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When Good-Hearted Men Marry Selfish Women

selfish women marry good-hearted men

“The Knife and the Wound Both Need Each Other.”
— Sheldon Kopp, Psychoanalyst and Writer

I’ve been married to Laura for 25 years and I’ve never been able to please her. We go for a period of time with things going well between us. Then out of the blue she gets bent out of shape over some imagined worry that preoccupies her. I understand that I may not be the most sensitive husband at times but Laura goes nuts and exaggerates how bad things are between us and rants for hours. She slams doors and usually wants nothing to do with me for long periods of time. We go from peace to war for no apparent reason. If I try to make up with her she accuses me of being manipulative or hiding something like an affair with another woman. There is no calming her. I have to tiptoe around her moods. Once I wanted to visit my father in the hospital when he had a health emergency. Laura got real surly with me for missing dinner and accused me of being disloyal to her. She doesn’t like my family and wishes I wouldn’t see them very much. I sneaked over to see my dad anyway and Laura hit the roof. She won’t try counseling. She sees everything as my fault. If it weren’t for my two children and having to pay alimony I would be out of here. The best I can do is to spend more time on the road for business and volunteer at my church when I’m in town. But that’s no real solution.

For good and bad, lately I’ve seen more and more couples that don’t conform to the traditional sexual stereotype of married people. As a culture we expect husbands to be clueless and self-involved regarding family and community matters and for their wives to be self-sacrificing and overly responsible bearers of well-being for others. Traditional sitcoms and TV spoofs often run along these lines and get a lot of bang for the buck from such themes and their variations. Times have changed. Nowadays husbands may be the primary nurturers while their wives are self-absorbed. Perhaps we have reached true sexual equality when men and women can equally bear the good and evil of modern living.

Unfortunately, as witnessed in the above vignette, the suffering that used to occur in patriarchal marriages may now occur in more egalitarian families. Kind men can marry selfish wives. Two partners can get stuck in a modern version of good and evil.

Actually it’s important to realize that neither partner in the above example is truly all bad or truly faultless. The kind husband needs his self-centered wife just as much as she needs him to be overly generous. They needed each other this way prior to being married to each other. They do not make each other that way. Unlike more capable partners who co-create a dysfunctional relationship between each other and can make positive changes, some married people cannot help themselves from being trapped in a dysfunctional relationship, as the above example shows. Patterns of exploitation and masochism in a marriage are not made in the present relationship; they arise from previous unrecognized childhood damage prior to the current relationship and only get played out in the current marriage.

Oddly enough, people trapped in a hopeless patterns often desperately cling to one another, are often unaware of why they do so and cannot see what other options they have. Make no mistake. Suffering in silent resignation to the inevitable hurtful marital patterns and blaming your partner is not a viable solution. There are difficult yet positive alternatives to such misery that both married people can either choose together or choose individually aside from each other.

Why do husbands put up with self-centered wives?

Actually it’s a tribute to some men who stay committed to a self-absorbed wives. Part of this devotion is about a commendable “until death do us part” mentality, affirming that men are quite capable of being committed to their relationships. I have seen many men who have this kind of devotion. Some of them do that for the sake of their younger children whom they do want to spare them from a growing up in a divorced household. However too often partners of selfish wives typically stay for the wrong reasons. They stay not out of love but out of fear. They over focus on their selfish wives and endlessly trying to make them happy because they are way too afraid of living on their own. Too many such sacrificial husbands don’t feel they deserve real love and are quite unsure of making it on their own. The macho side of men make it nearly impossible for them to see just how scared they are of abandonment. Often they had an emotionally distant relationship with their own mothers and expect nothing more for themselves. So they suck it up and overlook how they are being treated by their wives.

The cruel irony of this situation is that such men are actually quite adept at relationships and could quite easily handle being on their own if they had to be. Their fears of not being able to live on their own are quite groundless, particularly because in relating to a selfish wife for years they have been essentially on their own anyway. Sometimes men stay irrationally committed to a selfish mate because they feel overly responsible for her welfare. Selfish wives can actually be quite helpless and such men feel trapped by their unrealistic burdens. They cannot see that their wives are actually responsible for their own lives and that they are not bad people for expecting to be so responsible for themselves. Often they fail to see that it is a lost cause to make a selfish woman happy.

The high drama of such relationships often occurs in a fog state where little realistic thinking occurs. It is actually quite sad to see men being over-committed to hurtful women, particularly when so many men are cold and unloving in relationships. A typical reaction to such pairing by outside observers is “Why can’t their wives see what a good deal they have?!”

Why do selfish wives expect their husbands to love them anyway?

