Wednesday, July 04, 2007

A Realization and A Declaration

Now I ain't sayin' it's right or it's wrong
But maybe its the only way
Talk about your revolution
It's Independence Day

-- Martina McBride, "Independence Day", Wake Up Laughing

This post is a recap of discussions and therapy sessions from the past few days and some of the insights that I drew from them.

With the kids away at my dad and stepmom's place over the weekend, my wife and I had two dialogues. On Saturday morning, we had a long, calm, unfocused discussion of various facets of our relationship. Then on Sunday morning, we had a followup discussion that started to overheat.

The joint counseling session on Monday addressed two areas of those dialogues, and then I reviewed the discussion with my therapist on Tuesday.

The Big Saturday Dialogue (or: Camel... I Think I'll Paint the Walls Camel)

We spent around three hours on Saturday morning and afternoon discussing relationship matters. I disclosed and clarified some things we had talked about earlier in the week. She didn't volunteer much information but answered questions that I threw out to keep the dialogue moving.

It was tough for me to keep everything in chronological order. What follows is a transcription of some information I jotted down later that evening so that I wouldn't forget things.

I restated that from my standpoint, I faced a very difficult pair of choices. One one hand, I faced the prospect of losing my marriage and day-to-day contact with the kids. On the other, I faced sacrificing my career and any hopes for a satisfying sex life.

I said that the concern about career was very real because of my age and our current location. Insisting on staying here while trying to foster real career growth would be like her planting a flower in sand rather than rich potting soil and expecting it to thrive.

I expressed concern that a failure to actually make a choice in my dilemma might result in the same issues coming up later, and that I might deal with them in less constructive ways like a mid-life crisis.

She said she was worried that if I did take the job out in the Silicon Valley, I would only see the girls two weeks out of the year and that I would regret it. She also said that she thought I would become a hermit out there.

She asked me if I would be happier if we just curtailed our lifestyle so that I could take a job that doesn't pay as much and stay here. I told her that I didn't think that was a good solution. In taking the offer from the Online Payment Subsidiary seriously, I was keeping in mind that this would be a long term investment to keep my career rewarding both financially and emotionally.

I said that I felt like I had sacrificed a lot in agreeing to move to our current location in 2000. She got defensive and said that it was just as much my decision as it was hers. I reminded her that the primary reason for moving here was her best friend, with proximity to her friends house heavily influencing the site location. I said that the decision to work offsite cut out any growth potential because my ex-employer's upper management didn't like to promote the telecommuters.

I said that her decision to refuse relocation because it would mean losing her support network of friends came across to me as a strong message. I felt as if her loyalty to them was stronger than to me. I said that said a lot about her feelings about the strength of our marriage.

She tried to defend her position saying that it would take a long time to develop another set of friends, and that she wouldn't be able to go to therapy because she wouldn't have anyone to trust babysitting the kids.

I said that I think she either misinterpreted or misremembered the remark about "living without truly feeling alive" as a desire to die or kill myself. She refused to budge and said she remembered me saying something about wishing I was dead. She couldn't identify the time frame for the remark, though.

I asked her about what her sexual thoughts were like before we met. For example, did she have fantasies? Did she explore herself sexually? She said that she really didn't think about the act of sex in her teens and early college years.

She said she fantasized about having boyfriends and sort of romance novel like sex, but nothing explicit. Interest in sex seemed to increase after she started rooming with two close girlfriends after her junior year in college. Both of those friends were very sexually active. This was just before we started dating.

Shortly before we started dating, she said that she "threw herself" at one of the managers at the restaurant where she waitressed because she said she had feelings for him.

I said that I felt like she tried to use shame and guilt to control me and to shut down discussions of our sex life. I pointed to specific examples, like the whore in bed charge, and the wanting it five times a week accusation. I said that she seized upon pieces of what I was saying, then exaggerate or distort them to put me on the defensive. I said I couldn't understand why she was focused so heavily on masturbation during the last session.

She said she wasn't distorting things and that she had a right to bring up masturbation because I was saying things that ran counter to my prior admission of sexual addiction. She said it sounded like I was trying to minimize the significance of my behavior, and that made her concerned.

I said that I wasn't looking for just a whore in bed, and it wasn't about having a whole lot of sex. I do want a partner who is equally involved in the act, is willing to communicate desires openly, and is willing to be creative to keep things from getting boring.

