Monday, July 23, 2007

A Harrowing Week It Has Been

This is a very long post. Bear with me.

At the July 9 joint counseling session, we had agreed to start having regularly scheduled dialogs instead of waiting for one another to start talking. We had discussions on Wednesday (7/11), Saturday (7/14), and Tuesday (7/17).

July 11 Discussion

She said she had talked to her therapist about her problems with talking about sex both in the bedroom and out. This came up because in a joint session, my wife said that by "whore in bed" she meant someone who talked during sex.

She said she didn't know how to express what she wanted, and it made her uncomfortable. She said she had trouble even talking about it with her friends. She could tell them whether or not she had sex and whether it was good or not, but no details on the explicit stuff.

She admitted that she wished I was able to just read her mind and do what she wanted (note: she has set herself up for many a nonsexual disappointment because she expected me to read her mind in those instances, too). Her therapist told her that was unrealistic.

The therapist also recommended that we spend some time trying to develop a common sexual vocabulary. Neither of us really understood what that meant.

She said she had spent time talking with her therapist about her parents, including the speculation that her dad might have been in the closet. She repeated some things that came up in marriage counseling last summer about her dad, and how she felt unloved by him. She told her therapist that her therapist whom she saw in the late 90s tried EMDR with her to help work past the anger at her parents. I knew she had done the EMDR, but she never had explained why.

I brought up the counterargument (scroll to the paragraph that begins "If the consumption of media...") to the "porn warped my expectations of sex" theory that her therapist had advanced.

On the first point, which involved her exposure to unrealistic images of women and sexuality, she conceded that watching such programs may have influenced her, but she wasn't willing to buy the theory completely.

In response to the second point of my counterargument her friend's contempt for sex, she said that there were a lot of conversations that I never heard. Things like when her best friend really enjoyed sex with her husband when he took some erectile dysfunction drugs, or when her preschool mom friend initiated sex with her husband because he "looked sexy in his suit".

I said that if we were to subtract all the other things about me that she says are aggravating to her (e.g. not always readily responsive toward her and the kids, not taking the initiative in planning social activities, too opinionated, perpetually unhappy) and her baseline desire for sex was still low, then perhaps the notion of sexual activity itself is a violation of her integrity.

If that was the case, then I believed that we had a terminal situation. I couldn't say that I would remain happy or faithful in that kind of relationship. If tried to say otherwise, I would be lying to myself. She wasn't pleased to hear that, but she didn't fall apart, either.

She said if we did go our separate ways, she wanted me to stand up to my mother if my mother badmouthed her in front of the kids. Given my mothers conduct after her own divorce, I knew my wife had reason to be concerned. I said that I would do that. I didn't want anyone try to turn the kids against her.

She said it was hard for her to think about divorce when she thinks of the kids. She then lost composure and started crying. To buffer the guilt, I said that as the kids got older, they would pick up on the distance between us, and that would have negative side effects as well.

She said that it helped her some to finally admit that she was so angry at me about not being sensitive enough when her brother passed away. She had first brought this up during the fourth marriage counseling session last August. I asked her why she had refused to communicate this with me soon after it happened, rather than holding onto it for close to three years. Her response was that she thought that didn't care enough and would have disregarded what she said.

She said that the attempts to get pregnant really took a toll on her during 2001. Having sex several days in a row when the fertility meter said made sex a chore. She was then offering me sex every so often just so I wouldn't be in a bad mood.

Taking a cue from my therapist, I said that her actions seemed as if she wished I was a nonsexual being. I asked her a question that she had dodged in the past, namely if she was given the choice between killing off my sexual desire or seeking a way to increase hers, which would she take? She said if there existed a pill that would boost her sexual desire, she would gladly take it.

I said it was hard for us to find common ground because it seems like we view sex as two completely different things. I see a playground, and she sees a haunted house. She said she didn't understand the analogy. I said that I looked upon sex as something that could be enjoyed, and she seemed to approach it as a source of anxiety.

July 14 Discussion

We started off the discussion by me recapping and clarifying the points she had made during our last discussion.

Then we talked about an encounter we had the night before. I've put the story in a blockquote so that you can tell when the Saturday conversation resumes.

