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.
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