I said that early on in our relationship, I believed that if I tried to make things as pleasurable as possible for her, her interest in sex would increase. My diagnosis as a sex addict made me feel less valid with regards to what I wanted. I managed to come up with reasons to hope that her desire would one day increase.

If not sexual sobriety, then perhaps giving her the things she wanted, like a house and kids, might make a difference. When she complained of pressure, I gave her time and space, leaving the role of initiator to her. I even clinged to her old friend's advice that once my wife moved into her 30s, things would improve. None of that ever happened.

I asked her which she would prefer: Being able to increase her sexual desire for me or me decreasing my own desire so it wasn't an issue. She skirted past the question, but she did say that even if I did do things that made her feel close to me emotionally, she couldn't guarantee that her desire would increase.

I said that I started to develop an awareness that she just wasn't interested in my sexual satisfaction back in the spring of 2004, just before we were to do the IVF/ICSI that would bring us our second daughter.

A couple days before I was to give up my sample, I needed to "clean out the pipes" as they say. Given that she had issues with masturbation and that I wanted to feel close to her, I asked her if she would be willing to help out with her hands. She said that I could take care of myself. At that point, I started to feel abandoned sexually by her.

I said that her lack of effort, from the partial reading of Sex Starved Marriage to her eventual cessation of individual therapy, made me feel like she wasn't really committed. I said that in reviewing past events throughout our relationship, I wondered if her low sex drive was something that was irretrievably fixed.

She asked me what made me wonder about that. I told her that it went as far back as when we had started to get really physical in the relationship. I recalled her having to stop heavy kissing to go vomit. She said I was overplaying the significance of it, and that she was just really nervous.

I said the concern continues to this day with her unwillingness to touch my genitals with her hands. She said I didn't give her enough credit for at least trying to pleasure me with my pajama pants on back in February. I replied that most women who have been married for 11 years would not have troubles touching their husbands penises.

She brought the focus back to the addiction stuff, saying she couldn't understand why I was seemingly contradicting so many things I had said from past therapies.

I said that I didn't believe that I fit under the label of a sex addict in the sense of people whose sexual activities get them in trouble with the law or create serious health risks.

My compulsive sexual activities from the early to mid 90s were better understood from the perspective that I was using in my current therapy. I didn't have a solid self to keep me going through times of high anxiety levels. I relied on masturbation and pornography to keep the anxiety in check.

The 12-step programs might have stopped the behavior, but they didn't really help me develop the ability to self soothe in the face of anxiety. Moreover, they reinforced this notion of me being forever cursed with some sort of disease. She said she didn't buy the argument.

I talked some about how I had changed over the years. I said that when we first started dating, I was just happy to belong to someone, and was so bent on having what looked like a successful relationship, I overlooked the fact that I was suppressing a lot of who I was for the sake of harmony.

With the latest round of therapy, I was beginning to see that I had some value as an individual human being and I was much more capable of handling the stresses of life. I honed these skills with self confrontation and the job search. The ability to self validate enabled me to cope with life much more realisitcally than the recovery literature did.

I tried to get her to think some about the origins of her dysfunctional communication behaviors, but I didn't say that right at the outset because I knew she wouldn't go there. I led off by recalling some of the things we had talked about during the marriage counseling in August of last year.

I mentioned some of the things that she said made her unhappy with her dad. I asked her what it was like when she had conflicts with him. She said she couldn't remember specifics. I asked her whether he handled confrontation or dissent very well. She said that he didn't do well with either. I asked her whether those experiences might have had an impact on her. She refused to explore that any further.

I asked her if she hated me for anything, noting that when one buries away hatreds and fails to acknowledge them, they can result in behind the scenes fighting. She said that she felt like she hated me when her brother was dying back in 2003. I remember her talking about her unhappiness with me about that in marriage counseling.

I thought for a few minutes, and then asked her whether it was my reluctance to be bedside with her and the rest of her family when they turned off her brother's life support to let him die. She said she couldn't remember exactly what it was, but that her best friend and her husband, who had spent time at the hospital as well, noted that I was acting like a self-centered jerk.

She said that she felt like I had abandoned her. She also said that she regretted going through with the IVF/ICSI that next year because she said she felt like I had "checked out" of the relationship by then.

I asked her if whether she had thought about what life after a divorce would be like. Did she see herself finding someone new. She said she didn't see herself going to bars. I said that I didn't foresee her doing that, either. I did picture her getting involved with a church and meeting someone that way. She said she'd probably just focus more on the kids.