It was Friday night, and my wife had decided to extend the garage sale by an extra day. She wanted to update the ad on the website. I suggested that she take down the ad and put up a new one so it would be closer to the top. She acted as if that was a big hassle but proceeded to do it anyway. She ran into a snag while posting the new ad. The spam protection mechanisms on noticed that the wording was similar to the ad we just took down, and it was blocking us from putting the new ad up. She got cranky, and I worked around the problem by changing the wording and posting from a different e-mail address. The whole exchange left us both on edge.

When she came to bed, I told her that I was dealing with some uncomfortable feelings. On one hand, I was feeling a lot of anger toward her regarding our dispute. On the other hand, I was feeling a strong desire to be sexual with her. She admitted that she, too, was feeling sexual and had thought about asking for the vibrator. She had decided against it because she said she didn't want to "send mixed signals." The conversation wavered back and forth.

Eventually, I wound up shutting the door to the room and aggressively removing her pajamas. She was responding with signs of arousal, so I progressed to pleasuring her with my hand. But after a while, she lost steam. She said she was sorry, but the desire just disappeared. I stopped. Soothed myself, and then said that I was going into the other room to take care of myself (in light of her expressed anxiety toward me masturbating in her presence).

I asked her to clarify what she had meant about sending mixed signals the night before. she said that normally she wouldn't have tried being sexual with me in that frame of mind. She would have needed to feel closer to me to want sex. She said that she was concerned that us having sex would have led me to believe that everything was better between us. I said that I didn't have any illusions that this was going to make everything better.

I then asked her to describe for me what she thought "better" looked like. This was her list:

  • I was smiling and laughing more often. I had a greater level of happiness.

  • We were doing more things together as a couple and as a family.

  • We were having sex more frequently

I asked her whether she had any insights on why she lost steam. She said that it was taking a while for her to reach climax, and she was getting frustrated and impatient.

I asked her what she and her therapist had been doing in their private sessions with regards to sex. I knew that she had talked with her about the influence of porn on me, and I knew about the therapist's desire for us to learn how to talk about sex with one another. She said that there wasn't much else. I wondered if she had given her some things to work on with regards to her anxiety in the bedroom.

I expressed surprised that after seven or so sessions with her therapist, that was all they had talked about with regards to sex. I said that I didn't have much optimism because she had already expressed issues with the touch, smell, and taste experiences of sex. I didn't see how things could improve until she made efforts to address those things.

She then said there were things that probably never would change. She said that it probably would never be as many times as I wanted (she harps on the frequency a lot when she is defending herself.), and that things that she could do to pleasure me probably wouldn't change. She singled out oral sex and said that she'd never get used to doing it and it probably wouldn't happen more than once or twice a year (it happens less than once a year now).

I asked her whether she thought that other men would be happy with the level of sexual engagement that exists between us. She said that she couldn't be certain, but she knew that with her best friend, she refused to have sex in the nude, and many times she needed to read books of women's sexual fantasies during the act to keep involved.

That left me with a really bad impression. Her statements were drawing lines that said, "don't expect me to work too hard on this." I decided to hold off an think about this some more.

July 17 Discussion
Facing any two-choice dilemma is so wounding to some people's narcissism that they just shut down -- or won't shut up. They regress and the reptilian part of their brain takes over. Some hold siege until their partner capitulates. Others verbally (or physically) bludgeon their spouse int surrendering all priorities so that their two-choice dilemma doesn't surface. Both types overlook the internal dilemma that their behavior creates: demanding that they be "loved" by their partner, but acting in ways that are neither loving nor lovable.

-- David Schnarch, Passionate Marriage, p. 299

As I hinted at in a prior posting, things started to fall apart after this discussion.

I let my wife take the lead to let her say what was on her mind. She said she didn't have anything to say.

I talked about the job search, which I had renewed a few days earlier with a refresh of my resumes on the big four job boards. I said that the resumes were generating responses, a mixture of local and nonlocal leads.

I ad libbed my way through the points of my critical mass statement.

I said that it sounded as if she was wanting from me:

  • An improvement in demeanor. Be more pleasant. Smile.

