Monday, July 31, 2006

Counseling Session II Roundup

Monday night was our second appointment with the marriage counselor.

Franco is still dead, and I am still angry and hurt over my mother.

We started off by talking about the homework assignment, which was an Imago analysis of our relationships with our caretakers. She had each of us talk about the thoughts that went through our minds when we where completing the worksheets, and then she asked for some clarifications on some of the things that we highlighted. She noted that my wife seemed to have bigger issues with her father, and that I had bigger issues with my mother. The expression on the therapist's face as she noted that about me seemed to indicate that my word choices were pretty clear.

She then had us do our first Imago dialogue. Those of you who are familiar with computer network protocols could think of this as the conversational equivalent of TCP/IP, communication with checksums. Each time a message is received by the recipient, the recipient tries to make sure that the meaning of the sender's message was preserved upon hearing.

The dialogue was a role playing exercise where each of us took on the role of the parent we had the biggest problems with acting as the recipient of that message. The sender was to tell the parent what life was like living with them and then what were the biggest frustrations.

I went first, with my wife assuming the role of my mom. I started describing how she was largely unavailable to me, be it that she was at work, out playing volleyball, or hanging out at the tavern with her friends afterwards. I said that it was frustrating that she wasn't there to comfort me when I was having troubles making friendships with my classmates. Instead she told me to be tough because it didn't matter what the kids said or thought of me. I felt like she put high expectations on me academically and made me feel like if I wasn't her perfect son that I wouldn't be loved. Even though I have an awareness of these things, I still fall apart when I express them. By the time I was finished, I had been through three or four tissues.

While getting that out into the open may not have been something new to me, the exchange did highlight something very important. Part of the dialog is the recipient trying to repeat back the points of the statement to make sure that the recipient understood.

She could barely recall the things I had been saying. Because of this, the therapist had me go over the stuff again. It took four iterations to get past this point. We finally made our way to the validation part, and hearing her say that my feelings were indeed valid brought out another flood of tears. The therapist had my wife hold my hand, and that helped me regain composure.

Next it was my turn to play her father. Her complaints were much simpler. She said that I (her dad) was inflexible and controlling. I seemed to view her requests of help as a burden. I sought to get out of those requests by trying to get other people, usually other parents, to do the work for me. She said it frustrated her I would ask her for money that she earned on her job, making her feel like the family would fall apart if she didn't give me the money. I was able to summarize all of these things on the first try, execpet for one aspect of the money issue, where I assumed he was saying certain things to make her feel bad. Her reaction was fairly emotionless. She said she didn't feel the pain of her frustrations because she had gotten past that years ago.

I believe that the dialogues we had yielded something very important that I've never been able to identify. She usually accuses me of not listening to her. However, in the dialogues above, she had to struggle to recall what I had said. In many cases, she turned things around so that they lost their meaning. I was able to recap her points with good accuracy. If there is a problem with our communication, it's most likely because she isn't registering the messages well.

The therapist noted that the exercise might be more difficult for someone who isn't an auditory learner. She speculated that my wife's learning style might be kinesthetic, and that is true because usually I have to teach her something by walking her through it. It would also explain why my attempts to communicate with her make her eyes glaze over. I told the therapist it probably didn't help that I was "pathologically verbose".

The therapist also pointed out something I think I've discussed in this space a few posts back. When my wife says that my frustrations with the lack of intimacy are just me being insecure, she is sending me the same kind of signal that my mother sent to me when I tried to seek comfort for my pain. The feelings weren't valid, and thee was something wrong with me for having felt that way in the first place.

The therapist also noted how my wife might see in me things that I provided that she didn't get from her father -- someone who would do things for her and provide financial security.

We moved on to discussing love languages. My wife has opted to go the audio book route but has yet to make a trip to the book store to get it, so she was somewhat new to this stuff. I've tried talking with her about it after completing segments of Chapman's book, so she wasn't totally in the dark. We worked through a ranking of our primary love languages and guessed which languages were our our spouse's. We were pretty much right on in our guesses. Her love languages, in order of primacy, are:

  1. Acts of Service

  2. Quality Time

  3. Receiving Gifts

  4. Words of Affirmation

  5. Physical Touch

mine are:

  1. Physical Touch

  2. Words of Affirmation

  3. Quality Time

  4. Acts of Service

  5. Receiving Gifts

The polarization is quite stark.

The therapist went on to talk about this difference and how couples need to speak to each other's love languages. We then spent some time talking about how to put that into practice. We got into a discussion over how my wife and I interact after I get home from work.

She said that she tried to greet me when I got home and have conversations with me at the dinner table about my day, but I usually wasn't enthusaiastic. She said I was more interested in reading something at the dinner table like the newspaper, and that she needed some adult conversation after a day with the kids, then admitting that she did get a lot of adult conversation with her best friend via frequent phone calls during the day.

I said that when I get home, it's after a stressful 40 minute commute, followed by the kids storming me for attention. I tend to them first because they can't wait. By the time I reach the table, I am in dire need of decompression. Moreover, since I help with feeding the kids, and our 3 year old needs to be badgered to eat quite a bit, that isn't a good environment to carry on adult conversation.

I said that I would stop turning to reading as a way to isolate myself mentally and be more present at dinner time. The therapist agreed that I might need time to adjust, so she recommended that my wife postpone most of the talking until after we had finished eating. Instead, sit down at the couch together and be close, giving each other undivided attention. My wife was skeptical that the kids would give us that kind of space. I said that we'll just let our 3 year old play with some Play Doh during that time because it keeps her occupied so well, and we could put on a baby video for the 18 month old. I thought it sounded reasonable.

The therapist also suggested that my wife change the nature of the conversation from "what happened today" to "how are you feeling" to be more in tune with what's going on inside. That was one channel by which she could offer me validation.

I took some time to talk further about the issue of sexuality in our marriage. I said that while I understood that we spoke different primary love languages, I didn't think that my wife understood a key difference between her need for Acts of Service and my need for Physical Touch as expressed through emotionally connected sex.

I pointed to the example of unloading the minivan for her on Sunday afternoon, which is something I volunteered to do with eagerness because I thought that would speak to her language. I said that expressing love that way was very well defined. I just had to keep moving the bags from the van to whereever she wanted them until there were nore more bags to move. She didn't have to particpate in getting that need fulfilled. She could be off in the house doing something else.

With making love, it is very different. I likened it to moving a large piece of furniture, where two people are required to lift and carry. Her just being there in bed with me as some sort of vessel of pleasure wasn't enough. I needed her to be open with me, to be equally involved in the act, allowing herself to be pleasured by me, and to be present emotionally. That wasn't the kind of sex she was offering when she resisted foreplay and just laid there. It was very hard for me to remain aroused with that kind of setting.

I also said that the bonding of loving sex was important to me, and that I thought society as a whole recognized that because of the exclusivity of marital vows. We can delegate any number of roles in a marriage to other people, but we put this fence around sex because there is this notion that it is so special. In order for me to be secure and satisfied with our marriage, she would need to learn to speak more loudly to my love language.

Getting that out into the open was a huge release for me because someone other than my wife was able to hear it and treated it as a reasonable expectation.

I can't remember the exact situation during this last part of the conversation, but my wife was talking about my expectations, and she admitted for the first time that she's got issues of some sort. She didn't say what they might be, or whether she would be willing to work on them as an individual. I refuse to let her treat those issues as an immutable quantity that I will just have to accep. She will need to face them down and decide whether she can ever be truly available to me as a wife and lover.

On the ride home, I asked my wife if she had any additional thoughts on what we had just been through. She said she didn't have any. I asked her what she thought of the therapist and the sessions we had so far. All I got was an "OK" and that it was probably too early to tell.

