It’s plastered all over recent news reports. Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund—and a married man with children—arrested for alleged attempted forcible rape of a hotel chambermaid. Arnold Schwarzenegger, actor and recent Governor of California, and also a married man with children, admitted that he fathered a child with one of his household’s employees, and hid the whole thing from his wife and family for more than 10 years.
These are just the most recent of many such scandals that have been in the news in the recent past. Or have you forgotten Tiger Woods, also a married man with children, or US Senator John Edwards, who ran as a candidate for Vice President in 2004, and who fathered a child with another woman while his wife was going through chemotherapy for terminal cancer?
All of this got me thinking about how hard it is for many people to sustain love, closeness and passion over time. That is not the only explanation for all this sordid behavior, mind you. For one thing, some people are bullies, and if they also achieve wealth, fame and power, a bully in such a position can be very intimidating, especially if he controls your job. Success also clearly can bring out serial philanderers, boorish behavior and sexual predators. (So can failure, by the way.)
And let’s not forget those run of the mill, garden variety narcissists that seem to be everywhere—those people that feel entitled to behave badly because they’re so special—and who count their needs and their feelings far above everyone else’s. Some people, in addition, are determined to taste every piece of chocolate in the entire chocolate factory. That’s OK, unless they’re married or in a committed relationship—which makes such behavior definitely not OK.
But it’s also damn hard to keep passion, lust, romance and a close connection over time, and no doubt that is also related to all these men behaving badly. And although we may not be able to directly do anything about boorish behavior, keeping a closer connection over time is something most of us can do something about.
How? By committing to stay close and connected—and by committing to clear up anything in the way of being close and connected. That means most of us need to do occasional ongoing repair work in our relationship.
An example. One couple gets in a dispute about going out to dinner. She wants Chinese food and he wants pizza. So she says: “We always do what you want to do. This time I want you to do what I want. I’m tired of you getting your way all the time.” He says: “I do not get my way all the time, but I want pizza, so why don’t we get Chinese food for you and pizza for me?” “No,” she says. “I want you to take me to a Chinese restaurant and dine with me.” He responds: “You’re so controlling. I’m no longer hungry. Go to the Chinese restaurant without me.”
So what were they fighting about? Not feeling heard? Control? Wanting to be catered to? Feeling the other person makes too many of the decisions? Equality? One person not being flexible enough? Perhaps they were fighting about all of the above, or perhaps it was just momentary irritability. But if they don’t come back to this incident later on and do some repair work, they’re likely to grow more distant from each other: “I’m sorry I wasn’t listening to what you really were asking for. Can I invite you out for Chinese food tomorrow night?” or “Are you really feeling that I get my way all the time?” or “You’ve never said to me before that you think I’m controlling. What led you to say that?”
My point is that every relationship that stays close has this ongoing repair work that the couple needs to do. And that requires genuine listening, very little defensiveness, a willingness to be wrong and a strong desire to address issues as they arise. Otherwise the couple will refrain from disagreeing with each other so as to not provoke another disagreement, and their closeness and connection will grow more brittle and distant.
That may or may not change a man (or a woman) from behaving badly, but it’s the best insurance policy available to everyone wanting to affair-proof their relationship.