Women aren’t the only ones who can make the “biggest mistake of their lives” by marrying the wrong person. That’s the message male readers have been sending authors Jennifer Gauvain and Anne Milford since the publication of their book, How Not to Marry the Wrong Guy: Is He “the One” or Should You Run?, which was born out of Milford’s personal experience with canceling her own wedding and Gauvain’s years of experience as a social worker and therapist working with couples and families. The book encourages women to cut their losses and run if they have a hunch they’re heading down the aisle with Mr. Wrong, regardless of how much time and money they’d invested already in the relationship. Milford and Gauvain are back to set the record straight by explaining how the book’s advice is just as applicable men as it is to women and to discuss the relationship mistakes that men in particular need to watch out for.
Q: Is there a reason why your book isn’t called How Not to Marry the Wrong GAL instead of How Not to Marry the Wrong Guy?
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Milford: The book was inspired by my own near-miss at the altar. I almost married the wrong guy — but I called off it off six months before the wedding day. In the aftermath, I was shocked by how many women confessed to me that they wished they had the courage to cancel their own weddings. The line I heard repeated over and over was: “I knew that I was making a mistake as I was walking down the aisle” (99.9% of the women who shared these secrets were divorced, by the way). However, I did talk to several men who made the same mistake. They knew they were marrying the wrong woman, but walked down the aisle in spite of their misgivings. So initially, the book was going to be about marrying the wrong man or woman. However, we soon realized that it would be more practical to limit our audience to one gender. As two women, we chose a female audience. Regardless, the advice contained within How Not to Marry the Wrong Guy absolutely applies to both women and men.
Q: Are there bad relationship experiences to which men are particularly vulnerable? In How Not to Marry the Wrong Guy, there are certain types of “bad boyfriend” traits that come up — irresponsible, addicted, controlling, etc. Are there “bad girlfriend” traits that men should watch out for?
Gauvain: Essentially, men date the wrong women for many of the same reasons women date the wrong men: external pressure from their friends and family, loneliness and insecurity, believing that he can fix any faults she might have. However, after talking to several men who wanted to share their relationship stories gone wrong, we discovered that there are a few fundamental reasons for why men stay with the wrong woman. Most of the men reported that they felt a sense of honor, duty or obligation to do so. They did not want to hurt the woman or disappoint her family or friends.
Guys are just as tuned in to those relationship warning signs, or what we call “red flags,” as women are. These red flags offer clues about a partner’s character. Red flags are different for everyone, but they can be defined as any troubling actions, attitudes or behaviors. The vulnerability issue addressed in the book lies in the fact that most of these red flags go ignored. We spoke to one man who was dating a woman who had a drug and alcohol problem. He was initially attracted to her “life-of-the-party” type of personality, but this soon progressed into her passing out every night. Deep down, he was disgusted and extremely disappointed in her — but he also felt like she really needed him and that somehow he could rescue her from her own demons. Ultimately, she began stealing money from him and was bringing her drug dealers into his home. When all was said and done, he had invested over two years in the relationship and eventually ended all contact with her. He thought she needed a knight in shining armor and he took on that role with ease. Unfortunately, she knocked him off of his horse, stole it and left him to figure out how to get home!
There is a lesson here for all men who might be dating the wrong woman: don’t believe that you can save another person. You don’t have that much power, nor do you want that much power. If you are dating a woman who lies, cheats, is addicted to drugs or alcohol, spends too much money, is disrespectful to others (including you)… we can almost guarantee that you will end up being miserable. Learn to recognize these red flags, acknowledge them, and then you will be on your way to a happier, more satisfying relationship with the right woman.
Q: Which of the book’s guidelines for knowing that a relationship is “wrong” are equally as applicable to men as they are to women readers?
