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Is Living a Great Life Demeaning to a Woman?

by Dr. Robert Glover on Oct 29th, 2014.     20 comments

I realize that what I teach men about relationships sometimes goes contrary to conventional wisdom and is often counter-intuitive to Nice Guys.
Here’s a question I recently received from a recovering Nice Guy, asking about my concept of men creating a great cake of a life and inviting a woman to be the icing on top.
“Dr. Glover, I’m a long time listener of your awesome podcasts and have probably read the book about four times.
“I just heard the podcasts ‘Invite her to be the icing on the top of your cake.’ I have taken the "pursue your passion" advice early on after becoming acquainted with your materials. In fact, something I've devoted an entire year to will soon come to fruition this January, which excites me to no end. 
“I guess (at the risk of over analyzing this), my question is, what exactly is icing? It sounded like you were saying that if there's a girl in your life, she is insignificant in proportion to pursuing your passion and should be treated as such.
“Would a girl feel loved if she was regarded in that way? Would a girl even stick around if she was looked upon as, and made to feel that she was, only a trophy (or icing)?”
T.S., Portland, Oregon 
This is a great question.
Most of the men I work with tend to make their partner the center of their world and work hard to make her happy. I followed this relationship paradigm for ten years in my first marriage and for about half of my second marriage.
Two stark truths about Nice Guys are that they often lack passion and purpose in their life, and they tend to make a woman (or women) the center of their life (their purpose).
As a guy who has bumbled his way through his relationships for over half his life by following this Nice Guy paradigm, and as a marriage therapist for the last thirty years, I have come to see that it’s flawed at a number of levels.
Here are just a few of the problems with making a woman your highest priority (your cake) in life:
  • When you have no passion or purpose in life, what do you have to offer a woman that she can’t get from her girlfriends (or television, or a good book, or her vibrator)? What healthy woman would be attracted to a guy whose greatest passion is her? What does he have to offer?
  • Trying to fit into a woman’s life is a recipe for disaster. I’ve observed this professionally and personally. How do you add to a woman’s life if you don’t have a life of your own? How do you upgrade her life in any way?
  • Trying to make a woman happy is also impossible and thankless. In my experience, any time a man tries to make a woman happy, he usually misses the mark by miles and can’t figure out what he did wrong. Bottom line, it’s never a person’s job to make another person happy. (And if a woman isn’t happy, there is nothing a man can do to fix it.)
  • Making a woman the center of your life forces her to set the tone of the relationship. Most women can do this, but in my experience, most don’t like it. (It burdens and irritates them.) Women consistently tell me how much they hate it when a man asks, “What do you want to do?”
  • Putting a woman first usually means a guy ends up sacrificing things that are important to him. This not only makes him less interesting to the woman he is trying to please, but makes him needy and resentful and burdens the woman with filling the gaps of what he has left behind.
  • Elevating a woman to your highest passion makes you passive and pleasing. In a sense, you make a woman (or women) your god – your higher power. Since you will invest energy into trying to keep her happy (so she won’t leave you), you will avoid doing anything that might upset her or rock the boat.
  • Making a woman your highest priority kills your integrity and makes you fundamentally unavailable. (See the point above.)
  • Trying to please a woman by giving her all the power (or making her the cake of your life), kills polarity and blocks reciprocity in a relationship. Sexual polarity is what makes intimate relationships interesting, and a free-flowing give-and-take is the foundation of a healthy relationship. When you are passive and pleasing toward a woman, you inhibit both.
  • Lacking a great cake of a life forces you to be seductive. When you don’t believe a woman would be attracted to you (or want to stay with you), just the way you are, you have to seduce her. Nice guys typically seduce a woman by listening to her talk about her problems, trying to be different from other men, fixing, doing things for her, being available to her beck and call, pleasing, and telling her what they think she wants to hear (lying).
  • Elevating a woman to your highest priority will keep you in constant anxiety. What if she gets mad at you? What if she withdraws? What if she leaves you? If your woman is the center of your life (your cake), the possibility of losing her will constantly haunt you (and you’ll be a wreck when she does leave).
Here’s the bottom line: a healthy woman doesn’t want to be more than the icing on a man’s great cake of a life. A good woman wants to be with a man who has passion and good guy friends, welcomes challenge, takes good care of himself, and makes a difference in the world.
Over the years as a marriage therapist, I’ve encountered a few women who have insisted the man make her his number one priority. In every case, these women have been narcissistic and emotionally wounded and had a track record of unhappy relationships.
I have experienced the cake/icing equation from both sides. When I made women the cake of my life, every one of the problems I listed above defined my relationships. I didn’t make me happy, and I didn’t make the women happy. Every one of these relationships ended with bitterness on both sides.
For the last fifteen years or so I have been working on my great cake of a life. In general, I define the key ingredients of a man’s great cake as including:
  • pursing passion
  • spending time with guy friends
  • getting regular, strenuous exercise
  • leaning into challenge
  • giving his gift to the world
I love my life.
I get up every morning, looking forward to my day. I have great friends. I’m in good health. I work out. I travel. I have loving and supportive relationships with my family. I have love in my life. I’m changing the world.
I have a full life – a great cake – and I am constantly working to make it better.
When I began working on my cake several years ago, I noticed that not only were women naturally more attracted to me just the way I was, but that I also didn’t feel needy or dependent on having to have a woman in my life. This made me even more attractive.
The better my cake became, the more a great woman became the sweet icing on top.
Ironically, none of the women who’ve been in my life for the last ten years have ever found this to be demeaning or unsatisfying.