  • Be more present in the moment. Pay attention and spend time with her and the kids.

I added that it sounded like she envisioned that sex would happen more frequently, but not as much as she thought I would want. There were no signs that she was willing to confront her anxieties in the bedroom.

I said I felt like she was selfish in bed. I cited our sexual encounter on Friday night, saying that she is open to being pleasured to certain degrees, but after she lost her momentum, it would have been unheard of for her to then turn and offer to pleasure me in some way.

I said that she said she had so many issues... touch, smell, taste, fluids... about the only thing she was willing to do was be on the receiving end of sexual intercourse.

I said that I believed that her characterizations of being absent in the relationship weren't fair. Although there were times that I wasn't immediately responsive to her and the kids' requests for attention, I did spend time with her and the kids.

I was there for the kids in truly meaningful ways, in addition to chores like feeding, bathing, and diaper changing. Usually I was the one who got up with them in the middle of the night. I had worked with both kids to help learn to calm themselves down. I helped them fix their toys and such when they weren't working.

I recalled how she said she really lost interest in sex after I wasn't empathetic enough about her brother's death in 2003. She didn't admit to the anger until our marriage counseling almost a year ago, and she really didn't fess up to the depth of the anger until the last month or so.

And because she assumed that I didn't care, she chose not to communicate her feelings toward me. That happened to coincide with the 18 month drought where she was offering quickie mercy fucks on a quarterly basis. And even in the fall of 2005 and the summer of 2006, when I was asking her why she wasn't paying more attention to our sex life, she held onto the "I don't know" excuse.

I said that her refusal to communicate and then withhold sex seemed like she was punishing me. I said that I didn't believe it was right for her to do that. I didn't deserve to be treated that way.

I then referred to an incident that had happened two weeks before. I was sleeping in bed, and she got into bed after turning out the light. I started stirring, thinking about making a sexual advance. A few minutes later, she asked me if I was masturbating. I said that I wasn't. Indeed my hands were nowhere near my genitals. She said she needed to know because she was feeling anxiety. I asked her if she was interested in making love. She turned me down, saying that she didn't want to do anything before her next therapy session.

I said that the fact she experiences anxiety at the slightest suspicion of me pleasuring myself in her proximity without her consent is a sign that she still has deep codependency issues. It had been a decade since my last "addictive slip."

I then said that my problems with the "addiction" weren't her problems, anyway. She had her own issues of recovery, and as far as I could tell, she hadn't worked on that much over the years.

  • After she found out about the phone sex bills in 1994, she saw a counselor a few times through her workplace EAP.

  • She went to one CODA meeting about that time.

  • A couple years later, when we moved, she went to an S-Anon meeting for about a year, and then stopped going when she started palling around with one of the women who was attending the meetings.

I said her trouble with my sexual behavior had more to do with the fact that she hadn't done anything to deal with the codependency issues than any lurking addiction that I might have been harboring.

I said that intense anxiety is something that should be triggered in situation where life and death is key. Observing a husband sexually pleasuring himself, especially when you refuse to be available sexually, should not provoke that kind of response.

I said that I didn't have a lot of reasons to believe that she was intent on dealing with her sexual issues. The only thing about sex that they had talked about, to the best of my knowledge, was that:

  • Her lack of sexual curiosity and experimentation in her late teens and early 20s wasn't odd.

  • Porn may have warped my expectations of sex.

  • We needed to develop a better agreement on vocabulary on sex.

  • She needed to stop expecting me to read her mind about what she wanted in bed.

I said that there didn't seem to be any effort on her part to deal with the desire level or the anxiety. I felt like I was lying to myself by trying to believe that she was going to make a real effort on this. I couldn't be sure, given what I knew. I would need to make a leap of faith.

I said that I was lovable and didn't deserve to be treated this way, with affection being withheld for varying grievances.

I then I said that I would rather be alone that stay in a relationship that violated my integrity by lying to myself.

She fumed.

She said she found it hypocritical that I would be so impatient with her when she had "stood by me, forgave me, and tried to understand" all those years with my addiction. She said it was unreasonable for me to expect her to change within a matter of a few months.