I noted that from the Imago dialoge it was clear what our disappoitnments with our parents were and that we got some insights into what we were looking for as spouses. I asked her whether she thought that those unmet needs with her father weighed heavily in what she sought out from me to get her own love needs met. She said she wasn't sure.

It also reminded me a call I heard a couple of months ago on a radio advice show. A woman had called in saying that she was having trouble being intimate with her husband. The conversation moved into a discussion of how her father was largely absent from her life in childhood and how her search for a mate might have been more of a search for a father like figure who would give her the things she didn't get as a child. Because she viewed her husband so much like a father, she couldn't bring herself to be sexual with him because that's not something you do with daddy. Maybe that's one possible explanation of why she has closed off her sexuality to me.

Our next appointment is the Tuesday of next week in the late afternoon.

Going NC on the IM

I had a scary moment yesterday afternoon. I may not have handled it wisely, but I managed to avoid a very ugly situation.

I was conversing with my "step back from that ledge, my friend" confidant via IM when my wife got back from her grocery trip. When I saw the minivan pull into the driveway, I should have just cut the conversation off at that point, but I decided instead to stay online. I took my usual prodcedures to obscure IM usage, and I headed out to the minivan to help my wife unload the groceries. Acts of service are probably her number 1 love languge, so I was trying to cheerfully fill that tank.

After that was done, I returned to the computer and picked up the conversation where I left off. The conversation was pretty tame. We were discussing the confidant's husband's mannerisms and why he might be that way. I was trying to offer up some fresh lines of thinking for her to pursue, but I was failing badly since she has explored many of those same paths herself.

At one point, my wife comes moving down the hallway, swiftly and unexpectedly. She wanted me to hurry and take a look at how cute our older daughter was sleeping on the bed. I had not minimized the IM conversation window in time for her not see it. She asked me who I was talking to. I said it was one of my supervisers, which was plausible because the guy lives, eats, and breathes IM 24/7.

I went back and saw how cute she was and then returned to the computer. My wife came back in and saw the window still on the task bar and asked if she could see the contents of the window. Given that the window, when fully exposed, would have included a screen name tipping off the gender of the person, I told her "no", and I closed down the IM program.

I got up to talk to her. I could tell she was going in a very paranoid direction. She accused me, saying it wasn't my boss. I told her that I was in the midst of a conversation with my brother, and it was something I didn't want to talk with her about. That just fed the fire even more. She started demanding to see my work IM contact list. He wasn't on that list. Neither was the confidant. I refused to give in.

I told her that I was talking to him about the stuff I have been going through with respect to our marriage, and I didn't feel comfortable discussing the contents of that conversation with her. I needed some space for confidential discussion. I had no close friends locally with whom to talk abou this stuff. She asked me why I didn't go talk to her best friend's husband, with whom I am also friends. I told her that I couldn't trust it getting back to her via her friend. The boundary is too porus.

I turned very emotional, telling her that I am struggling with two different sets of feelings. There is the feeling of anger that comes from not having emotional needs met and then being denied their validity. The second is fear that if I may do something rash because of that anger. I didn't want to destroy our marriage and wreak havoc on the kids. I said it was like my brain was having an argument that had elevated to a scremaing match, and I just needed someone to talk to. By then, I was in tears. Those feelings were very real, and they were live and uncensored. She gave me a hug and told me that she couldn't work on repairing this marriage if I was goint to lie to her.

That whole evening I was in a very bad space. Mrs.' best friend's husband and her daughter joined us for dinner because Mrs. best friend was at her job for the day, so I suspect both of us did some covering up to make everything seem okay. After they left, I asked my wife a followup question to the argument we had last Tuesday. "Why was she so quick to ask me if I wanted a separation?" She said it was because I had already said that resolving the initimacy problems was needed to keep the marriage from ending. She said she was worried that I was going to do something to hurt myself. I don't have a history of being suicidal, but something on me must have been flashing that word in bold neon.

After the kids went to bed, we went to work on the homework for tonight's counseling session. I had already looked the exercises over a few times to get an idea of what it was about. It looks like it's drawn from the Imago therapy program.

The topic of the exercise was to get a description of the ways that parents didn't meet our needs, and it did so through a combination of the Hegelian dialectic and mad libs. We made lists of postitive and negative attributes and expereinces with our parents and caretakers. Then these two groups of concepts were assembled in a fill-in-the blank synthesis page (their words, not mine).

I completed the worksheets in about an hour and a half. I heard my wife doing stufff on the computer during that time, so I figured she wasn't putting all of her mental energy into it. By the time 11 p.m. rolled around, I asked her how she was doing. She whined about not being a good writer and not knowing if she was doing it right. She asked me whether I wanted to sit in the family room with her, and I agreed to do so. We talked some, but she wanted to get a Gymboree order in before midnight so that she wouldn't lose her expiring Gymbucks, so I spent most of my time reading the love langugages book. The environment was calm, so I gathered that whatever anxiety she may have had must have subsided.

Around midnight, I retired to bed and continued reading. I didn't really pay attention to what she was doing back in the family room. She had Big Brother on pause when I was in there, so I suspect she continued to watch that. She came to bed and we eventually drifted off to sleep.

I've been on edge to day a bit. I'm probably anxious over how tonight is going to go. Will she have done her part of the homework? Will she try to bring up the IM thing? I thought about countering with her "we'll call you back in two weeks" sex therapist who never called back.

Last weekend I wrote about feeling lonely. Most of my college friends are scattered to the four winds, and I do a horrible job of keeping in touch with them. I've also got a few high school era friends around town, but I only see one of them with any kind of regularity. It wasn't always like this. Since we moved to this town in the fall of 2000, my social world has basically been shaped by plans made by my wife and her best friend. I think part of my fear in reaching out is that I'll have to admit how unhappy I am in my situation.

The events of yesterday will mean that I will have to refrain from confidential IM traffic when my wife is at home because I don't want to trigger her radar of suspicion again. I've already e-mailed my ledge friend and let her know that we'll have to go NC on that channel and do things by e-mail. It will be tough going without that outlet since that's pretty much all I have for venting. What's worse is that now I feel I have no zone of privacy or safety. I wonder at times how much of this is due to my own issues and how much of it is possibly her emotional abusiveness.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

He Scares Me So

Friday was an emotional crucible for me.

I spent part of Thursday night and Friday mid-day reading the first four chapters of The Five Love Languages, which was recommended to my wife and me at our first counseling session. If you're not familiar with the premise of the book, you can get a good summary at the author's website.

Although my learning on this subject is far from complete, I can see how his model might explain why our marriage is having such big difficulties. As the counselor suggested, our primary love languages are probably not the same.

My languages are Words of Affirmation and Physical Touch. Hers are most likely Acts of Service, Quality Time, and Receiving Gifts. Although I was not aware of it, I've learned to speak to her through those channels over the course of our relationship.

I'm not always consistent, though. I've gone through phases where I've lessened my willingness to communicate along those lines. Quality time suffered the most as she started doing more and more stuff with her best friend, for example. At times, I've been less than enthusiastic about performing Acts of Service. Last year was an angry spell because of The Drought, so I didn't put as much thought into gifts for her.

On the other hand, she has been not only neglectful of my love languages, she has been openly hostile about expressing them. She says that I'm just being needy and insecure. This realization came to me Friday morning as I was getting ready for work. I also wondered if she would be sincere in becoming more fluent in those love languages. If the past is any indication, probably not. Getting my love tank replenished from her is like try to refuel a diesel truck at the unleaded pump. My gut tells me that our marriage will come to an end if that is true. My heart tells me to give her the chance to prove herself. I'm going to listen to my heart.

I wrote up my thoughts and shared them with an online friend who is in a similar marital situation. We've been good for each other because in our ups and downs, we manage to see the bright sides of our plights. The end result is that we talk each other down from the ledges of rash behavior. In her response, the friend cautioned that the stresses of raising small children may make it impossible for me to get definitive answers to the questions I have posed to my wife, and that I might have to seek other outlets to bide my time until the kids got older.

