Help! I'm Living with a (Man) Boy

Help! I'm Living with a (Man) Boy

by Betty McLellan

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781876756628
Publisher: Spinifex Press
Publication date: 09/01/2007
Edition description: Second Edition, Second edition
Pages: 260
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.79(d)

About the Author

Betty McLellan is a psychotherapist and the author of Beyond Psychoppression and Overcoming Anxiety.

Read an Excerpt

Help! I'm Living with a (Man) Boy

By Betty McLellan, Janet Mackenzie

Spinifex Press

Copyright © 2006 Betty McLellan
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-876756-62-8


When you want some answers

If it's answers you want, read on. Although answers are not exactly laid out for you, there are plenty of suggestions designed to help you find your own answers to problems experienced in relationships with immature men.

In most of the situations you are about to read, you will find:

• a description of the situation,

• a broader analysis or discussion, and

• some suggestions for action.

Some of the situations are dealt with very briefly and others in more detail. Some are dealt with in a fairly light way while others are given much more serious treatment. This is done partly for variety and partly as a way of demonstrating the fact that women who choose to stay in distressing relationships will only survive adequately if they learn to respond to their situation in two ways. At one level, the distressing aspects of the relationship must be taken seriously, but at another level they can and ought to be laughed at.

Of the hundreds of situations that could have been chosen for discussion, why did I choose this particular selection of forty-one? They seemed to me to be among the most common situations experienced by the women I've met. Some readers will find every one of the situations familiar while others will find only some that resonate with their own experiences. Whatever your own situation is, I hope you find the discussions interesting and helpful.

As mentioned above, I have not actually attempted to give answers to the problems raised because it would be somewhat arrogant of me to presume I had answers to all the concerns of women living with immature men. However, it is my hope that the suggestions for action will help readers discover their own answers and the courage to put their discoveries into practice.

So, if you want to find your own answers, if you want to improve your self-esteem, if you want to grow stronger and more courageous, if you want to have relationships that are more real and, therefore more satisfying, read on ...


When the man in your life is a child

Remember how much you looked forward to meeting the man of your dreams? According to the stereotype you grew up with, he would be older than you, taller than you, stronger than you. He would earn more money than you. He would love and cherish you. He would be prepared to lay down his life to protect you and the children you had jointly brought into the world.

Most women enter into marriage, or long-term commitment, consciously or unconsciously believing they are taking the first step toward the fulfilment of such a dream. Their commitment is to sharing their lives with another adult which, they anticipate, will include discussing things together, laughing, playing, enjoying each other's company, loving each other, negotiating, working together to ensure fairness and justice for both of them as well as their offspring. For some women, it does proceed in that way, but for others there is an early and devastating jolt. The reality is that the man of their dreams has turned out to be a "child".

What does that mean? What is a man–child actually like? To understand the man–child phenomenon, it is necessary to look, first, at the attitudes and behaviour of children generally, and then to place one of those children in a man's body, with all the power and privileges that come with being an adult male. The result can be frightening.

Young children are usually very egocentric. In other words, their whole world revolves around themselves and their needs. When babies are hungry, they demand attention by crying until their need is satisfied. When young children want attention, they make a fuss until they get the attention they are looking for. When angry, they may lash out at others. When frustrated, they may throw tantrums. When unable to get their own way, they may withdraw and sulk. (Does any of this sound familiar?) All such immature responses are perfectly natural and under standable in young children because immature responses are normal in those who have not had time to mature. In adults, however, such behaviour is unacceptable.

It is expected that a child who develops in a normal, healthy way will gradually become aware that there are other people in the world who also have needs and whose needs are as legitimate as their own. In most children, this maturing does not occur automatically but comes about with the help and guidance and example of significant adults.

The fact that some children miss out on such maturing can be attributed to one or more of the following reasons: First, some parents fail to provide their children with the tools they need to help them develop into mature adults because they, as parents, do not possess that ability themselves. Second, many well-meaning parents who do have the ability to guide their children, choose not to because they live by the philosophy that children should be allowed the freedom to be who they want to be. Parents are urged by this philosophy to be careful not to take away their children's autonomy by attempting to pass on their own values to their children. Religion is one such value. Since the 1970s, it has been common to hear parents say: "I'm not going to push religion on to my children. When they're old enough, they can decide for themselves." Simple manners is another value. Confronted with a child's rudeness and lack of respect for others, many parents say nothing in the belief that it is not their place to sanction their children.

Such a view is a curious one, given that values never develop in a vacuum. If children do not get the basis for their own value system from their parents, they will get it from television, computer games, friends or other adults. Children need someone else's value system to interact with so that they have a starting-point when struggling to sort out their own values. Some will simply adopt their parents' values as they are, but most will either adjust those values to suit themselves or rebel against them and develop a totally new system of their own. Parents who choose not to offer guidance, not to impose some structure, are leaving their children to flounder.

