Why Men Fall for Dangerous Relationships

The life of a good man is a continual warfare with his passions.
-Samuel Richardson (1689-1761) British novelist

I recall being in a theatre, watching the hit movie of 1987, Fatal Attraction, about a married attorney (played by Michael Douglas) who has a fling with a work colleague (Glenn Close), and when he later tries to pull away from the entanglement, she becomes insanely obsessed with him and refuses to let go – to the point where she goes to the man’s house and tries to kill his wife (played by Anne Archer). I was riveted to my seat with a chill running through my body. Somehow I knew this was more than a movie. It had a driving force behind it that seemed to connect men, without external acknowledgement, into a secret club to which no one wanted to admit membership. Without exchanging even a glance, men left the theatre having participated in an experience that portrayed a hidden ritual of manhood, of which most had firsthand knowledge. This movie sent a shockwave that moved deep within men’s psyches. It touched the nerve endings of men’s collective souls, unleashing a torrent of anxiety-bound confusion. He who succumbs to such a woman’s manipulative ways may soon realize that something is terribly wrong, yet he doesn’t know how to extricate himself from her snare – or better yet, how to avoid her on day one.

At some point in the lifetime of every man, a woman appears who can – consciously or unconsciously – collude with him to bring about his downfall. Unless the man knows how to spot her, how to deal with her or avoid her entirely, he may find himself an unsuspecting member of that “secret club”, exposed and disgraced along with such notables as former President Bill Clinton; presidential hopefuls Senator John Edwards and Senator Gary Hart; Governor Mark Stanford of South Carolina; Italy’s Premier Silvio Berlusconi; talk show host David Letterman; Reverend Jim Baker; televangelist Jimmy Swaggart; Los Angeles Lakers basketball superstar Kobe Bryant, and more recently, international golf pro Tiger Woods and the recently divorced spouse, Jesse James, of Oscar winner Sandra Bullock.  More men are no doubt waiting in the wings for their turn.

As a psychotherapist in practice for nearly forty years, I have worked first-hand with men whose “dangerous relationship” stories I have come to know intimately. I have been deeply touched by the toll such liaisons have taken on their lives. I’ve winced with each vivid realization of the wreckage inflicted on family members, friends and even fans. I could no longer stand by and watch more and more men stumble blindly along the same perilous path that so many have traversed before.

What is a Dangerous Relationship?

Starting with that of Adam and Eve, a relationship qualifies as  “dangerous” when the stakes are high and the consequences dire.  ESPN baseball analyst Steve Phillips picked a 22-year-old co-worker to have an affair with, and when he tried to break it off, the “woman scorned” threatened Phillip’s wife and children – just as in Fatal Attraction when the Glenn Close character tells the Michael Douglas character, “I will not be ignored!”  It is a chilling moment as he realizes he’s in big trouble.  While not all such liaisons end in physical violence, many do end with the “outing” of the relationship, which may derail the man’s career, destroy his family and bring him to his knees in a painfully destructive way. Sometimes the man recovers; sometimes the consequences for him last a lifetime.

Look closely at those video clips of President Bill Clinton working the rope line one bright autumn day. There is a flirty girl in a beret that stands out from the crowd.  She gazes at the President a little too adoringly – and the President gives her a hug that is just a bit too familiar. The potential for trouble is revealed in that picture, as the young woman we now know as Monica Lewinsky threatens to topple the venerable position held by the most powerful man in the world. It was ultimately Clinton’s own brazenness that brought about the impeachment hearings. When asked later on why he had the dalliance with Monica Lewinsky, his reply was, “I’ve thought about it a lot, and unfortunately it was for the most morally indefensible reason — because I could.”

A run-in with such a woman happens to high-profile men, to ordinary men, and to men you know personally. You may have witnessed a good friend making a poor decision about the company he keeps, sometimes with unfortunate or even tragic consequences. Some of these men, thanks to their own dynamics, unwittingly conspire to bring about their own downfall.