The thought that this may be a process lasting several more years touched a very raw nerve in me. I had struggled with this issue for the better part of my ten year marriage. I finally had developed a vocabulary to express my perspective of the marriage. Affirmative steps were being taken to finally figure out whether this marriage would survive. It was as if a prisoner had just learned that his next parole hearing was 5 years away, instead of 5 months away.

The anger boiled inside of me during the late Friday afternoon. It was an intensity that I don't ever recall having ever felt.

I kept a good game face at dinner with my family and the wife's best friend's family, and I was able to keep it going up through the 45 minutes we spent with the kids at the park. When I got home, I isolated myself from the house to avoid flying off the handle and saying something I might regret.

My wife could sense my anger. I told her that I was in a bad space, but it wasn't until several minutes later that I broke down and told her what was bothering me. I sat down on the floor with her and spoke of what I had learned from reading our counseling materials. I identified the areas that were most likely our love languages.

I then told her that I felt that she had neglected reaching out to me in my primary languages. Moreover, the disdain I heard in her voice in the past and at the counseling meeting toward learning and practicing those languages hurt me. I told her I feared that she would not be serious about doing the work needed to become conversant in those languages.

She teared up and told me that she didn't know want to do. I soothed her and told her that I didn't want her to do anything right now. It would take time for us to figure out a way to heal. All I needed from her at the moment was a willingness to listen.

I also said that I needed to learn to better show my love for her in her own languages. I admitted that there were times I resisted meeting her through those channels.

I closed the conversation by taking her hands into mine and telling her that I loved her and that we would find a way through this together. I felt much better after having told her what was bothering me. It took a lot of work to force myself into owning that bilious boullion.

To this day, it amazes me that I have to work so hard to let my true feelings flow when they are negative. It was almost twelve years ago that I began to develop an awareness of the damage that my bottled anger had done. I have never been prone to violence, but I had done my share of destructive things by not letting go.

Therapy in the late 90s helped me trace the environment that made me want to hold things in.

My paternal relatives, with whom I was closer, had severely broken communication skills. Seldom did anyone come right out and express dissatisfaction. They just stopped talking and interacting. It happened when my dad remarried. It continues to this very day with my dad and aunt quarreling over their deceased mother's estate. No one dared cross my late grandfather, whose temper was supposedly legendary, but I had never seen in full force. I likened it to nuclear warfare. One didn't have to engage in it to know that it entailed a dire aftermath.

Another problem was with my mother. Because I was an advanced child, she put me on a pedistal as a kid with a bright future who would go on to "make lots of money and support" her. Never mind that I wasn't bonding with my peers. These things didn't matter to her because I had "so much going" for me, and those who made fun of me were "riff raff" anyway. My feelings weren't valid. I wasn't allowed to express fear, anxiety, sadness, or anger.

I never really got to see what it was like to handle anger in a constructive manner. Better to not express it because it would result in bad things. It was something to be feared and hidden. Maybe it would decompose over time if I buried it deeply enough, like degradeable biomass.

I have made progress in developing an awareness of anger when it strikes me. However, it's still all too easy for me to make excuses to defer acting on it. I think there is still a fear that doing something in the present will result in catastrophic results. For example, if I tell my wife I'm angry because I feel she has treated me unfairly, will she retaliate with hostility? Maybe I don't trust my character well enough to handle the expression of that anger constructively.

The title for tonight's post is a reference to the lyrics of the song "I Don't Know How to Love Him" from the rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar. The sentiment expressed in that phrase, "He scares me so" is the essence of my reflexive response to anger. But unlike the angst of Mary Magdalene, I am not struggling over a relationship with a messianic figure. Anger is a good oracle for telling you when something is wrong, but only a fool would place his faith in it for salvation.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Loved in Five Languages

Got back from marriage counseling about an hour ago. My brain hurts. Here's the short summary...

As expected, the therapist spent most of the initial session gathering information about us, our families, and past counseling experiences.

Once we got through all of that, I covered just about everything that I described in the my earlier post. I made sure to couch my assertions as "I" statements.

My wife responded by saying that I'm insecure. She said she still loved me but she just couldn't be into it every time we had sex. She also said that there are times when she has urges but the kids are around (not that I know about any of those instances of urges). She said that I took it too personally when she said she didn't like something I did.

The counselor gave us some handouts to work on for future sessions. She said she's partial to exploring the impact of family of origin issues, but she also brought up Chapman's Five Love Languages, saying this may be a case where we have a mismatch between the most important languages. I hope my wife can learn to speak mine in something above a few grunts and hand gestures.

The counselor also noted that my mom left my dad after 13 years of marriage, and since my wife and I have been together for fourteen years (including living together), there might be something to the insecurity. I don't know if I buy that yet because I have been dealing with this for a lot longer than a year. It also should be noted that when my dad was my age, he was already divorced and on the way to marrying his second of three wives.

It was enough to make the evil side of me want to call my mother on the way home and say, "Thanks for screwing me up yet one more way." Fortunately, that side doesn't know how to dial a cell phone.

I had a thought shortly thereafter. In the Ten Commandments, there is one for honoring the parents. I wonder why God chose not to issue one for parents themselves, given the importantance of raising children properly. I can see it now...

Thou shalt fuck up thy children with neither thine issues nor any other new issues, so that they may not be visited unto the third and fourth generation with vast therapy bills.

Show me a church with that teaching, and I'll think about switching. Until then, I'll keep working my way through Bad Childhood, Good Life.

Collecting the Thoughts

Today is the appointment with the marriage counselor. Since the office is clear on the other side of town (not bad from our house, awful from my work place), I came in to work extra early because I will be effectively taking a 2 3/4 hour lunch break.

This is a condensation of my thoughts going into the counseling session.

I wanted to come to counseling because I feel that I am living in a marriage that is almost devoid of both physical and emotional intimacy. It's like a movie set that Hollywood might have used for a town in a western. The facade looks good when viewed from the right angles, but much is missing behind the scenes.

This is a huge problem for me. I have felt it in my heart for six or seven years, but it has only been within the past two years that I have been able to get a good grasp on the feeling and embrace its validity.

I feel that my wife enjoys the things I bring into our lives: a paycheck, active fatherhood, help with the household chores, and so on. However, I feel she does not appreciate me as a husband, as a man, as a lover. I feel like some sort of carboard cutout that stands in the family photograph to make her life look complete.

However, I feel as if a very large part of my life is being starved, sometimes out of indifference, other times out of hositlity.

Sex between my wife and me is infrequent. Our drives have long been mismatched, but that gap has grown larger over the course of our marriage. Most of the time I feel like she is doing it out of obligation. I feel that she is not present emotionally. I do not sense enthusiasm. She actively resists foreplay. She will not communicate to me in positive terms what she needs from me as a lover.

More recently, I have noticed that this goes beyond sex. I feel that she also avoids emotional intimacy. I feel my attempts to be close to her, clearly communicating that I don't have an expectation of sex, have been greeted with an attitude that says "Do we really have to do this?" When I want to talk about relationship issues of depth, she responds with "I feel like I'm being put on trial." She is very picky about how I express my affection.

In both areas, I sense that she is actively closing off entire areas of loving communication to. I told her it's like I'm trying to write her a love letter without using words that contain the letter e.

I have tried several times throughout our marriage to communicate my unhappiness with her. It has been awkward because it has taken me a long time to gather my thoughts and put words to my feelings. I feel she has responded to my attempts by being defensive, by refusing to acknowledge the validity of my feelings, and by refusing to be open with me. When I ask her questions about her sexuality, the most frequent answer I get is "I don't know."

In the absence of answers, I have tried to figure out what might cause her to put up barriers. The things that have come to mind range from tragic to cynical:

  • She suffered some form of past sexual abuse.

