You son of a bitch

Men’s group.  Six members.  All husbands.

Not for long, though.

One’s divorcing, one’s halfway out the door, and one’s reaching for the doorknob.

They have one thing in common:  wives unwilling to forgive them.

Each has screwed up majorly.  Each has hurt his wife.  Their sins include infidelity, insensitivity, irresponsibility, self-involvement, emotional unavailability and financial malfeasance.

And now all three are paying for their sins by daily reminders from those wives of how awful they are and how much damage they’ve done.

(Well, not all three.  The guy who’s divorcing couldn’t stand it and moved out.)

A surprisingly common marital dynamic.

Fifty years ago psychiatrist Eric Berne described it in his brilliant Games People Play.  

He called this game “Now I’ve Got You, You Son of a Bitch.”

What’s going on unconsciously, Berne argued, is not an interaction between two adults but a running battle between an Angry Parent and a Guilty Child, who keep having the same conversation over and over:

Parent:  I’ve been watching you, hoping you’d make a slip.

Child:  You caught me this time.

Parent:  Yes, and I’m going to let you feel the full force of my fury.*

The payoffs for playing NIGYSOB also tend to be unconscious. Often the angry partner is angry about other things (childhood abuse, say) and delighted to have someone on whom to vent her accumulated rage. The guilty partner tends to have chronically low self-esteem (usually their parents were narcissistic, abusive or unavailable) and plays the game in hopes of someday, somehow winning redemption.

Bottom line:  Where NIGYSOB is played, what you have is less a marriage than a hostage situation.

It’s bad for both hostage and hostage-taker, since it prevents both from healing old wounds and escaping old roles and feelings.

And it’s awful for the marriage.

Since, without forgiveness, healthy relationship is impossible.



*Games people play: The psychology of human relationships by Eric Berne, MD (Dell 1964).

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