Marital woes: When Mr Right Goes Wrong

Falling in love is one fascinating ego "game." But, the same ego plays havoc with the relationship, unless one learns to unshackle

“You are not the man I married,” says Shalini to her husband through angry tears.

Her “Mr Right” has, obviously, gone all wrong and she is devastated. This is a far cry from the time they were courting and she could see nothing wrong in him, and now one year into the marriage she finds nothing right in him. The honeymoon is definitely over, and she is feeling betrayed. How can “Mr Perfect,” the man of her dreams, suddenly turn into a nightmare?

It’s hard to believe that anyone can go through such a tremendous metamorphosis. But, this is exactly how Shalini feels. This is also an oft-repeated scenario in so many love marriages.

Let us understand what exactly causes this sudden change of perception from Prince Charming to Count Dracula, and what happens to that much-professed “love.”

Dynamics of falling in love

Of all the misconceptions about love, the most powerful and pervasive is the belief that “falling in love” is love. This is a potent misconception. When a person falls in love what s/he certainly feels is “I love him,” or “I love her.” But, two problems are immediately apparent. The first is that the experience of “falling in love” is specifically a sex-linked erotic experience. The second problem is that the experience of falling in love is invariably temporary. No matter whom we fall in love with, we, sooner or later, fall out of love if the relationship continues long enough. This is not to say that we invariably cease loving the person with whom we fell in love, but it is to say that the feeling of ecstatic lovingness that characterises the experience of “falling in love” always passes. The honeymoon always ends. The bloom of romance always fades.

To understand this phenomenon we must also examine the nature of what psychiatrists call “ego boundaries.” It is lonely behind these boundaries. Most of us feel our loneliness to be painful and yearn to escape from it.

The essence of the phenomenon of “falling in love” is a sudden collapse of a section of an individual’s ego boundaries, permitting one to merge his/her identity with that of another person. The sudden release of oneself from oneself, or the explosive pouring out of oneself into the beloved, and the dramatic end to loneliness accompanying this collapse of ego boundaries is experienced by most of us as ecstatic. We and our beloved are one! Loneliness is no more! But, inevitably, reality intrudes upon the fantastic unity of the couple who have fallen in love.

Fighting for #1 Position

You cannot have a meaningful, fulfilling and happy relationship without the loss of ego boundaries. When a man and woman come together under the influence of the drug of romance, i.e., when they “fall in love,” there is what appears to be a “temporary” loss of ego boundaries. But, deep within, they are two separate ego-centric personalities, each wanting to be #1 in the relationship. The man wants to be the one to make her happy. He revels in the fact that he makes her happy, he does things for her. He is outwardly the giver, but this giving is actually ego-centric, and he is giving so that he gets the credit/praise of giving – i.e., conditional giving. Therefore, he is most important to himself. He wants to be #1. The woman wants only herself to be loved and told that she is the most important person in his life; and, therefore, he should focus on only making her happy. She revels in the fact that he loves only her; he does things only for her. She is the taker, and she is most important to herself. She wants to be #1.

When the honeymoon ends

In the initial phase of romance, the woman feels that she is loved and that she is #1 between the two. The man feels that he loves, and that he is #1 between the two. The romance ends with the illusion breaking. The illusion ends when intimate interaction clearly demonstrates that each one is fighting for the #1 position, both functioning from their ego-centric positions. Every interaction becomes a clash of egos, and the game of one-upmanship continues.

The woman demands all the love, affection, and attention of the man at all times. She is the typical jealous, possessive wife. She will not share his affections even with her own children. Her unending, unreasonable, self-centred demands stem from a feeling of childhood emotional deprivation; and, through this relationship she is trying to fill that emotional void. Since she feels she justly deserves all this love and attention, she does not demonstrate any gratitude to the man.

But, the problem arises because the man who wants to be #1 is not interested in giving unconditional love. He has a strict condition attached to his love. He wants something in return, and, that is, that his love has to be acknowledged and praised – he is great because he loves, he gives, he deserves praise, a thank you, and, most definitely, not a blame, complaint or accusation. He is the typical egoistic do-gooder, an upright citizen of society, a so-called friend and advisor to those in need, and he’s massaging everyone’s egos and wanting the same in return.

So, when the over-demanding, needy woman does not return his love, nor does she praise him, or even say thank you, but instead accuses him of not loving her unconditionally, the conditions attached to his love do not get fulfilled. This leads him to withdraw his affection and attention. His investment also does not give him the estimated dividends. Now, he has an option of withdrawing his investment from her and putting it somewhere else [either another paying relationship, or social work] which gives him the returns that he is looking for – the credit and praise of being a giver. Or, then, he can become aware, and see his clamouring for the #1 position and give it up.

Learned conditional loving

Such people usually tend to run away from a non-paying relationship into the arms of another because their learned pattern says that all relationships are conditional and there has to be returns attached to loving, in the form of praise. Obviously, such a man is under the influence of the childhood pattern that love does not come for free. He has been conditionally accepted by significant people in his childhood and earned acceptance and love through actions, deeds and achievements. He has possibly even been told to feel grateful for his mother’s love, and taught that to feel grateful and also give and take in this manner is the right way of relating. He has seen and known and has been taught only this type of conditional love which is a business transaction between two people. And, as he grows up with this learned pattern, it influences all his relationships. He feels obliged by those who love him, and he carries the pattern onwards by wanting people to feel obliged to him for loving them. And, he does this because this is the only kind of love he has known and experienced. It may also be noted here that, in the above-mentioned example, the situation could be the reverse with the man being “needy,” and the woman could have “a need to be needed.”

Choosing “You” over “I”

When these two individual personalities with their individual patterns come together initially, “the needy” and the one with “a need to be needed,” the two complement each other for a while. But then, when the initial influence of the hormones wear off, the fighting for #1 position commences and the real challenge occurs. Now, the partners can either choose to separate, as their ego-centred patterns are being challenged in the relationship, or they can choose to remain with each other, in a spiritual partnership, seeing their own ego states and break free from them.

In the truly loving and caring committed relationship, they give up the most precious thing of their lives – the #1 position that they both want so much. Each of them starts putting the other as #1 on their priority list, and, thus, begins the journey of unconditional loving. They give up on their life-destructive ego boundaries too for a loving relationship and are, thus, freed from the bondage of their patterns.

Now, Mr Right/Ms Right feels even more right, and they both live happily ever after.

Minnu Bhonsle
Dr Minnu R Bhonsle, PhD, is a Mumbai-based consulting psychotherapist and counsellor. She conducts training programmes in Personal Counselling [Client-centred Therapy] and Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy, and also workshops in Stress Management, Art of Listening, Couple Therapy, and Communication Skills. Minnu has co-authored the book, The Ultimate Sex Education Guide along with Dr Rajan Bhonsle.
Rajan Bhonsle
Dr Rajan Bhonsle, MD, is a consultant in sexual medicine and counsellor. Along with his wife Minnu R Bhonsle, PhD, who is a consulting psychotherapist and counsellor, he runs a unique therapy centre


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