  • There is a physiological basis, like hormonal imbalance.

  • She's not that into me.

  • Her sexual orientation may not be in my favor.

  • She's having an extramarital relationship, even if it is just emotional.

When I ask her what sorts of things turn her on or what kinds of fantasies she has, she responds with "I don't know." I cannot imagine that a 35 year-old woman would not have some idea of what she desires sexually. If she is not intentionally hiding these thoughts from me, then she does not know herself sexually, and that almost guarantees that things will be difficult in the bedroom.

I realize that she may be afraid to open up to me because she fears that the truth might endanger the future of this marriage. I understand that fear. However, I don't think she realizes the pain that this is causing me. I feel unattractive. I feel foolish because I feel like I'm wasting my life in a pretend marriage. If the roles were reversed, I'm sure she would suspect me of having an affair, if not worse.

About eight years ago, when I was resisting the idea of starting a family, she put down an ultimatum on our marriage, saying that she would consider leaving me if I decided that I didn't want kids. I went through three years of individual and joint counseling to work through that. In the end, I embraced parenthood, and I think I've done much better at it than most men do.

I am placing this same degree of importance on our intimacy. The future of our marriage depends on it.

I need her to be open with me about how she feels about me as a husband and a man. I need her to communicate with me honestly about her sexuality. If at all possible, I need her to be my wife and emotionally connected lover in the bedroom. If there is some reason that she cannot or will not fulfil that role, I need to know the truth from her why that is, no matter however painful it might be. I will not accept "I don't know" as an answer any longer.

Over the years, I have tried changing the way I interact with my wife to see if that would bring an improvement in the dynamics of the relationship. I have tried being more romantic, being more attentive, refraining from being the initiator in sex, being more distant emotionally, being more helpful in other areas of the marriage. As far as I can tell, nothing has been able to stem the ever widening sexual gap. I now believe that I am powerless to bring about a change. It is time for her to step up and work on this, too.

I also believe the status quo is unsustainable. I am struggling emotionally. At times I start doing the math, figuring out how many years I've got left before the kids are grown. I hate the thought of divorce, but I don't see how staying together in this emotional limbo will be any better in the long run. The kids will know me only as an increasingly miserable wretch, and I wonder if it might just be better to give up sooner rather than later.

I believe I deserve better than this.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

The Appointment is Set

Thursday, July 27, 2006, noon EDT. The wife found someone to watch the kids during the day.

The Joys of Provider Selection

Spent some time this morning navigating my insurer's provider list to find a marriage counselor. Tried to correlate that list against the Marriage Counselor list in the local Yellow Pages and failed miserably, so I had to just start dialing down the list.

I found a counselor who is on my plan, is accepting clients, does marriage counseling, and isn't awfully far away. The fact that the counselor is a woman should help my wife feel a little more comfortable about talking.

I've got two possible dates, one is tomorrow (highly unlikely because we'd have to line up a sitter), and the other is on Monday mid-day.

I called my wife after finding out, and she seemed receptive to the latter date, too, so she's seeing if her best friend can watch our girls. We really need to broaden our babysitter list.

No More Words (for Now at Least)

You're talking and it all sounds fair
You promise your love, how much you care
I'm still listening and still unsure
Your actions are lacking, nothing is clear
No more words
You're telling me you love me while you're looking away
No more words, no more words
And no more promises of love
Don't fool your self
Your empty passion won't satisfy me
I know, so don't pretend that you want me
You don't want me
We make love and it's all the same
Your eyes show nothing, no lover's flame
Don't promise we can work it out
You can leave right now if you're feeling doubt
-- Berlin, "No More Words"

A little over 24 hours since it ended, I finally feel that I have perspective to write about it.

Hurting from Sunday's events, and realizing from followups to a PF posting that I may be overdoing it on the attentiveness, I put on the brakes.

I was in a bad space on Monday. It didn't help that my wife had invited her best friend's family over for dinner. I came home to a house that was boisteriously in shambles.

After dinner was finished and guests were gone, we did our family walk around the neighborhood. I then retired to the computer to chat with some friends and just give my wife some space.

I'm carrying the pager for work this week. It's a Sidekick phone with access to an e-mail account. If something is amiss on our network, and e-mail gets fired off to the pager phone's account.

The e-mail account is not spam filtered, so it gets its share of messages, usually in the wee hours of the morning. It usually wakes the wife up before it does me, and since she's a bear when she's awakened prematurely, I get a sharp elbow to wake me up.

As she's getting ready to go to bed, my wife she stops by my desk. We get on the subject of the pager sound. I said that I would be willing to sleep on the couch to make her sleep more peaceful. She then gets wishy washy saying that she wants me to sleep in there with her.

I tell her, sounding rather peeved at this point, "Either you have me in bed, and you deal with the pager noise, or you let me sleep on the couch and slumber without interruption, pick one." I don't like it when she beats up on me for as situation she says she wants.

She gets defensive. She wonders why I'm all grumpy all of the sudden. I don't think she realized just how blue I was earlier that evening.

So I tell her that I am struggling, dealing with a lot of emotional ups and downs. I tell her that as I think about what's been happening between us, I get the feeling that she isn't attracted to me.

She tells me that she loves me. She wants us to grow old together, visit our grandchildren, go visit Paris together... stuff like that. That's nice, but it sidesteps the question of whether she just isn't into me.

I tell her that I have a lot of uncertainty about the future. She asks me if I want a separation to clear things out. I tell her "no." I tell her I have a hard time imagining not coming home to her and the kids. I wouldn't know where else to go.

I tell her that her I've tried all kinds of things over the last six or seven years... being less attentive, being more attentive, lots of places in between... it doesn't seem to change the way she interacts with me.

She went back to the cuddling incident on Sunday. She said that she wasn't trying to reject me, but she didn't want me to lay next to her if I wasn't going to fall asleep for a nap, too. She said that would make her feel weird to have me "gazing at her" while she slept.

As many PFers speculated, she said she felt pressured by the extra affection over the past week. I admitted that I went overboard.

But then we got into the heavy stuff...

I said that it seemed like she was continuously limiting ways that I could physically express affection toward her. She said that she felt like she couldn't win. According to her, on one hand, I want to know what she wants, but then I don't like when she tells me what she doesn't like.

She said I overanalyzed things. I said that might be true, but the reason reason I may have done so was because when I ask her relationship questions of significant depth, I usually get, "I don't know." She admitted that she did do that.

I said that with all of the rules restricting what I couldn't do to express affection, I felt it was like challenging me to write a love letter using words that didn't involve the letter e.

I told her that although she had initiated sex twice last week, it still seemed very mechanical, following this procedure:

  1. Get wife off with vibrator.

  2. Fuck wife until husband gets off.

She said that sometimes she just wanted to be with me, and that it wasn't important for her to be pleasured. I told her that there are a lot of men, myself included, who care very much about satisfying their women sexually. I felt like she was throwing up a hurtful barrier at me.

I told her that I could see that she might enjoy having me around for being a daddy, for providing income, for protection against things that go bump in the night, etc. At this point, I started to lose composure. I told her that I felt that she did not appreciate me as a man and as a lover.

She said it was hard for her to be turned on, given the physical condition we're in, and she couldn't understand how I would find her sexually attractive. I told her that my attraction to her was based more than on superficial appearance. It was a collection of things that clicked in my mind.

I said that I felt her actions in the bedroom suggested that she was not emotionally there with me. That kind of sex isn't what I want.

I said that I thought she wasn't being open with me sexually. I asked her about whether she agreed with that. At first she tried to blame it on the kids, but then she admitted that she been closed to me long before we had kids.

I told her that the absence of a chemical attraction toward me did not make her a bad person, but if it was the case, she needed to tell me.

I told her that I have gone through a lot over the years. I went through counseling to deal with sexual compulsion issues. I went through counseling to face down fears of becoming a parent. I tried to be a healthier adult. I tried doing nice thing for her.

