The Wendy Dilemma can be considered the sequel of the popular The Peter Pan Syndrome by Dr. Dan Kiley.
The Wendy Dilemma describes women who are very dependent upon their mates in a special way. They mother their mates, treating them like immature children. It is not uncommon in my practice for these women to state, “I feel like I have four children, instead of three, because I have to treat my husband just like one of the kids.”
Wendy types attempt to control situations with their men through inappropriate mothering. They are very insecure women who cannot handle anger, either their own or their mates’. Thus, by assuming a maternal role toward their mates, they feel they are shielding themselves from the possible rejection and abandonment that they believe inevitably results from exchanges of anger.
Dr. Kiley describes certain conditions that have to exist before a woman is transformed into a Wendy. “She must suffer to some degree from a fear of rejection, perpetuate a negative self image through an inner voice of inferiority, and become so dedicated to her social image that she fails to examine her true personal life” (p. 17). These women are lacking in self-identity. Oft-times they don’t have opinions of their own and are not in touch with their own likes or dislikes, in regard to food or movies.
Wendy women base their security on the approval of others. That is why it is so important for them to present an acceptable social image. But because a person’s likes and dislikes change, and you can’t please anyone all of the time, their feelings of security are built upon a foundation as solid as Louisiana swamp land.
Dr. Kiley describes eight typical behaviors of women caught in what he calls “the Wendy trap”. These behaviors tend to develop more or less in the following sequence.
First, the woman denies that problems exist. Secondly, she tends to start believing that her mate cannot survive without her, which gets her into making overprotective responses. Her motto at this point seems to be, “He can’t, therefore I have to.” However, in truth it is the Peter Pan’s unwillingness, not his inability, to shoulder the responsibility which is causing problems. Overprotection diminishes each person’s individuality, creating a pathological bond of dependency.
Next comes possessiveness. This occurs when the Wendy woman starts feeling dependent upon her mate, feeling that she cannot survive emotionally or perhaps financially without him
Then, as Wendy begins to become more and more fed up with the situation, she begins to complain. Now, I am a strong believer in voicing one’s dissatisfaction(s) with a relationship. We all bring certain expectations into our relationships. As Dr. Kiley states, “If he doesn’t sooner or later start expressing his love to you in a way that is compatible with your personality and wishes, or if he refuses to participate with you (in practicing love in an adult manner), there is every reason to believe that you will eventually leave him” (p.189). Complaining can be a healthy form of assertiveness, as long as it’s handled appropriately. By that I mean that complaints should not be attempts to engender guilt in one’s mate. “Guilt is a poor motivator…. Research tells us that, under (such) conditions…. The subject resents being coerced into a certain behavior…. He may do what she wants, but he’ll be mad at her for ‘making’ him do it.” (p. 87) Secondly, in voicing complaints, “I” messages should be used to express the complaint. “I feel you’re taking me for granted because we haven’t gone out to eat in six weeks,” etc.
Then the Wendy woman begins to become very judgmental about the best way to solve the ever-increasing problems, shouldering increasing amounts of responsibility for the situation. I see a great number of women using this as their primary coping strategy. They come across as tough, competent individuals. They shoulder an enormous degree of responsibility for their husbands and their children. They fear for their emotional safety and pursue many controlling courses of actions in attempts to minimize their high anxiety level. By this time, their man’s fear of rejection and habitual guilt feelings have usually led him into a passive “yes, dear” stance where he will superficially agree with his spouse to avoid hassle, but then continues his own behavior without changing, much to her frustration. Usually, these men are engaged in a great deal of passive-aggressive behavior, indirectly expressing their pent-up hostility toward their mate.
When their mate does not listen to the judgmental approach, the Wendy women will begin to vacillate between being a martyr and punishing her man.
The punishment may take the form of spending money on things she really doesn’t want and that the family really can’t afford. She may become hypochondriacal, and expect him to take her to her (many) doctor’s appointments. Another common from of punishment takes is the withholding of sex. Such a woman is at high risk for getting involved in an outside affair where she feels she can obtain the warmth that is missing in her own relationship.
Finally, hopefully, the Wendy women will “hit bottom”. When this occurs, she feels that she has exhausted all of her coping strategies. Mothering her man, in all of its forms, is not working. Rather, the situation is continuing to slide downhill. That is when the Wendy woman usually turns to professional counselors for help. From my vantage point, the Wendy woman who has “hit bottom” and realizes it has a good prognosis for making the needed changes.
The rest of Dr. Kiley’s book deals with suggestions for helping a Wendy woman turn into a Tinkerbell, or a woman who is willing to grow up and expect both her mate and herself to interact with each other, at least a majority of the time, in a mature manner.
Dr. Kiley does list eight qualities that define what he calls “the adult love script”, that I will mention. The first of these is the ability to compromise without pity or regret. Tolerance of being inconvenienced at times, without negative feelings because of one’s empathy for one’s partner, is another important quality. Dependability is the third most important quality. “Lovers depend upon each other. They know that if all else fails, the loved one will be there to do whatever he or she can to help” (p. 187). Mature lovers also allow each other the freedom to develop different interests and friends. To me, the most important quality of an adult love relationship is that lovers can freely share their thoughts and feelings without fear of criticism. They are realistic, realizing that all conflicts cannot be resolved and every relationship will have to weather some stormy times. They can be intimate with each other, loving to touch, hug, and express sexual satisfaction towards each other. They can also be playful in their intimacy. Finally, Dr. Kiley lists what he calls “the X factor”. That term describes an unspoken bond, a special feeling of closeness that is difficult to precisely define or identify.
Again, as in The Peter Pan Syndrome, Dr. Kiley lists in his Appendix several good books for further study on related subjects, books that are fairly easy reading for the lay person.
Beaumont Psychological Services, P.C.