I said that I had been patient for a very long time, going back as far as early 2002, when I agreed not to initiate sex because she was feeling pressured. I had waited silently for over three years, only then starting to push for more involvement when the drought had lasted over a year. Through several months of dance lessons, I had tried to reconnect with her with very little change. And then a year ago, I started to assert myself more.

Since then she had gone to one therapist for a short time, at first begrudgingly, then ceasing quietly. She had only started going to her current therapist when she got angry at me for turning down a mercy fuck. Even with this current round of therapies, she seemed to be revisiting old issues and keeping the focus on my inadequacies.

She sat there for a few minutes, and then said she would try to think of an analogy to make things clearer since I used them all the time. She then said she couldn't think of anything. She then said that because she couldn't think of anything nice to say to me, she would prefer to end the conversation.

July 18 Joint Session
Crucibles are always interlocking. When one partner goes into his crucible, the other partner goes into hers -- or gets out of the marriage.

-- David Schnarch, Passionate Marriage, p. 316

My wife and I did not speak further until our joint counseling session.

The therapists started things off by asking how things had been going. A rare consensus between my wife and me indicated that things were not good.

My wife said that she wanted to separate.

She then said she was angry from the previous night's dialogue, and said she felt like I had been saying everything is her fault. She said she felt on the defensive and didn't deal with it well. She said that I thought sex was the only issue, and that actually there were several issues that had been there for a while.

She said she had been selfish for wanting to have a family so bad, that she overlooked the problems between us in a rush to have a second child.

She said she didn't want to do this anymore.

My therapist asked what kinds of problems there had been. My wife said that I didn't want to do things with her, like go to the grocery, watch TV, or play board games. There had been more downs than ups over the years, and I didn't do "giddy" very well.

She said she was having trouble being nice, and that she didn't want to be hateful. My therapist said that regardless, counseling was a place where she needed to give an "honest representation" of where she stood.

She said, "I want to shove his 'integrity' up his booty."

She said that I acted like all of our problems were due to a lack of sex. She was angry that she waited for so many years for me to be happy. She said I didn't acknowledge the "baby steps" she had been taking to work on the problem. She said that she didn't think we'd ever have a connection.

My therapist asked in what ways did my wife feel like we were still connected. My wife responded by saying that we were the parents of two beautiful girls, that I was the provider of money and help. She was the stay-at-home mom, and that everything else was just a bonus.

My therapist asked her how things were different before the kids came along. My wife said that we might do things together as a couple, perhaps go to a movie or sit together while watching TV. In the car, sometimes she would try to strike up a conversation about something that was being discussed on the radio, if she could stay awake. We used to kiss good-night instead of going to bed at different times.

(I didn't say anything during this time, but my recollections were quite different. The different bedtimes started long before the kids came along. Once we moved to our current location and started telecommuting, she tended to work three or four hours in the evening while watching TV rather than trying to get her hours out of the way during the day so that we could have the evenings free.)

She said that we struggled with sex even back then, though. She remembered being more in the mood, but it never seemed to be enough for me.

She said she didn't feel like she withheld sex from me. She admitted that she sometimes had sex with me so that I would be in a better mood. She noted that in the first few years after my addiction, things were lean, but they got better as she lost some weight and didn't feel as unattractive.

She said that she didn't think the sight of unrealistically thin women on TV had much of an effect on her self esteem.

She said that things started going downhill after the move in 2000. We'd have occasional good spells, but she said I was becoming jealous of all the time she was spending with her best friend.

She said that our early years of sex seemed freaky because it took me so long to climax. She said she would talk with her friends, who said that their husbands didn't last nearly as long.

I admitted that during the years I was using phone sex services, I had masturbated a lot, to the point where I was desensitized. Soon after she found out about the activity in 1994, our sex life throttled back, and I ceased masturbating, when we resumed sexual activity a few months later, I was lucky to last more than a couple of minutes.

I got onto the subject of her friends' attitudes towards their sex with husbands. I discussed how my wife and her friends openly made light of turning down their husbands and their husband's sexual inadequacies. On one of my birthdays that fell a year or so after my staying power plummeted, I got a card from one of her friends that joked about an aging man being like a microwave... just set it for two minutes and it goes "ding".

