Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Deep Cut Flashback

Writing about the symbolism of ladders in a post from yesterday brought me recollections of another lyrical excerpt.

This one comes from the Prince song "The Ladder", which appeared on Around the World in a Day. I don't think the song was released as a single.
Everybody's looking 4 the ladder
Everybody wants salvation of the soul
The steps U take are no easy road
But the reward is great
4 those who want 2 go
A feeling of self-worth (everybody's looking)
will caress U (for the answers)
The size of the whole wide world will decrease (how the story started)
(and how it will end)
The love of God's creation will undress U
And time spent alone my friend, will cease
Everybody's looking 4 the answers
How the story started and how it will end
What's the use in half a story, half a dream
U have 2 climb all of the steps in between (yeah, we ride)

The themes of redemption, validation, surrender, liberation, and intimacy are all there.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

What the Subconscious Reveals

I had a dream.
I had an awesome dream.
-- Lionel Richie, "Say You, Say Me"

Shortly before 6 a.m. this morning, I was awakened from one of those dreams that's so vivid, you need to get up and walk around just to realize that it wasn't real. If any of you readers have experience with dream interpretation, your comments would be welcome.

I dreamt that I was driving on the two lane state highway that leads out to the rural house where my maternal grandparents lived when I was a child. On this road, there is a stretch on a small grade that culminates in an S-curve.

In the dream, a portion of that grade is out and is crossable only on foot. My three year-old daughter is with me. We get out and leave the car behind. The only way to get across is to climb a ladder from the lower ground to the higher ground.

The ladder is made from aluminum and appears to be sturdy, but as I climb the ladder, I realize that the center of the ladder is lined with wild brush. I see grapes, but as my skin makes contact with it, I feel the pain of small thorns.

My daughter is climbing a few steps ahead of me and does things that scare me. At one point she hangs from one of the ladder steps, and I fear that she will fall to the ground below. She does not share my fear and appears to be having fun.

It is at about 2/3 of the way across that I look to my left and see a stairway, also made of aluminum, that appear to lead to the other side of the gap. I struggle with whether to climb back down with my daughter or keep pressing to the end. It is at this point when I wake up.

My naive interpretation is that this dream portrays the extent to which fear has dominated my life choices. The fear of falling from a ladder is one of the most primal fears that I have, aside from abandonment.

When I was of kindergarten age, I remember breaking my left arm by falling from the ladder of the slide at my paternal grandmothers. I also had a fear of climbing the monkey bars in my early grade school years. I was terrified of clibming the drop-down ladder staircase to the attic in my house.

The gap in the highway symbolizes the growth that I must undergo as I try to change my life for the better.

The ladder is the path that faces my fears head on. The material of construction, aluminum, may signify sturdiness. I need not fear the ladder collapsing on me when I climb it. If I fail to make it across, it will be the weakness of my character, not the weakness in the ladder itself.

The stairway is the safer route that symbolizes the choices I make because of my fears, such as avoiding conflict and trying to keep others happy.

The presence of my daughter is what made the dream so disturbing. I worry about the damage I may do to my children as I attempt to take greater charge in my life, especially if that means that my marriage comes to an end. The daughter in peril may repesent a reminder that crossing this divide successfully requires vigilance and compassion.

Wife Drops an Empty Bombshell

Last night, my wife approached me with something that I think she feared would stress me out. She told me that she wanted to quit her part time job that she does from home. From the remarks that she had been making the last few weeks, I saw this one coming so I was pretty calm. I think that caught her off guard.

When we moved to our current home six years ago, we didn't have kids, and we both worked full time. Both of us stayed with our employer and worked as telecommuters. She moved from a job in finance to a job that did database cleanup work. They continued to pay her at the same level. The work was not mentally intensive. She watched TV while she did the work to keep from getting bored to sleep.

Once the kids arrived in the summer of 2003 and the winter of 2005, my wife scaled down her hours, going to 15 - 20 hours a week. She worked the time during the afternoon and evening hours. With increased commitments to the preschool, she rolled back the time to 10 hours per week. Her work schedule became scattershot, usually coinciding with prime time TV and her favorite cable reality shows.

A few months ago, her boss said that they were running out of things for her to work on, and there may be some uncertainty over whether they could find her another position. They eventually moved her from sales leads processing to customer service.

The person she reports to now is much more hands on than the prior manager, with whom she had very little contact. She gets several e-mails a day from the manager, asking questions and expecting prompt responses. My wife has vented frustration with the higher level of accountability. It might be that the new person is a micromanager, but it is causing a high level of distress in my wife.

After six years of pretty lax supervision and great autonomy, she's now feeling pressure to adapt to someone else's schedule. It makes me wonder how she would handle the prospect of divorce, because it would probably require her to get a full time job.

She says that she knows she can't quit right now because she says we can't afford to live on my salary alone. I make about 85 % of the household income, and since she took over bill paying about a year and a half ago, I'm not certain of where the money is all going. I am going to have a talk with her sometime soon about what our budget looks like because my gut tells me we could afford to live on my income alone, if we spent more wisely.

Some Forgotten Notes From Last Week

I forgot to include some items from the wife's individual therapy that took place on Wednesday of last week.

She told me that she thought the therapist was going in the wrong direction with the counseling. I asked her what made her think that, and she replied by saying that she wasn't sure because her memory wasn't that great.

She did say that they discussed the sensitivity to odors. I've posted previously that she complained about my breath and that she had troubles performing oral sex because of the smells, even after thorough washing with soap and water.

She also said that she has hangups about her own body's smells because she worries that she will wind up smelling like her mother. I don't have the same degree of olfactory awareness that she does, so I don't exactly know what she's talking about when it comes to her mother, but I'll assume it's not pleasant.

The therapist said that she thought the sensitivity is not something recent but has been with my wife for a long time. She probably didn't develop the awareness of it until she started being sexual with me. I was her first.

The therapist also wondered if there may be problems with hormones, and has suggested that my wife have a test done. My wife said she would ask about this at her yearly appointment with the OB/GYN.

Yesterday evening, I asked my wife when her next individual appointment is. She said it is on Thursday, but she will need to cancel that appointment and reschedule. She didn't know when the next time would be since the practice she visits is open only Tuesday - Thursday.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Still Out There

Blogging has been light of late because of a dearth of major events on the marriage front.

I've been highly focused on reading, mostly with Schnarch's Passionate Marriage and Weiner-Davis' Divorce Busting. I've also been rereading segments of Glover's No More Mr. Nice Guy.

All make for interesting reading, and they are providing some grist for ponderance as I try to figure out where things are headed. The thoughts are too premature to make for a coherent blog posting. A common set of ideas seem to be coalescing from the froth:

  • Understand the past if possible, but don't put too much emphasis on it. You can deal with problems effectively in the present.

  • Don't let others define who you are. Be true to yourself. Make your life a heroic struggle, where your beliefs and feelings are integrated with your actions.

  • Don't rely so much on your spouse to meet your needs. Redirect the energy spent lamenting this on getting your needs met.

  • You don't have to settle for bad sex.

This blog is making a transition from a day-to-day update of events to a more contemplative work that attempts to digest some new learning and apply it to my future.

In the days ahead, most of my posts will be about Glover. I will post a number entries on why I believe I fit his diagnosis and own up to dysfunctions that have resulted. Then later on, I will talk about my efforts to move toward integrity. This overhaul in self will give me clarity as I near my six-month deadline on whether to stay in this marriage.

Weiner-Davis' advice about focusing on one's own happiness should help guide me during the ups and downs that will take place during this time. If things improve, I will be more receptive to them if I am already in a positive frame of mind. If things get worse, at least I will have an idea of what life will be like should I decide to leave.

Schnarch's book is captivating because he's describing a plane of sexuality I've been seeking but have seen described nowhere else. He presents some ideas that are as compelling as they are difficult to grasp. For example, I know that I don't have a high level of differentiation, but I have trouble picturing what that looks like in my life. I'm only a quarter of the way through that book, so there's still plenty of material to cover before I can plead stumpefication. At this point, I don't know if I will be able to apply this knowledge within my own marriage because my wife seems so closed to the idea of deeper sexual exploration.

Friday, August 25, 2006

2amsomewhere 23:5

In which I participate in a chain post because there hasn't been much going on in the marriage dimension of my life, and you really don't want to plow through a blog post on how the Thursday preschool open house went.

Here are the rules:

1. Delve into your blog archive.
2. Find your 23rd post.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the text of the sentence in your blog along with these instructions.

The fifth sentence of my 23rd entry reads:

What she didn't realize was that there was quite a bit of material still out in the garage.

I'm disappointed that it wasn't the sentence involving an armada of Big Wheels.

Hat tip to Anais for this mischief.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Counseling Session V Roundup (or: Our Therapist is a Prude)

The fifth marrage counseling session was Tuesday evening. It ran quite differently from the past two.