I asked her if there was anything else she wanted to say. She started crying and then thanked me for "giving her the girls".

We wrapped up the conversation and went out for lunch. Later that afternoon, my wife went out for a couple hours to shop for paint. She came back with a couple gallons of a color she said was "camel". She wanted to paint the living room while the kids were away, and that she didn't need any help from me. She worked on that from shortly after 6 p.m. until 1 a.m. on Sunday.

Around 9 p.m., I went to a nearby coffee shop to ponder our discussion, jotting down as much as I could recall onto a notepad.

The Brief Heated Sunday Dialogue

On Sunday morning, I reconnected with my wife after breakfast, asking her if she had anything to say about yesterday's conversation. She said that she still wasn't convinced about my refusal to label my sexuality as pathological.

She said, "I know you're a smart person, and you can come up with ways to minimize things and come up with excuses for why you could start acting out again."

She said that she was worried that the frequency of my masturbation was going to lead to something unhealthy. I asked her what she defined as "unhealthy". She then dug up things I had said back in my early days in recovery, when I drew up very stringent requirements about what I could not do sexually.

That included things like masturbation and went as far as triggers like looking at other women for "too long" (one of the 12 step programs on sex addiction recovery institutes a 3-second limit rule).

I tried to bring the conversation back to the question. I said, "That's no my point. Stick to the question, what unhealthy behaviors are you worried about?" By then, she was starting to tear up and said that she didn't feel comfortable continuing the conversation.

I said that it bothered me that she tried to use guilt and shame to make me feel bad about myself sexually. I said that questioning me about frequency and instances of masturbation was "just plain weird".

I said I felt like she wanted it both ways. She wanted me to stay in a committed relationship and give her the things that she wanted, but she wanted to reserve the right to repeatedly punish me for things that hadn't happened in over a decade.

She then said she didn't want to discuss it further. I knew that unless I put together a comprehensive, rigorous defense of my stance for the joint session the next day, that's all that we'd be talking about.

The Monday Joint Counseling Session

At the joint session, it was my turn to lead things off, so I talked about how we had spoken some over the weekend, noting some of the points that I had scribbled down on Saturday night.

I then brought up my wife's remark about feeling abandoned during her brother's death. I said that I didn't realize at the time just how deeply my conduct had hurt her.

I then said that my reluctance to stand with her bedside wasn't because of a lack of empathy. It was because I couldn't effectively handle all of the anxiety around me, especially her mother's severe distress.

I said that my emotional immaturity at the time made it impossible for me to deal with the situation in a reasonable manner, so I cut myself off emotionally. I realized that I could have dealt with the situation better by being more resilient in the face of everyone's anxiety, and I apologized for acting so poorly.

I brought up the negativity that my wife uses in talking about sex, citing the "whore in bed" remark. Her therapist asked my wife to clarify. She said that by "whore" she meant that I wanted her to talk "dirty" to me during sex "all the time". She complained that it seemed like I wanted her to do so much every time we had sex.

We got on the subject of sexual addiction. I handed out copies of the statement I prepared and had everyone read along, so there wouldn't be as much information overload. My therapist added some clarifying remarks about Bowenian Family Systems Theory and the notion of differentiation so that my wife's therapist would understand where I was coming from.

My wife's therapist said that it sounded like I had put together a well thought out basis for my claim, but she was worried that I might become complacent. Even if I did manage to avoid acting out behaviors after all these years, she said that I could be vulnerable to a slip or relapse if I were to go through another stressful time.

It didn't occur to me until later, but I should have informed her that the past year has probably been one of the most stressful times in my life. If I was going to crack, I probably would have by now.

I did mention that I had not tampered with the porn tape collection that she was supposed to take to the video store for buyback, even though it had sat in the back of her minivan and in the garage for over two weeks. I said that if she really was as worried about my addiction as she says she is, I would think she would want to get rid of them sooner rather than later.

She also brought up the importance of involving the "whole family" in the recovery process. She asked my wife about her recovery work as a codependent. My wife talked about the few times that she went to CODA or S-Anon meetings, but admitted that she had not done much work in this area.

She said that when I masturbated in bed while she slept, she could sometimes tell that I was doing it, and it made her feel icky inside. She said that sometimes she wanted to leave room. I said that if it bothered her, all she would need to do is say something to me, and I would do it somewhere else. Her therapist chimed in, emphasizing the importance of talking and communicating.

