of life improved. Well, the model of marriage did improve after the early 1900s as the oppressive patriarchal model of rigid roles performed regardless of romantic feelings was replaced gradually by the enlightened companionate marriage model that emphasized men and women as co-equals. Romantic love was now not only required during courtship but was mandatory to keep the two equal partners together after the wedding ceremony.

A key weakness of the companionate model of courtship and marriage is the requirement of honesty. If both partners are candid in their courtship, there is a strong possibility they will choose to marry based on the strengths and weaknesses of both partners. As co-equals, negotiations and allowances will be made before commitment to the diversity of the partners so that their individuality will not be smothered in the marriage union. Neither would feel defrauded or oppressed after marriage by the reasonable behavior of one another. There would be no "short leash."

Unfortunately the 2013  version of  the American companionate marriage model  often lacks the prerequisite of honesty. Over the last century many American men realized that if courtship success is based on sexual attraction and suitability as companions, then pretending to be emotionally compatible greatly increases the chances of  short-term courtship success. Then it's Instant Relationship: just add infatuation and charm. In a society that praises the concept of living for the moment, defrauding your partner to gain immediate companionship has become a way of life for many.

Today many American men are selecting heterosexual partners with little regard to true compatibility. Like desperate King Salmon, they leave the freedom of the open water to swim up stream to the spawning ground, single-minded in mating with no regard to the long-term cost, both to themselves and their unsuspecting partner. Just like a salmon after the inevitable spawning, they figuratively float downstream, emotionally and physically spent. They are resigned to a future bound to someone they would never otherwise seek out for friendship, doing things they would never otherwise imagine themselves doing.

These American men use physical attraction and approval seeking to create the illusion that they are their partner's dream lover. Like a mirage in the desert, they promise refreshment and satisfaction from the bleak desert of singleness, but they may eventually deliver heart-breaking disappointment. They are the Mirage Men, and they have contributed to the decline in heterosexual relations in America.

Each couple that engages in a mirage romance believes that their passionate feelings for one another will overcome the steep odds against such a whimsical relationship actually delivering the lifetime of personal fulfillment  a companionate marriage is supposed to provide to each partner. But even if a mirage union fails, there is a heroic sense attached to it, of dating and mating boldly and recklessly. Our media have promoted dishonest courtship for a century. Going back to the days of Bertrand Russell, successive generations of men and women coming of age have been told this is the way to live life to its fullest. Thus we subconsciously have been conditioned to read about mirage romances in  James Bond and Harlequin romance novels, watch them in movies like Titanic and Casablanca or on televison shows like Two and a Half Men, Friends and Everyone Loves Raymond, and hum along to ballads celebrating  foolish love. Given the chance, we act them out as our real-life romantic fantasy. 

Unfortunately, the romantic fantasy of mirage unions has real life consequences. When a man denies his true self to win a romance, there is a tremendous cost. A deep-seated resentment begins to smolder at this sacrifice of self for companionship. After the honeymoon peak  in the marriage fades, many complaint men begin to tire of always accommodating their partner. The wife may even sense that  her husband's heart is no longer in the activities he used to enjoy so much during their courtship and early days of their marriage. But the only way for him to preserve the relationship is to remain "on the short leash" and continue acceding to her many wishes.

The Mirage Man is an actor that has sold himself to be Prince Charming. He has pretended he doesn't mind being controlled. Thus he feels trapped in a role of his own making. That's why they can't suddenly tell their wife to knock it off after the 50th text of the day. He has a fully committed partner who believes with all her heart in the character he is depicting. If she finds out what he is really like, the relationship is over. But it doesn't mean it doesn't bother him to be hen-pecked. He eventually may look to his beloved as his oppressor and begin to live a secret life, doing the things he really enjoys while continuing the illusion of complete submission.

As a result of this growing resentment and living the dual life, a steady corrosion of the couple's burning hot romance occurs over time. After the thrill of the physical part of the relationship fades, the woman may discover that she has bonded to a compliant wimp who observes the letter of the marriage but secretly yearns to be free of a woman of clashing temperaments and few if any shared interests of goals. But many relationships "on the short leash" can go on for  years or decades with the woman none the wiser unless a scandal occurs or records left after the man passes away reveal the man's real self. We urge men and women to seek relationships based on honest courtship so no one is "on the short leash".

J.R. Bruns, M.D., is co-author of The Tiger Woods Syndrome, a book about repairing relationships.


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