I led off by talking about the reading assignment from The Married Guy's Guide to Great Sex, namely a chapter called "Sex is Not a Spectator Sport". I said that the first part of the chapter didn't seem relevant because it talked about the ways that "spectatoring" or focusing outwardly on the sex act harms male performance. However, the last part, about seeking feedback too often from the wife about how one is doing seemed to be good advice. Also, the part about phrasing sexual desires as statements "I want to..." instead of "Do you want to..." proved helpful.

I returned the book to her, and then she said that she encouraged me to read more of it, and she opened to the table of contents as she talked about how she liked this book. She pointed to one of the early chapters, "Follow Her Way", which seemed to be the attitude the therapist had about sexuality. That rubbed me the wrong way because it reinforced the idea that she was biased.

I also gave her the results of the enneagram that I had completed, which showed that I had a strong score for the #9 (peacemaker). She drew a connection between my nature and my relationship with my mom. Since she is a narcissist, I had to adapt and build my life around my mother. I said that I could see the point she was making. She also said it's common for people who have grown up with a narcissistic mother to not know what they really want because getting seems so uncomfortable to them.

Picking up from last session, I summarized the issues that my wife had with me: skin crawling, evasiveness, lack of empathy, and persistent unhappiness.

I said that I was going to own up to the evasiveness and unhappiness because I think that they are symptoms of a similar problem. I then talked about the No More Mr. Nice Guy book, reading some excerpts to to make my points.

I talked about how I thought I fell into the nice guy mold, describing how I had grown up with a mother who was not only self centered, but also vented openly and inappropriately about my father's and her subsequent boyfriend's shortcomings. I even remember her telling me once that my dad was a lousy lay.

The message I got from all of this was that men were by birth and nature jerks, and that I needed to be completely different. While I did manage to avoid being the distant and uninvolved father my dad was, I had no confidence in my attractiveness to women.

I said I also believed that the use of phone sex services in the past was not just about getting an orgasm. It was about getting attention and approval from a woman in an environment where I didn't have to fear rejection.

I said that I was going to be using the book as a starting point for developing my masculinity, especially in the areas of assertiveness and self-confidence. That was a nice way of saying I wasn't going to be a doormat any more.

I said that I was going to let go of the skin crawling issue because it is possible that having small children could be sensory overload. I said that I had read of instances where that happens, so I would respect her need to reduce that kind of extended contact.

She brought up the IM conversation again, and she started to get pushy about it. She said that she couldn't understand why I refused to show her the contact list on my IM client. I responded that she wanted to see the message window itself. I said the contents of that conversation were something that I wasn't comfortable sharing with her.

She said she didn't want to see the actual conversation, she just wanted to see the name of the person with whom I was chatting. I told her that's not how she phrased it, and I interpreted it that she was demanding to inspect the conversation.

I said that at that moment, she had me so much on the defensive I didn't feel like I had the same right to privately discuss things that I afforded her with her friends. I said that it would be like me picking up the phone and listening in on her when she was ranting about me with her friends.

I tied the evasivenss back to the book, saying that one of the things that "Nice Guys" do is try to conceal their weaknesses. I couldn't bring myself to fully disclose to her at the time that I was on the brink of wanting a divorce. I needed someone to talk to, so in a moment of desperation, I turned to my brother (DDD).

The therapist agreed that my response to my wife's line of questioning at that time seemed to be in line with what I was describing. I think that took some of the pressure off of me. By that point, I was in tears anyway, saying that divorce was something that I had a hard time considering because I didn't want to be like my parents.

My wife relented and said quietly that she had considered divorce several times over the past year. She said she wanted me to feel safe to turn to someone to talk about these things.

The admission that she, too, had thought of divorce, was big.

I asked her what kept her from threatening it or following through with it, and she said she didn't like the thought of having to raise the kids alone. I told her that even if we did split up that I would retain an active role as a father. She said that even with that, in reality she would have to do 90 % of the effort.

I think she also realizes that it would bring about major upheaval in her lifestyle because she would have to go to work full time, something she hasn't done since our first daughter was born in 2003.

I brought up that last week, she said that my lack of empathy for others made her "feel less close" to me. That distance, she said, contributed to her lack of sexual desire. I asked her how long she had been aware of this. She said it had been a long time, over several years, but moreso over the last year when I was getting grumpy about wanting to help bail out her mom and take care of her best friend in the last days of her difficult pregnancy. She also said that I was judgmental, and that she didn't like that.

I then asked her why she had avoided telling me these things. She said that she thought I wouldn't believe or accept them. I said that in order for this relationship to survive, she needed to be up front with me. She, too, would need to be honest instead of dodging my questions with "I don't know".

I talked about how I was resentful of how she had veto power of my sexuality by refusing to let me masturbate without her consent. I said that when this power was combined with her lack of sexual availability, I felt emotionally abused. I wanted to assert greater control over that by being able to masturbate in a healthy way, meaning that it wasn't done compulsively or with the use of either visual or audio stimulation.

Surprisingly enough, she was open to the idea. She said that she might have some initial trust issues, wondering if this would be something that leads to compulsive behavior, but she was willing to give it a try.

It was at this point that the therapist questioned my wife's decision to okay this. She asked whether that would be running counter to a healthy sexual relationship because it takes the focus of my desire off of her. She seemed to be making the case that all masturbation was wrong, almost paralleling the kinds of reasoning in religious doctrine. It was at this point that I realized that our therapist is a prude. I wonder if bringing up open marriage would have sent her into a fit of apoplexy?

My wife again accepted that she knew that there were more problems with her than just the empathy/judging anger, stuff that she needed to work on. She said she knew that her drive wasn't normal, and she honestly didn't understand why that was. She said that her private therapist, too, had raised the question of past abuse. My wife still believes that this is not the case. She said she just wished there was a pill she could take to feel aroused.

After the therapy session, my wife was more talkative about it. I told her that I felt better that the divorce issue had been put out in the open, and that it was something we both had contemplated. It lifted a huge taboo in my mind. I told her that I didn't want to give up, but there might be at some point where we realize that we're trapped in such a cycle that we can't stop hurting one another.

I said I might seek individual counseling as part of the nice guy stuff, but I was going to work with the book for now. We both agreed that we might see our marriage counselor one or two more times, but not more than what the insurance had originally authorized.

I told her that as part of my own issues, I needed to get strong both in body and mind. I was going to continue cutting back on calories and exercising. I encouraged her to do the same. She admitted she had made poor eating choices over the past few weeks because of our discord.

Later that evening, I asked her to let me know where she stood on her anger toward me. Was it something that she had let go of? Was it still there? She said that it was still in the background, but had receded over time. I told her again that if she came to the realization that there were some other things that were bothering her, I wanted her to tell me because she needed to avoid hiding things, too.

A bit of irony, too, that evening... My wife asked me for the URL for doing the enneagram quiz, so I fetched the paper with the URL and brought it to her. She was on her laptop working and having IM conversations. I noticed that as I approached her, she covered her IM conversation window by bringing the focus to another window. I didn't call her on it because I didn't want her to go after me on the IM thing yet again, but it's clear that she's engaged in the same kind of behavior and may not be aware of it.

We talked some more at bedtime, as she read a few more pages of The Sex Starved Marriage. Without prompting from me, she asked me if I thought our therapist had issues with masturbation. I burst out laughing because I had been thinking the same thing earlier that evening. I told her that I thought that the therapist had let her own religious views influence the discussion. This is a bit surprising since the practice where she works is not affiliated with any religious institution.

She started to talk some about her own therapy, saying that the therapist thought that a big part of our conflict stemmed from a redirection of energy in the marriage. Prior to moving here, our energy was focused on one another. With the proximity of her best friend, she started to put more energy in that direction. Then came the kids, which drained it some more. Charity and preschool work took another chunk. Then throw in the turmoil of her father's stroke and her best friend's difficult pregnancy. During this whole time, I had no other means by which to get my needs met, so I felt abandoned and angry. I think the therapist was onto something.

She said the therapist also had suggested we try alternating days on who sets the agenda. For example, on the day where Mrs. had the control, she could ask me to help paint and I would be happy about it, and then on my day, I could want sex, and then Mrs. would need to be into it.

I read her an excerpt from Divorce Busting that talks about doing something like that when trying to resolve a big disagreement. On one day, the couple acts as if position A in the conflict was indisputably true, and then on the other day, the couple acts as if position B was true. This alternation continues until common agreement is reached.

She said that she didn't think this would apply well to us because sex is considered such a special activity within the marriage and that it didn't get to the heart of the matter, which was why she didn't want to get into the act itself.

I asked my wife if she thought a time limited moratorium on sex sounded like a good idea, given her lingering anger and her efforts to work on desire in counseling. She disagreed, saying that she wanted to keep the option of having sex available.