A third reason behind the failure of some children to grow into mature adults is that parents and other adults find them too difficult to handle and abandon attempts to guide them toward more accept able behaviour. Aggressive boys, in particular, are often allowed free rein because the drama involved in trying to discipline them or encourage them to develop respect for people and property is too stressful and disruptive for other members of the family. This is not said as a criticism of parents, many of whom try everything they know before finally giving up. Rather, it is an observation of a situation in which the development of responsible attitudes and behaviour seems almost impossible.

A further reason for the failure of some children to develop maturity in adulthood, and probably the most common, is the example of the same-sex parent. Many girls learn from the self-defeating behaviour of their mothers to be passive and dependent and devious and dissatisfied and complaining. They learn to limit themselves and their expectations. They learn how to settle for much less than they would like. They learn to make do with unsatisfactory relationships. They learn to blame themselves when things go wrong.

Many boys learn from the example of their fathers that the way to stay in control in life is to be arrogant and self-centred. They learn that the aim is to win, and that the way to win is to make sure those around them lose. They learn, also, that to show any emotion, or to take account of how others feel, is weak. The only people worthy of respect are those who are physically stronger or socially and financially more powerful than themselves. Boys learn from such fathers that women are to be given no respect. A man can joke with women, tease them, poke them, maul them, but never have a serious, adult conversation with them. They can be ignored, ridiculed, intimidated, even assaulted, because what women think is not centrally important to his life. A boy who grows up to be a man–child is often following the example of the man–child who was his father.

When a child who has never learnt mature responses, grows into a man with a man's body, a man's sexual urges and a man's physical strength, combined with all the privileges, all the favoured treatment society affords men, the result can be extremely difficult for those around him. It is not surprising that those who usually bear the brunt of the man–child phenomenon are women and children.

What can be done about this phenomenon? I often hear concerned women say that the way to change the situation of immaturity in men is to start with little boys. Train boys to be different, they say, and start from the moment they are born. Whenever I hear this "solution" being expounded, it is usually said as if no one has ever thought of it before and, also, as if it would be certain to bring about change in men in the space of one generation. The reality is that it has been thought of before. Brilliant minds in the field of education have been working in this area for a long time, but all acknowledge that progress is slow. A major reason for the slow progress is that while educators are working with children to change attitudes between the sexes, overwhelmingly negative adult influences still exist all around them. Boys are still presented every day with images of dominant, macho men. Most violence on television, whether on the news, in sports coverage or in movies, is perpetrated by men. Most computer games are about men competing with each other, with one eventually prevailing over all the others. On the home front, it is common for men to be absent, to be absorbed in their own interests and therefore withdrawn from the family, or to be just plain difficult.

While it is important that educators and parents continue working with children with a view to changing gender stereotypes and expectations, the attitudes and behaviour of adult men must also be targeted. There must be increasing pressure brought to bear on men to change the culture of masculinity so that the culture into which boys are socialised enables them to develop into adults who are mature, sensitive, decent human beings.

Suggestions for action

What can individual women do when the man they live with is a child? The following suggestions may be helpful.

Don't look for ways to excuse him

When a woman is distressed about her partner's immature attitudes and behaviour, it is natural that she will think about her situation and try to figure out why he behaves as he does, but it is important not to become obsessive about it. Most women who live with difficult men spend an inordinate amount of time thinking, analysing, looking for explanations for their partner's behaviour. Some actually admit that they think of nothing else.

The influence of Freud and psychoanalysis on Western societies is such that thinking women and men immediately, almost automatically, look for underlying causes when confronted with unusual or anti-social behaviour. There is nothing wrong with that. In fact, it is quite helpful to seek a fuller picture, to try to see a person's behaviour in a broader context, but the danger is that excessive probing into the past can also have the effect of distorting the reality of the present. The most common outcome is that the past provides "excuses" for behaviour which, in the present, is inexcusable.

When probing into anyone's childhood, it is fairly easy to "discover" events and relationships that were problematic for the child and that could be the basis for ongoing personality problems. A woman searching for clues to explain her partner's immature and unacceptable behaviour will find just that — clues, possible explanations, possible contributing factors. He may, as a child, have been neglected by his mother. He may have been abandoned by his father when he was a baby. He may have been sexually abused by the man down the road. He may, as a young man, have fought in the Vietnam war. He may have been betrayed by his first wife. He may feel trapped in a job he hates. A woman's probing may uncover any or all of the above, but they are still only "possible contributing factors". They are not excuses. Whatever may have happened to a man in his childhood or in his early adult years, it does not provide an excuse for current bad behaviour. Like every adult, it is incumbent upon him to recognise the connection between his present behaviour and his earlier experiences and make a determined effort to work through those earlier traumas, either by himself or with a therapist. If he refuses to do that, it is because he is not interested enough in changing his present behaviour. Such indifference cannot be excused.

Don't feel sorry for him

A woman who delves into her partner's background in a desperate attempt to find an explanation for his bad behaviour, will often go one step further than excusing him. She turns it all around and finds a way to feel sorry for him. Even though he is the perpetrator and she is his victim, she feels sorry for him. She sees him as a poor unfortunate one who had a difficult childhood and now "can't help himself". Women in these situations must understand that excusing such a man and feeling sorry for him only provides him with the excuse to continue his offending behaviour.