It is painfully obvious and almost comical that a self-centered spouse expects the impossible of her mate. For instance, the woman in the above example, after fuming over her husband’s visiting his father in the hospital, got upset that her husband would not make love to her later. She literally cannot see how foolish it is to berate her husband and then in the next moment expect him to be adoring of her. This splitting of bad stuff from good stuff is characteristic of what she grew up with as a child and is a sign of major damage that gets reenacted in her current marriage. She becomes difficult not because she wants to be a bad person and hurt her spouse but because she feels she has no other choice but to demand the impossible of her mate. She is, in fact, trapped in her own internal hurtful patterns, often which she does not see.

Typically people who are continually selfish do not want to see how hurtful they really are because it would admit to an imperfection, a major threat to a fragile sense of self. Selfish people who get a glimpse of their imperfections often become severely depressed. They deflate like a hot air balloon being pricked by a needle. Selfish people often choose to remain selfish because it is just too scary for them to do otherwise, particularly when they lack adequate professional help. Selfish wives, like their sacrificial husbands, are victims of their own demons and are equally deserving of compassion and love.

How can suffering partners make positive changes?

I wish I could say there are 10 easy steps for partners to take to have a better marriage. There are no such 10 easy steps. Working on communication together will not do the trick. The pairing of selfish wives with sacrificial husbands, and vice-versa, is often doomed from the start. Read Narcissistic Lovers by Cynthia Zayn and Kevin Dibble, M.S. New York: New Horizon Press, 2007.

The only glimmer of hope for the marriage and the advisability of marital counseling is when both partners agree to honestly look at themselves and not blame each other. In such relationships it is typically better to start with the marriage and see if it can be revived in the hands of an experienced counselor. Someone trained in trauma and attachment theory would do best.

Otherwise, as difficult as it is to face, it’s advisable for each partner to pursue individual counseling. The selfish wife may need to learn how she impacts others and her husband may need to learn that he can exist on his own apart from his partner. Both may benefit from developing a stronger sense of self, which will last them a lifetime.

When they look back on things, after years of personal struggle, they will often be glad they took the time to work more on the “me’ part of themselves and less on the “us” part. It is a journey of courage. Indeed, it’s impossible to be an “us” before we can be a “me.”


John H. Driggs, L.I.C.S.W., is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in private practice in St. Paul and co-author of Intimacy Between Men (Penguin Books, 1990). He can be reached at 651-699-4573.

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2 Responses to When Good-Hearted Men Marry Selfish Women

  1. HopelessJoe says:

    I don’t really know why I’m upset. From the day I met my wife I knew she had selfish tendencies but she way always very well to attach a reasonable excuse to them, so I opted for believing in her and not the actions. Perhaps I’m more upset with myself. Deep down I feel as though I knew perfectly well who my wife is but I didn’t want to believe it, so in turn it was my own selfishness that got me in my present predicament. Let me start from the beginning.

    When my wife and I first met, she was a college professor and I was an older student returning to school to finish my degree. She was married at the time so even though I thought she was a peppy and handsome young woman, I certainly never expected anything to happen between us aside from playful banter during a study session (it was pretty hilarious how the younger generation had no idea what flirting was even when it was being done right in front of them).

    There were times throughout the semester when it would be only her and I in the study session and during that time we were able to let our guard down and get to know one another. She told me about her marriage and her child. I told her about my military experience and my past tribulations which led me back to school. Oddly enough, I’m 2 months older than her. In time, we got to know each other on a more personal level. It came to a point where she confessed her feelings for me, feelings that I reciprocated. From everything she had told me about her husband I gathered he was not a nice man, not a good father, and definitely not a good husband. I had reserves about establishing a more personal relationship with her but like I said, I’m not innocent of being selfish and I truly had feelings for her.

    We began a secret relationship together.

    During our relationship she divulged details of how her husband was manipulative, deceitful, selfish, angry, violent. I began to despise this person more and more without ever even meeting him.

    Before I go any further I would only ask that you do not judge me for my stupidity. I am very well aware of my ignorance, I only hope that there’s a light I may be able to find here.

    Continuing – while we were “dating” I had asked her if she had ever done anything like this before, go behind her husbands back. She confided in me and told me everything about her life. During her marriage, a year after the birth of her son she began a physical relationship with a coworker that lasted a period of years on and off. She also told me if a one night stand she had with a man a few months prior to meeting me.

    I respected the fact that she was able to be completely open and honest with me and it wasn’t easy for her to do so, but I couldn’t help but to be somewhat hurt. I wasn’t hurt because her actions offended me but because I had already fallen in love with her and yet here I stood not even truly knowing who she is. It broke my heart. I explained to her how her actions hurt me and she listened. She understood completely and explained thoroughly that her actions were due to fear of leaving her husband and him retaliating.

    The story continues with a lot more detail and many more twists so I will spare the details for now and skip ahead.

    She went through a very difficult divorce in order for us to be together. Her husband spent over a hundred thousand dollars on his divorce lawyers. She was constantly followed by private detective, every computer she owned was confiscated and analyzed, every member of her family was deposed, it was a fiasco. All of these actions confirmed to me that he was just as bad as she had described, if not worse. Eventually though, the divorce was finalized and we were able to be together.