Both of us agreed that we have a lot to resolve, and they may not be fully resolvable in the long run. Nonetheless, I'm feeling less trapped at the moment. I have a list of things I want to accomplish: become more confident, be less averse to confrontation, come to grips with the fears that paralyze me, and get in better shape. I will let my wife work on her issues as she sees fit. If things are stagnant or worse by my 38th birthday (5 months and 22 days away), then I am giving myself permission to move on. I'm not sure what form that will take, be it asking for an open marriage or just divorcing. Time will tell.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Thoughts Before Counseling Session V

Last week's counseling session hit hard because it was mostly an open opportunity for my wife to take fire at things she didn't like about me.

I'm not sure if that's how the therapist plans to play it out for the remaining three insurance authorized sessions, but it doesn't seem very even handed. I have a trio theories for why the therapist is proceeding this way, one cynical and the other two a bit less so:

  1. She's biased against me, perhaps against men in general.

  2. She's decided that because I want change, I'm the one who's going to have to show the greater flexibility.

  3. She's sensed that my wife's resistance toward working on the exercises means that she can't expect much to come from giving her things to work on.

Looking over my notes from last week, I noted the following defects that my wife says are barriers to intimacy:

  1. direspectful of comfort zone (skin-to-skin contact)

  2. unnecessarily elusive (mystery IM conversation)

  3. insufficiently empathetic, perhaps narcissistic (resenting lack of attention during crises)

  4. persistently unhappy

I can own the second and the fourth issues, because they tie into a larger problem which was addressed in the book I read over the weekend. I plan to bring this book up with the therapist and tell her my plan of action to work on these things.

I am skeptical that my wife is truly a skin crawler, but I'm going to give her the benefit of the doubt because I have read accounts of women having a similar problem after having given birth to children.

I believe that my wife assumes a caretaker role for things that could be handled by others, assuming that I can pick up the slack of handling the family while she is away. This was true after her father had a stroke. It was also true for her best friend during her difficult pregnancy.

It's almost as if she thinks there is a rider attached to the vows to take leave from the marriage whenever she thought she needed to care for someone. When I express frustration, she responds negatively, saying I'm selfish.

I plan to bring up the catch 22 that is my sexuality. In retrospect, I believe that in working on compulsive sexual behavior, I ceded too much control over my sexuality to my wife. I believe that this was done out of a deep sense of guilt and a desire to show that I wanted to make amends with her.

Instead of it leading to a renewed, healthier, livelier sex life between us, it has created an emotionally abusive situation for which I have developed a deep pocket of resentment.

I have given her veto power over all my sexual activity, and she has chosen to be minimally sexual with me. When she does offer sex it is frequenly so devoid of attachment, it flies in the face of the things I learned in recovery and therapy. If she showed some empathy toward me for once, she might realize just how hurtful her indifference to our sex life has been.

If this marriage is to survive, it will require more than just permission to initiate sex with her. It's going to require a commitment from her to be a full participant in the sexual dimension of our union. If there are things that are hindering her emotionally, she needs to admit their existence as she did last week, not throw "I don't know" at me continuously until I go away. That itself is a form of dishonesty, and it's blatantly passive aggressive behavior. It is no longer acceptable to me.

Moreover, I am going to assert that I be given greater latitude over my own sexuality. I do not wish to return to compulsive masturbation and secret sexual activity, but I should at least be able to pleasure myself without having to get consent from her. In short, I want my body back.

I am grateful that she has begun doing some reading of both The Five Love Languages and The Sex Starved Marriage. I understand that she finds self-help books to be dry and tiresome, but I believe that she needs to put a greater sense of urgency into her efforts.

She seems to be able to find time to work puzzles, spend time with friends, and watch TV, but it seems like she's just trying to skate with enough effort to say, "See, I'm doing something. You need to be patient."

We need to make some sort of more concrete agreement on how much energy we're going to put into this and how we'll know whether things are getting better.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

2am Replies to sthrngal's Comment

In a comment from sthrngal, we read:
You can't change HER. you can only change you.

This is very true. I started reading a new book today. The first few chapters pretty much tell my life's story, a scary thought! Moreover, it provides some concrete changes that one can make to break out of the mold. I think executing these changes will be needed to improve my life, regardless of whether my marriage survives.

In the days to come, I will be devoting some posts commenting on how the content applies to me. For the PFers who visit this site and have expressed frustration that I don't own up to my own faults, be prepared to drop your jaws. 2am is about to go into bibliorehab, and it's not going to be pretty.

Cooling Off

The wife IMed at work Friday asking if she could go to a late night scrapbook party. I said it was okay. She hadn't been to a crop party in a month or two, and I needed the alone time. I fed the kids and kept them entertained until bedtime. Then I took some time to blog and chat. It was a respite from the distance that had filled our house the past two evenings.

She returned from her party at about a quarter to one in the morning. She noticed that I had a box from on the kitchen table. She asked me which books I had ordered. I led her to the bedroom to show her them. One of them was The Sex Starved Marriage and another was Dr. Chapman on The Marriage You've Always Wanted .

She asked to see the first book, and she started to read the first chapter. She then told me that she thought she was going to like the book and asked to read the first few paragraphs to me, which can be found on the author's website. She said that it sounded like something I would have written.

We talked a few minutes. She asked me if I had slept on the couch the night before. I told her that I did up to around 4:45 a.m., but then I woke up and felt like I had done the wrong thing, returning to bed. She said it did't feel good to have me missing from our bed. She didn't want us to divorce, and she was worried. I told her that I didn't want us to divorce, either, but we needed to take a good hard look at our marriage.

It was a good sign. In spite of the heated arguments in counseling and the cold distance that followed, both of us were reaching out to say that we weren't going to quit just net. A few mintes later, I took her hand and told her, "I want you to make love with me."

I don't think I've ever expressed a desire to have sex using the word "I want...". It's always been "Do you...". She responded favorably, and we did just that. It was passionate, heated, and very pleasurable, thanks to some sex positioning tips from a fellow PFer (thank you note in the e-mail). We went to sleep, her back in her nightgown, cuddled.

The next morning, I told her that I enjoyed being with her the night before. We talked some more about things. We agreed that we're far from resolution. This still may yet wind up in a parting of ways. It won't happen today, as I might have feared a few days earlier. I think the love making was a way for us to assure one another that we'll hang on for now. At a day at a time, this much is enough.

Friday, August 18, 2006

2am Answers a Question About Counseling

An anonymous poster writes:
Are you seeing a counselor on your own? I would not be surprised if a therapist advised you to be treated for depression.

Questioning one's marriage and one's future and all that stuff is tiring -- and, face it, depressing.

Currently, I am not seeing an individual counselor. I am considering that as an option, given the way the marriage counseling has turned into a session of "Put 2am on the Stand." I'm sure my insurance provider is going to love me, given that we've already had two requests for mental health coverage authorized on our plan in the last month.

I have been throught the counseling machinery several times before.

My first trip was when my wife found out about phone sex usage in the fall of 1994. I was diagnosed as a sex addict and went through about a year's worth of therapy, on a graduate student's stipend no less. The therapist was big on the cognitive stuff.

After I left graduate school, started a new job, and got caught in a relapse, I went to a new counselor. We started with sex addiction stuff, but it continued on with family of origin stuff and transactional analysis. It was at this point that I realized just how much my mother's parenting and then subsequent withdrawl screwed up my worldview. Later on, as my wife and I dealt with the conflict over having children, I had more therapy on that.

About the same time I was doing the individual therapy, I'd get dragged in on joint sessions with my wife's therapist. He was pretty even handed and pissed off my wife when he wouldn't rubberstamp her assertions. There were several sessions where she kept quiet, answering "yes" and "no" to questions on occasion.

In late 2002, two years after I moved back to my home state, I had a harrowing year. The prior year saw twelve months of trying to conceive fail because my sperm count was too low, and my wife, then 31, was in biological alarm clock hell. Over the course of the year, we went through two failed in vitro attempts and the process of an adoption home study. I also stopped initiating sex with my wife because she complained about being pressured. Throw in three months of having to house my sister-in-law and her 7 year-old son, plus a rapidly evaporating sexual climate, and I was one very unhappy puppy. My productivity plummeted, and it raised the eyebrows of my boss.

I sought some help from a counselor on my Employee Assistance Plan. After a few free sessions, he determined that it was likely that I was suffering from depression. I got referred to a therapist and a psychiatrist. I got put on the hometown pill (fluoxetine HCL, generic) and did that for about a year. Things improved some, but there were two side effects. I got a really sour stomach from the medicine, and I developed a weird sleep schedule that involved afternoon napping. During that time, I talked with the therapist about the sex drive disagreement. He didn't have much help to offer other than it was a very common problem.

About a year ago, during the latter stages of the Drought of 2004-5, I got some more EAP time to sort out my total dissatisfaction with my sex life and my job. Productivity was sinking with two kids in the house and no office for refuge. I was beginning to be more communicative to my wife that my dissatisfaction was bigger than just needing more sex. It was a global dissatisfcation with my marriage and my professional life. I stopped seeing that counselor when I changed jobs toward the end of the year.

