Today, we meet C who has been in a dysfunctional relationship with B, his wife, who has extremely strong self-centered tendencies. B controls C in the way she feels he should see the world, behave or interact with others. C sees himself as the ultimate “doormat” and complains continually in therapy about his life but does very little to change it. He enables her dysfunction by allowing her to dictate their lives and admits that he stays hoping she will change. Attempts to engage her in couples therapy have failed and the two sessions she did attend led to her raging, blaming and doubting the credentials of the therapist to deal with C’s “special” issues. She takes no responsibility for her own actions and projects everything onto C, who is depressed and unable to function. C cheated on B two years ago which led to increased control over his activities. C is obsessed with his wife and goes through cycles where he will trade compliance for sex. B withholds sex when she wants C to comply. C has become obsessed with trying to fix his wife and finding ways to make her happy to no avail. Worse still, the children have suffered badly from neglect as this dysfunction continues.
C States: I can’t seem to break this cycle. I have seen many professionals who have all told me that my biggest issue is my marriage and the way it keeps him tied in. I have made poor choices about my job, engaging with other women and viewing pornography. I feel totally controlled and just as I feel something is changing, it goes quickly back to how it was but worse. I want to leave but I fear being on my own and what she will do concerning turning the children against me. I am stuck and I feel I will never get out of this. I think about it every day, watching her moods and actions, trying to predict what she will do.
C spoke at length about his childhood that left him predisposed to meeting someone like B, who is rigid, controlling and narcissistic. For her, it is her way or none at all and she uses insult, rage and the withdrawal of physical and emotional interaction to keep that control. This is a mirror of C’s dismissive relationship with his father who neglected him and used similar emotional tactics as his current wife: C had never processed this before and is playing out again in another relationship. Much of his controlling behaviour is targeted at nullifying or changing the anticipated response from B as he did when he was a child. C has much work to do to find his individuality and lead an independent life. He is dependent on his wife who uses this to control him. His obsessions are based on his constant quest for connection with people who are pulling away from him. Hopefully, through therapy, C will see the advantages of meeting his own needs and if this happens, it may well push him towards healthier people and situations.