My wife's therapist went on an extensive discussion of how our society had become too open about sex lives, and that there needed to be boundaries about what spouses shared with their friends. She asked my wife if she had ever asked whether it was okay to share details with her friends. My wife honestly answered, "no".

The therapist also talked about how guys tend to get a little too loose with locker room talk. I said that I didn't engage in that sort of thing back in my high school years because most of the people I ran around with didn't talk about their sexual exploits. I speculated that one of the big reasons was that many of them were in the closet and knew that such things probably wouldn't go over well in a small town on the northern fringe of the Bible Belt.

My therapist said that my wife must feel like she's in a very lonely place. My wife agreed. My wife described me as "passive aggressive." My therapist asked for clarification. My wife replied that although the tone of my voice was calm, it sounded to her like I was trying to make everything her fault.

My therapist asked her whether she thought I used my ability to communicate in manipulative ways. She said that sometimes she felt overwhelmed by what I was saying. She added that she hated when I tried to restate things in terms of analogies. When I used them, she got angry and just blocked me out.

We got on the subject of the masturbation anxiety/sex rejection incident. In this area, both her therapist and mine seemed to be confused utterly about what my wife was saying. She claimed that she had no problems with people masturbating, but she had issues with me masturbating on a regular basis when we were having troubles and not having sex. She viewed it as me saying that I didn't want to be close.

We got on the subject of foreplay as a means of building closeness. I said that in the past, I had taken my wife's rejection of foreplay personally... that she must be doing that because there's something wrong with me. I said that I used to put too much emotional investment in foreplay as a source of validation. If I could make my wife feel good and get her aroused, I must be a good person.

I said that over the past year, I had changed my view of foreplay. I understood it to be a means of negotiating the level of connection between partners. Given that my wife had become so proscriptive about what could and could not be done, I understood that she didn't want us to be close.

My therapist noted that time was running short and asked where things were headed. For all of the discussion about sex and boundaries, she noted that my wife had come in with a very different set of thoughts. She wondered if perhaps we should be coming to some sort of agreement on whether these sessions should be trying to repair the marriage or leading to its dissolution.

My wife's therapist said she wanted to have at least one more joint session, so we agreed to have some sort of decision by the time we met on 7/25.

That night, my wife spent an hour or so talking to her other best friend who is currently separated from her husband.

July 19 Post Mortem

We talked briefly before going to bed Thursday night. She had seen her therapist earlier that day.

I said that I thought we should hold off on me moving out until I can get the job situation straightened out. We were having a hard enough time affording things with one household, and I didn't want to worsen things with the cost of two. She said she was okay with me staying here for now, and that I could even sleep in the same bed so that I didn't hurt my back by sleeping on the couch.

I said that I'd be okay on the couch. I then said that given the current circumstances, I would no longer be attempting any sexual activity with her.

She said her therapist thought that I was fixated too much on the frequency of sex, and that we needed to focus more on the content of sex.

I said that I thought her remarks about her issues with masturbation set up a paradox. She has said she doesn't want to have sex unless she feels emotionally close to me. She has also said she thinks my masturbation lessens the closeness between us.

In a way, she's saying that she can only feel close when she has veto power over our shared and my solo sexual activity (a classic dodge of a two-choice dilemma, I might add). There's not many people who would put up with that lack of boundaries, so it makes a close relationship nearly impossible. She said that wasn't true, but didn't offer any counterargument.

I asked her whether her friend had any insights for her from their phone call. She said that her friend, who is a child psychologist, said that problems with sex usually have more to do with other things in the relationship. She said that she and her husband had had a lot of sex over the years, but that they had a lousy relationship.

I told her that she didn't have to worry about it anyway, because I wasn't going to bother her for sex.

I told her that I wasn't going to fight over most of the household things because I wanted her and the kids to have a home. She said she was worried that she would be able to afford the house. I said that I would do my best to help them out, but that as time progressed she would need to take on a greater role for supporting herself.

We've been sleeping separately since.
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