The first time I heard of the bitch conspiracy was when I was a twenty-three year old working at an alternative high school in the Red Hook neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York. I was sitting with one of the students after a tutoring session talking about life. He was a sixteen year-old Puerto Rican boy on his way to manhood.
At some point, the issue of sex came up. I asked him if he had a girlfriend. He shrugged, smiled and said (and I won’t forget this moment), “man, all girls are bitches.” I kind of leaned back and took in these words. I got confused and asked about his mom and sister. He said they didn’t count but it still didn’t change his belief that the purpose of a girl or woman was one thing – sex. And he wasn’t talking about loving connected sex. He was talking about primal get-your-rocks-off sex for his pleasure.
As I continue to work with men I have noticed this belief structure come up again and again. It is more nuanced now and there is more detail. Men who believe the bitch conspiracy don’t think that all women are bitches, just most women. They believe their friends and colleagues are being treated unfairly by women, which reinforces the notion that this is how women act. They believe that at some point women will let you down and screw you over.
What is the Conspiracy?
The basic belief goes something like this: You meet a woman, and, at first, she is kind and loving. You go through the honeymoon period for several months, if you’re lucky, a couple of years. After that things start to change. Women become hardened, critical, and they start limiting a man’s freedom. It starts small at first, the woman asking the man to stay home rather than go out with his friends. Maybe the man is asked to give up a certain hobby he loves. Slowly, over time, the woman just becomes a constant nagging bitch.
Some of the men I work with believe this is inevitable. They feel as though they have to put up with it. There is some idea that maybe there is a really cool woman out there who would allow them to be themselves and not give them a hard time. Unfortunately, they are stuck with the woman they chose because it is too painful, financially ruinous, and hard on the kids to end the relationship. They suffer, by themselves, accepting their fate.
The bitch conspiracy is wrong in many ways. It is created not by women but by men. Not 100% but men play a big part in creating these unhealthy relationships. So let’s first look at why a woman becomes critical of her man.
To start with much of the complaining and criticizing is a cry for connection. Often times in heterosexual relationships the woman is responsible for the emotions that arise between her and her partner. If the man they are with is not able to meet them emotionally the woman will seek connection through unhealthy ways. She will be critical and nagging in order to form some connection, even if it feels bad.
Women and Men Hear and Feel Differently
Women force emotional conflict by putting their man down and causing drama. The man hears these “cries for connection” as irrational foolishness. Men attempt to explain to their partners why they are wrong and why they need to regain composure and come back to reality. The woman is expressing from her heart and the man is speaking from his head. Nothing is being communicated. Here’s where having some relationship tools to utilize will come in useful.
This relational loop can happen for years and years. Two people who really do love each other can slowly kill their love because they are not able to slow down and meet each other in the moment.
This is the bad news.
The good news is that men can change the way they are with their woman to create healthy forms of connection that allow the woman in the relationship to feel safer and seen. When this happens the woman won’t need to create these unhealthy ways of connection.
So what can a man do when his wife is being critical? Some relationship tools for you:
1. Stop whatever you are doing. Really look at your partner for a moment. Remind yourself that you love this woman.
2. Slow down in yourself. Notice your emotions and what is going on for you. Are you hurt? Are you angry, irritated, upset? Take a moment to breathe into what you’re feeling and get out of the loop of becoming defensive and rationally explaining your wife’s issues away.
3. Ask your partner what she is feeling. Help your partner to slow down. Realize that when a woman is doing something that is really unfair it isn’t about what she is talking about. Don’t focus on what is happening but on how she is feeling. She may be taking out some issue she had at work on you. I realize this isn’t fair but beneath all of this is her cry for connection.
4. Allow your partner to have her experience. Tell your partner that whatever she is feeling is okay. This is a big deal because it makes her feel much safer with you. It also drops her defenses.
5. Tell her you love her. Take a moment to remind her that you both are in love. You have to say it with real heart or it won’t register. Don’t say it because you want her to be quiet – that’s manipulative. Say it with honesty and integrity.
6. Take her hands. Pull her over to a couch, chair or bed and put your arm around her. Tell her you care about what is going on and that you want to listen.
My guess is that for most men the “get defensive and explain away the behavior with rational thinking” is a very common approach when their partner is being critical. I’m also going to guess that this has not been effective. The challenge for men is to put their egos on hold and move from their heart. I know this can be difficult. I offer this as an experiment. Give these relationship tools a try and see what happens. The gain is a much more loving relationship with the woman you love.
I want to make clear that I am not advocating allowing your partner to run over you with her anger and criticism. On the contrary, you have a right to express how that type of behavior makes you feel (“it makes me angry when you say those things,” “I feel attacked when you talk like that.”).
Specifically set boundaries with the woman in your life. I am saying that every man has more impact on the way their partner is behaving than they want to believe. Get your reactions in order and move out of blaming the problems of your relationship on your partner.
Let go of the idea that women are anything (least of all bitches). This is bullshit. Women are complex human beings that desire your presence and strength. When you bring that presence and strength notice how much closer and connected you will feel with your woman. Need help? Join me and let’s tackle this.