Friday, April 06, 2007

Sex Declined, Anger Ensues, Counseling Follows

In this evening's post, I'll try to recap some of the events from last weekend, which proved to be pretty significant.

We'll rewind back to the late evening of March 29. Shortly before midnight, my wife approached me while I was working on the computer. Standing about seven feet away, she asked in a fairly deadpan tone, "You wanna have sex?"

I paused for a moment to gather my thoughts, then took a breath, and even then I was still awkward in what I was about to say.

I started by saying that I had been doing some thinking since the "It's easier if I caress you with your clothes on" conversation, and in combining that with the longer term trend of her placing more restrictions on what she will do in bed, I had come to believe that she was dealing with something bigger than just a low sex drive.

Her increased anxiety or hostility suggested to me that deep down she viewed sex with me as violation of a core boundary within herself. I said that if this was the case, I didn't think it was in our best interest to engage in sex.

She became very angry with me, questioning the timing of my disclosure, asking me why I had waited until just then to let her know this. I told her that these were things that I had been thinking about but had not yet been ready to tell her, but I had enough of a grasp on them to know that I didn't want to have sex on those terms.

I said that I realized from my therapy that I could not force her to have feelings that weren't really there. I needed to deal with reality, and I needed to accept that sex seemed to cause a great deal of emotional discomfort and that she probably wasn't interested in taking a look at why that was so.

To support that impression, I noted that she had stopped reading The Sex Starved Marriage a few pages short of the chapter that deals with making changes and finding solutions. She had not taken me up on my invitation to read the excerpts from Passionate Marriage that I thought might give her some insight into my own therapy. Finally, she had chosen to stop going to therapy quietly sometime in the late fall, only telling me that she had done so after I asked about it sometime in late December.

She continued on the offensive, as if I had suggested that she was wrong not to want to do those things. She said that she didn't like the feeling of touching my genitals, saying that it was too hairy down there. Then she threw in the non sequitur that she didn't like touching the scars on my chest that I had developed when I had a case of chicken pox in my teens. I realized that she was drawing the parallel to attack my reflected sense of self. She drew a parallel between my intimate regions and scars to make me feel repulsive.

I asked her how long she had felt this way about touching me, she replied, "I don't know, maybe three or four years." The tone of her voice made it sound like I was out of line for asking this. I asked if there was some event that might have triggered this, and she said she didn't remember.

She says she recalled that we had been fighting over whether to have children or something like that. The struggle over whether to have kids actually took place in the late 90s and had been resolved by early 2000, but I didn't bring that up. I could tell that she was trying to quash opposition.

She then said that she saw it as just a natural process, that she had changed over time. And then she added that it was a change that I underwent from reluctant husband to willing parent. I said that was something different because that change was brought about by self confrontation and involved an expansion of my comfort zone. Her change was a shrinkage of her comfort zone.

She said that I should have known that she probably wouldn't have read the books because she didn't do well with self-help books. She probably wouldn't have retained the information in them, and then if she did finish them, I would be bombarding her with questions about what she thought of them.

Regarding the cessation of therapy, she said that she had gotten busy toward the end of the year and just decided that she had too much to do. She then said that it wasn't fair for her because I got to go to see my therapist on my lunch break and she had to take time out of her day to drop the kids off at a sitter and then drive to the therapist's office.

She then accused me of having checked out of the sexual side of the relationship because I had not initiated sex. Back in the late summer, she said that I needed to start initiating sex more often if I wanted it. She said she'd try to be more accomodating, but that I would need to be able to handle her rejections without getting all pouty.

In retrospect, it was Schnarch's writings that kept me from operating purely on her terms. A passage on pp. 143 and 144 of Passionate Marriage makes clear that having the high desire partner take on role of initiator works to kill desire. The low desire partner gets his or her desire to be wanted without having to risk wanting in return. Quoting further on down:
The politics of wanting are truly powerful -- and volatile. Low differentiation requires a rather tricky balance: it's only safe to want your partner as much as your partner wants you. On the other hand, it's only safe to not want your partner when your partner wants you. If your partner stops wanting you while you don't want him or her, you might end up divorced. (Schnarch, Passionate Marriage, p. 150)

She then said it sounded like we couldn't have a meaningful conversation without a therapist present, so she wanted to go with me to my next counseling session, which was to be on Tuesday. I agreed and called my therapist to let her know that my wife would be coming.