We, the somewhat less powerful, the less influential, may envy the privileged pack that often gets away with being bad.  While we may live vicariously through their exploits, they seem impervious to their own actions. However, should we slip away to consort with forbidden fruit, our wives would leave us, our kids would look at us in disgust, and our careers would falter. We would wind up living in a one-bedroom apartment, scraping by to keep our (former) families living in the style to which we/they had become accustomed.

How common are such relationships?  Much more common than you might think. Dangerous liaisons have been the subject of many films (including the aforementioned Fatal Attraction), such as The Last Seduction, Basic Instinct, Damaged and Disclosure.

 Who Are Dangerous Women?

Though this is admittedly a generalization, the kind of woman who tends to snare a man into a dangerous relationship typically is one who seems to have no limits and who respects no boundaries. She doesn’t care if the man is married or single. It only matters that she wants him, and she will stop at nothing to have him. She will seduce him, manipulate him, and threaten him — all because of a deep-seated sense of emptiness and craving for control.  Her biggest issue is abandonment. She is terrified to be alone, and eventually the object of her desire begins to feel that, instead of being in relationship with her, he has become her emotional hostage.

Such a woman doesn’t engage in a relationship, she takes a prisoner. As things unravel, she can be treacherous. She may stalk him, scream at him, slash his tires, threaten suicide, write letters to his wife — or worse. It has been said that “hell hath no fury like a woman scorned,” and the reality of this can become all too apparent to a man under certain conditions. Typically, she brings out the worst in a man, not the best.
Within my practice as a psychotherapist, I hear many such stories, including those from men who have fallen from grace in their lives as the result of a real-life dangerous relationship. In the book I’m writing called Man Up!  What it takes to be a Good Man today, one case in particular stands out as an example of a perilous relationship in which no one exited unscathed.

One of my patients, who we’ll call Mike, met a woman, who we’ll refer to as Denise, in a bar one lonely night and struck up a conversation over many drinks. The alcohol made it ultra-easy for them to share far too much about each other in a first-chance meeting.  Their instant passion turned volatile, and ultimately the relationship propelled itself to a tragic end when the woman killed herself.  Mike had to face how his own neediness and narcissism blinded him to the allure of a borderline personality disorder suffered by his femme fatale.

Mike, of course, was badly shaken by the tragic outcome of this perilous relationship. It was his wake-up call. He decided to take a break from dating until he figured out why he’d allowed himself to get caught up in this relationship, and learned how to spot – and heed — the red flags so it wouldn’t happen again. Eventually, he went back to dating, married again, had two children, and today is appreciative of the fact that he leads a balanced, sane life.

Fall From Grace

When Tiger Woods toppled from his pedestal, you could hear the crash for miles around.  Tiger’s fall from grace is one of the most shocking collapses of character and popularity of any nonpolitical figure, certainly in modern day and perhaps ever.  A USA Today Gallop Poll reported that Tiger sustained a drop in approval from 87 percent in 2005 to 33 percent, with an unfavorable rating of 57 percent.  As we watch from the sidelines as Tiger attempts a comeback that some believe was too soon, we’re witnessing the physical and emotional strains on a champ attempting to climb back onto his pedestal.  His number-one ranking in the world of golf is now in peril.

For the past twelve years I have worked with the Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles, counseling their priests who were in need of help for one reason or another.  Among the priests with whom I worked, there have been those that were having illicit affairs. Some of the relationships were the result of loneliness, and some were the result of sexually compulsive or addictive behavior. Many of them had come to the realization, through treatment, that their personal falls were more into Grace than from Grace because they’d been forced to face their transgressions and learn things about themselves that actually improved their lives in the long run.