I gave her space back in 2002, when she said she felt like she was being pressured sexually, by refusing to initiating sex. As time progressed, I stopped taking the initiative on expressing affection. Starting with this year, I tried to rekindle the affection with things like dance lessons, and that revival took on a fevered pitch over the past week.

Through all of that, you could almost chart that our sex life went through a steady decline. She said that happens with lots of couples. I said that's usually because they get complacent. I was trying to do better.

I told her that I needed her to look into her heart and find an honest answer to the question of her attraction.

I asked her if she had anything else to add. She said she didn't feel comfortable saying anything else without a counselor present.

I also told her that I needed to have an emotionally connected sex life as part of a healthy relationship.

We wound up hugging before going to bed, but there was an air of tension. It was about 12:35 a.m. when we ended the conversation.

My older daughter woke up at 5:30 a.m. in a difficult frame of mind, refusing to go back to bed. In the grogginess, I wondered if God put women in my life to torment me.

On Tuesday, I felt the anger returning, tinged with despondency. It was hard to stay focused on work. To take off the edge, I was speed eating spearmint Altoids. Probably not good for me, but at least my breath was minty fresh for once.

I listened to a call-in advice show on the radio wherein the host read a letter from a male listener who felt "starved" by his wife in the areas he needed, and that his wife's indifference had made him start to do the math, figuring out how many years he had left until the kids were grown. I've been feeling that way, too. At times it's hard not to think, "My life is too short to put up with this," and not even fuss with the math.

When I came home from work, her best friend's family was there again. I put on the game face, acted nicely, and kept my distance from the wife. We did our walk. She watched her TV. I chatted via IM.

She stopped by to talk for a few minutes. I asked her whether she had heard from the counselor about an appointment. She said that she hadn't. I asked her whether she thought that was odd. She admitted that it was so, adding that she thought the problem was trying to make sure that the therapist was on the approved list. Apparently some of the organization's therapists are, and some are not.

I asked whether she might be interested in getting some marriage counseling instead. I said I felt like we had hit an impasse the night before and that she had sounded like there were things that she wanted to discuss only with a counselor present.

She said that wasn't the case. Rather, she thought she wasn't being heard and wanted to have a third party to aid communicating them to me. Much of her arguments these days seem to be geared toward invalidating my feelings, so I don't know how well that will play with the counselor.

I told her that I would take the steps of finding a counselor and setting up the time.

Monday, July 24, 2006

What's the Name of the Game?

What's the name of the game?
Can you feel it the way I do?
Tell me please, cause I have to know

And you make me talk
And you make me feel
And you make me show
What Im trying to conceal
If I trust in you, would you let me down?
Would you laugh at me, if I said I care for you?
Could you feel the same way too?
I wanna know......
-- Abba, "The Name of the Game"

I've been thinking a lot about whether my wife is telegraphing signs that I make her skin crawl. This goes beyond the whole breath issue, which I have been trying to address with brushing followed by mouthwash two or three times a day and drinking more water. I'm talking about a full blown revulsion to my physical presence.

The aversion to certain types of intimate touching during sex is one possibility. On Sunday evening, I think I picked up on another.

Earlier that day, my wife and I were in the kitchen and I gave her a hug. I gave her what I intended to be an affectionate and innocent kiss on her shoulder, not her neck. She said that was tickling her. It didn't register with me that she was trying to tell me that this was universally undesired affection.

Later that evening, after we had taken the kids for a walk, I did the same thing without much thought. She responded with irritation. After telling me that the kiss tickled, she said that if I was going to kiss her it would need to be on the lips.

Let's abstract that out a bit and compare that with the foreplay resistance and the lack of enthusiasm toward nonsexual cuddling. In each case, she is intentionally restricting the range of physical affection expression. Barricades are going up. Complete avenues cordoned off. The net effect is to pare back the vocabulary that I can use to express love to her.

Given that she wasn't into cuddling earlier in the day, I didn't bother asking her again when we went to bed. After a week of trying to be more affectionate, I see too many things that make me think this isn't the way to reach her. I'm wondering if there is any way to reach her.

One followup item: She did watch the Dateline NBC episode with me before going to bed last night. She was silent during the whole show. Her eyes seemed a little watery and red. Maybe something might have been driving her to cry, and she was fighting it.

I had a sliver of hope that this might start a dialogue; so afterwards, I asked her if she had any thoughts on what she had seen. She said that she didn't. She made a comment on the volatile relationship that one of the couples had, but that was it.

She didn't say whether there were parts that she identified with, and she didn't make any comments on the points that the therapist was trying to make. I told her that if she had any thoughts later on in the week, I'd be willing to listen. I'm trying to keep that door open.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Another Data Point for the Skin Crawl Question

My wife returned from her weekend trip a couple hours ago. We hadn't seen one another in over two days. For the kids, it was almost three days. I had the house mostly straightened up, dishes done, and laundry mostly complete. I wanted her to have a place she could look forward to coming home to. The enthusiasm of the kids upon seeing her probably helped with the atmosphere, too.

She brought home a couple of frozen pizzas from a local restaurant where she was visiting. The pizza is believed by many to be the best in town, and we used to go there every once in a while when we lived there. She said it was a last hurrah before she starts dieting tomorrow.

She's now in the bedroom reading, getting ready to take a nap. Before she retired to the bedroom, I asked her if she was interested in cuddling with no additional expectations. She said "no", saying I could watch the race instead. She said she wanted to be able to sprawl out on the bed. I'm getting increasingly discouraged, but something says I should keep offering to cuddle.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Lyrical Laments

Took the kids out for a walk after dinner, hauling them around in the wagon. We did about a mile, with a short U-turn and backtrack to recover a toy that my younger daughter dropped. We finished off the day with a bath and a short "baby" video from our cable provider's on demand service. They've been down for bed since shortly after 9 p.m.

I am a lover of music and a hopeless sucker for moving lyrics. The breadth and depth of satellite radio is akin to heroin for me. On some days, it is my only link to sanity during the long drive to and from work.

Right now, I've got the streaming online version of my radio service's disco channel on. Back when I was telecommuting, I'd do the same thing if I was working on Friday night. My rationale was if I couldn't be at a party, I might as well listen to someone else's. Most of the time, I'd work with a smile on my face.

Over the past few months, as my marital frustration simmered its way to the current stew, my mind locked heavily onto songs with female vocals and lyrics expressing a desire for a man. The thought of being that desirable to a woman seemed so alien to me. The songs conjured up a mixture of wonder and annoyance.

The discussions on PF that led to this blog still play heavily through my mind, including the posts that speculated that my wife may not find me unattractive or even repulsive. I find myself watching her words and actions for cues that this may be the case. It weighs heavily on my mind, and now those songs of feminine longing stir more pain than they do anger.

I came to this realization on the way to work Thursday morning. I heard Norah Jones singing the song "Turn Me On" (track 8 on Come Away With Me, stream available on her website). It hurt so much that I almost cried.

Like a flower
Waiting to bloom
Like a lightbulb
In a dark room
Im just sittin here waiting for you
To come on home and turn me on

I now realize that there have been several songs playing in my mind over the past couple of months, haunting the peripherals of my consciuosness. A couple of weeks ago, it was "S.O.S." by Abba.

Where are those happy days, they seem so hard to find
I tried to reach for you, but you have closed your mind
Whatever happened to our love?
I wish I understood
It used to be so nice, it used to be so good


So when you're near me, darling can't you hear me
S. O. S.
And the love you gave me, nothing else can save me
S. O. S.

Going back a little farther, I had a similar bout with the song "Coalmine" by Sarah Evans.