The session concluded on a much less negative note than the last time. I walked my wife to her minivan after the session. She told me that she still didn't fully believe my arguments about sexual addiction.

Later that day, I did some more digging about what Schnarch has written about sex addiction and turned up another passage from his more scholarly book Constructing the Sexual Crucible.

He takes a scathing look at the whole field, arguing that treating unchecked sexual desire from the standpoint as a disease rather than a lack of emotional maturity actually encourages poor differentiation.

His citation of a passage from the seminal work on sexual addiction, Patrick Carnes' Out of the Shadows reminded me why I was so willing to give up so much sexually many years ago. It talks about setting boundaries based on the reaction of the partner, and that's exactly what I wound up doing. For example, if masturbating made my wife wig out, then it had to go.

The Tuesday Individual Counseling Session

My private therapy session was a good digesting of the joint counseling session.

I started off by noting what I had found in Schnarch regarding sex addiction treatment and emotional fusion.

My therapist said that my wife's monitoring and cross examination of my masturbation was intrusive and controlling.

We distilled from my wife's focus on sex addiction that she has an unwillingness to trust me. Moreover, her lack of effort in doing some form of recovery work showed that she didn't have any desire to deal with it, either.

My therapist asked me if I knew whether my wife had undergone any major traumas or grief around the ages of 6 - 7 or 13 - 14. I said that I wasn't aware of anything. Up until last year, all of her grandparents were still alive. The first loss of kin was her uncle, which happened in 1993.

We talked about her friendships, both her bondedness with the best friend and the preschool mom as well as friends that had come and gone. She wondered if my wife had a tendency to focus so heavily on one particular person as a friend that it drained the friend's energy.

I said she had two best friends in her school years. One went back as far as kindergarten, and the other might have been established in middle school. The kindergarten friend roomed with her the first year of college, and they stopped being close after that. The other friend is her lesser best friend who lives about an hour away. They're in close touch, but not as close as it has been since her friend's marriage turned really rocky.

I did notice that the best friend, for whom we had moved here, was on the wane. I attributed that to less availability timewise since she now works at a part time job. Up until 2006, they saw each other almost every day, talked on the phone several times a day, and there were several times a week that they would either eat at our house or we would eat at theirs. When I asked my wife about the decline a few months ago, she said she had "become tired of feeding them all the time."

From that, I surmised that she's not so much the vampire because she's the one who usually got tired of the friendships.

My therapist said that from the joint sessions and my own accounts, it almost sounded like my wife would rather just have me be a sexless person. Someone to spend time with, raise the kids with, but not get physically intimate. I told her about how my wife dodged the question of whether she would rather see her desire increase or my desire wane.

The therapist then asked whether it was a question of my wife's unwillingness to work on the sexual part of the relationship or her inability to do so because of unresolved issues of just being intimate with someone. She said she couldn't quite tell from the joint sessions. She then asked me whether it mattered. I responded by saying that a compassionate person might be inclined to be more forgiving of someone who is unable rather than unwilling.

She said that it's very likely that I was a very different person when I met her from whom I am now. Maybe she hasn't grown in the same way, and so the relationship has become unstable.

I said that her unwillingness to trust in my sexuality, and her refusal to work seriously on her desire issues suggest that she does not want to make herself vulnerable. And without vulnerability, there is no such thing as intimacy.

That made me realize something big. As much as I have been reluctant to come right out and say to my wife that "it's over", I have failed to realize that her actions all serve a central goal, the avoidance of intimacy. She can disparage me by saying she doesn't feel close to me emotionally, but she doesn't see that closeness is going to take a lot of work on her part.

After realizing this, I told my therapist that it was tough to say that I was giving up on the marriage. She suggested that I reframe the issue. This wasn't necessarily giving up. It was also taking responsibility for developing my own potential. It was giving my wife the chance to lead a life where she doesn't have someone badgering her for something she can't or won't give. She encouraged me to think of other ways to look at this as another step in growth for both of us.

The lyrics at the beginning of this post summarize the state of my mind on this day. While I conclude with greater clarity that this marriage has reached a state of irrecoverable breakdown, it is not with rejoicing. It is a solemn declaration of conviction that I would compromise my personal integrity by any other means.

Sometime later this week, I should be verifying that the position at the Online Payment Subsidiary is still mine for the taking. Once that is done, I'll have a talk with my wife about my desire to dissolve this union. I need to make this known to her before the next joint session, which takes place on Monday.
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