Following this cake/icing paradigm, I am happier, and the woman is happier. I’m more available, and so is she. I’m free to follow my passions, and so is she. I don’t live fearing my partner will leave me. If she does, it will be a loss, but I’ll still have my cake.
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Brian says ...
Hell no - not a good woman. Healthy women want their man to be living all out. It's only the fucked up ones who try to cut men down based on their unfinished business with their fathers.

Shout out to all the men to live all out!
John - Calgary says ...
Excellent blog Dr. Glover. Having participated in a TPI weekend recently, I was able to discuss the "icing" analogy with numerous nice guys. Initially we all felt that the women in our lives would feel slighted by being positioned as the "icing" on our great cake.

I believe that "nice guys" are attracted to woman who want to be a man's number one priority. These women are originally attracted to the doting actions of the nice guy.

You nailed it when you described these types of women as "emotionally wounded". Their reaction when you stop the doting is predictably: Jealousy, fear, feelings of abandonment, etc.

I have found in my situation (as I strive to build my great cake) that I have to actively push myself further from my wife in order to distance myself from the triggers (her emotional wounds) that cause me to go back into nice guy mode. I have to take her off that pedestal I have put her on.

For the first time in my life.. I truly understand the term "co-dependency"

A key message for me in this blog is "it’s never a person’s job to make another person happy"

Thanks again for this great blog.
ScottH says ...
Dr Glover
I've been reading your posts for a while now. I especially like the one about running from a seductive woman. I got tangled in the web of such a woman and your writing really helped me to understand.
I must say, however, that this post is just f'ing awesome. Thank you for doing what you do.
Thoughts says ...
I have been following Dr. Glover on and off for quite a while and often agree with his perspectives. I rarely comment on his articles, but this one calls to me.

I want to first and foremost say that I agree that putting a woman on a pedestal doesn't help anything in a relationship, and I agree with many of the bullets in this article. Many people fall into the trap of "trying to please" their partner or making them a focus of the relationship.

I think, however, that the language of a good woman being "just icing on the cake" has a dark side that to easily calls to people at mediocre levels of emotional maturity (which would include many of us), and can lead them astray.

This article speaks to a common problem (unhealthy emotional strategies common in nice-guys), but unfortunately can be read as encouraging another insidious strategy which unfortunately I have seen in some "reformed" nice-guys. As Dr. Glover himself has said, "the opposite of crazy is still crazy".

Specifically, the language of a woman being the "icing on the cake" can support a darker strategy in maturing relationships: attempting to diminish the anxiety created by an increasingly important loving partner through various strategies to build insignificance and distance into the relationship.

