When Fairy Tale Romance Goes Bad…


Here we are in the 21st Century.

We have cell phones, Internet, microwaves and electric cars.

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We have more information than we can possibly absorb about everything from digging holes to brain surgery.

But we often still think in 15thCentury terms when it comes to romance…

Fairy Tale Romance – The White Knight and the Damsel in Distress

One young couple I worked with had been madly in love. They met when she was 20 and he was 30. Gary was an established salesman making six figures and Lisa was a social worker, working nights in a coffee shop to make ends meet. When he walked in she said to her co-worker, “There’s the man I’m going to marry.

Lisa says she said it jokingly, but this is what she had been hoping for: a strapping 6’3’ elegant man with a quick smile and loose with his money. She wrangled a meeting with him and they were quickly swept into a whirlwind romance. She moved into Gary’s 3,000 square foot home and quit her night job. He bought her flowers, jewelry, spa treatments and other thoughtful gifts. Lisa was enraptured with him, and he with her.

Gary admired what Lisa did and wanted to take her away from the stress of living on little money while doing good works. When they married the congregation was in tears, they had never seen a couple so in love.

When the Fairy Tale Turn Into a Nightmare

But less than a year after they married the relationship was in ruins. Lisa had an affair and Gary discovered her indiscretion. Furious, Gary insisted she go to therapy and work things out. Lisa was so depressed by the failure of their marriage and the depth of his rage that she was afraid to break off with the man she had been seeing and couldn’t agree to stop seeing him. Gary’s was bitter and angry. He filed for divorce and started seeing other women. He still went out with Lisa and they occasionally talked of working things out.

Lisa became distraught when he filed for divorce and dropped the relationship with the man she had been seeing. She begged Gary to take her back.

Gary continued to see other women, but after the divorce was final, he was ready to consider reconciliation. They came into therapy hurt, angry and confused. She thought he was mean and irresponsible with money. He thought she was a liar and disrespectful to him.

What Went Wrong…

After setting some ground rules for how they should manage their relationship while they were in therapy, I began asking them about how their relationship had begun.

They both admitted to being completely in love very fast, too fast, really. Lisa talked about how he had bought her things and spent money on her and how she saw him as her “White knight”. Gary talked about how he had not been looking for a relationship when they met, but they had just clicked. He said he wanted someone to take care of and saw that she was someone who, because of her work, was worthy of his care taking.

They then realized that most of their resentment and the distrust that had begun shortly after they married had started with this White Knight/Damsel in Distress relationship.

I completely related with her. I remembered that when I married my second husband I had secretly hoped he would rescue me. I was, on the surface a very independent woman. I had graduated from college with little family assistance, was taking care of my little girl on my own, with little support from my ex-husband or family. But the bottom line is that I had been struggling for so long I secretly hoped for someone to take me away from all my struggle.

Lisa was no different. She was independent in that she had a career and place of her own, but money was tight and she couldn’t afford those extra things that make a woman feel good about herself: jewelry, nice clothes, acrylic nails, spa days, and a beautiful home.

Gary had been raised with money and was being groomed to take over his family business. Money had never been difficult for him and he had never denied himself anything. But it seemed meaningless in away, until he had someone worthwhile to spend it on. Of course, this did not mean he was willing to deny himself his toys and indulgences.

Lisa soon realized that after they married his wanton ways with money were not as attractive a trait in a husband as they had been as a beau.

His lack of real respect for her became evident as he failed to pay any attention to the things she asked of him in regard to managing “his” money.

It didn’t take long for the marriage to spiral out of control at that point.

How To Avoid the Nightmare and Keep Your Happy Ending

When we marry to have someone to “take care of” we are not respecting that person. We don’t see them as capable of really taking care of themselves, we see them as less than complete and we expect them to appreciate what we do for them and not require more from us than the things that we are already so generously bestowing upon them.

When we marry to have someone “take care of us” we are not fully appreciating our own abilities and we expect them to be able to “make us happy”. Then we are full of furry when they do not fulfill our expectation of them.

This is an extremely common set up in our society. Many movies and novels feed into our cultural dream of the White Knight/ Damsel in Distress storyline. But the fairytale does not end as it does in the movies with us living “happily ever after.”

This is not because one of us is wrong or bad for having had the dream. After all; it’s what we are taught from birth!

But the White Knight is a shallow human being. He doesn’t have a full spectrum of emotions, dreams, flaws and vulnerabilities. He is not capable of intimacy, because he is not even aware of what is inside of himself.

The Damsel in Distress is equally limited. She is only allowed to be needy and receptive. Having an opinion and needs that go beyond the expectations of the White Knight destroys any hope “happily ever after.”

In order to create the “happily ever after” we have to be willing to be fully human and to allow our partner to be fully human. That means recognizing for ourselves that we are both wonderful and flawed, as is our partner. We have to be willing to negotiate our needs with respect and empathy as we own responsibility for our own happiness and don’t expect our significant other to provide that for us.

Lisa and Gary are lucky.They came to see me before their loved died.They were open to understanding how they had gone so far astray and willing to set aside the need for blame in order to get to that understanding.

They have a hope of a “happily ever after” yet. Do you?

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