Everybody knows a man who is married to or involved with what we call a “high-maintenance woman.”
I don’t know when that term became popularized, but I remember hearing it for the first time in the 1980’s. High-maintenance woman can be needy, demanding, melodramatic or all of the above; this is that couple that when you refer to the man, it’s most often as “that poor guy.”
So what is it about “that poor guy” that attracted him into the nightmare to begin with?
High-maintenance women are often dramatized in the movies as sexy, pouty goddesses who lure the smitten dupes with their visceral delights, only to clamp the choke collar on once they have a firm commitment. But as those of us who have seen the real thing in action know, this is not always the case; probably even usually not the case. The weapon these gals use is more expansive than that—it is the promise that if you can just complete the challenges, the kingdom will be yours.
These women play on a man’s intrinsic desire to be a conquering hero, her forever King.
The fairytale analogy is apt, and I call these kinds of engagements the “mirror, mirror” relationship, after the Evil Queen in Snow White. She regularly inquires of her mirror, “Who is the fairest in the land?” and if she gets the answer she wants (YOU), everything is cool.
However, if the answer she gets is not to her liking? Murder is not out of the question.
This is how women in these “mirror, mirror” relationships actually treat their men. If his behavior, appearance, or answer is “right” (according to her), he gets the glory. However, if she is ever displeased by him in any way, there is hell to pay.
Do you know someone (or are you yourself) in a relationship with a partner who is the sweetest in the world ONLY when she is being told EXACTLY what she wants to hear? This is the essence of the “mirror, mirror” conundrum. At the beginning of most relationships it is so easy to heap praise on our beloved, because who is prettier, smarter, funnier and sexier than the person you are currently falling head over heels for?
But sooner or later reality sets in, and while the object of your affection is usually still appealing, smart and fun, they are also…other things.
Like maybe anal. Or a huge slob. Or the sort of person who doesn’t understand the need for alone time. Whatever it is, however it happens, all good relationships survive this “loss of illusion” phase, where you realize that the other isn’t ACTUALLY perfect (but is a close enough match to your own weirdness to work). That is when the real magic happens.
But what if one of you resists the other’s attempts to pierce the fantasy and insists on being treated as “flawless” (while settling comfortably into pointing out your flaws)? Then you are in a “mirror, mirror” relationship. If you have a partner who constantly demands to be told that she is “the fairest in the land” in order for your existence to be peaceful? You have a big problem.
In the “mirror, mirror” relationship, approval becomes a narrow path based on “merit,” the definition of which always being 100% in the hands of the “Evil Queen”; her behavior is never to be questioned. Failure to comply with this arrangement is met with temper tantrums, withholding of sex, sulking, and coolness.
So why would anyone put up with this kind of one-sided arrangement?
Because the harder it is to “win” her approval and affection, the more rewarding it feels when it actually happens. So the man keeps slaying dragons for her in hopes that one day he will finally bag “the big one”…the one that wins her heart forever.
But sadly, that never happens; the Evil Queen is an endless generator of challenges.
Sadly, the man is never crowned her “King.” He remains entrenched in the cycle of eternal knighthood, fighting tournament after tournament for his beloved without ever truly capturing her heart. It is easy to understand, however, especially if there are children involved, why a man would “hang tough” with this kind of woman; there is something mythic in his never-ending quest and within him burns an understandable desire to see it through to the end in vain hope of victory.
Are you (or someone you know) in one of these “mirror, mirror” relationships?
The good news is, if you are and you can recognize it as unhealthy, you can get out and seek a more balanced bonding. The bad news is that the pattern that develops in these sorts of engagements do become “set in stone” pretty quickly; that is to say, talking about it, even with a professional, is unlikely to help enough to make a difference.
The reason for this is that your “Evil Queen” is not actually interested in looking in the mirror at all: she can’t handle the truth.
Obviously there are couples who will remain entrenched in this melodrama for the rest of their lives because the “good” times feel SO “good.” This is the “hook” that keeps men in these abusive entanglements; it is commonly referred to as “the honeymoon phase”. Over time, however, the “honeymoon” becomes shorter and shorter and the list of demands longer and longer. The man finds himself apologizing for every problem in the relationship while the woman never feels the need to make any kind of amends for her out-of-control behavior.
If you (or someone you know) is in this kind of situation, it is important for you to know that whether or not there is any kind of physical violence (including destruction of property or threats at self-harm when you “misbehave”), you are in an abusive relationship.
What you may perceive as “passion” is actually an exercise in power—over you. You need not live like this.
If you can break the destructive cycle of a “mirror, mirror” relationship, the benefits of having lived through one will include the belief that every other woman you ever date is so amazingly low-maintenance!!! Most of us will only make you slay one damned dragon, if that.
When a woman truly loves a man, his comforting presence in her life is heroism enough; he passes her “litmus test” simply by being there when she needs him.
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