Many people find that when a partner truly becomes important to them, especially a really good partner with whom one has built deep, prolonged, and shared life experiences, that they react in ways to create space between them and their partner as a defensive measure.

After all, if the person truly becomes precious and irreplaceable, that is highly threatening, for all the reasons Dr. Glover mentions. This is especially true if one has grown up (as many of us have) in an environment where having someone truly love us is an uncommon experience.

People have many different strategies for handling the discomfort of a partner's increasing significance. Some of us start picking fights to create distance. Some people start having affairs. Some find porn a wonderful distraction from the painful poignancy of preciousness.

"Declaring Independence", which can be healthy in some contexts, is also one of the strategies people use to justify their distancing from a precious partner. "I gotta be me and pursue my passion" can be healthy, but it can also be used a strategy for holding a partner at arms length.

Some people start new ventures and throw themselves into pursuits that "they" newly find are "their" passion, even if it causes major inconvenience or pain to their life partner they claim to love. Some people start sleeping in separate bedrooms or maintain separate residences with limited visits as a way to "have their own space".

Some people use the strategy of denying outright that having someone become truly precious to us is a good thing.

A truly great relationship can, over some time, evolve into something which is truly irreplaceable. Yes, you can find another partner, but it will never be someone who knows you as well or built a life of shared joy for so many years.

If one develops enough maturity to truly allow oneself to feel a appreciate a precious relationship like this, one is also willing to relax many other agendas one may have had, as by comparison they no longer hold the shine they used to. This is not to say that one has compromised one's core values, but they have been expanded to include valuing the precious partner's agenda on par with their own.

The move to defer or modify one's current or former agenda for the benefit of the partner is not always a move from weakness; on the contrary, it can be a show of deep maturity and strength, and an an acceptance of the limitations inherent in being a human being living a rich life with truly loving and enduring relationships.

I find the idea of considering your woman just "icing on the cake" isn't nuanced enough, and it calls far too easily to those who are not ready to face the most painful realities of our relationship; that if we're very very lucky, our partners really will become truly precious and irreplaceable, valued more highly than anything else in our lives, and yet we may still lose them.
Chris says ...
I have to say your comment is very well thought out. After reading the article I felt light hearted, envisioning a life free of personal anguish over the loss of a partner but you reminded me of how, when something is very important to you, the pain of loss is a price worth paying.

In reality life is never so neat that the icing can be ripped off the cake without taking a chunk of the cake with it. I do like Dr Glover's approach but I too have seen an unhealthy attitude in some ex nice guys who almost reduce relationships to getting laid and having a good time.

I've learned that life can be downright awful but the gift of life itself justifies getting back on your horse regardless of hurts and losses. A woman should never be a trophy or your reason for getting up in the morning nor is it your job to make her happy. But having a unique and exclusive relationship with someone whom you value and admire looks nothing like the cake/icing analogy.
Venturer says ...
Fantastic-new-refreshing and 'takes on' conventional thinking for the status of many current relationships-obviously including my own past history with woman. When I hear my married friends say 'happy wife happy life' I just want to regurgitate !!!
It is no wonder there is a 50% divorce rate and of the other 50%-well without having any more statistical support-I am not sure how many of those are in 'nice guy' mode or rescue repair status-I know there is that one RGW for me-while I am a slow learner, as a 50 something I am experiencing more difficulty in making quick changes at this magnitude a bit harder to transform from NMMNG syndrome-I am learning so much from the Dr.---
I am really taking a hard look at some parts of my life and passions that I need to challenge, this type of material is what I have been looking for-alas-Thanks !
Eric says ...
As someone who grew up with a single mother and older sister I can well attest to the unconscious blindness of putting women on a pedestal. Always judging myself through the eyes of women, like I could not really even see myself clearly, put me in a funk and has made intimate relationships with women a scary proposition. When I found my wife, my anxiety was eased because initially she seemed blinded (there's that word again) to my clingy side and I was hooked.
But, as Dr. Glover points out, the way forward is clear - to make myself a great cake of a life.
Thoughts really put the issue of NGs using icing idea to minimize the woman in their lives very well. I would just add that moderation is the key. Black and white thinking ("I don't know about me, but she is great") got me into this mess, but just reversing the roles will not get me out.
The woman is not a problem to be solved. It is my habit of making my wife the center of my life that causes my life to be out of balance.
I like the cake and icing metaphor because its brashness challenges me to step out of my comfort zone. Me, with a great cake of a life? Achieved all on my own? Wow, what a foreign concept!
I can see how my life pattern described above has been leading me to this growth opportunity; to find my bliss and share it with her, rather than keep trying to get it through her.
Mike D says ...
I have been a student of Dr. Glover's work for several years now and this post is an excellent summation of many of the points he has made in various podcasts and classes.