A changeover to a job out of the house and demanding hours gave me respite for about six months. Sex reappeared, but it was still very infrequent and lacking in motivation. When the workload started to level off, I started to realize that things were still pretty bad sexually and were sliding back into the same kind of rarity as the Drought. A couple of skirmishes with the wife in June and July led me to where things are right now.

Sadistic Sky

Clouds of gray stand still,
Drop no rain, clap no thunder,
Block the soothing blue

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Transient or Permanent?

I'm feeling depleted tonight. My thoughts are dispersed like the fine mist from an impulse head lawn sprinkler. I don't want to pursue her any more. I don't want anywhere near her. I want to be left alone. I want to be alone. Is it a temporary feeling, or the beginning of something enduring? I have five months and 27 days to figure it out.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Long Distance Dedication

Tonight we turn our attention to music, abandoning the land of synth pop for something a little more contemporary. Here is a dedication sans the Kasey Kasem sappiness.

I heard the song "Jumper" by Third Eye Blind on the radio as I made my way out of the office park tonight. It brought to mind someone who is in a similar situation as mine. We have been there for each other in the moments where we've thought of jumping from our marital ledges, keeping each other sane, even if it is for a few days at a time.

Although the song's full lyrical context is far removed from the situations we face, some of the singer's attempts to convince a despondent friend to avoid doing the regrettable resonate with me. I also confess that the guitar riffs in the refrain are addictive.
I never thought it would come to this
And I
I want you to know
Everyone's got to face down the demons
Maybe today
We can put the past away
I wish you would step back from that ledge, my friend
You could cut ties with all the lies
That you've been living in

The dedication goes out to you, my "ledge friend".

2am Answers Reader Followups

The author of this blog would like to thank the anonymous commenter for replying to my questions. It is much appreciated.

Your remarks on boredom make a lot of sense with the additional contextual material.

my husband turns me on immensely when I have the vague feeling that I can't control him...that he is his own person...I'm not talking about being cruel...I just mean it keeps me on my toes...keeps me guessing.

I think that you might be onto something here. I haven't read it in detail, but I believe that this is also one of the ideas in the Why Your Wife Won't Have Sex With You weblog and possibly in the book No More Mr. Nice Guy by Dr. Robert Glover. I have the latter on order from Amazon right now.

If my husband was constantly asking me questions about what my "love language" is and so with him would feel more like a dreaded homework assignment!

I'm thinking it might be time to fire our marriage counselor because the stuff she's recommending just isn't getting the negotiation anywhere.

I was wondering if you are looking for a reason to have sex with someone else. If the reason or collection of reasons is compelling enough, then you can cheat on your wife but justify it to yourself. Again, no judgements here, but this could REALLY cloud your vision of your wife. Be honest with yourself about your motivations.

Thanks for the reality check. It's certainly a valid question. I think if I was trying to obtain a rationale for infidelity, I would have done so years ago because her avoidance of sex has been a recurring theme throughout our relationship. The strain has been accumulating over a period of maybe eight or nine years.

I think I'm at a point where I'm asking myself, "Am I insane to keep hoping that things will somehow change? How many more other excuses can I come up with for her disinterest other than she's not hot for me? Is it fixable at all?" Putting up with it for this long just to get a clear conscience for going astray seems like an exercise in masochism to me.

Flirtation with the Dark Side

Updated at 3:37 p.m. EDT to include link to apology.

Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, and hate leads to the Dark Side.
-- Yoda

Today, I was reminded of why I wrote my post on anger.

I lost my cool on a thread on PF that rubbed some, probably many others, the wrong way.

I look at my words against that retro lavender tile wallpaper and see raw ugliness. My soul craves a bath.

Counseling Session IV Roundup (or: 30 Seconds to Midnight)

Updated at 6:08 a.m. EDT to clairfy what is considered addictive behavior in my situation.

Our fourth marriage counseling session took place Tuesday evening.

I started off the session expressing my displeasure regarding the therapist's recommendations at the last session. I summarized the main points that I gathered from her remarks:

  • Cease pursuit of foreplay

  • Don't talk to wife during sex

  • Rely more on non-verbal cues to pleasure wife

I told her that these things were a tough pill to swallow because I felt like I was having to go a lot further than my wife was in finding common ground. The therapist admitted that her husband sometimes needed time alone to process stuff like this, so it was probably a good idea for my wife to give some space.

I also told the therapist that both Tuesday and Wednesday of last week were difficult days for us, recounting my distance towards my wife and the IMs she sent me at work.

We then recounted how we talked things over on Thursday, that we had engaged in sex both Thursday and Friday according to the therapist's recommendations above, and the wife's remarks about needing me to initiate sex.

I said that while the intercourse was pleasurable, I felt empty afterwards, using the White Castle analogy.

The therapist talked about the dance of attraction and repulsion, suggesting that my refusal to initiate sex over time might have finally induced my wife to move from repulsion to attraction. I said that might well be, but four years is an awfully long cycle to follow.

To reinforce the idea that I should avoid talking about sex with my wife, the therapist loaned me a copy of the book The Married Guy's Guide to Great Sex: Building a Passionate, Intimate, and Fun Love Life and referred me to the chapter titled "Sex is not a Spectator Sport".

During the discussion about me adapting to the therapist's suggestions, my wife made an eye-rolling remark about me being reluctant to change. I noted to the therapist that I wanted revisit that topic. When I did, I said that while I may have troubles with change, my wife also had troubles with change, too.

I brought up Monday night's cuddle fiasco, saying that this was an example of how my wife was unwilling to try something different, and that her almost bureaucratic reaction to the request made me feel hurt.

My wife went on full defense, arguing that she didn't feel comfortable cuddling while disrobed because our older daughter might see us. That seemed to be a weird defense since she has no issues with nudity around them otherwise, but I let that one slide.

She then said that she couldn't stand skin-to-skin contact for extended periods of time, even with the kids. So she is a skin crawler, but allegedly a universal one. Finally, she said that she didn't fully trust that my intentions were purely nonsexual because she said that I had been sexual in situations with her like that in the past.

I couldn't let that claim stand, given that I had rarely initiated sex since February 2002 (not more than five times). I challenged her to name the last time I tried initiating sexual activity with her while cuddling while undressed. She couldn't name a time. She then said that I used to come to bed with no underwear on when I wanted sex. I doubted that, too.

She then said that the nude cuddling reminded her of my addictive sexual behavior, and since that would be something I would never fully recover from, she would always be suspicious of my intentions.

The addictive behavior she's referring to is masturbation of any kind without her consent. It even worse to her if involves porn mags, videos, or phone sex. I have not made a phone sex call in over ten years. Last video I watched was even longer back than that, maybe eleven years. The last time I looked at a porn mag was in the collection room while I was being evaluated for sperm count fertility issues in 2001. It didn't do anything for me. The same goes for porn off the net. I have dabbled in writing erotic material as an outlet over the past three years.

She then took that chance to segue into the IM conversation from July 30. She said that it bothered her that I lied about who I was talking to, and that she didn't fully buy the claim that it was my brother. That lying undermined her trust in me.

The therapist interrupted and decided to pursue this in a more structured manner. She gave me a sheet of questions, based on sixth chapter the book The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work: A Practical Guide from the Country's Foremost Relationship Expert by John M. Gottman and Nan Silver.

In this exercise, designed to address marital gridlock, I was to play the role of dream listener to my wife. I asked her a series of questions about my dishonesty in identifying the IM person. There were twelve of them on the list, but we ran out of time during the session, so we only covered the ones listed below in some depth.

  1. What does my lying mean to you?

  2. Is there a story behind this for you?

  3. Does this relate to your history in some way?

  4. Tell me why this is important to you

  5. What are all your feelings about this?

  6. Are there any feelings you have left out here?

  7. What do you wish for here?

The rest had to be combined in summary.

My job was to listen and acknowledge without rebuttal.

Here is what I learned from these questions:

  • My lying about the identity of the IM user undermined her trust in me and undermined her desire to be close to me.

  • She thought that my desire to obscure the identity because it involved expressions of my feelings about our marital problems was a lousy one. That I should have been able to admit that was what I was talking about.

  • The lie reminded her of the deception I engaged in to cover up compulsive sexual behavior.

  • The lies reminded her of the deception her father would use in borrowing money from her to pay household bills, promising to pay her back but never doing so.

  • She said that my sexual behavior back then made her feel inadequate and that no amount of sex would make me happy.

The therapist gave me high marks for using the mirroring, but she said that I had forgotten an important step in the latter stage, which is to solicit and verify the feelings the speaker has about something. She noticed this after the second question and said that I needed to empathize with the feelings as well as acknowledge the factual content.

My wife seized on that and said that one of the things she had been talking about in her private therapy was that I wasn't very empathetic, saying I tended to get more shaken up about the loss of family pets than I did about the illness and death of relatives. She said frustrated with her if I felt she was not paying enough attention to me in regards to the marriage. She went so far as to describe my behaviors as narcissistic.