    We dated for over a year before deciding to get married. During that period, I got to deal first hand with this man who refuses to let things go. Email after email was sent with directions and orders and little snide comments that make your skin crawl and your fist ball up. It drove me crazy and all the while my girl would get emotionally distraught every time she saw one. Almost like she was 5 years old, terrified of ghosts and told she had to go through a haunted house. I finally got fed up with it and told him that if he refused to stop sending pointless emails then I would guide my girl to the police station.

    The police comment worked and for over a month she heard no word from him via email. Any legitimate communication was done via text message and we were making progress into a more cordial relationship between ex’s. Out of blue one day I see he’s sending more emails, and when I say emails I mean something along the length of this comment. They were books. I told her “let go to the police.” I had previously spoke to the police myself, she was with me, and they informed us that as long as we don’t respond then we can file harassment charges. When I went to print out the emails from her ex I found an email she had sent to him a week prior. It was a short little email about their sons day at school but it was the opening he needed.

    I explained to her that by emailing him after a month of silence, it opened a dialogue so the work we invested was out the window. Just as I was beginning to enjoy a little peace.

    Skipping a lot of detail

    The emails continued for over a year, trying to establish a healthy relationship between co-parents, while overlooking the constant belittling.

    After a lot of time spent together and a lot of confusion between what she did in her last and who she is as a person, we decided to get married. We had a beautiful baby boy together and for the most part we are very happy together. The emails continued throughout our marriage and we eventually went to the police. Immediately afterwards the emails stopped.

    My wife and I made a pact to never use email again. We had already been through too much and now that we were beyond that point we didn’t want to step backwards

    For 5 glorious months I did not have to read an email from him. It was truly bliss. During that time we did have some concerns with my step son so I opened a dialogue via phone between him and I. It turned out that after he had some time to calm down he was actually a pretty nice person. We had lunch together multiple times, spoke on the phone often, he even came over for dinner. We had moved beyond the emails and into a more personal and friendly environment.

    Lately I haven’t heard much from him. I assumed it was because of work and it’s not as if I look forward to any texts or calls from him, but it seemed odd that he would go a month without contacting me for some odd reason. He eventually did text and the text was a partial clip referring to some information he expected me to have. I could only gather that an email rests in our spam box that I hadn’t uncovered and sure enough there were multiple emails. My jaw couldn’t help but drop. After months of trying establish a more personal line of communication he now reverted back to emails. I began to look through the emails and sure enough, a month ago my wife (using our email account) forwarded a birthday invitation from another boy at school.

    I can understand the first time you make a mistake via email, and open up Pandora’s box, but I cannot understand why you would take that route again and ultimately hinder a relationship being built.

    Story time is over and perhaps one day I will write a book about our taboo love story but for right now, I’m going to vent.

    This is not the first time my wife was clueless to my efforts and destroyed everything and I can’t help but wonder how selfish of a woman she truly is. This is not my ex, I don’t have to be friends with him, she wanted to ignore him and that only created horrible problems for my step son (whom I love). I took him out to eat, invited him over, establish somewhat of a friendship with this man so that she could be happy and my boys could have a healthy youth. Moments when she is completely oblivious to the months of effort and time and calls and stress that I invest for her sake make me wonder who she truly is.

    She was perfectly capable of leaving her one year old at a day care while she had an affair. She was perfectly capable of leaving her son with his father while she had a one night stand with someone else. She claims her endeavors were because of her ex but I’ve been nothing but good to her and yet she doesn’t have the decency to consult with me before uprooting the established form of communication between me and her ex and throwing me and my newborn back into a realm of misery and hopelessness.

    From the day I met my wife she has always been a “cryer.” She will cry every time something in life doesn’t work out. When I explained how her past choices were not good choices at all, she cried and apologized (Not that I was looking for an apology). When I explained how this email she sent has set us back time and effort she cried and apologized. She apologized the first time, the second time, and she will cry the third time I’m sure, and yet I’m the one stuck awake in the middle of the night writing a long note to some website about how I’m terrified right now because I don’t know if I truly know my wife while she’s sound asleep snoring like a baby next to me.

    If this were the only reason I feel this way then I would be an idiot, not that I’m not one. But, there have been countless times where she is oblivious to my actions and goes in the opposite direction. If we can’t see eye to eye on the basic ideas then how can I expect her to see eye to eye with me on the more important ideas. How can I trust her? Can I trust her or should I simply shut my eyes and hope for the best, never knowing when the roads going to be pulled out from under me.

  2. Chaz says:

    I came home from a 12 hr day in 100 degree heat, and the 80 year old widow lady next door asked me to have a look at her back door because some water was leaking in. My narcissistic selfish wife says, ” your selfish, you can help a stranger but not your own wife.” I told her you can help your f**kin self, she cant. What a piece of s**t !

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