She then went to bed, offer of sex withdrawn. I didn't feel like I had been deprived of much of anything.

We managed to function okay for the kids' preschool breakfast and Easter egg hunt. I had taken the first half of the day off from work to attend. My wife was busy with preparation work, so we didn't have much interaction anyway. Then she and the kids took off in the afternoon to take a trip to visit an old friend of hers a couple hours away. She had scheduled the trip because I would be gone for three days on my trip to the Pacific Northwest.

On Tuesday, my wife met me at the counselor's office. This was the first time she had met my therapist, so several minutes were spent on get-to-know-you-better stuff.

Then we discussed the events of the prior Thursday evening. My therapist was immediately latched onto my choice of the word "offered" in describing how my wife tried to initiate sex. I then described the situation in greater detail, and the therapist said she could see way I chose that wording.

I then tried to do a better job of explaining why I turned down the sex. I told my wife that my therapy had made me realize that there was nothing I could do to bring about change in her, and it was wrong for me to have badgered her into seeing a therapist last summer. I needed to see things as they were and then ask myself a really tough question, "What was I going to do with my life?"

I recalled reading in The Sex Starved Marriage, in the section that is addressed to the higher desire spouse, that there might be a possibility that the lower desire spouse wouldn't make any efforts on his or her end. If that was the case, maybe it was time just to give up on sex and try to concentrate on other areas of the marriage that worked.

In working through Schnarch's readings, I knew I had to self confront and look at myself really hard, asking whether I had the capacity to accept the possibility that my wife was really disturbed by the idea of having sex with me and didn't want to do anything to deal with the situation. The set of things my wife was willing to do in bed was growing ever smaller, and it didn't look like it would ever enlarge again.

I summarized some of the ideas in a prior posting to this blog, especially how I felt like I was reliving the pattern of relying on an undependable person.

I then disclosed to her that I had decided that I could not give up my sexuality and just go on with the marriage. To do otherwise would just be engaging in self deception and the possibility of an affair later on. I was approaching a point where I needed to make a definitive decision, and that might involve leaving the marriage.

My therapist noted that it sounded like there were some abandonment issues at work. That might well be, but I think it has more to do with the anger of realizing that I am sustaining a cycle that should have never been perpetuated in marriage. I also felt angry because I felt like I had wasted so many years of my life hoping for something that just wasn't going to happen.

One really big admission from the session: my wife said that most of the times she initiated sex were mercy fucks.

We moved on to the question of genital touching. My wife said that it wasn't just directed at me; she said she hated touching her own genitals. That led the conversation into touching in general. My wife said that she couldn't stand long term skin-to-skin contact, not just from me but also from anyone, including the kids.

My therapist asked how my wife felt when the skin contact got outside the zone of comfort. My wife described it as spiders crawling over her body. This disclosure went a little more in depth than the discussion in our fourth marriage counseling session in August.

The therapist asked my wife how long she had this aversion, and my wife couldn't pinpoint a starting point. She did note that some forms of skin contact do not bother her, such as receiving a massage. She speculated that was because motion was involved. That didn't jibe with her claims of genital touching, since a handjob involves motion, but I kept my mouth shut tightly.

My wife defended her decision to stop seeing the therapist. She said that she wasn't getting that much out of the therapy. To her the counselor was more like an empathetic girlfriend listening to her complain rather than someone in search of solutions. She also said that her schedule was too filled up with family activities for her to add the effort of seeing another therapist.

It was at this point that my therapist put a big question to my wife, "Do you believe that your marriage is worth the effort? The marriage is the foundation from which the family is built, and without that marriage, your family won't have something solid upon which to grow."

My wife didn't address that directly, but she then offered to see another therapist. My therapist said that one of the other counselors at the practice has an office on our side of town and offered to make a referral. Sure enough, the office is only a few minutes away from my wife's best friend's house, so she can't complain about having to drive a half hour on top of getting child care for the kids.

The plan right now is to have her start seeing this therapist and then maybe have a joint session with both therapists present. Like my own therapist, this other therapist is trained in Bowenian family systems therapy, so we'll all be speaking the same language in the joint sessions.
blog comments powered by Disqus