Why I tell women to leave their husbands
I watch a lot of trash TV.
It's an opportunity to unplug, usually while mindlessly eating corn chips out of my lap on the couch.
Most of it's completely unrelatable and forgettable. But there's one program that's stayed with me years after watching it.
It's an early episode of Oprah, in which a then-green Dr Phil counsels a couple struggling to deal with the aftermath of an affair.
Eric, a handsome jock-type, confesses his fiancee caught him in bed with another woman. Dr Phil asks him to explain his infidelity, when his fiancee, Angela - a pretty, soft-spoken woman in her twenties - interjects, "Which one?"
It's clear to the audience Eric is a douchebag. His cool disposition while going on to recount his myriad affairs reveals a general lack of remorse, and he seems largely unmoved by Angela's tears.
However, Angela is confused. She wants Dr Phil to tell her whether or not she should still marry Eric.
"On paper, all the qualities that Eric has are everything on my list," she emphasises, as though pitching him to the audience.
Angela's blinkered view of her relationship would be less cringe-worthy if it didn't feel so familiar.
Most women know, or have been, an Angela - making excuses for a partner's bad behaviour to the detriment of their own self-respect.
I've witnessed some of the most successful, switched-on women I know rendered intellectually incapacitated when it comes to their relationships.
"I know he can be a really good guy when he wants to," they'll say. "He has so much potential."
That P-word, "potential", is arguably more toxic to a woman's mental, emotional - and sometimes physical - wellbeing than any other relationship term. It's a Band-Aid we place over the wounds of a partner's actions: "He didn't mean it. I know he has the potential to be better," we tell ourselves, as though potential were an indicator of a healthy relationship.
Every day women email me for relationship advice, taking pains to tell me what "good guys" their partners are. How, if he'd just stop demeaning and disregarding her, the relationship would be perfect, honestly.
They want to know what to do to convince their partners to treat them with respect, as though the answer hasn't been blinking back at them in neon lights all along: WALK AWAY. (Or, as I told one teen girl pining over a classmate who referred to her as a "sl*t": "The boy ain't shit.")
In reality, equal, respectful relationships don't require one half of a partnership to convince the other they matter. If you have to nag your partner to "contribute" to the housework, he doesn't respect you. If you feel like sex is a service you provide to your partner, he doesn't respect you. And if your interests and passions are dismissed or mocked, you guessed it - your partner does not respect you.
Canadian comedian DeAnne Smith famously joked during a 2017 stand-up, "Straight guys, I don't know what you've been doing until now, but it is clearly not enough … The girl I'm dating now, until now, has exclusively dated men. It is soon easy to impress her … I just show her basic human decency and she loses her mind … I ask her how her day went, she orgasms on the spot."
The bar has been set so low, women like Angela are no longer an entertaining sound bite in a talk show, they're the everywoman.
This is not to dismiss the fact this happens to men, too. However, it'd be folly to ignore the fact we live in a society that largely encourages guys to prioritise their needs over their female partner's in a relationship.
Take housework, for example. Study after study shows women overarchingly do more of it, even when both partners work full-time, and even when the female partner is the breadwinner. Women are also more likely to publicly praise their partners for "helping out" around the house when they do contribute.
Sexually, while men and women can both achieve climax in around four to six minutes during masturbation, research indicates just 65 per cent of women regularly have orgasms at all during partnered sex - compared to 95 per cent of men.
And a study published in the Harvard Business Review found men are less likely to offer emotional support to their female spouses when under stress at work, while conversely, women were found to make themselves emotionally available for their partners, even when their own stress levels were high.
Towards the end of the Oprah episode, Dr Phil creates a "pros and cons" list to help Angela see her relationship more clearly. He compiles it based off the positive and negative information she's shared about Eric throughout the show. Notably, her pros list consists of just two items: "Cute" and "Has potential".
The audience chuckles. By now, it's clear to Angela what we've known all along. She needs to kick Eric's arse to the curb.
Unfortunately, it's rarely as obvious to us when we're knee-deep in the waters of our own murky relationships. Sometimes, we need it spelled out.
Which is why the response I most commonly send to the lengthy emails I receive from women, consists of just three words: Dump him, sis.
Not because he isn't a "good guy" or because he doesn't have "potential". But because life's too short for staying in a relationship where you're just a sound bite.
Originally published as Why I tell women to leave their husbands