From some of the comments it appears "icing on the cake" has created some of the same confusion as "taking the lead in the relationship." Just as leading does not mean controlling, "icing on the cake" does not mean ignoring.

Let's look at it this way:

Is a cake "good" if the icing is great but the cake is not?

Is a cake "good" if the cake is great but the icing is not?

Doesn't "good" icing just add to and enhance "good" cake?

If we focus purely on the ingredients and methods needed to make the cake, how will the icing turn out?

If we focus totally on the icing, how does the cake turn out?

And don't we have to know what type of cake we have before we try to develop an icing for it? Many of us have tried to match an icing to our "undefined" cake and have wound up with quite a mess in the kitchen.

Once we know ourselves and what we really want in our individual lives (without being influenced by what we think others want us to do), we reach a place of integrity where we are acting in alignment with our own personal truth. Once we're there, we make a much better decision about the type of woman with whom we want to share our life...and she enhances our cake.

David A says ...
I tried to make my wife the icing on the cake after learning about this through Dr. Glover and after we had been married for awhile. I soon found out that she wasn't healthy enough to handle that. I had put her up on a pedestal for so long that taking her off, is something that she had great difficulty in accepting. I ignored all red flags and her issues while we were dating, I stopped creating a great cake of life for myself and then after realizing that I was losing myself, once I started working on creating that great cake of a life, it blew up the relationship. That is the best thing that could have happened.
CG says ...
You could switch the genders in this article and this would still be true (also for same-sex relationships). Everyone should make a life for themselves that is important and meaningful outside of a relationship. A relationship should not define your life whether you are a woman or a man.
David says ...
Great article Dr. Glover.
My ex wife was threatened by me wanting to make a great cake of a life. Obviously things blew up between us.
Andrew says ...
the long and short of it, is that the man is supposed, or expected to be in a better position in life than the woman is, basically, in dating and relationships, the woman is part of the mans "life", not the other way around.

Reason why I don't like it that way is because since guys are dealt with the card of being the initiators, pursuers, going after what you want, its like damned if you do and don't damned if you don't. Even David Deida said "you are only hurting yourself if you want to be in a relationship with a woman more so than she wants to be in one with you", if the woman is supposed, meant to be the one that wants a relationship the most, then why is it not the womans role to make the first move, approach a man and ask him out first? It's a paradox I hate, despise, loathe. I hate all of the damn mind games involved.
Cossie says ...
Your writings and courses have started me on a journey that has now taken me to what I think is my real issue - co-dependency. I think nice guy syndrome is actually another name for co-dependency. So my reading started with you and has now moved on to Darlene Lancer. It only took me 50 years to get here but now I realise why im always in the same type of relationship. Now I am a recovering nice guy and recovering codependent.
Kevin says ...
So many great comments here. I will say, in TS from Portland's defense, that I doubt he is arguing that living a great life is demeaning to a woman. I think that characterizing his question that way makes his objection easier to dismiss.

What stood out to me was the way he equated (or thought you were equating) "icing on the cake" with a "trophy." And that does speak to a legitimate concern as to how far a recovering nice guy might take this line of thinking, in terms of his own ego and seeing a woman as superfluous, or worse yet, a prize to be won. I agree with every bullet point in this article, and yet I still wonder if a man can live a passion-driven, purposeful life of his own making, and still view his girlfriend or wife as a partner, rather than as icing.

