Friday, December 15, 2006

How Do You Detect "Mercy"?

John raises a good question in the comments:
"I just wanted to be with you, and you didn't seem to be initiating sex lately."

OK, I give kudos for the ability to have what, from this entry, sounds like a productive and difficult conversation. But the above quote just doesn't strike me as the language of someone initiating a mercy fuck. Particularly because she saids she wanted to be with you. She didn't say "You must be horny" or "I know you want it" or something more along those lines. I'm curious if there was something else that clued you into feeling it was a mercy fuck.

It was a mixture of factors.

Words and Actions Did Not Agree: After my wife got home from dance class with the kids on Tuesday night, she told me about a conversation she had with some other dance class moms regarding how much their husbands do for them in terms of taking care of the kids, cooking, cleaning, and such. She said that all the moms were "wanting me" because I did a lot more than their husbands did. She then said she wanted to "spend some time alone" with me that night. After I put the kids to bed at 9 p.m., she vegged in front of the TV with her laptop for another two and a half hours. She didn't express a desire to interact with me until right before bedtime. During this time, I was doing nothing other than reading a book. I was in the same room as her, and I made sure that I was nowhere near a computer. I was making myself readily available to her without moping around like I wanted her to have sex with me.

Now compare that behavior with past history. When we were discussing sex this summer, she said that she would be more receptive to sex if it took place when she was less worn out. That is, sometime after the kids were put to bed at 9 p.m. rather than just before she went to bed, which was usually sometime between 11 p.m. and midnight. It has also been past experience where she will talk about having sex later on and then decide at bedtime that she's too tired or has lost the mood, so I was prepared for that to happen again. I thought it would stand to reason that if she was serious about what she was saying, she would have made her move earlier rather than later.

She Exhibited Avoidance When I Asked to be Pleasured
: Assertiveness has been a problem for me in the bedroom. I've always been generous about pleasuring but uncomfortable about asking to be pleasured. During the last few encounters, I have been trying to take a more active role in asking for it, starting with something that isn't too difficult. If I'm not at full erection during foreplay, I ask her to pleasure me with her hands.

I've tried this with three different approaches: a polite request, assertive role play, and an a direct expression of desire. Her response one time was that she wasn't sure how much longer her mood would last, so she just wanted to get on with the intercourse. The second time, she said she was losing the mood, sounding as if she was getting bored. The third time, she just caressed my thighs, coming nowhere near the groin.

I could understand why she might have issues with oral sex, but stimulation by the hands seems like something pretty down to earth. If she can't get past that threshold, then there isn't much that she can do in terms of direct pleasuring. Because at one time earlier in our relationship she had been able to do this, I interpret this as a form of withholding.

Her Defensive Reaction Seemed to be Out Of Proportion: When I realized that she was avoiding my request to be pleasured, I asked her in a calm, measured, and concerned tone whether the request was causing anxiety in her. She immediately broadened the scope of the query to all instances, and answered, "sometimes it does." Then rather than risk vulnerability in discussing her anxiety with me openly, she changed the subject with a guilt inducing tone:
I just wanted to be with you, and you didn't seem to be initiating sex lately.

Translation: "I'm doing you a favor, so you should be grateful."

In Schnarch's view, mercy fucking has two aspects: withholding and anxiety redirection. In a fused relationship, the mercy fucker can toy with the partner's reflected sense of self and make that person settle for half-hearted sex. It is an act of differentiation to decline a mercy fuck because it shows that you won't tolerate sexual slacking.

Chapter 11 of Passionate Marriage contains a story about a couple (Peter and Audrey) where the wife acts out the same kind of anxiety redirecting tactics on her passive husband. It allowed her to avoid admitting that the real reason she didn't want to have sex with her husband: she didn't respect him because he was so passive. Audrey developed this kind of dysfunction as a child, dealing with a mother who refused to be confronted with her undependability. I believe my wife developed similar skills in dealing with her father, who refused to be confronted for his dishonest treatment of family members. The pattern is to change the subject and then put the other side on the defensive.
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