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Ask the Man Shrink: Crazy Little Thing Called Love

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Love makes people psychotic, and I mean that literally. Reality gets distorted. The irrational become rational. People start believing things they would’ve considered preposterous five minutes before Mr. or Ms. Right walked into the room. Deep forces, ranging from fear to sexual desire, take the wheel and kick logic out at the corner.

Most of the time, this is a good thing. We need to go a bit crazy when we fall in love. Otherwise, people would base decisions about relationships on such inanities as diet, closet organization, and the position of the toilet seat when one exits the lavatory. Love puts on blinders to the little things and magnifies the big things, such as life goals, values, sense of humor, and a cute butt. If love didn’t addle our brains, nobody would get married except to get on someone’s insurance plan or the fast track to citizenship. And we wouldn’t learn and grow when the blinders come off. Learning to live with the annoying peccadilloes of another person is part of developing a healthy relationship. It’s part of becoming a better person. Like I said, most of the time it’s good that love makes us a little nuts.

Most of the time.

C.S. Lewis wrote, “Love, having become a god, becomes a demon.” Some relationships stir up feelings so intense that we get lost. We make bad decisions and do stupid things. We encounter situations we can’t control and end up with people we love, hate, and love to hate. The emotions unearthed by romance make relationships difficult. In the worst cases, it can make someone despair of ever having a happy, healthy love life. If this has never happened to you . . . well, enjoy sharing a place with Jesus, Ghandi and that virgin-queen lady after you die.

“Sally” was a woman who came to me because her boyfriend cheated on her regularly. Jealousy and anxious suspicion haunted her every interaction with him. She’d caught her boyfriend with another woman six months before and recently discovered that he was still emailing her. (Ever notice that the philanderers of the world don’t know how to use a delete button?). However, she refused to leave him. She “loved him too much.” She was convinced that she could change him. She knew that she could make the relationship good enough for him to remain faithful.

When I asked about Sally’s childhood, everything came into focus. Her father was a workaholic grouch. He didn’t have time for her, even on the weekends. He wasn’t abusive or alcoholic; he just ignored her. He missed birthdays and soccer games and graduations while he was away on business. Sally tried to impress him by being a “good girl.” She excelled in school and sports and never got into trouble. None of it made a dent.

In order for Sally to feel lovable, she had to win over a man who neglected her. She needed the love of someone who couldn’t remain faithful. If she could be enough of a “good girl” to make her boyfriend stop cheating, she would finally feel loveable. Sally’s complete lack of interest in “nice” guys highlighted this fact. She reported getting easily bored with attractive, passionate, considerate men. But she couldn’t let go of a man who treated her like crap. She had to prove that she could win the love of a jerk. Once she realized this and started building self-esteem, she left her boyfriend and eventually found a much healthier relationship.

There are lots of reasons people have difficulty in relationships, ranging from stress to stupidity. Many problems have to do with old issues resurfacing. For example,

I’m not suggesting that your parents are to blame for all your relationship problems. I told Sally’s story to illustrate a point: sometimes, there’s more than meets the eye going on in relationships. That’s why they can be confusing. That’s why it can help to have the perspective of someone outside the relationship. Which is where I come in.

I’m a clinical psychologist who specializes in relationships and sexuality. I’m also a man, which I guess qualifies me to explain the male perspective. Despite our reputation, men are complex and not all alike. But I’ll do my best to explain the male brain. I’ve also been married five years to a wonderful (and scathingly hot) woman who’s taught me a lot about life and love. As a bonus, I’m the father of twenty-one month-old quadruplets. Yep—four babies at once. So, in addition to my professional training and experience, I’ve learned a thing or two (or four) about parenting and how children impact relationships.

Together, we’re going to explore life and love. Send me a question and I’ll offer ideas about why something is giving you trouble and what to do about it. But let’s get something straight—I’m not Dear Abby or Dr. Phriggin’ Phil. To be honest, pop psych “relationship experts” me a little queasy. I can’t stand some well-coifed shrink shilling generic advice and making complex matters sound simple. People and relationships are complicated. I won’t beat you over the head with pat answers. We’re not going to shy away from the abstract, the intellectual, or the spiritual. And we’re going to laugh together at what happens when love makes us go crazy.

So send me your questions about relationships. I’ll respond to one every month. I won’t use your real name or publish your email address. We’ll focus on romantic relationships, but feel free to ask about other types, as well. Sigmund Freud said that our emotional issues surface in love and at work, so problems with your colleagues are also fair game.

One more thing (alert: “please don’t sue me” disclaimer coming) . . .

I will not answer any email directly. I’ll use one or more questions to create a monthly topic. I’ll give broad advice, some of which won’t apply to your particular situation. You will not be my “client” or “patient.” The best way for you to address emotional distress or relational problems is to receive direct services from a mental health professional. According to the laws and ethics of my profession, I cannot provide psychotherapy or any form of psychological treatment unless someone enters into a contractual relationship with me. The purpose of this column is to entertain and provide general information.

There. Now maybe I won’t lose my psychologist license when someone takes a suggestion to “ditch” her lover too literally.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Crazy Love,

The Man Shrink

Read the March Ask the Man Shrink column

Ask the Man Shrink is published monthly. Each column features a real question from a reader, and we invite other readers to respond with their thoughts and insights by posting comments. If you have a question for Stephen, please send it to him care of the editor at Your question will be kept in the strictest of confidence.

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