Inventing scapegoats a poor defence mechanism

mo-and-phindismallMo and Phindi are relationship counselors, television presenters and authors who give our readers a pertinent look at romance in their column for Weekend Post. Today they look at what happens when you’ve been waiting a long time for that wedding.



While on a business trip to Durban earlier this week, we had dinner with one of the couples we started coaching before our relocation. They’ve always been at each other’s throats for one thing or another.

They started well in their relationship, though. They both had full-time jobs as middle managers in very stable corporate organisations.

When their only son, now four, was just two years old, the man decided to quit his job for his passion to buy and sell ties, cufflinks and hankies. Typical of his expensive taste, his stock was top of the range.

He invested all his pension savings and, later, investments into his business. He first rented a shop at the Gateway Mall, Umhlanga.

By the fifth month into his 12-month lease, he was struggling to pay basic expenses.
With no choice she assumed the bread-winner role. A change in lifestyle was needed. It was all sudden and she felt she had no say on the issue.

He would “borrow” money which was supposed to take care of the household to pay his landlord. Their only car and the house would go unpaid for months in a row.

Her highly competitive personality made matters worse. In her world she would be affected when her friends bought new things. Their progress would always be gauged against their peers, often without the consideration of their circumstances. We found them quite fascinating to study.

She’s very career- driven, and never really wanted a child.
Talk of a second child literally drives her up the wall, and now with good reason. Yet she is very medieval in her approach to life, even in the way she dresses.

On the other hand, he has a very liberal approach to most things. He prefers sexual intimacy everywhere but the bedroom. She only wants it on the bed, missionary and with the lights off.

He prefers his wife to show a little bit more flesh, but she likes her dresses to the ankles and all the way up to the neck. That’s a bit of an exaggeration, but you get the point.

On many occasions, he would return clothes she had just bought and choose his own preference of what she should wear.

His controlling behaviour was such that he kept her bank card as he claimed he didn’t trust her extravagant disposition.

She would often complain she couldn’t even do her hair and nails because the budget was too tight.
“The only time I get to see the bank balance is through the access I have on my bank statement,” she said.

Their conflict had many layers to it and wouldn’t be sorted out just by him getting a job. Needless to mention, there was sexual drought in their relationship, and they wouldn’t go out together, not even for a walk on the beach.

Except for going to church, there was nothing they did and enjoyed together as a couple. The atmosphere in the home was almost always tense, and affected their little boy. They isolated themselves from friends and people who genuinely cared for them.

However, during our visit, they were suddenly happy and very united. But their happiness and union were flawed. It revolved around everything outside of themselves.

They had convinced themselves that everyone was against them – their friends, some of them next door neighbours, their church and even their pastors.

They were cohesive partners. Cohesive partnership is a very poor pattern of conflict resolution. It’s an avoidance strategy where couples invent a common enemy for outside conflict to deter from addressing their own internal disputes.

The enemy outside their relationship brought them together, united by the perceived common enemy.
It’s a very attractive alternative, especially to immature couples, who are looking for simple answers to complex problems.

Back to the couple. The husband was evicted by his landlord and is now sitting with bigger legal challenges. With his ego below zero, he is struggling to get a job.

However, as long as they have a common enemy to vilify, their relationship seems conflict-free.
They can fool people, even themselves, to believe they are doing just fine.

In their quest to further suppress their deep cutting wounds as far as possible, they seldom talk about themselves, only about the common enemies.

When they run out of stuff to say about their enemies, then there’s nothing else to talk about.
This resolves no problem in your relationship.

This can’t be your way of staying happy together. Confront your issues head-on, even when the temptation to avoid them by seeking to invent common enemies looms large.

Inventing scapegoats is a very poor defence mechanism for a dependable and sustainable relationship.

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