The Double Bind

A double bind is a lose-lose choice presented to you. It’s sort of a Husband-as-Dilbert and Wife-as-Pointy-Haired-Manager dynamic. The choice is essentially limited to how you prefer to get screwed over.
It works something like this…. she says to you…
(1) Do something not in your best interest that I want you to do.
(2) Or you are a very bad person who isn’t caring / helping / sharing / loving / nuzzling my vagina just right.
So there’s no way to win with either of those choices. The solution is to recognize the double bind, and break out of her frame. Just call her out on it and refuse to choose either choice as valid. She’ll call you a bad person of course. Give her a big smile and thank her for the compliment and walk away.
Test passed!


  1. Encourager says:

    I prefer the agree and ampllify.

    Her: Obviously you don't love me because you never share your feeeeeeelings.

    Him: Don't worry honey. I will just as soon as I finish pulling on these pantyhose and applying my lipstick.

  2. I've often thought of the fitness test itself as a classic double bind. Fitness tests are always set up so that the woman gets SOMETHING she wants either way. Guys need to learn that many times the best thing they can offer is not their material provision but the frame of manhood.

  3. Looking Glass says:

    A double bind is actually a trapping device by the person asking the question. There is *always* more than those choices (doesn't mean they're better choices, but there is always more), but the trick is you have to realize that you have more options. Thus, you *have* to deny the "frame".

    Much of PUA Game is actually completely denying the outward application of the question and answering all of the subtext. Here's the opening of Oceans' 11, for a pop culture version of denying the frame of the questions:

    Or, actually, as strange as it seems, I'd recommend the movie Pollyanna. Richard Egan's character spends his entire time, when interacting with Jane Wyman's character, brushing off her Frame that no one else in the town will.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Another kind of double bind involves the man's economic role. Work hard enough to develop a successful career, and you are a workaholic who ignores her needs. Choose a more relaxed career, and she will be dismissive of your relatively low status and income. Either way, she can find you unsatisfactory and tell herself that she deserved someone better.

  5. Okay, so what is the question that a wife asks that is not in your benefit? Or is it more question number 2?

  6. Anonymous says:

    Athol, sadly the test hardly happens so cleanly. The way I notice it happen most frequently is that you are given choice one, sometimes you actually notice it is a choice that she is setting up for you sometimes you do not. Then later, maybe a few days or a week or two, you get hit with "choice" two after you failed to do as she wanted you to on choice one. I find the problem to be when they are separated by several days, it is sometimes hard to "connect the dots".

  7. Anonymous says:

    "Another kind of double bind involves the man's economic role…"

    Excellent example! I think it would be helpful, at least for me to see more examples of this, example of other double binds.

    There are times when I have problems identifying these fitness tests. Sometimes thinking something is a test when it is not (or may not be) and many times not realizing when she is actually testing me and then failing because I do not realize what she is doing.
    If it sounds as if I get tested a lot, I am not even really sure if I do. I have just come to sort of expect it because it use to happen to very frequently in the past. Now it does not happen as much, but when it does I am hesitant in my response(s) because of my fear mis-judging her true intentions.

    Honestly, if I knew that I would need to be on the top of my game constantly being married like this, I would have stayed single.

    "Highsight is 20/20."

  8. Robertson says:

    I got a complication to toss in here: suppose you are being haranged to do something you actually do need to do, yet doing it would appear to be a losing acquiesence to the haranging behavior. In other words, it might not be a "fitness test" per se, but the manner in which it is presented de facto makes it one.

  9. Strong Man says:

    I bought and read your book. Thought you might be interested in my review of it here.

    Thanks for the good work!

  10. Yes Anonymous 5:15 pm – I feel that way too. Constantly maintaining ones position and watching out not to reinforce aberant behaviour is so wearing. I have a strong internal focus of control and am an introvert – control of others and a relationship is amazingly tiring! I get the feeling that choice of partner is important ….

    Robertson – my father used to cope with nagging and whinging by just not doing the object of the nagging etc. We'd get one warning. One of my complaints against my ex was that he constantly disempowered me by coming up and ordering me to do something I was about to do or doing. Very demotivating – however he was not perceptive enough to realise he was working against getting what he wanted! So a further question is, what to do with stupid and unperceptive people?

  11. Athol Kay says:

    Robertson – then you have to call her on her behavior and not do that thing. Sometimes you just have to let things fall apart as a demonstration of how you won't be harassed into doing things.

  12. Anonymous says:

    Robertson – why don't you just do what you need to do before she starts nagging?

  13. Anonymous says:

    Anon @ 12:10pm, some of us have wives who have a never ending list of to-do items.

  14. Robertson says:

    Thanks for the comments. I guess it's a matter of weighing the cost of not getting it done with the cost of being haranged about it. But also, I was thinking that that might be passive aggressive not to do it just because it was put tome like that, and I didn't think that was particularly strong either. Sometimes there's grey area I suppose.

  15. Anonymous says:

    Robertson, the key is in calling out the behavior- the nagging. "You asked me to do that already. Trust me to do it. Stop nagging me." Then you're not being passive aggressive. You're making it clear that nagging is just as rude as interrupting or insulting someone.

    As a wife, I'm often tempted to wonder if my loving (and hot, sexy) husband has forgotten my request. As my Rationalization Hamster is devising "polite" ways to nicely bring it up, I usually find that he's done it. He just showed me! Who's the Captain?

  16. Robertson says:

    The thing in question had to be done that day, and it was the first request. It was just made rudely because we were bickering about other things that morning.

    Brings up another thought I've had about all of this. Reading this blog and the book and all has helped me identify these fitness tests more quickly. But I find I slap them down quickly and forcefully too. I'm trying to work toward more calmer and firmer and ignoring things when need be. My nature is to shoot back hard when I get irritable. This of course can inflame things and escalate the issue. I'm trying to do the cool, calm and collected and in-charge. There's a lot of very major work on one's personality here … not simply a few tricks.

  17. Anonymous says:

    Ahhhh…. I'd highly recommed a book by John Gottman… 7 Principles for Making Marriage Work. Goes into how to reverse hostility and contempt. Granted, you two have to want to be together first, but getting to the point where you can both change your frame of reference will help you approach each other with a more rational, calm tack. Heck, maybe even help build a little compassion…. As Athol says, feelings follow actions.

  18. Athol Kay says:

    "There's a lot of very major work on one's personality here … not simply a few tricks."

    Exactly. You're going to make a few mistakes along the way. Just work it through.

  19. when she says "you're an asshole" in reply to the frame smackdown, I'd simply tell her

    "glad you like it"

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