Here is a story about a married Episcopal priest who took the fall. This individual was not a patient; he was the priest of the church that my family was attending at the time.  One Sunday while I was in church with my wife and our three children, we were stunned when an announcement was made that our pastor had just been relieved of his duties as rector of the church effective immediately, due to allegations that he had overstepped the bounds of propriety and had made sexual advances at a number of female parishioners. There were expressions of shock and disbelief on the faces of the congregation when they heard this. Many wept while some looked blankly at one another, searching and hoping for some sign that might indicate that this was a mistake. How could this person who had been of such help to so many be accused of these indiscretions?  He had been there during the births and the deaths, standing at the bedsides and the grave sites, baptizing the new little ones, giving counsel to those bereft, cheering on the school athletic teams, encouraging us to stick together and help one another after the Northridge earthquake of 1994.

Everyone seemed to like and trust him so much. How could this have happened?

The thought immediately came into my mind — another fall from grace!  There have been so many, and now Father Tim.  It came to light following the incident that Father Tim was undoubtedly having an affair with one of the female parishioners, and when it was about to be exposed she attempted to put the full blame on him, insinuating that he was acting out sexually with other women as well. From what we understood, no one else stepped forward to corroborate those insinuations. Father Tim subsequently left the priesthood and went through a divorce. The consequences of his choice were quite obviously dire. His unwise choice brought him down hard.

There was also an attorney in my practice who became involved in a dangerous relationship, careening from one eruptive episode to another. Each time he would attempt to extricate himself from his perilous partner she would become enraged, taking out her revenge in a variety of creative ways, including ordering a multitude of take-out food from various establishments to be delivered to his office all at the same time, throwing rocks through his windows, chasing him in her car and attempting to block him or smash into his car, putting a naked picture of him with his business card in prominent places throughout Beverly Hills, calling his elderly mother to inform her that he had been killed in an auto accident, and much to my dismay, threatening to kill his therapist.  Yes, the web can ensnare other innocent parties within one’s intimate circle.   This woman, who clearly had mental and moral issues she failed to deal with, was eventually sentenced to prison.

Seven Types of Men Most Vulnerable to Dangerous Relationships

What kinds of men are the most susceptible to the women who can pull them into liaisons that we are describing here as “dangerous,” the women who turn treacherous when men try to pull away or end it with them?   Much has been written to help women spot and avoid dangerous men, but little to help men avoid similar disasters.