Coalmine, covered with dust
T-shirt tired, all muscled up
All mine, head to toe
Come on, come on, whistle, blow
I can't wait to get him home
Ain't gonna have nothing but the supper on
Gonna keep him busy 'til its time
He goes back to that coalmine

The question that keeps popping into my mind is: "What is it about these nameless objects of affection that stir up so much endearment?" Granted, these are fictitious situations, but there are surely countless real life situations that are very close to these ideals. What is it that I lack that does not stir up similar passions in my wife? Should I be bound in wedlock to a woman who feels little or nothing for me?

I try to think on the positive things. She did say she would seek therapy. She has gone so far as to initiate sex twice this week. She agreed to go out on a date with me. I should be grateful for these.

Yet, there are cues here and there that make me wonder if she's just trying to postpone the inevitable revelation that she's not into me. She seems to treat the cuddling as another obligation. The sex she offers is still very devoid of emotional involvement, and it's definitely driven by her brittle tastes. The "I'll fall asleep" moment on late Thursday night struck me as callous.

My life is too short to live in this limbo.

The Silence of the Naps

Just put the kids down for their afternoon nap.

I'm just past the first 24 of maybe 48 hours of single daddy duty. My wife left town on Friday morning to go visit with a friend who lives in a neighboring state. The last time they saw each other was when the friend got married in late June of 2005. My wife was the matron of honor that day, and as her dutiful husband, I got charged with writing her toast for her the night before.

According to the original plans, the kids were supposed to stay with my dad and stepmom until mid day today, when I was supposed to go pick them up. That plan changed around 10 a.m. on Friday. My wife called the dad's house to see how the girls fared overnight. Stepmom was on verge of tears because she didn't sleep well. Her recently injured shoulder was acting up and keeping her up. I wound up taking off of work before 11 and heading down there to fetch the kids.

I hold my own pretty well watching the kids. I make their meals, keep them entertained, get them dressed, and get them to bed on time. They will even get a bath tonight. The house is currently in a bit of disorder, but I will have the place looking better than what I usually come home to after a day of work. Now, if only I could tie a pony tail worth a darn...

We went bye bye for a while this afternoon, spending about an hour at the playground and then eating lunch at the Chick Fil A. They don't groove much on the chicken nuggets, but do they ever love their fruit cups.

The wife and I have exchanged some phone calls. She gave me a late evening good night call, and I gave her a good morning call around 10:30 a.m.

In moments like this, when the kids are sleeping, and I am alone, I realize just how lonely my existence is. I commute over an hour and a half total each day. Work another eight hours.

When I'm home, I'm in Daddy mode from 6 p.m. until their 9 p.m. bedtime. I really try hard to serve as a buffer for the wife during that time. Then she does her three or so hours of part time work on her laptop as she watches TV. I might work or IM chat during that time. During the weekends, I get up early with the kids so she can sleep in past 10.

I don't have a pool of friends to go out with. Being a telecommuter for five years kept me in a cocoon, and working for a startup consisting of four founders and two developer employees didn't help much, either. Once in a great while, I might meet up with my brother and his friends for a Sunday morning breakfast or an evening meal.

Then once a year, I get to spend pretty much the whole day at the race track with my wife's best friend's husband. Wife was already bemoaning how her best friend would be out of town that day, so she'd have to spend the whole day with the kids by herself. I really don't feel much sympathy for her when she whines like that.

We're down to less than a week on her deadline for a therapy appointment. If it turns out she's been stalling hoping that I would forget, she's sorely mistaken.

Putting an Old Foolish Wish to Rest

I know it's too late now,
but I wish I could go back in time,
and start all over somehow,
and get it right from the start.
-- Jefferson Starship, "Find Your Way Back"

In moments of emotional troughs, I find myself wishing that I had the ability to traverse time, perhaps through a wormhole of some sort.

Given the chance to select a destination date, I would step back to sometime in 1997.

It was a time when my marriage was in a rough spell. My wife was starting to escalate her desire to have children. She wasn't at the "I'm going to leave you if you don't give in" stage yet, but she was on her way.

I would track my former self down, place my hand on his shoulder, and tell him to let her go. There are far worse things than having a failed starter marriage. Better to have her find a man who had the ability to fulfil her wishes in shorter order and with less pain.

Unfortunately, I know of no such wormholes. They probably won't come along in my lifetime. Unlike the lyricist above, I don't have the time to spend yearning for this folly.

From this moment onward, I bury this wish and abandon it to its demise. I must find a way back to her heart through the future.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Food, Fashion, and a Footjob: A Date Night Postmortem

WARNING: Explicit Content Follows

My dad and stepmom left with the kids sometime around 7 p.m., leaving the house to my wife and me. We discussed what we were going to do on our night out. I caved in, agreeing to see The Devil Wears Prada. We decided to see it at the movie theater located in the upscale mall downtown, catching dinner first at a brewpub nearby.

Dinner was nice. There was a special on burgers and pints of beer, so we got burger entrees to save room for their decadent funnel cake desert, which is so large that we had to split an order.

We had about half an hour before the late show started, and as we got ready to leave, I leaned over to kiss my wife a few times, with the third kiss lasting a bit longer. She cut me short, telling me that if we kissed any longer, they'd tell us to go get a room. The dining area was pretty much empty, though.

So, we headed over to the mall and got our tickets. The movie was about what I expected. The fashion biz has always grated on my nerves, because I think it drives visions of beauty that are neither realistic nor beautiful. Consequently, I had a hard time developing any sympathy for the cast of characters. There were some funny moments, arising mainly from the snarky banter among the stressed out magazine employees. My wife was not impressed, either, saying that she could have waited for it to come out on DVD before seeing it.

The parking garage was virtually empty as we made our way back to the minivan. In retrospect, had I not been avoiding the initiation of sex, I would have liked to make a move on her in the garage to see what would happen. I long for a locale outside the bedroom, and it's been since before we married that I think we first had sex in a vehicle.

We got home around 12:30 a.m. After she started undressing, my wife complained about her breasts not being perky enough, which usually comes up when she undresses in my presence. I responded, as I usually do, that my attraction to her is not tied to the perkiness of her breasts.

I gave her a hug and a kiss without expectations of anything steamier. She then says to me, "Did you want to have sex?" I replied, "How about you?" She said, "Maybe."

I set off to finish up the night time chores, like covering the bird's cage, setting out some food for the dog, turning out the lights, and brushing my teeth.

As my wife is going into the bathroom, she complains about the feeling of the skin on her back. Apparently her physical therapist applied something to it, leaving a residue. I ask her if she would like to shower off, and she declines, telling me that I can wash her off if I want.

So I go and prepare a warm, wet washcloth with just a touch of soap on one end. I return to bed, and she's under a blanket, naked. I lift the lower end of the blanket and clean her up gently.

Afterwards, I put the blanket back in its place and I move up next to her so that we can talk. As I've noted in this space earlier, she is not one for foreplay, but I thought that the night out might make her more receptive.

I told her that I had a nice time. I enjoyed being able to get out and do something with her as husband and wife rather than just mommy and daddy. As I'm doing this, I'm lightly running my fingers across her cheek and looking at her.

She says that we've been out recently. I ask her, aside from the three-day vacation we took at the end of May, when was our last time out alone. She said that we went out the night of our anniversary, which was back in April, almost three months to the day. Not something I'd call recent.

Even then, that date night was an intimacy killer because our child care came in the form of her best friend's family (two adults, three kids) who were also staying there for the night. I told her that I thought we needed to do this more often, and that I had not been good about taking initiative about planning such things. I said that I would do better in the future.

I try talking about some other lighter topics, and after a few more minutes, she tells me that if she sits there much longer, she's going to fall asleep. I get the hint; she wants to dispense with the pillow talk. I ask her if she's ready to get down to the main action.

She tells me that I can use the vibrator on her, and then we can use one of the other toys she bought at an in-home party held by her best friend's daughter a few months ago.