She said the only exception seemed to be with our daughters, which she said I did well with empathizing. She said that she noticed this when her brother passed away in the late summer of 2003, and that had made things go downhill ever since. She said that she didn't want our daughters to be that way.

In response to the sexual addiction remarks, I said that I felt hurt that I had gone through therapy and recovery to get a better sense of healthy sexuality, and when I got to the space where I was ready to have loving, emotionally connected sex, she was a no-show in the relationship.

She also said that she thought I was a perpetually unhappy person both with job and home life. She she thought that there was no amount of sex or attention she could give that would change my mood. She also thought that I would continue to be unhappy even if I divorced.

The therapist asked my wife what her dream relationship would be. She said something about getting a kiss from me in the morning, not having to go to work, me being giddy about spending time with the family, and maybe sex once a week.

The session ended, running about 15 minutes over. There was a couple waiting outside for their appointment. After we exited the building, my wife asked me if I wanted to follow her over to the sitter's to pick up the girls. I said that I would just head for home instead.

I had the following ideas pop into my head on the way home:

  • It was highly ironic that my wife, who made it a habit of refusing to validate my feelings, would have the gall to call me insufficiently empathetic.

  • She plays a two-faced game with regards to my past sexual behavior. On one hand she tells me she loves me and wants me to be her husband, but she still wants to punish me for behaviors I have long since stopped and avoided.

  • My resentment of her neglect usually arose when I felt like she was taking on too many caretaking obligations to people outside our marriage, such as her best friend, her mom, charitable causes, the preschool cooperative, etc.

  • Her fantasy about getting good morning kisses is a big crock because she is a royal crab in the morning. She would rather have me leave her alone so she can sleep in.

  • It sounds like she wants a lobotomized eunuch for a husband.

I felt drained after that ordeal. When I got home, I crawled into bed, resting there until my wife got back with the kids. I helped get them ready for bed, and then I got out of the house, heading for a nearby 24-hour Starbucks. I told my wife where I was going, and that I would be reading and writing there.

I was planning on staying at the coffee shop until around midnight, but my plans were dashed. They were closing the store at 10 p.m. for some remodeling work, and that was about 40 minutes away. The bright side was that I got a venti sized mocha for free.

I don't have a lot of hope for this marriage now. The skin crawl/physical touch mismatch is probably unfixable. My wife will never let go of past sexual history. Once an addict, always an addict. So there will always be an air of suspicion over my sexual activity and a curfew on what I can do with my body. I don't see how we continue in this marriage without hurting each other.

I might feel a bit better after a couple of days, but right now I just want to cast this gold band on my left hand aside and find out whether she's right about being unhappy alone.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Questions that Lead to More Questions

A commenter left the following remarks:

Wow--she must feel lousy--not just physically but in her spirit, too. She is literally hiding from anything sexual.
Either that, or she is bored out of her mind.
Do you desire her, truly?
Or are you dreaming of any feasible way to explain to inner self that sleeping with someone else at this point is okay?

Look. I'm not judging. I think all married people are in the same boat eventually.

I had a couple of questions for the commenter, if he or she should be so kind to clarify:

  1. Could you clarify the linkage you draw between sexual avoidance and boredom? Is it that sex (or perhaps the thought of sex with me) is so boring to her that she doesn't want to address it? Or are you referring to boredom in some broader sense?

  2. Regarding the pair of questions "desire her" versus "dreaming of reasons", is there something specifically that I've written that suggests I'm having that struggle, or is that your speculation on where I might be, given the events that I have described?

Now for my answer to your questions:

My desire for her is waning... quickly.

I have held out some sort of hope that there might be something I could do to change the dynamics. Although she said she is working on this stuff, it seems to be with much resitance and inconsistent levels of diligence. My conscience, along with other commenters, tells me that I should give her time. But I am also drained I feel like I am currently bound to someone who will never desire me sexually, sometimes cynically thinking that I am just viewed as a means to her ends. A question lingers, nagging me whether I want to spend the rest of my life with that.

Before the Anger, There Was Hurting

In a comment to a prior post, Starlight made the following remark:
Another point that strikes me - your anger.

This anger did not arise overnight. It took me years to finally admit that it even existed. I hate that it clings to my soul like greasy filth to the skin. At least for the latter, there is pumice soap.

Just as one does not accumulate grease without having handled something like a dirty engine part, I did not just wake up angry with her one day. It was the accumulation of several hurtful moments and realizations over the years.

I was reminded of the hurt last night before going to bed. I'll just describe the events and my feelings with no attempts to justify them. This is visceral stuff, not analysis.

My wife had a long day, and I knew she would be tired. She even asked to hold our younger daughter before I put her down for bed because she said she felt a little fragile. Later on, we hugged before going to bed. I told her that I had been feeling down, but I didn't know why.

When we lay down to go to sleep, she offered to lay by me. I accepted, and she started marshalling her pillows for maximal comfort -- a pillow on my shoulder for her to rest her head, and a body pillow between us, and most likely a layer of blanket as well. She's done this kind of thing for years, and although I don't feel very close to her when she does it, I've let it slide.

As she was moving the pillows into place, I asked her if she could do something for me. I told her it wasn't a sexual request. I then asked if it would be okay if we snuggled just skin-to-skin. That would have required removal of the body pillow, her nightgown, and my t-shirt.

Her response was a look that said, "Why are you asking this of me?" There was a pause, and then she asked me, "What do you mean?" I've seen that look before for requests both in and out of the bedroom. It hurt.

Sensing this was going to spill over into a discussion that would be much longer than the amount of time needed to disrobe and move the pillow, I retreated and told her, "Never mind. It's okay." I tried to be calm.

She made some remark about me getting upset about it. I tried assuring her that it was okay to go ahead with what she was doing originally, and she did after that awkward moment. I fell asleep, holding back tears.

Sunday, August 13, 2006


What I want, you've got
But it might be hard to handle
Like the flame that burns the candle
The candle feeds the flame yeah yeah
-- Daryl Hall & John Oates, "You Make My Dreams"

Not much sexual happening on the marriage recovery front. Most of the weekend was spent filling the wife's love tank with acts of service and quality time.

On Saturday, I got up early with the kids so my wife could sleep in. For the better part of the day, she was tied up with doing things for the preschool cooperative, so I watched the kids. Then I used the remains of the day to mow the lawn, which was embarrassingly overgrown.

On Sunday, we took the kids to the local zoo. Our three year-old daughter had some pretty defiant moments, but otherwise we did okay. We ate a mid-afternoon lunch at a diner downtown, a place teeming with the remnants of a big role-playing game convention... Lots of pale skinned guys with bad haircuts and black clothing.

After we got home, I went over to the wife's best friend's house to watch their 11 month-old daughter while the husband did some remodeling work. That allowed my wife to take a nap along with our kids. After I got back from babysitting, I made the family go out for a neighborhood walk, despite the protestations from my wife.

There were a couple of points along the weekend where I got a chance to take a pulse on how things were going.

On Saturday night, after kids were put to bed, I offered my wife a hug, saying that there were no other expectations attached to the act. She said she was glad because she said she didn't think she was up to a third night in a row.

On Sunday evening, between the babysitting and the walk, I asked my wife how she was feeling. She responded by saying that she had been frustrated with our three year-old's behavior. I empathized and said that she was probably testing the limits.

I asked her how she felt about the big picture. She said that she was feeling better, that she was glad that I was talking to her again. She also said that she enjoyed the fact that I wanted to go to the zoo today to do something as a family.

I brought up that I had noticed she had been searching for the book The Sex Starved Marraige on her web browser last week. I asked her whether her new therapist had recommended the title. She said that she had noticed a copy of the book at our marriage counselor's office. She said that she might get a copy from the local library, but I think that the book might serve better as a handy reference. I might be redeeming an Amazon gift card on that one.

I closed by asking her where she felt her "fuel level" was. She hates the "love tank" metaphor, so I have to phrase it differently. She said it was pretty good. I told her that I needed her to tell me if she felt like I wasn't doing enough to keep the level up.

Because she was complaining of back pain this evening, I dared not ask her for sex tonight.

I'll give her a break for a couple more days, because they will be draining for her. Tomorrow afternoon and evening, she has to take the kids down to our home town for a funeral home visitation. Her best friend's grandmother passed away late last week.

Then on Tuesday, she has a therapy doubleheader, with her private counseling in the morning and our marriage counseling in the early evening. Somewhere in between, she will be helping with preschool cooperative preparation.

Wednesday should be a light day for her, so I will make a move then. Unless something big happens, blogging will most likely be light, aside from counseling notes.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Another Trip to the White Castle

WARNING: Post contains explicit sexual content.

Tonight, I played drill sargeant and made my wife take a walk with me. We did a 3/4 mile trip, with me pulling the kids in the wagon.