  1. The Naïve Man: Known as Puer Aeternus, eternal boy or Peter Pan syndrome, the naïve man is typically younger, softer, and more passive. He hasn’t made transition from boyhood to manhood. Trapped in his boyish ways, he has poor boundaries, flies from commitments and difficult situations, minimizes ugly facts, transcends his own dark side, often sees the world through rose-colored glasses, and essentially resists growing up. He seems to feel a sense of satisfaction in being attacked by his woman, and doesn’t fight back.  Instead, he retreats to his cave to brood.  He may create a secret relationship with a woman he believes truly understands him and will treat his wounded inner child with kindness. He makes idealistic assumptions and doesn’t examine the dark side of the woman he’s with, setting himself up for betrayal by her in the end. Some women want a passive man so that they can control him as a result of acquiescing to or compensating for some familiar scenario in their own backgrounds.  Perhaps they had a dominant mother and a passive father, or perhaps men had wounded them in the past.
  2. The Adrenaline Driven Man:  This is the classic Type-A personality. His throttle is set for full speed ahead. He can’t stand to be bored and avoids boring people. He loves challenges and risks. He won’t settle for less than what he feels he deserves. He can’t tolerate being stuck, held back, slowed down, or having to contend with the mundane. He participates in extreme sports and loves to stretch out of his comfort zone in everything he undertakes, from gambling and business ventures to women. He may volunteer to serve in the Special Forces division of the armed services or the bomb squad, where he overcomes his fears with a mixture of courage and adrenaline-driven bravado.  The dangerous woman poses a challenge to him.  She’s wild and can’t be tamed, and she would naturally be attracted to his style of living life on the edge.   A dangerous woman will get his blood boiling and adrenaline flowing.
  3. The Man in Mid-life:  Question:  How do you know when a man has entered midlife?  Answer:  When he starts dying his hair, purchases a new younger, hipper wardrobe, buys a convertible sports car and equips it with a young blond.  Around age 40, this man may begin a quest for “something better.” He may begin parading around in peacock fashion, hoping that an attractive woman or women will notice. Inside, he is screaming to be seen, admired, adulated and adored. When he no longer feels like a special person, he becomes vulnerable to anxiety and depression and may start abusing drugs and alcohol. He may also be facing looming financial, career, legal or marital disasters. The ancient Greeks referred to this as Katabasis or Great Fall. He may seek relief from his despair in an out-of-bounds relationship with a woman who tells him he’s “special,” although he lacks the clarity to make a wise love choice. At first, he’s just relieved to have finally found “the one” – until it sours.
  4. The Man Filled with Longing:  He longs for something other than what he’s got. He fantasizes about his younger years and starts eying women half his age. It’s not uncommon for men who are in their mid to late 50’s, who have been married for twenty or more years, to experience their relationships as dull and devoid of romance and passion.  He knows he’s beyond midlife and feels an urgency to recapture his youth before it’s too late. In the movie Moonstruck the question is asked:  “Why does an older man have an affair with a younger woman?”  The character played by Olympia Dukakis responds, “Because he’s afraid to die.” A man like this fears aging, so when his wife matures into the mundane world of matronhood, he may lose interest in her and turn to maidens who are succulent and carry the nectar of eternal youth. He may rush into a divorce – or drive his wife into dumping him.  As a therapist, I know that aging men and women can do the work to help weatherproof their relationship and protect it from the aggressions of a dangerous woman, but the work is painful and many couples aren’t willing to do it.
  5. The Narcissist:  Narcissus was a beautiful man who was promised a lavish life so long as he heeded his mother’s warning to never gaze upon his own features. Ignoring her pleas, Narcissus saw his reflection in the waters of a spring and fell in love with himself, gazing at the mirror of water until he starved to death. According to Greek legend, a flower named for him sprang up in the spot where he died.  The moral of this story warns of the perils of self-absorption. The Narcissist is doomed by his own shallowness, and dominated by his needs.  He fears mediocrity and wants to be seen as special. Charming, intelligent, and talented, he may rise to prominence. But inside he feels empty; fears intimacy; seeks approval and admiration. He, too, fears aging and losing control. Desperate to restore his feeling of youth and vitality, he seeks out the company of beautiful women. He’s a magnet for young maidens who will adore him — at least temporarily. When the luster fades, and he loses control, he starts to resort to less than charming behaviors. Narcissistic males fall along the continuum from fairly benign to pathologically malignant, becoming overly controlling, deceitful, manipulative, threatening and even psychopathically dangerous.

    A male manifesting a more severe form of narcissism may have suffered an attachment disorder arising from an early break within a primary bond typically existing between him and his mother. This can cause a deeper split in his psyche creating the development of a borderline personality disorder.  A man with this disorder can appear to be quite charming and together; however, his persona has been crafted to hide a dark shadow side to his personality. Narcissists are often ingenuous and duplicitous. Men like that lead double lives and are the prototype of the sheep in wolf’s clothing; the poster boy as personification of the modern day false prophet.

    As with borderline women, men with this disorder don’t maintain proper limits or respect appropriate boundaries, exhibiting a lack of impulse control.  At first, a woman will believe that she has met Mr. Wonderful only to later realize that her dream-guy has become Mr. Nightmare.  If he seems to be too good to be true, you’ll undoubtedly discover that your initial suspicions were correct.  The Jekyll-Hyde split in his demeanor will betray that he is no doubt a borderline-disordered male and that things will typically begin to go from bad to worse before the relationship explodes or implodes.

    A man with this disorder is love-avoidant.  It’s not that he doesn’t crave love; it’s just that he doesn’t trust it or understand it in its fullest expression.  A borderline male tends to pull women toward him and then push them away when they get too close.  He starts off adoring the objects of his attraction and then winds up devaluing and rejecting them.  Seducing women feeds his narcissistic longing for attention.  It holds the hope of filling his core emptiness and quelling his addiction.  The problem is that he can’t live with them and he can’t live without them.  Therein lies the rub.

