Story by Risa Peris
PHOENIX, ARIZONA USA – Michelle Terrell, a Health and Wellness Coach since 1995, said she has made a practice of helping men navigate toxic relationships with women. In her work, she said she has identified two types of men trapped in less than ideal relationships – the man who lacks leadership and the “nice guy”. Generally, it is the “nice guy” who has the most difficulty and faces the most danger in preserving his family and protecting his children, according to Ms. Terrell. This man is codependent.
The man who lacks leadership is, at the most basic level, a man who is passive to the woman in his life and in his family. Ms. Terrell remarks that the “women in these relationships are often happy when the man assumes a leadership role though often this doesn’t happen until divorce and the women are amazed at the transformation”. For those men who assume leadership in the marriage and with the children, the women are often relieved and happy, as Ms. Terrell has discovered.
However, there is the “nice guy” male, husband and father, who unfortunately seems to attract women who have a valid psychological disability, such as Bipolar and Borderline Personality Disorder, and these men get caught in a toxic trap. Ms. Terrell says these men “often crumble or collapse” with these women in their lives. Ms. Terrell mildly joked that “these couples should have ended their relationship on the second date”. These toxic relationships become particularly difficult when children become involved said Ms. Terrell.
The “nice guy” versus the unstable woman can be so toxic that it becomes insidious from the outset of the relationship, while it spreads and festers in the family life. Ms. Terrell describes these men as “codependent to the point that the codependency becomes addictive”. Codependency is an oft touted word in our society though few know exactly how it works and why it can be so debilitating.
Laura Fontaine, MS, LISAC, LPC., of Vivify Wellness in the Phoenix area described codependency as an attachment issue. She elaborated that, “There are three basic attachment styles: secure, anxious, and avoidant. These attachment styles are formed in childhood but maintained by the types of relationships we experience throughout our life.” Ms. Fontaine went on to say that, “This push-pull of attachment creates the anxiety in the anxiously attached person. Over time, the theory is that this feeling or sensation that comes up for the anxiously attached when the avoidant person pulls away can be confused with passion or love.” The women these men are attached to often withdraw love, connection, and intimacy from some perceived threat or slight, according to Ms. Fontaine. Ms. Fontaine concluded, “This is where Ms. Terrell’s description of codependence being like an addiction comes into play. The anxiously attached go to others to remain in their window of tolerance but this is short lived when they are with an avoidant attachment partner. The push-pull dynamic happens repeatedly and the anxiously attached really begins to feel like they need the hit of the other person.” This is somewhat similar to ingesting drugs or alcohol and some research suggests an actual neurochemical similarity to these substances.
A man with a toxic woman is the man’s problem. However, children are often brought into this relationship and the toxic woman and addictive man has unfortunate consequences for the children and this becomes a societal problem. This is why, said Ms. Terrell and Ms. Fontaine, they bring a sense of urgency to their work. “The loyalties of the children are stretched,” said Ms. Terrell. The parent’s relationship also becomes a model for the vulnerable and easily impressed children. The children become victims, and this can affect their social relationships, academic performance, and general happiness as well as safety said Ms. Terrell.
Freud wrote, “I cannot think of any need in childhood stronger than the need for a father’s protection.” This may sound vaguely sexist and Freud was not exactly the spokesperson for women’s psychological and political empowerment, yet, as Ms. Terrell has learned from her practice that “men have superpowers” and a properly empowered man in a family can transform the home environment while providing a safe haven and an ideal model for their children.
Divorce custody has changed over the decades, but women still tend to get primary custody over their children no matter the past behavior or psychological debilitations of the women and mothers. This is why some men seek help from counselors and coaches to help them navigate emotionally charged relationships. Many men want to stay and be protectors of their children. These men, despite wanting happiness, remain in the marriage not only because of primary custody issues; they also remain because of fears of parental alienation where the mother may turn the children against the father. Ms. Terrell, in her work, has identified parental alienation as a major factor in many men’s lives when they leave a marriage.
Fathers play a pivotal role in the life of their children and fathers who stay and protect their children, despite toxic women in the family, likely do deserve a cape for their superpowers. Additionally, it is important to identify these toxic relationships and support men in seeking help as their role in their family has a tremendous impact on the children and protecting children should always be a major aspect of any society as those children construct our future society and culture.
For more information, contact Michelle Terrell, counselor/life coach, at www.inspiredlovelife.com.
For more information, contact Laura Fontaine, MS, LISAC, LPC at www.vivifyyourwellness.com.