There is a global cultural phenomena which is husbands being basically afraid of their wives (or guys being afraid of their girlfriends). It’s not talked about as such, but is more of a running joke that covers men sleeping on the sofa when they’re in trouble with the missus and having to lie about where they’ve been and what they do so she doesn’t get mad.
Beneath this lighthearted stereotype there is a traumatic darkness. There is no good reason for a man to be walking on eggshells around his partner, or to fear being completely transparent and honest at all times.
In this video, we explore why Nice Guys in particular are so fearfully submissive to their partners, often sacrificing their own needs and wants just to avoid her being in a bad mood.
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Today I’m going to address the global phenomena, that is men being afraid of their wives. And I’m going to reveal what I believe is the secret cause of most divorces.
Now, comedian Bill Burr does a rant on one of his specials about how he can’t understand that stereotype of the men who go and sleep on the couch when they’re in trouble with their wife. You know, he just doesn’t get ,get how a man can be forced to sleep on a couch in his own house, when often he’s the one who paid for it. And he goes on to say, you know, the woman can’t physically dominate you most of the time, unless you’re married to an MMA fighter, so there’s no threat there. She can withhold sex, but you can just jerk off so there’s no threat there. She can be a bit moody and you can just be like, Oh, well, be moody then, there’s no real threat there. He just doesn’t get it because Bill Burr is not a classic nice guy. But nice guys get it.
But Bill Burr raises a real question, Why are men afraid of their wives? And why is this so commonplace that we’ve come to accept it as a normal relationship dynamic?
First, we shouldn’t beg the question: Are men afraid of their wives? The answer is yes. Not all men, of course. But you’ll know it because it’s a cultural running joke. So the boss tells me I can’t do it. That’s a classic thing that a husband will say. He has to always check in, he has to keep the peace at home, and it’s not worth the bloody hassle. Nice guys are constantly giving off this image of I’m basically afraid of my wife, I’m afraid of standing up for myself, saying what I want, doing what I want to do.
Now, of course, there are other extremes, there are guys who have no consideration for their wife and just live their own way, and the wife suffers immensely. But I’m not talking about that type of guy today. Today, I’m talking about the one who, even if he’s joking about it, the truth is he’s afraid of his missus.
Just like the kind of husband who never initiates sex – more here:
Why are men afraid?
Now, it’s not obvious at first, why this is happening. In some cases yes, there is domestic violence, or there are the kinds of reactions from the woman that are scary, you know. She might actually harm you, or damage property, or go out of her way to make your life miserable. But in most cases, the man hasn’t even tested it to see if that will happen. He’s afraid before he’s had any really major negative consequences. And of course, in most cases, women aren’t that crazy.
So why is this happening?
Well, the key is in identifying what I mentioned just now, which is that men don’t even test it to see what will happen. A classic nice guy, when he gets into a relationship, quickly loses all assertiveness and all disagreeableness, especially once the relationship is officially established. It happens well before marriage, it’s just it’s kind of obvious in marriage because it’s the longest term relationship in this way. The guy’s been doing this for longer. Longer escalates, he gets less and less assertive over time, until he’s a meek little follower. But the fact is that he doesn’t ever bring it up, the fact is that he never makes a stand and never like finds out what will happen if he really goes hard on a point.
This tells us that they’re afraid of one of two things, or perhaps both.
First is they’re afraid that something big and final will happen, that’s not even worth testing. Like, you can’t test this because it’ll be such a devastating impact that you won’t be able to repair it. You don’t get two goes in this, there will be no second chances.
Or it’s something that they have come to the conclusion isn’t worth testing. They’ve tested it before in some way, or they believe they have, and they know how it’s gonna go. They’re not going to bother testing it again. The fact is that they don’t try at all, which I know this, I work with these guys, 1000s of them. They don’t really ever try to make a stand and keep a position. They don’t really test what happens when they say no to being told to sleep on the couch kind of thing. It’s either something big and final, or something they’re sure won’t be worth the effort.
Now in many cases, the big and final thing is abandonment. Okay. Most nice guys are afraid that conflict and disagreement and dislike equals end of the relationship; equals abandonment. I mean, I used to actually think that if I was having an argument with a partner, or if for some reason she didn’t want to have sex, that the relationship was over. And quite often I’d create a self fulfilling prophecy where I was so hangdog about this disaster, that the relationship would end, she’d be so upset with the way that I handled slight disagreement and dislike that she would get out of the relationship, which would only validate in my mind that I was right. I’d think, See, she didn’t want to have sex with me last Thursday, and now we’re broken up. Told you! I didn’t realize, of course, the way I reacted to her not wanting to have sex is probably the reason we broke up.
Nice Guys have this idea from childhood trauma that if I am difficult emotionally, other people will withdraw further love, because this was a standard parenting technique that many of us experienced. This is childhood trauma. And if you’re a parent, don’t fucking do this, do not withdraw love as a training or discipline technique. Even if you’re doing it sort of falsely, like you’re pretending to withdraw love to try and encourage the child to behave better, you’ve got to understand you are completely fucking up that kid when you do that. That kid is going to struggle with relationships for the rest of their life if you do that kind of thing. And a lot of us nice guys experienced that.
