Whenever I’m on my travels, I like to visit bookshops. I spend hours checking out the latest books about relationships and relationship breakdowns, usually over cups of coffee in Borders. Over the years I have passed on a number of the best ideas and book suggestions to my clients.
In December 2006 I was in Melbourne, Australia and I came across a colourful little paperback called He’s Just Not That Into You. The authors, Greg Behrendt and Liz Tuccillo, were both involved with the US TV show Sex and the City. It’s a great book, with sound advice jumping out from every page. I snapped it up and read it from cover to cover.
The book’s central theory is that you shouldn’t waste your time on a partner who isn’t prepared to pull out all the stops, because he is clearly “just not that into you”. In my opinion, it is a perfect read for a woman who is caught up in a one-sided relationship, and who may not have accepted that she should extract herself at the earliest opportunity.
Although it is aimed at unmarried women, it occurred to me that some of the book’s ideas also apply to those married women who are in need of a wake-up call. I resolved to recommend it to some of my clients. Back in the UK, I added it to my office bookcase and promptly forgot about it until the film of the book came out earlier this month. The other day, I interrupted a client meeting to pull it off the shelf.
The client is a middle-aged housewife with three teenage children. In her words, she has “let herself go a little”. At our meeting she wore no makeup and looked very stressed and unhappy. Her self-confidence has plummeted to zero. The root cause of the problem? Her husband.
She told me that he has become very critical of her. She can do nothing right. He criticises her appearance, her behaviour – even her table manners. He says barely a civil word to her and never calls her during the day. They don’t go out together, they don’t have sex and now he is accusing her of being an alcoholic. She tells me that at least when she drinks, she can blot out her problems. She knows he is having an affair, but he claims that a divorce will “rob him of everything he has worked for”. He refuses to leave her.
Despite his behaviour and her own unhappiness, she has been clinging on. She told me that she hoped he would change, perhaps end his affair. She is scared of a lonely future. She asked me what I would do, if I was in her position.
I responded by retrieving He’s Just Not That Into You: Your Daily Wake-Up Call from my bookshelf. I opened it at page 189.
Sometimes a person’s behaviour is so abhorrent, it leaves little doubt as to what to do, I quoted, adding, Move on – quick before any more of your precious time is wasted.
Page 218. Ask yourself one question only. “Is he making you happy?”
Page 223. Abusive behaviour…includes getting yelled at, being publicly humiliated or being made to feel fat and unattractive.
Page 268. Will he change? Most men do not change and the ones I’ve seen change only changed when they met new women. (This book doesn’t pull any punches!)
And so we continued, leafing through this neat little paperback. It could have been written for my client.
It is not easy to leave a marriage, of course. Leaving a marriage is not the same as leaving a relatively baggage-free, child-free relationship. The principles, however, remain the same. Desperate, unhappy people have to start somewhere, if they are to gain a detached view of a troubled situation.
“So,” I said to my client in a terrible American accent, “Why are you hanging around in this marriage?
“Why are you accepting the treatment?
“Why are you wasting precious time trying to figure him out?
“Why aren’t you valuing yourself and looking for someone worthy of you?”
My client started to laugh – as I had hoped she would – but she took the point and told me that she would have a long, hard think about what to do. As she left my office, she told me that she was going straight to the bookshop round the corner.