    Since a borderline can’t form healthy attachments and sustain solid viable relationships he takes hostages.  He will typically choose women that are needy and that he can control. This is a way of avoiding the more together and powerful woman that would trigger his fear of rejection and abandonment.  If he should happen to choose a solid and healthy partner he will have to weaken her by reducing her through derision to self-doubt and lowered-self-esteem.  This way he can maintain his artificial sense of control and stave off his dreaded fear of being alone with himself.

  1. The Man Who Would be King:  He’s the ultimate “success object.”  He’s successful, ambitious, with a ravenous appetite for power and possessions. He may unwittingly be willing to sacrifice hearth and home for something that he feels he must have — more money, prestige, fame or adulation. Charismatic and intelligent, he commands attention and displays his wealth and power in the company of others. He has a sense of entitlement and surrounds himself with admirers who do his bidding. But he’s perpetually dissatisfied and must continue to pursue new conquests.  He is an easy mark for a dangerous woman looking for a man-on-the-rise, a woman who believes that only she has something to offer him that he needs in order to fulfill his quest. She opens the door to heightened passion and ardor so enchanting that he cannot resist her. She imbues him with intoxicating nectar, setting him on fire.

    The man who would be king feels privileged to reach out for whatever he desires and longs for, and has an unconscious drive to own all the best women in the land. We might think of former presidents John Kennedy or Bill Clinton as being the prototype for this kind of man. Clinton, similar to his hero, John Kennedy, felt a sense of inflated entitlement manifesting in the belief that he deserved to satisfy his desire for whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted it — including women.  In fact, Kennedy evidenced that he felt he deserved to have his pick of the best women in the land, and he chose perhaps the epitome of the most widely desired vixens of the moment, Marilyn Monroe.

  1. The Sexually Addicted Man:  Lust has been around since the dawn of time. The theories on why people self-destruct using sex and love run the gamut.   One man acts out his addiction by having multiple sex partners and another man obsesses over a woman who is emotionally unavailable to him. Others derail their lives by compulsively masturbating (sometimes as much as five to twenty times a day), having inappropriate fantasies or extramarital affairs, continually logging onto pornographic web sites on the Internet, or hurting themselves sexually with a variety of objects or self-destructive behaviors. Sometimes children of broken families, who live in environments that feature molestation or affairs, may grow into adults who can’t distinguish between what’s acceptable and what’s not. The problem can be made worse by the many sexual images portrayed in the media these days, and of course, alcohol and drugs never make a potentially bad situation better.It’s important to understand that sexual addictions don’t happen overnight. They take time to develop. But when they’re full-blown, a man won’t be able to resist the repeated urge to enter into a potentially dangerous “love relationship” with a sexual object or experience that gives him pleasure and the illusion of intimacy.  This last sentence defines an addict:  He’s hooked and can’t say no.  To reiterate, the object of his addiction gives him two things: pleasure and an illusion of intimacy.

    Not everyone who struggles with sexual compulsions is an addict. Some men abuse their sexuality for a period of time and then grow out of it. Many men with a regrettable sexual experience in the past put it behind them and move on.  But not everyone is so fortunate. Some men block emotional pain with sexual pleasure. Over time they have to try increasingly risky forms of sexual behavior in order to deaden the pain. Eventually their world revolves around sex and dangerous relationships. Their obsession has taken over their life.  Male and female sex addicts are magnets for each other.  It is believed that about 8 percent of men in the United States (and 3 percent of women) have the disorder, but few of those affected are getting the help they need.

It Takes Two to Tangle

Dangerous relationships don’t take place in a vacuum.  Most often, neither the man nor the woman have a clue about “why” they are involved in relationships that could hurt them both. And often, even when they know they’re stepping into big trouble, they do it anyway. Knowing this on an intellectual level doesn’t help. A man can say, “I always pick women who destroy me,” but if he does it repeatedly, what use is the insight?  Seeing the truth has to happen at a deeper, gut level.