Stay true to yourself

Women who struggle to survive in their relationships with immature men testify to the fact that it is sometimes difficult to keep a grip on reality. It is sometimes difficult to remember who they are and to stay true to themselves. It is difficult to trust their own thoughts and opinions when they are told constantly that they have no idea what they are talking about. It is difficult to stay in touch with their emotions when their emotions are constantly ridiculed. It is difficult to believe in their own sanity when they are constantly told they are mad. It is difficult to maintain belief in themselves when who they are, what they say, how they speak, what they look like and what they achieve are continually criticised.

If you are one of those women who have chosen to stay in such a relationship, you must pay attention to your own needs so that you can stay strong within yourself. You must find the strength to believe in yourself and stay true to yourself. In the same way that negative input on a continuing basis has a damaging effect on one's self-esteem, positive input from others bolsters one's self-esteem. It is crucial, therefore, that women in relationships with immature men make sure they have regular contact with friends who care about them, so that the positive feedback they receive balances out the negative they receive from their partner.

Create some emotional distance*

Women, much more than men, see marriage or long-term relationships as requiring total emotional commitment at all times. In such circumstances, a woman is committed to being there for her partner no matter how difficult he may be and no matter how indifferent he may be to her needs. In other words, she makes herself vulnerable. She lays herself open to be hurt by his attitudes and behaviour.

It is true that loving someone usually does involve trust and a willingness to be vulnerable, but in a situation where one partner's trust is regularly betrayed by the other, continued vulnerability can only be counter-productive.

If you are a woman who has decided, for your own reasons, to stay in a relationship which causes you a high degree of emotional pain and distress on a continuing basis, you must engage in some kind of protective behaviour. It is simply foolish for you to remain open and vulnerable when you know, from past experiences, that you will be let down again and again. What do I mean by "protective behaviour"? I suggest that, if there are areas of the relationship that are reasonably good, you invest your energy in those areas, but withdraw your emotional investment from those areas where you are caused most pain. If one does not have an emotional investment in a situation, that situation has far less power to hurt and destroy.

For example, if you and your partner enjoy working together in the garden and there is a degree of closeness in that environment, then enjoy that experience. Be emotionally involved with him during those activities. But, at other times, when he is rude or dismissive or abusive, develop the ability to create emotional distance. If he makes a habit of putting you down in front of your friends, for example, be prepared for it. Make up your mind that next time he does it, you will not cringe. You will not be crushed. You will not feel embarrassed. In fact, you will not let your feelings engage in any way. You will be dispassionate. Simply stand back from it and observe it ("He's doing it again"), respond to it in your own head ("That's typical") and get on with enjoying the evening with your friends.


Excerpted from Help! I'm Living with a (Man) Boy by Betty McLellan, Janet Mackenzie. Copyright © 2006 Betty McLellan. Excerpted by permission of Spinifex Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Everyday situations,
1. When you want some answers,
Men are such boys,
2. When the man in your life is a child,
3. When you feel like his mother,
Boys will be boys,
4. Trying to improve communication when you are the only one trying,
5. Longing for meaningful, stimulating conversation,
6. When you never know what your partner thinks or feels,
7. When you are the butt of his "jokes",
8. When you are made to feel invisible,
9. When you are always the one who is wrong,
10. When you sense you are being lied to,
11. Always waiting for the "right" moment to talk to him,
12. When you are constantly told you are mad (and half believe it),
13. When you feel you have to keep your anger to yourself,
14. Living with a bully,
15. When you are the victim of physical abuse,
16. When you see your partner's behaviour emerging in your son,
17. When you are the victim of sexual abuse,
18. When you have sex to keep the peace,
19. Being abandoned after sex,
20. When you are a victim of sexual harassment in your own home,
21. When you discover your partner has sexually abused your child,
22. When no one believes you,
23. Discovering your partner's stash of pornography,
24. When he refuses to discuss it,
Can't live with him, can't live without him,
25. When you suspect your partner is having an affair,
26. When you discover your partner is having an affair,
27. Realising you have been surrounded by lies and deceit for a long time,
28. When you lie awake at night going over and over conversations in your mind,
29. When you are overcome with anxiety/panic,
30. When you live every day with a gnawing feeling deep in the pit of your stomach,
31. Knowing you can neither live with him nor live without him,
Living with Mr Nice Guy,
32. When friends and family tell you how lucky you are,
33. When you are told that his behaviour is your responsibility,
34. Living with a man who puts on a good show for others,
Woman-Self: becoming strong, growing stronger,
35. When your problems seem to go on and on,
36. When you feel burdened with guilt,
37. When you struggle to forgive,
38. When your self-esteem needs a boost,
39. When you are terrified of being alone,
40. Finding the courage to live assertively,
41. Becoming strong, growing stronger,

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