So I break out her vibrator and proceed to use it to tease and stimulate. I don't bother to ask her for feeback because I know I will get "I don't know" for an answer. I just watch to see if the pelvis moves, because she's otherwise pretty quiet.

Somewhere between 5 and 10 minutes later, she almost hits a climax, and I pull back on the vibrator because I want to give her a chance to regroup and continue. She surprises me by asking to use the vibrator herself. I agree, and let her have the device.

I ask her if I can watch, and then get off the bed so I can get a better view. I pleasure myself a litte, too, as she goes about her work. I watch to see how she uses the device to stimulate herself, and I make an occastional statement about how she looks very sexy. She tells me that the talk isn't doing it for her, so I stop. After a few minutes, she's given herself a pretty hard climax.

She sees me touching myself as I stand at the end of the bed, and she moves her foot towards my crotch, using her toes to tease me. This makes me more aroused, and she positions her toes on either side of the shaft to apply pressure. I begin to thrust, slowly, finding myself very aroused. I'm enjoying this little excursion. She doesn't seem to be to burdened by it because all she has to do his keep her feet in the same place.

Soon preorgasmic fluid is starting to show, and she tells me that she wants me to do it. However, after a few more minutes, I realize that I'm not getting the stimulation needed to get there, so I tell her that I would like to have intercourse.

I get on the bed and apply some personal lubricant to her nether regions, and I use the position I started off with last time. After a couple of slow thrusts, I pick up the speed. The pace is very quick, and I'm being very forceful. She's starting to moan a little, and I don't last very long, reaching a pretty intense climax. At least I was able to finish before the muscle spasms kicked in. We cleaned up, kissed goodnight, and then went to bed.

The good news is that it's been a while since we had sex twice in one week. The bad news is that it's still very much mechanical -- get her an orgasm and then let me get off through intercourse.

I'm not fussing about it because I'm grateful she's making an effort. I hope that once she starts getting some therapy, she will be more open to foreplay and more emotional connectedness. I think we've got a ways to go before we cross the line from fucking to making love.

One other item on the skin crawl front: I slept in this morning because we had been up so late. I set the alarm for 8:50 a.m. at the request of my wife. I was awake before 8, but I chose not to get out of bed.

Shortly afterwards, my wife stirred and turned to get comfortable. I asked her if she would like me to hold her. She responded abruptly and grumpily, "No" A few awkward seconds pass, and she volunteers a groggy, "but I still love you."

I tried not to read too much into it. She's not a pleasant person when she's groggy, but she and I were going to be apart for a couple of days. Once I left for work, I wouldn't see her again until then. It would have been nice to have a quiet moment of closeness.

She apologized to me as I left for work, but I still felt like underneath it all, she doesn't long to be close to me. It was a lonely commute this morning.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Going out Tonight

I'm waiting for the wife to get back from the kids' dance class. At about the same time, my dad and stepmom will come to pick up the kids for a two-day getaway.

This will be the first time in over a year that we will see a movie in the theater together. Usually she goes out with one of her friends, and I stay home with the kids.

We haven't decided on a movie. I suggested The Lake House since it is still playing in our area. Tonight, she said her shortlist consists of that, The Devil Wears Prada, and The Break-up.

I loathe the fashion publication biz, so Prada would be my least favorite. Breakup didn't get that great reviews, but it might be good for post film discussion, given the state of our marriage. Lake House appeals to my sentimental side, but its premise is probably too dark for my wife's tastes.

I'm hoping this time alone will give me a better read on where she wants to go with this. The signs from yesterday weren't too encouraging.

I tried to start things off well tonight by helping her finish straightening and cleaning after she left for her physical therapy.

Sometimes I get discouraged, feeling like I'm forcing myself to "act as if", but I believe that my life would be much more satisfying to reclaim her love rather than throw it all away.

No Cuddling Last Night

I tried to cuddle with my wife last night before bedtime. She had turned on the TV in the bedroom to finish watching her soap opera and had pulled out her Sudoku puzzle book.

I asked if she would like me to hold her without any other ulterior motives, and she said that I could lay near her, which wasn't very close because there was a body pillow between us.

I started to doze off and stirred again when she got up to turn off the light. She climbed back into bed and I started to rub her back. She used to love when I'd do that years ago. After a few seconds of this, she said, "I thought you were asleep." I told her that I hadn't fully fallen asleep.

She said that I didn't have to rub her. I asked her if there was anything else she might like, and she answered that I could give her a kiss. So we had a short smooch. I rolled over more toward my side of the bed and went to sleep.

I don't know how to read that exchange. Was she telegraphing the "skin crawl" signals, or maybe a cuddle wasn't really what she needed. To be safe, I will cut back on the cuddling, perhaps limiting it to every other night.

I wonder if her distance has something to do with worrying. She had a stress item come up during the day, and she mentioned it at dinner time. She has a tendency to be grumpy rather than reach out for comfort in times of stress.

She said that she wasn't sure how much longer she would have the 15-hour/week part time job that she does while she watches TV at night. Apparently the employer is having trouble finding projects for her to work on.

A couple months ago, I brought up the idea of us reevaluating our expenses, cutting back, and having her quit that job. She said she doesn't think that we could make it without it. I'm skeptical, but I've taken her word for it. I think that over the weekend, while she's gone, I'll take a hard look at what our financial obligations are and then look at where the money does go.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Not tonight...

Last Friday, Dateline NBC aired an episode on sexless marriages. I DVRed the program and watched it later that night. Since my wife was out of town at the time, she was not aware of the program or that I had recorded it.

Tonight, I summoned up the nerve to ask her to watch the program with me and talk about it. She had just completed watching one of her favorite shows and was just starting to watch some celebrity reality show. She declined, saying that she preferred to watch the reality show because she was trying to do her work at the same time.

She said that she would watch it on Sunday, after she got back from her weekend trip out of town. I took the raincheck gracefully and said there was no hurry.

A few seconds afterward, it was a major moment of irony. She started complaining of a headache.

Sex Happens

WARNING: Explicit Content Follows

In my prior post, I mentioned that my wife and I did not cuddle. The reason was that we had sex instead.

It was shortly before midnight. I had been on the computer doing a mixture of work and IM traffic. She came in to talk to me, so I got up from the computer so that I could give her full attention. I can't remember what we talked about, it was something day-to-dayish.

After several minutes of conversation, I reached out and took her left hand, just to be affectionate. She surpised me by asking, "Do you wanna have sex?" That question was now more complicated on a couple of levels.

Earlier that evening, she had been watching a rerun of Everybody Loves Raymond, and it was the "Power of No" episode. We were in the same room at the time that was happening, but I chose not to make any remarks because I figured it was just too sensitive to discuss. She loves that episode, ironically enough.

Another complication was that I had told her the night before that I would not initiate sex with her during her counseling.

I wasn't sure if the conflict on the sitcom had stirred up some interest in sex, either out of desire or a need to feel attractive. I also wondered if she interpreted my reaching out as some sort of sexual advance, and she was calling me on whether I was going to keep that promise.

I turned the question back on her, to remove the ambiguity. I asked her, "Do you want to have sex?" When she said she did, I took her at face value. I helped get things close down for the evening and returned to her in the bedroom.

I decided I wasn't going to fuss about foreplay. Whatever she wanted, she would get. She asked for the vibrator, so I used it on her, playfully, for about 10 minutes. I Aside from an occasional caress of the thigh, I didn't do anything else. When she neared her climax, I planted light, wet kisses on her lower belly. She came pretty hard. Her face was flushed, and she sat upright and writhed.

I moved myself above her and placed some kisses on her. She moved her leg across my crotch area, so I took that as a signal that she was ready for intercourse. I had her lie on her back with thighs rasied, legs parallel to the bed. I kneeled and entered her that way with my hands on her legs. I've tried this position a couple times before because I can get better penetration.

