“Everywhere we go, my husband is effusively charming to other women. Other people think he must be a wonderful husband but I just see him flirting. He’ll help girls on with their coat, laugh at their jokes, ask them about themselves, but he ignores me.
What’s wrong with me that he does this?”

Firstly, there’s nothing wrong with you. This is all about your husband.

Let me explain. When you were born, to use an analogy, you were born as a bottle of pure sparkling, life giving mineral water. Without knowing it – the people around you in your life were poking little holes in your bottle. Every time someone expressed any level of irritation, frustration or disappointment with you, they damaged the bottle containing your pure water and it began to seep out. You started to learn that people liked you if you were good, if you performed well, if you were tidy, if you did well at school and if you ate your vegetables. However, if you didn’t do these things, people showed THEIR disappointment in you and you began to see that people liked you less depending on what you do, rather than who you are.

Each time someone spoke sharply at you or frowned or tutted at you, another hole was made and more water started to seep out. Over several years, your bottle eventually became more and more empty. This emptiness isn’t always easy to see, but we do learn strategies that minimise it’s effect. To go from a full bottle to an empty bottle can be really painful, so we learn how to cope with this.

One of the things we do is to try and please people and get them to like us. We do not like the effect of someone showing us their disappointment because it actually hurts, so we train ourselves to behave in a way so that people don’t get the opportunity to express their disappointment towards us.

This is what your husband is doing. He had his bottle emptied as a child too. And it is clear from your description that one of the strategies that he learnt was to proactively go out and get people to like him. This is a very clever way of making sure people don’t express any dislike of him but he is unlikely to have any notion of the extent to which he does this, nor the effect it is having on you. He isn’t doing this to hurt you – he is doing this so that he doesn’t get hurt. He learnt to do this even before he met you. (It might even be interesting for you to consider whether this was one of the things that you originally found attractive in him when you did first meet.)

If you actually get the opportunity to talk about this with your husband where he has got to recognise what he does and why he does it, he might even be able to explain when he learnt that it was easier for him to get girls to like him rather than boys. He might have seen other men flirt, he might have had some painful childhood interactions with other boys and found girls kinder – there are lots of possible reasons.

For you though – it is really important that you recognise that this is NOT about you. It’s not about you having something wrong with you – it is a behavioural strategy honed by your husband over years of practising, that helps him to feel better.

The way out of this, is to learn about the incredible power of unconditional love. Unconditional love has the power to help him feel way way better than the short term little buzz he’ll be getting from flirting or laughing at everybody else’s jokes. Learning about it will help you see how you can bring more unconditional love into your relationship, so that he doesn’t feel the need to carry on being flirty – he just wants to spend quality time with you. Then you will be able to be around other people, and he’ll be able to learn how to make you feel like you are the only person in the room for him.

Pete Uglow

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