For example, the kind of woman who is drawn to The Man Who Would Be King type desires to profit from the man’s position on the ladder of success – whether he’s the manager of a local grocery store where she works or he is the President of the United States. The woman feels she will benefit from being associated with his “fame and fortune,” however immense or meager it may be. She feels the relationship gives her greater security, immunity, self worth and status. Her sense of self is bolstered by her ability to entice him, as she perceives that she has landed “a great catch.”

Seven Types of Women Who Can Conspire in a Man’s Downfall

In many ways, the seven types of women most likely to conspire to bring a man down parallel the seven types of men who are most vulnerable to them.  They are a good fit.  As with the men, the seven types of women run the gamut from benign to malignant.  Not all the players fit neatly into one type.  Sometimes a woman will display traits from one or more of the following types:

  1. The Damsel in Distress:  This is the woman who is looking for the White Knight to rescue her. Some damsels are truly dependent and need a man to save them from one crisis to another, and some men are total suckers for this type of woman. They feel better about themselves when they can rescue her from a dragon or some other potential tragedy in the making. The downside of this type is that sometimes the woman’s helplessness masks defects in character or pathology that get revealed later on.  Like the Naïve Man, the Damsel in Distress doesn’t want to grow up. She does not mature because to do so would mean embracing the aging process.
  2. The Drama Queen:  This woman needs to be the center of attention. Often lively and dramatic, she may initially charm new acquaintances by her enthusiasm, apparent openness or flirtatiousness. These qualities wear thin, however, as she continually demands to be in the spotlight. She is theatrical; she exaggerates expressions of emotion. She often embarrasses friends and acquaintances by excessive public displays of emotion that seem to be turned on and off too quickly to be deeply felt. She has problems with intimacy in romantic or sexual relationships.

    Flights into romantic fantasy are common.  Without being aware of it, these women often act out a role such as queen or victim in their relationships with others.  When a man who would be king partners with a woman who is acting the role of queen while disguising her inveterate princess tendencies, he will eventually become disenchanted.  Drama Queens typically remain unrequited princesses incapable of ascending to the queen’s throne.  They do not want to mature, because to do so would mean to accept and embrace the process being an adult.  This is an intimidating prospect and is to be avoided at all costs.

  1. The Seductress:  She seeks control of her partner through emotional manipulation or seductiveness on one level, while displaying a marked dependency on him on another. She comports herself as the archetype of the Vixen, Siren or Fury. She requires the attention of all the men in the room and gets it by dressing provocatively and displaying a variety of sexually suggestive behaviors. She tends to have impaired relationships with same sex friends because of her sexually provocative interpersonal style. She craves novelty, stimulation and excitement and has a tendency to become bored with the usual routine. If not the center of attention, she may become depressed.

    One of my clients told me about a meal with a seductress in which she ate a hot dog in a most sensually erotic fashion. It might have been enticing if the performance had not been graphically acted out in front of his parents and his minor age children. He felt like crawling under the table but was afraid that she might follow him.  I’ve had patients involved with such women tell me, “Even though the relationship with the psycho babe was a roller coaster ride from hell, it was the best sex I’ve ever had.”  Or, “Nothing like a little psycho-sex to work the kinks out.”

  1. The Power Seeker:  She’s only interested in men who have personal power, men who can advance her life-style in some generous fashion. These women are social climbers who use relationships to elevate themselves on the ladder of success, even though it is leaning against his wall, not hers. Getting to the top and taking advantage of the prizes along the way is the primary focus. Some women like this are derogatorily referred to as “star-fuckers.” They can leave a man in the rubble of his indiscretion while they rise out of the ashes of his destruction like a phoenix. They may launch an acting career, start their own clothing line, or become newsworthy in some other manner. The men’s stars fall while the women’s continue to twinkle.