I started slowly until I got to full hardness. Then I decided to try something different. I thrust at a much higher rate than I normally do. Almost the rate you might see in an adult video. She seemed to respond to that well, and I almost got myself to climax that way before I started feeling muscle spams in my left thigh and leg.

I tried resuming, this time with her at the edge of the bed and me standing, but we couldn't get the elevation right. I was losing hardness, and my wife got worried that I would get all flustered. She offered to lay next to me while I finished off manually. I told her that I wanted to make love to her, and I knew I could do it. I said that I wanted to be her man. She said that I was already her man in other ways. I responded that this, too, was part of being her man.

I got myself back to full hardness, and we resumed in a missionary position. I asked her to tell me that she wanted to be with me, that she loved me, and that she wanted to make love. She said those things once. It would have been nice if she would have repeated them or improvised. Eventually she said, "Do it." I focused on the words making love, finding the momentum I needed to get there, and it was wonderful.

Afterwards, she started reading a novel. I lay next to her put my arm around her waist. I asked her jokingly whether she had sex with me just to get out of cuddling, and she laughed saying that she had thought my attempts to cuddle in the past few days did have ulterior motives, but she was realizing that I was serious about them being nonsexual. I reiterated that I would not initiate sex so that she would not feel pressure.

This morning, as I was getting ready to leave for work, I planted a kiss on her cheek and whispered, "Thanks for last night. I enjoyed it very much. I love you."

Work in Progress

This week, I have worked on honoring my commitment to reconnect with my wife.

Since she returned from her scrapbook party trip, I have made an effort to go to bed at the same time she does. With the exception of Tuesday night (more on that in the next post), we have cuddled before going to sleep. I've made efforts to express gentle, spontaneous affection during the day. When she asks me to do favors for her, I've responded with more ethusiasm. I've complimented her the things she does.

Not surprisingly, the bedtime cuddling has taken some effort for her to get used to. Although I explicitly stated that I had no ulterior motives with cuddling on Friday afternoon, I made no such disclaimers on subesquent evenings. During that time we talk, but I also touch her in affectionate ways, rubbing the back, holding her hand, maybe caressing her face. Because of the issue with breath, I have brushed my teeth and mouthwashed thorougly before coming to bed.

I think she started to develop some suspicion toward the gestures. On Sunday night, I asked her if she liked the touching, and she said she found it relaxing. Her physical cues suggested to me that she didn't find the touch welcome, and she admitted that she felt like if she didn't lie in my arms until I said I was done, that I would feel rejected. That was discouraging because I felt like not only was she doing obigatory sex, she was now doing obligatory cuddling.

I've asked her whether she's had any more ideas about us, and she says she doesn't. She said she felt like she was on trial when I wanted to talk about heavy stuff. That makes me think that she's got a hunch about what is bothering her, but she's not ready to talk about it.

I've learned that she doesn't feel comfortable talking about relationship stuff right at the beginning. We have to ease into it, usually just talking about mundane things like what the kids may have done or what's going on with the preschool.

I've found that I enjoy the closeness of cuddling, and I think I have started to condition myself so that I can do it without me wanting something sexual. This is important, I think, because she admitted on Monday that she reads the touching as an expectation of something more.

On Monday, I told her that my offers to cuddle were not with the expectation of sex. I was trying to connect with her on a loving, but non-sexual, level. I told her that if there was a better means to reach her, I was open to exploring that.

She told me that she would rather have me just ask for sex up front rather than trying to use touching and kissing. She also said that she didn't want to me to pout afterwards if she said, "no." I haven't done that for a long time because I have seldom attempted to initiate sex in the past five years, but she still sees it as a sore spot. If I do get miffed with her, it is usually during the act, like when she resists foreplay.

I've told her that I am grateful that she's seeking help, and even if it does reveal something deeply negative in our relationship, it will help clear the air between us. I also told her that I would not attempt to initiate sex during the time she was working on counseling so that she didn't feel any pressure.

I've also made some positive steps toward spending time with her.

On Monday night, I got her to take a walk with me around the neighborhood. I pulled the kids in in a wagon. It was close to sunset, so the temperature was tolerable. The distance of the walk was just shy of a half mile.

While I enjoyed the walk, it helped me realize just how out of shape she is. She was winded by the time we reached the end. I brought up her exhaustion later that evening during the cuddle and suggested that we make the walks a habit. In the back of my mind, I wondered sex was so undesirable to her partly because she didn't have the endurance for it.

She's going out of town on Friday to visit an old friend of hers, and she will be there for two days. So that I wouldn't have to take time off for the kids, she asked my dad and stepmom whether they could take the kids for a couple of nights. They enthusiastically agreed, saying that they would pick them up after the kids' dance class on Thursday evening.

Since that left my wife and me alone for the evening, I suggested that we go out. So we are planning on seeing a late movie on Thursday. It will be the first time in over a year that we've gone to a cinema together, I think.

Still no word from the counseling service on an appointment, according to my wife. I thought it was strange that they would make her wait several days before scheduling an appointment, but I'm going to take her word on it for now.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Asylum for a Self-Imposed Exile

To those who have reached this weblog, I offer my sincerest and warmest greetings!

I am in a marriage that has been on a long steady decline toward frigidity, perhaps even collapse. I won't delve into the details here. It suffices to say that the level of alienation I have felt towards my wife was has been severe. Not only did I contemplate crossing the line of fidelity, I made some minor emotional and physical incursions into the forbidden zone.

This weblog is a continuing chronicle of my efforts to give that marriage one last try.

To get answers to questions on the subject of extramarital relationships, I sought the counsel of a bulletin board devoted to this topic about a month ago. It's largely an inclusive group of warm, nonjudgmental souls.

Some of them are having EMRs. Some are curious about starting EMRs of their own. Others had EMRs at one time and linger for the company, long after the fling has ended. There is at least one person who has both been involved in EMRs and has been married to a spouse who had EMRs.

Whatever you think you know about people who seek intimate relationshlps outside their marriage, just toss it aside because the media stereotypes are horrid caricatures.

The board has a lot of threads devoted to issues with spouses. Eventually I felt motivated enough to vent about the state of my marriage to give others some perspective on why I had come there. That led to an extensive background posting.

Several days later, I posted an anecdote that illustrated the dynamics of the sexual relationship between my wife and me. A couple days later, I had a followup. I started to get lots of comments. I acted on some of those comments and posted what happened as a result. This bred more comments. The full series of posts and followups may be found at the following locations:

The tone of the discussion shifted from my anger towards my wife to possible ways to repair the relationship, which is clearly the antithesis of having an EMR. Several board members offered their comments in support.

This did not go unnoticed by some board purists, and after Part 5 was posted, they started to make their voices heard. One argued that the topic really didn't belong in that forum any more because it was about reparing a marriage. Some doubted my sincerity, saying I was putting too much energy into the posts. They thought I was just seeking female attention. One railed at me for publicly acknowledging the advice of an aversary while ignoring hers. Flame wars ensued. The moderator offered her support for my posts. After the dust had settled, a non-trivial number of comments had been removed by the moderator.

I have an instinctive aversion to exclusive cliques. It goes back to early grade school years. I was taunted and excluded for being an advanced, yet socially awkward , student and for being overweight. I simply won't put up with it. I lashed out and told them I was leaving the board, returning only if I were to have questions on the topic of EMRs. Because that posting was part of a flame thread, it, too, was moderated into oblivion.

Severeal posts expressed disappointment that I was leaving, and I have received several private e-mails encouraging me to return. I might at a later date, but I think for the health of the board, it is best that I continue this saga in a separate space. A blog seemed like the appropriate medium, so this space will be the new home for my story.

In addition for serving as a place for me to crunch on ideas, I hope that this weblog will provide some insights for others who may be struggling with marriages of their own. As they often say in 12-step fellowships, take what you want, and leave the rest.