After the kids were in bed, wife went to go run an errand. She came back with some ice cream from the Dairy Queen, thereby offsetting the night's exercise and then some. She said that she had done without it for two weeks and deserved a break.

After she finished up her treat, I asked her if she wanted to burn some of those calories with a quickie. She agreed to it, and we headed off to the bedroom.

I skipped the foreplay. She asked for some K-Y, and we did it doggie style for a while, perhaps 7 - 10 minutes. I realized that I was't getting there that way, so we reverted to missionary for another 3 - 5 minutes.

She was fairly silent during the intercourse, but during the doggie style, she showed a little daring by reaching back between her legs to tease my balls.

Once I knew I was past the point of no return, I pulled out and shot the load onto her crotch region. She remarked that it felt like it was all over the place.

Afterwards, we cuddled. She decided she wanted to talk current events, asking why there had to be terrorists in the world. I could tell she was worried about the well being of her best friend, who is flying to Florida on early Saturday morning.

She eventually dozed off into a snore, worn out from the quickie that turned out to be a little longer than I had expected.

Friday, August 11, 2006

2am Answers a Reader's Comment

In a prior posting I wrote:

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.

A reader posed a series of questions to me in a followup comment:

Does your wife ever climax by intercourse with you?

She says experienced an orgasm from intercourse with me once, early in our relationship, probably sometime in 1993.

Only the vibrator?

I have brought her to orgasm through two additional routes: fingertips and oral. She perfers the vibrator because she says she's feels gross down there. If she does allow me to do either of the alternatives, it is only after I have washed her off with soap and warm water.

And what did she mean by the condition "WE" are in? Does she feel you are in bad shape?

We are both overweight. I'm 6'0", around 270 lbs. Most of the excess weight is in my lower abdomen. Legs and thighs are in pretty good shape. She's 5'3", around 260 lbs. Most of the weight is in her thighs.

I've begun to realize just out of shape she is. We started taking walks in our neighborhood a couple weeks ago. After about half a mile, she is worn out. I can handle longer walking distances under more extreme temperatures.

She has invoked the out-of-shape language is several forms.

About a year ago, during an argument about sex, she said that my weight atop her was crushing her, and she felt claustrophobic.

On multiple times, she's complained that she doesn't feel sexy about her body. I avoid making remarks that might make her feel that way. She watches a lot of soaps and reality TV, so she is bombarded with images of unrealistically thin women. At times she has commented about my shape not making her feel sexy.

She's also complained that the weight makes it harder to achieve good penetration. I admit that I do not have much going for me in terms of masculine length.

Set Back the Doomsday Clock by a Few Minutes

WARNING: Post contains explicit sexual content.

I talked with my wife tonight after work, apologizing for losing patience with her. I told her that her unwillingness to say anything other than, "It was OK," about our counseling sessions and her complaints about the homework made me feel like she wasn't taking the counseling work seriously.

She told me that she wants to work on the marriage, which is the first time I've heard her say this during this four week ordeal. She said that it was a real struggle for her. I asked her what made this so difficult, and she replied that she feared that after doing all this work, it still might not be good enough for me and that we'd be in the same spot a year from now.

Then she told me that she had found that the Five Love Languages book author, Gary Chapman, would be giving a day-long conference titled Toward a Growing Marriage at a town about two hours south of us in a couple weeks. I looked over the materials on the web broswer on her laptop, and it seemed to be promising.

There was a problem; the people whom we could trust most to watch the kids for a day already had existing commitments. There were two other possibilites: my brother and sister-in-law and her other best friend. Brother lives about a hour north of here, and her friend lives about an hour and a half north of here. Given that we would have to backtrack to make the trip, that would most likely require an overnight stay.

When we were discussing my brother as an option, she opened it with a remark that bugged me. She said something like, "If your brother knows we're having troubles, we could ask him and his wife to watch the kids, but I still don't believe that was whom you were IMing with."

She's holding onto that, but I'm not going to fight too aggressively because that just draws more suspicion. I just told her that I've asked my brother not to let sister-in-law know because then it would get back to my evil aunt. She wondered if even my brother could be trusted to keep it a secret, and she agreed that sister-in-law and aunt were too cozily chatty.

I asked her if she had anything to share regarding her individual therapy. She said that the therapist seemed nice enough. I asked her if she knew why the counseling organization she had contacted steered her toward that therapist. The therapist is part of a larger non-profit where only a couple of the therapists are on the approved provider list for our insurance. She said she wasn't sure, but she said the therapist said she could understand her situation since she had two small children of her own.

She then asked me whether I would be willing to attend a session with this therapist after she had completed a few visits. I said that I would be glad to, and that I had anticipated that I would be called in at some point. She also made some mention about possibly seeing this therapist together instead of continuing with our marriage counselor. This surprised me, because to me the marriage counselor has seemed to be more sympathetic toward my wife's stance than my own. I told her that I would be open to that possibility.

I told her that our third counseling session left me unhappy because it sounded as if the therapist was telling me that in order to preserve the marriage, I would need to lower my expectations down and just be happy with what I have. That was too bitter of a pill for me to swallow. My wife countered that maybe the therapist said I should do that so that I could get what I want in the long run.

Our conversation was interrupted by the arrival of her best friend's husband, who had come over to use our shower since their bathroom is under renovation. Then her best friend came by to pick up her kids, whom we had been watching. She had been at a training class for a bereavement support group.

While my wife and her friend chatted, I did some more searching and found a second organization that promotes the same marriage seminars, and they were having one in early February at a place about an hour from here. Winter weather concerns aside, attending that conference would be much easier to do than the one in a couple of weeks, so I brought it up with my wife later. She agreed, but said it seemed like it was so far off (a little under six months).

After everyone had left and the kids were in bed. We hugged. I thanked her for committing to work on this, and apologized for being impatient. It was a long embrace, and it felt good. She then asked me if I wanted to have sex. I threw the inner overanalyst in the closet and didn't say anything. I just kissed her and started pushing her toward the bedroom. She seemed to enjoy my aggressiveness.

I pushed her onto the bed and started stripping the clothes off forcefully. Then I did the same to myself. I pounced on her, kissed her a few times, eschewed foreplay, and just took her, thrusting myself into her without using any lubricant. Surprisingly enough, she wasn't as dry as she might be without K-Y.

I didn't say a word to her during the act... no questions, no nothing. The only sounds I made were the moans vocalizing my pleasure. Yes, it was plain ol' missionary, and no, it probably didn't last more than five minutes. The difference was that something in me told me that if she wanted to work on this, she still wanted me. That was the emotional lock. I think she seemed a bit more into it, but I wasn't really paying attention.

The orgasm was good, and I collapsed atop her, resting my head on her chest for a minute or two. Then I got off of her and laid by her side to hold her. For the first time since we had given up trying to conceive, I didn't fetch a washcloth and wash her off. I just left my seed inside her. She got up, put a nightgown on, and went to the bathroom, making some comment about hoping the semen wouldn't leak out and roll down her thigh. Oh, well, maybe she'll get over that someday.

After she returned to the bathroom, she then threw me for a nice surprise. She turned to me and told me, "I'm not satisfied. Will you use the toy (vibrator) on me?" I fetched it from its hiding place and used it, still not asking any questions. When I felt like she was nearing the plateau, I'd move the tip away and tease her. Eventually, she undid the top of the nightgown to expose her breasts and then moved one of my hands to play with the nipple. I really liked that.

As she approached the point of no return, I planted some kisses on her inner thighs and she repsonded nicely. When she reached her climax, I was pretty sure she wasn't faking because her skin becomes flush from the bust upwards. I got some good writhes out of her. Afterwards, I held her, placing my head near her chest. Her heartbeat was racing at a good clip. As I brushed my arm across her belly, she shuddered and said that she was having aftershocks. I simply told her, "Good."

We laid there for several minutes. She then told me, "I'm going to ask you to start initiating sex, but I need to know that you will be able to accept when I say 'no'. I will do my best to say 'yes' than I say 'no'. I will try to initiate some, too. I think it works better when we try to do it right after the kids have gone to bed because I have more energy then."

I took those words to heart, and I felt relieved. After four and a half years since I voluntarily relinquished the role of sexual initiator, she was saying that she needed me to reclaim that role. Call it psychobabble, but I felt empowered by that.

She asked me if it was good, I told her that she had spoken loudly in my love language and it was great. Privately, I thought, "It may not have been the playful, long, and steamy sex that I dream of having someday, but sometimes one craves White Castles, too. I felt satisfied." Maybe if she can develop the confidence, she might be willing to try new things further on down the road.

She eventually got up to do some more work and watch a little TV. I checked the e-mail on my computer and went to bed. I felt much better about this having heard her say that she's serious about working on it. As I drifed off to sleep, I think I heard the muffled noises coming from the closet, saying that this might be the "out-the-door upswing" that sometimes happens when a low sex drive spouse is confronted by the reality that their partner is preparing to leave the marriage. Maybe they should give a name for it... Endangered Relationship Energy.

