Normally when we think of spring cleaning, we think of a thorough do-over of our homes. We wipe the windows inside and out. We send dirt and germs packing. We toss the old in favor of the new.
But how many of us ever consider getting rid of the — ahem — “down-and-dirty” men in our lives?
Shannon Colleary did and, well, her life has never been better.
“I feel like I was able to break a generational pattern of divorce in my family, and I’m hoping that will be true for my kids,” Colleary told me recently.
Most of her 20s and early 30s was spent in painful relationships.
“I didn’t have an addiction to alcohol or drugs. I was a love addict, attracted to men who alternated between being loving and kind, to lying, cheating and shutting me out,” she said.
It didn’t help that her parents, who divorced when she was 2, weren’t the best relationship role models.
Tired of attracting clueless men, Colleary decided to seek help and went through a 12-step recovery program that changed her life.
Long story short, Colleary was living with her last “toxic” boyfriend when he abruptly moved out, then, months later, asked her to be his wife.
It was a dream come true but “so confusing,” Colleary remembered.
She contemplated accepting his proposal, but her 12-step sponsor advised against it and called Colleary every single morning at 8 a.m. to encourage her to stay strong and stay away.
“There were some mornings when the phone rang and I knew it was my sponsor that I didn’t want to pick up. I thought about entering the Witness Protection Program so she couldn’t find me and I could continue living in denial.”
Well, we all know how that is. The heart wants what the heart wants.
But Colleary did what she was told, and six months after the relationship ended in 1998, she found her good guy, a screenwriter named Michael Colleary.
They were married in 2001, and Colleary, a self-described recovery road-warrior, became a pregnant playwright and screenwriter working, between bites of pizza, for Warner Bros., Lifetime Television, TBS and Disney.
About the time their daughters began approaching their teen years, she started to think of the men they might date and how she could protect them from her “youthful floundering.”
So she wrote an article for the Huffington Post offering 10 signs you might be dating, well, trouble and five ways to avoid it.
The response was overwhelming. Readers started calling and emailing her for help, and Colleary knew she was on to something.
“I thought people really need this information,” she said.
Colleary decided to write a book on the subject. Last month, on Valentine’s Day, “She Dated the #Asshats but Married the Good Guy: How to Go From Toxic Love to Real Love in 12 Exercises” landed on bookstore shelves and Amazon.com.
You’ll have to get the book for the complete list, but here are three of my favorite down-and-dirty guys Colleary suggests you “Spring Clean From Your Life.”
1. Mr. Need for Speed. This guy sees you across a crowded room and it’s Love at First Sight. He wants to shake you up and make you Instant Girlfriend. But as soon as you’re convinced he’s a good bet and you’re hooked, he freaks, ices you out and runs as fast as he can, leaving you dazed and confused.
2. Mr. Mopes a Lot. This one resists doing anything for you or the relationship. He especially doesn’t want to get to know your friends, family or anyone who truly loves you, because he actually knows he’s not treating you well and realizes they will sense it. If you do manage to get him to an event, he spends his time moping and answering questions with monosyllables, making you pay for making him come.
3. Mr. One-Way Street. He has needs, but you can’t have any. For instance, he asks favors: Can you pick up his laundry? Can you type up a report for him at the last minute even though you need to get to work? Can you be his lover with no commitment? But if you ask him to just be on time for a date, he acts like you’re asking him to drywall your entire apartment.
Male or female, I know you saw your mate somewhere in that list. I can remember a few such men myself.
Don’t know how I made it through, but I did thanks to Jimmy, my husband of 31 years.
First, Colleary suggests that you identify your self-defeating personality traits that are keeping you stuck.
Some might be people-pleasing, co-dependent personality disorder, having a sense of misplaced responsibility (e.g., “It’s my fault he’s emotionally abusive,” instead of “His bad behavior is his responsibility”) or having too much empathy for a man you’re trying to fix.
Second, establish a “mental health village” to help you change your relationship patterns, such as a Higher Power, a good therapist and/or a support group with similarly circumstanced women in recovery.
And third, implement steps to empower yourself to receive real love.
For instance, Colleary said, “find a couple whose relationship you admire and quiz them about the secrets to their success.” Reclaim yourself by recording the amount of time you spend obsessing about or stalking your Lothario online and carve out equal time increments for self-care.
“Funny how just one person can change your life,” she said. “What I want to be for other women is what she was to me.”
In 2015, Colleary began coaching women to recover from emotionally abusive relationships. She uses goal-setting, visualization, inner child work and the same 12-step program from Al-Anon that her recovery road-warrior used to help her.
“Women and men who remain in these situations are often ashamed and embarrassed, so they isolate and marinate in self-contempt,” Colleary said.
The first step toward getting better, she said, is forgiving yourself for being human, then you can ignore the shame, come out of isolation and embrace recovery in a way that resonates with you.