Gauvain: The most important lesson for men and women to get from this book is learning to trust your gut feelings. Those gut feelings can sound that little voice in your head that makes you stop and pause, or the funny feeling you get in the pit of your stomach, or the sense that something is just not right. Our gut feelings are triggered by the red flags we mentioned earlier. Some call it intuition — being able to trust yourself enough to do what is right. If you are dating a woman who is constantly setting off a gut reaction within you, listen carefully to what that little voice in your head is trying to tell you about her. Carefully consider your girlfriend’s behavior and how she treats you. Does she constantly belittle you in front of her friends? Is she critical and judgmental of you? Do you share the same common core values? Is she disrespectful towards you or important people in your life? Are you constantly walking on eggshells? What happens inside of you when she behaves this way? If you have been ignoring your feelings or pushing them aside, STOP! Take a moment to examine those feelings and ask yourself if you truly want to be committed to someone who causes you so much discomfort.
Q: In the book, you stress that it’s more important to listen to your instincts than to memorize a list of red flags — that recognizing your own unique set of red flags is the most important thing. Do you hear from male readers who’ve had trouble listening to their own inner doubts?
Gauvain: I think the reasons that men and women squelch their instincts are similar in many ways — with one key difference. The women’s reasons for staying revolved around their insecurities or feelings of loneliness. They told us: “I was tired of being alone” or “I didn’t think anyone better was going to come along.” The majority of men we talked to stuck with less-than-fulfilling relationships out of their sense of duty, obligation, or unwillingness to hurt their girlfriends’ feelings.
Q: Any advice for men in terms of knowing whether or not they’ve met The One?
Gauvain: There is no checklist that exists that will help you find The One. Everyone has a different idea about what they want in a partner. We encourage all of you men out there to not just make a checklist of attributes you want in a wife (funny, brunette, sexy, etc.), but to consider who you are, what’s important to you, and the type of life you want to lead. Once you have thought about that, consider the qualities your potential partner must possess in order to compliment this vision.
For example: “I have a sense of adventure and want to experience new things — hobbies, recreation, travel.” So it would be important to find a partner who shares a similar sense of adventure with your own. That doesn’t necessarily mean that she has to love bungee jumping and cliff-diving, but it does mean that she is open-minded, curious and willing to step out of her comfort zone. Or maybe it’s a matter of being flexible enough to sit on the sidelines while you attack the double black diamonds on a ski trip while she enjoys a book by the fireplace. And if you want (or already have) children, think about your goals as a parent. “I want a wife who is gentle with children but who can also be a caring disciplinarian who is not afraid to set limits.” Another thing to consider is what type of personality compliments you. “I want to be with someone who is patient and calm but who won’t get triggered when I overreact or get panicked.” See the subtle details in this list? It’s not just a checklist; rather, it’s about articulating the qualities and characteristics you need for a healthy and fulfilling relationship.
It sounds like a cliché, but when you meet the right woman, you will just know. She will bring out the best in you, not the worst. She will be a constant source of strength for you through the good times and the bad. Your face will light up when you talk about her to your coworkers and friends. She will be the first person you want to talk to in the morning and the last at night. She will be the one who brings you a week’s supply of homemade chicken soup when you get sick with the flu. She may not like to watch “the big game” with you, but she will respect your desired pastimes and have her own set of hobbies that she does independently of you, without complaining. She does exist… but sometimes you have to free yourself from the wrong woman before you can find the right one.
Q: Is How Not to Marry the Wrong Gal going to be your next book?
Milford: We believe that How Not to Marry the Wrong Guy contains all of the advice a man — yes, any man! — needs to figure out whether or not he’s dating the wrong woman. We recently heard from a man who wanted to “confirm our claim that this book is just as helpful for men.” He read it because he “…couldn’t let go of the guilt” he felt after breaking up with his girlfriend. He said, “I really broke her heart and I still feel bad about it, even though I know our relationship was extremely toxic.” He found the book to be helpful because “I spent three years with the wrong woman and spent an inordinate amount of time after the breakup trying to figure out why I stayed so long.” He said How Not to Marry the Wrong Guy helped him recognize the red flags, understand what went wrong, and gave him insights he needs to have a better relationship in the future.