I decided to tell the closeted, overanalytic chap to stifle because there was one other thing I noticed on her web browser window earlier this evening. In the Yahoo toolbar, she had typed in "sex starved marriage", which most likely refers to the Michelle Weiner-Davis book. I'm not sure if this was recommended to her by the individual therapist, but it's a good sign that she's headed that direction.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Another IM Arrives

About two hours after my wife sent me the "I love you" IM, I received this:

wife: since we can't seem to talk right now face to face, i would like to remind you that approx 3 weeks when you spoke with me you said you would be patient. that we would work through this together. i am not getting the impression that you want to be patient. i have done everything so far that you have asked me, joint therapy and i am doing individual, and i am making an effort to read the 5 love languange book. I wouldn't typically say this during work but then at least i know you are listening. i am trying, please don't give up on us, i haven't.

My Inner Overanalyst Speaks Out

My wife sent me this IM about 45 minutes ago.

wife : I wanted you to know that I love you even if you think I don't. Hope you have a better day.

Her intentions might have been noble, but the statement above is the last thing you want to say to someone who feels you haven't been treating his feelings with validity.

I chose not to respond.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Counseling Session III Roundup

Our third marriage counseling session took place late Tuesday afternoon, and I emerged from it with far less hope than I have ever had for the future of our marriage.

My wife and I drove separately as I was arriving from work and she had to drop off the kids at the sitter. She arrived at the practice's waiting room, mega cup of some Starbuck's concoction involving whipped cream in hand. She said that she was fragile.

As the therapost welcomed us into her office, my wife told her that she had not completed the exercise worksheets, but that she had started reading The Five Love Languages, saying it wasn't as boring as she remembered.

The therapist started off by going back to the Imago worksheets from last week. She asked me if I recalled what my wife had said about her father. I was able to recount every point, which produced a surprised look from both the therapist and my wife. My blog is a wonderful memory reinforcement tool. ;-)

The therapist then asked my wife if she saw the "controlling and inflexible" personality traits of my father-in-law in me when I expressed a desire for more frequent and more emotionally involved sex. My wife said she thought so. I ceded that point, saying that it was reasonable to believe that.

My wife said that she thought that I overanalyzed things. She pointed to the IM conversation from earlier that afternoon. She said that I kept asking her questions about the details of her troubles with the exercises. At this point, my wife was in tears, and it was becoming clear that I must intimidate her in some sense.

The therapist noted that I seemed to have a strong thinking personality whereas my wife was geared more toward feeling.

The therapist noted that she had visited the Dateline NBC website about the episode on sexless marriages. She asked me what I thought was the key message of the show.

I paused for a few moments and then said that it was Dr. Schnarch's assertions that people in marriage avoid revealing their true wants because they're afraid that it will upset the state of the marriage, and then I pointed to the example of the couple whose wife wasn't interested in having sex with her husband because it wasn't erotic enough for her (see the website, video clip 2). The therapist suggested that perhaps my wife resisted sex because she didn't feel like she was being heard.

The therapist suggested that my wife's lack of enthusiasm for sex may have stemmed from parental role modeling, erroneously recalling that her parents were married, sleeping separately (those were my parents before they divorced). She correctly recalled that there was speculation that her father was gay and was seeing guys behind her mother's back.

We moved onto the discussion of love languages. My wife said she had been trying to do better on physical touch with holding hands and and hugs. The therapist asked me if that was helping. I said it did help some, but it bothered me that she seemed to be so against learning the sexual dialect, which speaks most loudly.

The wife said she thought that the last two times we had sex (1, 2), around three weeks ago, was pretty good, but "obviously it wasn't good enough to him for some reason." I said that it was because I set aside expectations of foreplay.

I talked about how I felt like the sex was purely mechanical. I didn't feel like she was present emotionally. I said that I couldn't understand why she seemed to resistant to improving her sexual skills. I had learned and practiced the love languages that speak most loudly to her, why couldn't she do the same? Why doesn't her love for me motivate her to do that? Why couldn't she spend some time experimenting and learning more about herself sexually? Why couldn't she be more creative and try to discover new ways to make me feel good?

I used an analogy of unloading the groceries from the minivan only up to the porch instead of all the way to the kitchen. I asked her if she would be happy with that, she copped an attitude and said that she would be okay with that. I then tried to draw an analogy between good sex being like a see-saw, where both people riding have to put in effort. She told me that she was tired of my analogies.

I said that I had tried the typical advice given to men on how to please women: encourage her to express what she wants, engage in relaxed foreplay, tell her what you want. None of those things worked because she says "I don't know" to the what she wants question, "I don't want that" to the foreplay, and doesn't really follow through on what I ask.

My wife responded by saying that she felt under pressure when I tried to communicate with her. The therapist helped her along by asking whether she felt like she was under a microscope, and my wife agreed.

The therapist tried making some workaround suggestions, starting with being less of a "thinker" in bed and approaching it from "a more feeling space". I asked her what that mean in concrete terms because I couldn't understand what she was talking about. She had to pause for a moment.

She likened the approach to soothing a crying baby. There are books that give advice on how to take care of a baby, and there are usually guidelines for what to do when the baby cries. Doing the steps as they're described in the book doesn't guarantee that the baby will stop crying. One needed to learn to read the baby. By the same token, I needed to learn how to read my wife.

She went on to say that meant deemphasizing the importance of foreplay, giving my wife more continuous feedback on what I wanted, and learning to read my wife's signs of arousal. My wife shot down the idea of me giving more verbal feedback because she said she just tunes it out after a while. I said that my wife was not very expressive when I was trying to stimulate her. The only thing I could go by was pelvic movements.

As we approached the end of this discussion, my wife was in tears, whimpering that she didn't know what to do. In retrospect, I think I should have told her to go get a God damned book and learn how to be a better lover.

I brought the discussion back to the "why doesn't she try harder"? I told the therapist the question for me is whether she "can't" or "won't" learn to speak my love language more fluently. I said that in my heart, I felt like it was a matter of "won't". The therapist didn't seem to buy that suspicion.

The recurring motif in the therapy session seemed to be gearing down my expectations so that the wouldn't exceed whatever pittance my wife was willing to offer in the bedroom. It's as if she thinks all a woman needs to provide for sex is a slippery surface and some friction. Actually, she doesn't do slippery well, either because we almost always have to break out the K-Y. That's not much more than what one would expect from sex with an inflatable doll.

I was unsatisfied with this, but I wasn't ready to rebut because I needed time to process all of this. I suspect that if the genders were reversed, I doubt that many self respecting therapists would tell the wife to "expect less foreplay and communication from your husband."

Because the therapist suspected that my wife and I have widely differing personality types, she gave us the assignment to complete an enneagram.

I don't think it's overanalytical to say that she hasn't taken the therapy seriously. She's barely worked on the exercises. Her attitude toward it all is reflected in that IM conversation cited earlier in this post. She has little to say outside of the therapist's room. She hasn't done much of the reading. She's on pure cry-and-evade mode. She's not too stupid to grasp this stuff. She has taken, and passed with good grades, college level coursework. However, she is lazy when it comes to thinking.

I was quite depressed last night and for the better part of the day. My heart now believes it is over.

Today, my wife had her first sex therapy appointment. She hasn't volunteered any information on it, and I'm not going to ask any questions because I don't want her to accuse me of overanalyzing things. I was distant to her this morning and this evening. She asked tonight if I was unhappy with how yesterday's therapy went. I simply replied that I wasn't in a good enough space to talk about it with her.

We have another counseling session this coming Tuesday. I think that if it goes as badly, I will start to consider what my options are. I don't feel close to her. I don't feel loved by her. I don't feel love for her. I can't even be certain that I can bring myself to lie in the same bed with her tonight.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

My Brief IM Conversation with a Black Hole

I'm not going to analyze this, lest someone out there accuse me of overanalyzing things. This is a transcript of an IM conversation I just had with my wife regarding the worksheets we're supposed to have done for marriage counseling this evening. It echoes the kinds of conversations that we have when I try to talk with her about our counseling in person.

wife : i am getting frustrated with that stupid paper. why can't we just talk this through with her.
me: What part of it is frustrating to you?
wife : mostly the fill in the blanks because obviously my other parts arent' making sense
me: Which other parts aren't making sense? The tables?
wife : the madlibs and i mean mad
me: You might need to rework the wording of some of the things you are transferring from the tables so that they make grammatical sense.
me: It's not necessary to do the exercises perfectly. I think she gives them to us so that we come to the session having thought about the things we will be discussing.
me: Were the diagram and tables difficult for you to complete?
wife : yes
me: Was it that you couldn't come up with examples, or did you have trouble expressing ideas in writing?
wife : maybe both
me: Do you find the worksheets to (be) not very helpful?
wife : they are ok
me: Is that a positive or negative "OK"?
wife : neutral
me: Did you make some progress in the love languages book?
wife : i am ready to read the languages. i was going to start with touch first
me: Did the discussion of being "in love" and the tank metaphor make sense?
wife : i don't know right now i can't remember what i read
me: I'll let you get back to working on the exercises. I'm sorry that they're frustrating to you.

