There are times I catch myself trying to please my wife, Alice, by showing her what a wonderful guy I am. Well, not exactly to please her, but rather, having her being pleased with me. I might try to hide from her some weakness or uncertainty, a dumb mistake I made, or a stupid thing I’ve said. Or I try to make an obvious show of how intelligent, creative, kind, or generous I am. I want her to admire me, respect me. Her approval is very important to me. I well know the things I need to do in order to get her approval.
I know I’m not alone in this. No one wants to have their shortcomings revealed on billboards for everyone to see, especially not by those whose love we cherish and whose respect we value. We all want to be admired by our mate, and many of us will do all sorts of things to earn Brownie points, receive praise, and get an approving pat on the head from her. Taken to an extreme though, this can lead to hiding who we really are from our partner, building up a false identity, and playing a role that just is not who we really are. It’s manipulative, it’s dishonest… but it’s a hard habit to change. Even though I know this, I still find myself doing it.
Why do we go to these lengths to promote a false image of ourselves? It may have to do with the fear of losing our mate. We think that if we build ourselves up in her eyes or make ourselves indispensable, she will be dependent on us and never leave. Or it may have to do with needing her approval in order to validate our values and feel good about ourselves. Or it may be that we simply want to see ourselves as strong and knowledgeable… actually, infallible.
No matter what the cause, our efforts to create and maintain a “good boy” image in our partner’s eyes keep us in the position of a child, forever seeking mommy’s praise and chasing her approval. Being a good boy takes a lot of work. We have to constantly monitor what we reveal, what we need to hide. Our focus is on her, what we can say or do to please her. If both partners play this game, the relationship becomes theater, with both partners actors playing roles that are distinct from who they really are.
Much better to be you. Aim to be kind, to be smart, and to be proficient for your own sake, because kindness, intelligence, and proficiency are good qualities to possess. The momentary ego flattery you’ll receive when you curry your partner’s approval is like an addiction. Shortly after you get a dose of your partner’s approval, you’ll need another, then another.
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