I also wonder if you feel it would be just as healthy for the woman to view the man as the icing on her cake? After all, I personally do not want a woman who puts me on a pedestal and makes me her everything either. I have experienced this as well, and I do not like it.
David Polwarth says ...
I know this is true, and I know inside me that this advice is good, but in practice it is so hard to believe when in practice the women I have been with seem to get annoyed when I say I want to spend time with my friends or start a hobby they don't like or do anything other than spend time with them. They seem to want us to give up everything for them, and I've been told more than once by her that she should be my number one priority and I should always put her first, as apparently she does the same for me. But I can't do it, my priority is always myself, then those I love in that order, and from what I'm told that makes me a bad person but I can't do any different.
Andrew says ...
i know we can't fight or change the world, reality, but why do you think it has to be a paradox of damned if you do, damned if you don't? since women are allowed to need or want a boyfriend, a relationship for validation, to feel better about themselves, allowed to be needy, desperate, then logically women should be the assertive ones, do the approaching of men since the person who wants it the most should be the one that literally goes after it, but since men are not supposed to want or need a relationship as much as women, but yet we are expected to be the active participant, make the first move and do the asking out, be the initiator, progress things, etc.
Atanas says ...
Nice article, i`ll be happy to know how to find "cake" if we lose it during the years - if we had some hobby but now it looks boring.
kdub says ...
I have to agree with your comments. I don't want to be with someone who needs me to help them set-up or prop up their life. Building a great cake of a life is a way to demonstrate you are capable, mature, socially adept, and can be nurturing.

As for the icing metaphor, I don't believe this is intended to diminish women. Rather, I see it as a man's way of saying "Don't worry, I've got my life together, and I can handle the rough parts. How about you share the sweetness of this life with me?" To me, that is the most loving thing a guy can say to a woman.
Sarcastro says ...
I love the metaphor, and it all makes sense. The examples Dr. Glover gives about what will go wrong when you make the woman the center of your universe are all spot-on.

I guess the takeaway is, however, if you don't already have a great cake of a life, then don't bother trying to be in a relationship. Having met with some hardship and loss (lost everything taking care of a dying spouse, after her insurance dried up), my cake is pretty weak and my prospects are slim. Sounds like I'm destined to be alone for the rest of my life. But for most men, this blog entry is great advice.
Andre says ...
I'm on my fifth reading of NMMNG and I continue to glean something different, but nonetheless powerful with each reading.

But, with regards to this icing topic, I'd like to mirror what 'Cossie' wrote above about co-dependency. From a truly therapeutic aspect, as I see it, I would agree with Cossie that what is being described here, is at the root of the NMMNG syndrome.

I watched youtube videos on co-dependency from licensed therapists on Pia Melody's work on co-dependency, and for me this describes the workable actual root of the issue. NMMNG is a powerful book for taking immediate action to enact changes in a man's life, with the attitude, actions, and approaches of changing Nice Guy behaviors.

But, co-dependency, for me, explains what was the root cause of what Dr. Glover describes in NMMNG, and how to treat/change it. After over 25 years of on/off/on/off therapy I know what I'm in for with working with this. This is not an easy fix, after being virtually hard-wired from birth, but it is do-able.

In co-dependency there is an enmeshment of the Nice Guy and his partner. They're both co-dependent, not just the Nice Guy. The overlapping of the belief in the partner as the answer to the pain of life becomes the relationship. There is no actual separate relationship, the 'need' for the partner in the relationship BECOMES the relationship for both co-dependents.

That's why these types of relationships don't work/last. In essence, there is no separate 'relationship' between them. They've become the relationship.

This is what Dr. Glover is writing about, in my opinion, with the icing analogy. To extricate oneself, as best one can, from this enmeshment allows time for the separate relationship to be created and grow, or not.

Co-dependent relationship = Enmeshment = one cake being shared, icing and all.

Healthy relationship = two separate cakes + sharing the icing for both cakes.

My two pennies, brothers. :-)


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