    Obviously, not every woman who dates or marries a powerful man fits this type. However, where a pattern is established in which men are traded and discarded as one more powerful takes the place of the preceding one, it may be evidence that the power seeker is at work. Often, these women have no personal power of their own and tend to cash in on the man’s station in life. Some time ago in Los Angeles there was a group called The Ladies, made up of the ex-wives of famous men. Many shared their desire to get themselves another famous man to marry, unsatisfied with marrying “just anybody.”

  1. The Desperate Woman:  She sets up a man to marry her or impregnate her simply to have a baby. The primary agenda is the baby, even under adverse conditions. Sometimes a woman gets pregnant to assure that the man will stay – to trap him. Desperate, she feels that she will be fulfilled only if she can have a child.  She also wants to have the financial support so that she can put her attention into mothering rather than employment. Many paternity suits are filed each year to determine the father of origin of a baby.

    I have worked with a number of these men in therapy who have told me stories about being in brief relationships in which the woman gets pregnant, has no intention of terminating the pregnancy, and is not interested in whether or not he sticks around. She does want to make sure that the check arrives on a monthly basis until the child turns eighteen. Often, these men want to have access to the child as father and the woman blocks this in some way, including moving out of state.

    One man said he met a woman in a bar and had sex with her in the bathroom after she lured him in and locked the door.  On their next date they had sex on his boat.  He had used protection. When he withdrew after coitus, he was shocked to see that the condom was not where it should have been. He remembered her hand working its way down toward his penis during intercourse. He realized that she had rolled the condom off during the act. Surprise: she wound up pregnant, and after she won the paternity suit and full custody of the child, he wound up with a ruling to pay a lump sum per month each year until the child was no longer of minor age.  Some women go after married men specifically because they believe that they will get the kid and the money without being exposed. Most of these married men will not want to reveal the scenario, running the risk of losing everything.

  1. The Borderline:  Characterized by extreme feats of attention seeking, manipulative behavior and rapidly shifting emotions, this woman is also distinguished by self-destructiveness, angry disruptions in close relationships, chronic feelings of deep emptiness, and identity disturbance including hostile and even violent acting-out forms of conduct disorder.  She may appear normal until a stress incident sends her regressing into a more primitive psychotic state. Typically, she suffers from a deeper form of traumatic wounding marked by abandonment and perceived rejection typically by the mother at a very early age.  She exhibits an attachment disorder and has learned to distrust that people will be there for her.  She is hypersensitive to abandonment (real or imagined), yet is terrified of closeness and attachment. If a man gets too close, she pushes him away; if he steps back, she will try to lure him back with everything she’s got — or she’ll lash out with a vengeance if he doesn’t respond. Because she feels so empty, she’ll seek out relationships where she can get involved quickly to fill up that emptiness.

    While the male narcissistically wounded personality thrives on being mirrored as special, the female Borderline Personality is driven by an intense, often debilitating fear of abandonment and longing for connection.  Having suffered the real physical and/or, emotional abandonment of a primary caregiver during early childhood, borderlines grow to idealize potential caregivers. The borderline will tend to initially mirror her attractor in an idealized fashion, only to later knock him off his pedestal when she discovers that he’s just like all the other men that have betrayed, abused and abandoned her.  Her one-time prince becomes the “prick” that he obviously was all along. Male and female borderlines tend to become entwined as their connection devolves into a symbiotic enmeshment.  A major power struggle over issues of control ensues as the push-pull, approach-avoidance dance spirals into chaos.  Like an insect on flypaper, the more one struggles to get free the more entrapped one becomes.  Disentangling a relationship between two borderlines can seem a lot like herding cats.

  1. The Sex Addict:  A fine line exists between what may be considered by most people acceptable sexual behavior and what is sexually addictive or compulsive. This is especially true for women in a society such as ours where sex is often treated as a commodity. Our culture at one time had discouraged women from being assertive and direct in the expression of their sexual needs, thereby encouraging a less direct and potentially seductive or manipulative style.  Since the women’s movement of the 60’s we have witnessed a progressively more overt style of sexual expression among women.  Some women, however, go beyond these culturally sanctioned behaviors and use sex compulsively as a means of gaining power, control and love.