Monday, August 07, 2006

So It Wasn't a Fib After All

On Saturday, my wife informed me that she had been contacted by the therapist with whom she had been trying to set up an appointment for sex therapy. This was something I had persuaded her to pursue not quite four weeks ago.

She had started the process soon after the talk, but she said it would take them two weeks to call back with an appointment time. That seemed to be a very unusual way to operate a counseling service.

When the two weeks passed without followup, I presumed that either the organization was poorly run or my wife had lied about the contact she had made with them.

Further validating her contact was a large envelope, with a return address for the organization, delivered in our mailbox on Friday.

Her first appointment is at 10 a.m. Wednesday. I hope that this is a good therapist, not one that is obsessed with recovering false memories.

Wading in a Very Deep Sea

WARNING TO SPORTS LOATHERS: This posting contains gratuitous references to sports. I'm still trying to work off the elevated testosterone levels from excessive guy activity from the past week. ;-)

I spent the better part of Sunday at a well known auto race that is held in town around this time of the year. It's the sixth time I've attended that race, starting out as a courtesy to my wife's best friend's husband. I've gotten hooked on it over time, and it's now one of the few times a year that I actually get out of the house, away from both the wife and the kids.

The allure is a mixture of things.

The race track itself is steeped in rich history and traditions. You can't be a resident of this town or a race fan without realizing that you're standing on sacred ground. It's akin to the sanctity of walking the turf of Notre Dame Stadium and pondering the deeds of Irish football teams under Rockne, Leahy, Parseghian, and Holtz. I know because I had gone to school there in the waning years of the Holtz era, witnessing both the magnificent upset of Florida State and the following heartbreaker of a loss to Boston College in 1993.

The engineer in me marvels at sheer power of the vehicles. The first time I heard the rumble of the field of 43 cars, each powered with an 800 HP engine that cost more than I paid for my house, making their way out of turn 3 and into the north short chute, I got a tingle in my spine. The collective din is like a low flying, slowly moving jet. I still get that tingle every time I go.

Then there is the human element. People who don't know the sport don't realize how punishing the environment of a race car can be. The temperature is easily in the triple digits, and drivers lose a substantial amount of weight in fluids during the course of a race. The clockwork efficiency of the pit crew performing rapid fire maintenance under the watchful eye of a laptop toting crew chief is a testament of how far the sport has come from its humble origins.

But that's not what I came to talk about...

Attendance at the event is believed to be on the order of over 200,000 people. It is indeed a people watcher's dream.

Contrary to the stereotypes that one may have of stock car auto racing, you get a glimpse at a wide cross section of society. The racial makeup may not satisfy the diversity demographers, but you will see both black and hispanic fans among the masses. None of them seemed to be intimidated by their minority status.

The kind of diversity I'm talking about is in ages and lifestyles. Yes, you might see a few drunken redneck types, but that's far from the complete picture. There are packs of young males with more machismo than sense baking their tatooed torsos in the unforgiving sun. There's whole families making a day out of it, providing a much needed bridge across the generation gap. There's groups of middle aged guys, perhaps friends or business acquaintances who don't associate with one another of, who have gathered just to bond.

Then there are the women... Lots of them. The shapes, sizes, clothing choices, body art preferences, personalities, facial expressions, and postures are almost limitless. And being of the male persuasion, it's hard for me not to notice and evaluate them. Perhaps it is this sensory overload, rather than solar exposure, that leaves me so drained by the end of the day.

Being in a precarious space within my own marriage, I found myself looking much more than previous years. A gathering like this makes one realize just how true that old fish-in-the-sea cliche is. This was but a cupfull of a larger ocean. Some of it desirable, others less so.

This year, I noticed that there were women who were happy to be spending the day with their men. They were enjoying the day, not whining. Most of them expressed affection in some way. I found myself feeling very lonely and envious, for I knew that my wife would never accompany me on a day like this. She'd complain about the miles of walking. She'd cry misery over the heat and the sun. The bleachers wouldn't have enough elbow room to her liking. The complaints would be endless.

I know it's wrong for me to give up now, especially with us in marriage counseling and her getting ready to start sex therapy. But the urge to look elsewhere is becoming fiercely strong.

In the short term, there is nothing I can really do about it. I need to be patient and give my wife a chance to mend.

In the meantime I will most likely focus on getting into better shape so that I will be a more attractive catch to either my wife or perhaps someone new. If I am to swim, I will need to slim. Tonight, I walked over a mile with my daughters in tow aboard their wagon, and that proved to be a nice workout.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Do the Deserts Really Miss the Rain?

It's been two weeks since the last instance of physically intimate activity with the wife, and there are no signs of improvement in sight. However, this corner of the sexual Sahara has seen much drier times than this.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Times that Tire a Man's Soul

Day two of the preschool move didn't go as swiftly as my wife predicted. She said that all they had left to move were some bulky cabinets, a shelf, an armada of Big Wheels, and some of those unwieldy Little Tikes plastic playground toys. Because it wasn't supposed to be that big of an operation, I deferred eating dinner. Big mistake there.

What she didn't realize was that there was quite a bit of material still out in the garage. Three husbands, myself included, did most of the heavy lifting and loading. By the time the truck reached capacity, there was no room left for the playground toys.

I drove the moving truck over to the new church site, and we made two stops. One was at the shed we constructed last night, and the other was at the church. We then made a second trip to get the playground toys. All in all, we did three solid hours of nonstop work in hot and humid conditions.

I got the job of refueling the truck and returning it to its rightful owner. We rolled into our driveway sometime around 10 p.m. I was sweaty, dirty, and thirsty, but not all that hungry. I passed on dinner and volunteered to give the girls a bath, since they were dirty and sticky from playing that whole time.

After the kids were in bed, my wife gave me a hug thanked me for all the help that I had provided the past couple of days. The she apologized for underestimating the amount of work left. She said she wasn't used to my newer attiude (not acting grumpy about the work). I'll take it as a sign that she's trying to be more affirming.

I checked my e-mail, moved the trash out to the curb, and took a shower. It was 11:30 p.m. by then. My wife went to bed, and I stayed up about another hour and a half on the computer, replying to personal e-mails.

The move was an instructive moment for me for a number of reasons...

First, my emotional state was not what I would have predicted. Upon learning that we had way more to move than I was told, I felt a little bit of grumpiness develop inside me, but I pressed on because I knew it needed to be done. I think if the task would have involved my wife directly, I would have been less pleasant.

Second, all of this manual labor gave me some guy time away from the wife. That felt good. I think it reinforces the thinking in a Wednesday PF posting from Zoloft. If the counseling doesn't pan out, I don't have to consider splitting right away. I can find temporary respite in other things and maybe meet someone more compatible. Think of it as a phased withdrawl.

Third, I was reminded why I hate moving so much. If I do wind up divorcing someday, I'll be glad to part with most of my worldly possessions if it means I don't have to load a truck for hours on end.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Her Love in a Nutshell?

Here is a little anecdote that is nothing new in my relationship with my wife, but I think I'm starting to look at this behavior in a new light.

Last night, I came to bed around 12:30 a.m. My wife, who has been in bed for about an hour, is tossing and turning. She says she can't get to sleep. I offer to rub her head because I know that relaxes her.

I turn out the lights, she gets comfortable cuddling under my arm, and I rub for a minute or two. She's still awake, and I tell her that I didn't think we kissed good night. She tells me to bend my head a certain way. I started moving a different direction before she could even finish the sentence.

She gave me those directions for a reason; she was wanting me to kiss her in such a way that it wouldn't require her moving out of her comfy position, and then she started whining that she'd have to get comfortable again. I even found myself apologizing to her, just as I had done in many similar situations before.

The brittle nature of her comfort and the whining that goes with it is nothing new. I gave up trying to hold her as she went to sleep a long time ago because of it.

The message that I get from this exchange is "I will speak your love language as long as it doesn't require much effort from me." It has several variations like these:

  • I will have sex with you, as long as I don't have to put much emotional or physical effort into it.

  • I will cook meals for the family only when my best friend's family comes over for dinner. Otherwise you will need to go get us some carry out or eat leftovers.

  • I will let you express your affection for me as long as it doesn't cause any sensations like tickling.

And yet, I've put up with this, and even apologized for being an inconvenience, because I am so starved for her approval and affection.

When it comes to speaking her love language, though, she expects me to execute to the fullest. If she hears something in the middle of the night and is scared about someone breaking into the house, she expects me to get up and investigate. When she wants something from the store, and I'm at home, she expects me to go get it for her. Whatever cause she volunteers for, she expects me to wrap my schedule around it.

I don't think it's enough for me to say "I give up," but it's enough for me to wonder why I've settled for this.