Wednesday, August 16, 2006

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.
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