    The idea of being “sexually alluring” may be preferred by sexually addicted women because it fits the romantic, nurturer model of woman, whereas the term “sex addict” connotes a pejorative image of a “nymphomaniac”, “slut”, or “whore”.  The “love” that these women describe is often an addiction to the yearning or euphoria of romance, but has little to do with love.

    The elements of sex addiction (and any addiction for that matter: compulsion, continuation despite adverse consequences, and preoccupation or obsession) are the same in women as in men.  Most sexually addicted women have not had parental role modeling for how to have emotional intimacy in nonsexual ways. Research has shown that there is often a combination of rigidity and lack of emotional support in the sex addict’s family of origin. The majority of women sex addicts were sexually abused in childhood — 78% in one study.

The Relationship Minefield

Whether you’re a man or a woman who just read this article, perhaps you personally identify with or recognize someone that is exhibiting some of these tendencies.  No doubt you have been struck with the realization that the nature of relationships between men and women these days can seem like a minefield strewn with carefully concealed IED’s.   Let’s consider what men can do to avoid unwittingly triggering one of these relationship mines and how to avoid the pitfalls of dangerous relationships.

12 Things Men Can Do to Avoid “Dangerous” Relationships

  1. Know Thyself:  Look inward and tell yourself the truth about where you may be vulnerable. Seek counsel. Read what’s written on the subject.
  2. Recognize Red Flags:  As we saw in the case of Mike and Denise, people tell us who they are right off the bat. We need to improve our skills at recognizing what’s in front of our eyes and what our gut instincts “know.”
  3. Put the Brakes On:  If you’ve already jumped in, step back and evaluate. Notice what’s going on. Watch out for the tendency to form instant intimacy and to take things too fast in the relationship before you really get to know whom you’re dealing with.
  4. Only Stay if You Bring Out the Best in Each Other:  If you don’t like yourself when you are around her; if you display sides of yourself that disappoint you, that’s a red flag. Start asking yourself questions: Is this good for me?  Is it good for her?  Will it hurt anyone?
  5. Don’t Keep the Relationship a Secret: Show the relationship the light of day. Share with a trusted friend or objective advisor who will give you unbiased feedback. Seek professional help. Get into therapy. Be open to the counsel.  Learn from the experiences of others in the news and in your social circle.
  6. Seek out a Mentor. Look for an older man who can share his own personal wisdom. Challenges are rarely brand new. Most elders have encountered the same challenges before and can be of help by sharing their lessons learned.
  7. Handle the Problems at Home: Talk openly and honestly with your primary partner regarding any issues or concerns that have been bothering you. Clear your resentments rather than allowing them to fester and mount up to the point that you feel justified in acting out. Clear your feelings frequently. The truth works; therefore, tell the truth as quickly, completely and compassionately as possible.
  8. Think it Through:  AA tells recovering alcoholics who are tempted to drink to “think the drink through to its logical conclusion.” Do the same with your relationships. What’s the logical outcome of this relationship, and is that what you really want in your life?
  9. Deal with Aging:  Face issues of aging and mortality in a mature and responsible way, not by succumbing to a dangerous liaison.  Accept that you can only slow down the clock by so much, and then there comes a time to take stock of one’s current life situation with a level of personal accountability.
  10. Work on Your Integrity and Character:  Integrity may be defined as what you do even when you think nobody would find out. If you believe in marriage fidelity, then take only those actions which are consistent with that value.  The truth usually comes out in one way or another, including in physical or psychological ways.
  11. Focus on Future, Positive Goals: What dreams have you held out for yourself, your partner and your family?  Contemplate your values, your principles and your personal ethic. Consider the importance of those who have shared your life through thick and thin, high and low periods. These are your real friends and allies. Value those who care about you for who you really are, rather than those who care about who they think you are.
  12. Make a Course Correction: It’s never too late to get back on The Path. A wise man once said, “Know where you’re going and who’s going with you…and don’t get those reversed.”