Like the punishment we got for behaving badly, which doesn’t even mean harmful behavior – it’s just behavior that’s inconvenient emotionally for the parent, we got the timeout, we got the cold shoulder, we got the “Well, we’re not going then”, we got this kind of like I’m going to take away love because you’ve behaved in a way that simply isn’t my preference. Right?
The effects of the trauma
So guys get into relationships when they’re adults, and they think, Man, if I behave in a way that is non preferential, if I behave in a way that creates any kind of unpleasant emotion and hurt, I’m going to lose her forever. Right. And they actually believe that, even though it might not be like a consciously held believe, like if I fight back she’ll divorce me (though that is the case for many guys). It’s more just a sense of resistance or reluctance. this just kind of like it’s not worth it.
And they don’t really know where the feeling comes from, because they haven’t dug into that childhood trauma. They just do the typical Yes, dear, you know that whole thing? Like yes, dear, yes, there’s just this impulse to agree and just go with it. Any sense that resistance is getting stronger, back down, I just don’t even know why I have the impulse.
But I’m telling you now, it’s childhood trauma, unresolved childhood trauma to be specific, and often manifests as a Pick Your Battles mentality, that stupid cliche, which I think is just a horrible, harmful cliche that nobody actually interprets correctly. And it can even be as bad as the “I’m always wrong” narrative. So there are some nice guys that have been so punished for trying to be authentic when they were children and teenagers that they have the assumption that if someone disagrees with them, that’s evidence that they must be wrong. Right, that other people’s reaction to them tells them if they’re on track or not. And that kind of nice guy will back down, not because he’s thinks it’s good for the partner but because he thinks if they’re resisting this much that he must be incorrect. So backing down is actually seen as the noble position.
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And the Pick Your Battles narrative is interpreted by nice guys as don’t fight any battles at all. They use it to make it sound like they’re being kind of philosophical. It’s like, you know, some things aren’t worth it, you got to choose the things that are important. But if you watch their behavior, what you’ll see is they don’t find anything that important. They don’t find anything to fight for. And it’s just a glaze, it’s just a mask they use to look noble when they’re actually being cowards.
And the other main reason that men are afraid of their wives and their behavior, which often coincides with the first reason I just spoke about, is the foregone conclusion that being assertive definitely will create what they call negativity: negative emotions, bad results, which of course is bad by default, so not worth the effort. They think it’s harmful to be assertive. And it’s just so not worth trying, like, why would you throw money away on something that isn’t valuable? Why would you assert yourself if it only harms a relationship?
The smooth, problem free life belief
Now, this comes from a belief that leads nice guys often to live the path of least resistance, at least emotionally. The belief is the ideal life. And the ideal life for a nice guy is one where there’s no tension or conflict. It’s what Dr. Robert Glover calls a smooth problem free life. This is at the heart of nice guy syndrome, the desire to create this life, this life that doesn’t have any effort, or struggle, or unpleasant emotions, especially in any sort of social sphere.
And so what happens is you think, Well, if the perfect life has no conflict, then the way to achieve it is to not have conflict, obviously. So if I am having conflict, I’m doing it wrong. So most guys always think if I’m assertive, and that creates resistance, I must be doing this wrong because a perfect life wouldn’t have this resistance. So they’re always kind of trying to find this way where there’s no conflict at all throughout the day, throughout the week, the month, the year.
You know, I when I was in a relationship, my first ever long term relationship, I used to be proud and I’d proudly tell people that we never had any arguments. I used to be superior, smug, I’m like, it’s my first relationship and I’ve already nailed it. We don’t have any arguments. And I know a lot of nice guys, probably some watching this video right now, are actually proud of the fact that they do not have conflict in their relationship. And they don’t realize that they are sitting on a fucking time bomb, that the lack of conflict in the relationship shows that they are afraid of their wives, and that somebody, probably both people in the relationship, aren’t being honest.
Justifying with philosophy
Or even, I had a great session with a client the other day, where he tried to justify it philosophically, referencing Stoicism and talking about Marcus Aurelius and so on, all these great Stoics who talk about trying to avoid having conflict, or great martial artists who say you learn to fight so you don’t have to fight, and all these kinds of philosophical ideals about no conflict, which they interpreted as meaning, don’t be assertive, don’t stand up for yourself, be like water, just get out of the fucking way. That’s how they interpret it.
And as I said to him, Marcus Aurelius was the emperor of Rome, he was spent nearly his entire rule in warfare. This is not a pussy. This is not a man who can’t assert himself. He was in the most complex and dangerous political sphere at the time, but he was loving, and he was the boss of it. You don’t do that spinelessly. Right. So Marcus Aurelius was no fucking pussy. He wasn’t a coward. He was asserting himself probably on an hourly basis. He was somebody who was constantly in battles, either emotionally or politically or physically. He was also a great wrestler, from what I understand, as were many philosophers. So the idea that it’s philosophical to avoid conflict is not only incongruent with the philosophy, but it’s a cop out for being unassertive.
