I have been a marriage and sex therapist for over 27 years and thoroughly believe in the possibility of change. People can improve themselves. However, and this is a big however, change is difficult. If a person wants to change a destructive behavior pattern, he needs help. He needs to be ready to do the work of change, get into therapy, examine himself and become more aware. He needs to look at his core issues and what was the driving force behind this destructive behavior.
This is not the common scenario of what happens. What more typically happens is that the “bad boy” meets the “good girl” and he uses his words to promise her that he will be different this time. She believes she is his magic answer and that her “goodness” and loyal devotion will truly change her man. At the same time, the “good girl” gets to live vicariously through the confidence and coolness of the bad boy. And even though he is still that exciting “bad boy,” she knows that he will not betray her and will contain himself, even though he has not demonstrated that ability before.
One thing I have learned without doubt is that words do not mean much at all when it comes to changing long standing negative behavior. Words are said in the “feeling of the moment,” when the couple is “in love” and they are intoxicated with each other’s presence.
However, feelings and moods change and as the early romance shifts into a more secure and stable relationship, his old instincts can rapidly emerge. He has done nothing to develop his emotional muscle to handle these impulses. In the case of adultery, the adulterer can be engaging in this for a variety of reasons such as:
1) looking for affirmation
2) stress reduction
3) sex addiction
4) sabotaging relationships and avoiding intimacy
Unless the man addresses these underlying factors, he will repeat the same behaviors again. The “bad boy” may be fun, but underneath his charm, he is fearful of growing up and being an adult. He often feels very inadequate deep down and the persona of “bad boy” is an act to compensate for and cover up these feelings.
When the female of this pair comes into my office after she has been betrayed, abused or neglected, she typically will say something like the following:
I know he had a bad past and didn’t treat women well in the past. And I had the scary thought that he would do the same thing to me. But I ignored it. He was so much fun and I had never felt this head over heels feeling about the other men I dated that actually treated women much better. Even as I was getting ready to walk up the aisle at the wedding, I had an uneasy feeling but was hopeful that love would conquer all.
All the women I counseled who have been victims of their “bad boy” intimate partner have had a gut sense much earlier in the relationship that this relationship could be dangerous to my emotional wellbeing. Many choose to ignore it because of the excitement they feel as well as their rescue fantasy. In a sense then, they are not totally blind, but blind to the importance of acting on their intuition.
My recommendations to the “good girls” who are attracted to “bad boys” are the following:
1) Find your own internal “bad girl.”
Learn how to be wilder and more selfish in healthy ways. I am not saying that you should do self-destructive behaviors but find ways to get edgier. Stretch yourself rather than rely on a man’s “badness” to express that part of you. For example- Take a pole-dancing class or decide to be all about your needs for a day rather than putting others needs first.
2) Grieve the fantasy that you have any power WHATSOEVER to change your partner’s dependent, self-absorbed or addictive patterns.
If he is not working on himself- GAME OVER AND YOU ARE THE BIG LOSER.
3) If you are not ready to give up the relationship, make an ultimatum that your partner get into therapy to deal with the underlying factors that lead to his “bad boy” behavior.
Ultimatums are absolutely necessary at times to take care of yourself. Make sure that you can be involved in the therapy either continuously or intermittently. “Bad boys” have a great talent for charming some therapists and making them as blind to his negative behaviors as you were.
Open your eyes to your deeper wisdom. Don’t just listen to his words. Listen to his actions. Being blind to the truth may allow you temporary feelings of starry-eyed love, excitement and adrenalin rushes but inevitably will lead to heartbreak and disappointment. Pay attention to his past and ask for him to do the work of growing up. If he does, great; however if it is only words you hear, let go and grieve the relationship. You deserve more.