Assertive is not the same as aggressive. See, aggressive is going to someone and harming them when they there’s no reason to, right, it’s crossing the line. It’s trying to cause damage in somebody else’s life, trying to control somebody else. As soon as you’re stopping them from doing that to you, sort of as the wall of your fort that they can’t get past, that you don’t actually go over and invade their fort but you don’t let them invade yours, that’s assertiveness.
The buck stops here. I’m not tolerating their behavior. Stop it right now. I’m gonna do what I want. You do what you want. I’m not harming you, so leave me the fuck alone. That’s assertiveness. A lot of nice guys will say, no, everything’s aggression and always harms other people. And philosophy says you shouldn’t do that. So I’m likable for being a pussy.
And once a nice guy gets married, you get into this inter subjective cultural thing, which is almost global, as far as I can tell, which is that this is what being a husband is, you know, the wife is the boss. You’re this browbeaten little coward, and you just kind of roll your eyes and joke with your mates and talk about how the missus won’t let you do this and won’t let you do that and you have to hide this from her because otherwise she’ll throw a fucking fit. This idea like you’re scared of her reacting to you being honest and that’s okay because everybody else is. Just because you all drink poison doesn’t make it healthy.
The Nice Guy backfire
This whole thing is a great example of what I call the nice guy backfire. And the backfire is a strategy that actually creates the very thing that it’s trying to prevent. And nice guy syndrome is just rife with this. I’ve made other pieces of content about this, that you can go and check out:
But basically every strategy that a nice guy has was formed in childhood by a child who didn’t know shit and had an immature mind. And when they get into adulthood, it just backfires. You know, if you have a strategy to stop people leaving you, you end up lonely.
And with nice guys, the strategy of like being fearful of their wives to avoid conflict, leads to divorce, that leads to the abandonment, leads to the horrible emotional rift of a dead relationship where people are just staying together out of sort of moral obligation, and there’s no love. The very thing that you’d hate to be in is what you’re causing.
What you don’t understand as a nice guy husband is that you need to stand up for yourself and cause short term conflict in order for long term results like being respected, being trusted, being relied on as a protector, being seen as a real man that is attractive. All of these things come from you being assertive to your partner. See, when you’re trying to avoid and prevent conflict you doom the relationship. You make her unsatisfied, you make her feel unsafe, you make her very unlikely to want to stay, you make her much more likely to cheat.
The instant gratification of her not being upset right now and here comes with a terrible long term cost. And I know this, because I work with the guys who are in their 40s and 50s and now they’re divorced. Alright, I know where this leads, where it always leads. Even if she brags about how lovely you are to her friends, that’s actually a red flag. If you’re doing things right as a husband, she should have something to complain about. There should be that bit of behavior you do that just annoys her and you still won’t change. And then that thing you said that offended her, and that thing that you do that she doesn’t understand and she wishes you did something else. There has to be a bit of that for you to be authentic.
If there’s none of that, if she just goes to her friends like, my husband is the greatest guy in the world, he never fuckin steps wrong, he’s so lovely, I just feel so happy all the time… you’re in trouble. Yeah, you’re in trouble for real.
Dealing with extreme reactions
Now. For those of you where the reaction is something extreme, it’s what we call in manipulation talk an “extinction”. So if you’re dealing with say a narcissistic or antisocial personality, and they’re deliberately manipulating you and deliberately holding you down with fear, and you try stand up for yourself, they’ll do what’s called an extinction, which is they’ll have such an extreme overreaction to you standing up to yourself that it just absolutely decimates you and makes you never want to do it again.
Now if you find that you being assertive leads to that kind of thing, you know, plates being thrown, threats of divorce, cheating, horrible behaviors, and overreaction to you just standing up for yourself, not even trying to change the other person just standing up for what you believe in, then it’s very likely that you are in a totally toxic relationship, and the other person you’re with is at least right now very unwell, and the relationship needs to end.
Now, when you first start asserting yourself after many years, or perhaps decades, of never doing it, yeah, you’re gonna get a bad reaction. Right? She’s used to this little housecat and suddenly, she’s got herself a Rottweiler. She’s going to fight back. She’s also going to fight back partly out of the hope that this is real. So thing that wives do with husbands when they start standing up for themselves is they push back to see if he stays strong. This might look negative, you know, that fight back, but what she’s actually hoping you’ll do is hold your ground so that she can finally see, oh, my God, my husband, finally has a spine.
Here’s more on how to deal with bad reactions:
The best advice
Because one of the greatest pieces of wisdom I ever heard from a man about relationships, and has held me in good stead ever since: if you stand up to her, she’ll know that you can stand up for her. The fight starts at home. I mean this.
Even if it’s not with me, get coaching, alright, your relationship will not survive you being this nice guy, it will not survive you being afraid of your partner. All right, it might look good now, it might seem to be working, but the bomb is ticking away and you don’t want to go off so late that you’re just you know, you’re elderly and you can’t do anything about it. If you can’t repair this, you can’t do this now, you know end this relationship, and then have better ones in the future.
Or you can take this relationship, which might actually have a lot of good elements to it, and make it great by adding assertiveness, I can help you do that: firstname.lastname@example.org or you can find someone else who can, but whatever you do, do not keep being afraid of your wife.
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