Monday, October 30, 2006

Notes on Counseling Session II and Some Ruminations on Normal Martial Sadism

I had my second counseling session during my lunch hour today. It went well.

I extracted a copy of the posting on Nonnegotiable #1 from last week and used that as the starting point. In addition, I provided a description of a discussion I had with my wife shortly after I finished that posting. I haven't had a chance to post about that, but I will do so in the next day or so.

The therapist thought the boundary statement was good, suggesting that it could be broadened in scope as sixdegrees had mentioned in a comment. But she thought it needed some further exploration.

She said using the term rude might be confusing because it is subjective. What I interpret as rudeness might not interpreted so by my wife. For example, in the case of interrupting a phone conversation, she might be able to multitask well enough so as to not be thrown off by it.

We started making a list of what particular aspects of my wife's behavior during that incident were rude to me. As a homework assignment, she told me to think about past situations where I thought my wife might have been rude and identify those behaviors.

By dealing in concrete instances, using objective descriptions of behaviors, I can then describe the boundary more clearly. She also said I should think about what my wife could do differently so as to avoid violating the boundaries.

She said that what I was asking for in the situation with the phone and the scissors wasn't even really respect, it was just simple civility.

My counselor asked me if I thought my wife engaged in these kinds of behaviors out of vindictiveness. I told her, no, but I said that I think that her behaviors might have some origins in her relationship with her father. Recalling from my notes of our second marriage counseling session:

She then had us do our first Imago dialogue. Those of you who are familiar with computer network protocols could think of this as the conversational equivalent of TCP/IP, communication with checksums. Each time a message is received by the recipient, the recipient tries to make sure that the meaning of the sender's message was preserved upon hearing.

The dialogue was a role playing exercise where each of us took on the role of the parent we had the biggest problems with acting as the recipient of that message. The sender was to tell the parent what life was like living with them and then what were the biggest frustrations.


She said that I (her dad) was inflexible and controlling. I seemed to view her requests of help as a burden. I sought to get out of those requests by trying to get other people, usually other parents, to do the work for me. She said it frustrated her I would ask her for money that she earned on her job, making her feel like the family would fall apart if she didn't give me the money. I was able to summarize all of these things on the first try, except for one aspect of the money issue, where I assumed he was saying certain things to make her feel bad. Her reaction was fairly emotionless. She said she didn't feel the pain of her frustrations because she had gotten past that years ago.


I noted that from the Imago dialogue it was clear what our disappointments with our parents were and that we got some insights into what we were looking for as spouses. I asked her whether she thought that those unmet needs with her father weighed heavily in what she sought out from me to get her own love needs met. She said she wasn't sure.
In other words, her father ran the show, ditched his responsibilities, and expected others to help clean up his messes. He never self-confronted the abuse he was inflicting on himself and others. The controlling behavior was his means of annihilating opposition, a textbook example of what Schnarch calls normal marital sadism.

I read my notes on this to my therapist and wondered if this had an effect on the way my wife treated me. Sometimes, I feel as if I am an accessory to her existence and that she expects my priorities to yield to hers. My passive nature amplifies this, sending her the message that she can continue to treat me that way without fearing direct confrontation.

While she might quash her anxiety from these actions, it poisons the well between us and makes it impossible for us to be emotionally intimate. I can't express negative feelings within that arrangement.

In Passionate Marriage, there are a couple of cases where Schnarch illustrates how parental sadism influenced the sadistic behaviors of the client. On page 301, he writes:
Masochism is an exceedingly powerful form of attachment. When it is the only synchrony parents offer, children take it. Masochist and sadist -- victim and perpetrator -- are powerful forms of emotional fusion. Children (in masochistic roles) approach future relationships from either side of this sadism masochism coin. It makes little difference which side they're on, although it usually feels better to "dish it out." They acquire a taste for this, and it becomes part of their erotic "map."
I talked about the two-track mental process that I described last week. She said that I need to work on breaking down that compartment, stop worrying about how to preserve short term harmony, and start linking what I want deep down with what I do in reality.

I closed out the session by wondering whether this had something to do with behaviors that I considered disrespectful.

I didn't get a chance to talk about the following, but I've been wanting to blog on it for a long time...

With regards to normal marital sadism, Schnarch uses the story of Peter and Audrey in Chapter 11, where Audrey's mother inflicts sadism by being forgetful and then blaming Audrey for it. Audrey uses a similar tactic to avoid being sexual with her husband Peter, who is passive both in and out of the bedroom.

In Chapter 13, Schnarch describes Joe and Fay, a highly fused couple. Fay used fragility and trumped up claims of invalidation to stifle disagreement. Moreover, she avoided her own unresolved issues by withholding sex and then blaming her husband for the troubles. Since the husband was insecure and poorly differentiated, he bought into the reality she was peddling.

Both women were finally forced to confront themselves when their husbands started to differentiate, saying that they refused to stay in marriages in which they would have to give up sex, or at least deal only with emotionally disconnected sex.

The more I study and ponder Schnarch's writings, the more I believe that a similar dynamic is present in my marriage. Why might this be? Think back to a comment that Drunken Housewife left on my blog a few days ago:
I'd really love, voyeuristically speaking, to hear your wife's side of things. I'm curious to hear what has gotten her to this place. She doesn't seem to be willing to work on fixing your financial straits or your marriage or getting healthier. If she thinks her life will improve if you guys divorce, well, she's probably not focusing on reality (sorry, but overweight women with small children and limited funds do not have an easy time finding new husbands, and running two households takes more cash than one). Maybe she's really depressed and just not thinking about the big picture.

Let's suppose she does have an awareness that her prospects of finding another provider are low, should I leave the marriage. If she senses that I may be unhappy enough to withdraw, that's probably going to cause anxiety in her. To cope with the anxiety, she has two courses of action other than the status quo.
  1. Try to do things that make her more attractive (physically, emotionally, etc.) as a spouse.
  2. Take advantage of my reflected sense of self, distorting that image grotesquely to make me feel bad about wanting better either from her or by looking elsewhere.
Option (1) takes a lot of effort. Option (2) comes almost as easily as breathing because her relationship with her father was an apprenticeship on the craft.

Sex is the area where my poor differentiation is at its most raw. By avoiding sex or offering only bad sex, she could exert a tremendous amount of leverage on how I feel about myself, keeping me locked in feelings of inadequacy for all time. Moreover, because I grew up with divorce, she could count on my own guilt keeping me from considering divorce an option.

I am now approaching a point where I see the ugliness of the fusion and the need to liberate myself from it. As I work with my therapist, option (2) will become less effective at keeping me in check.

This is why I can't confront my wife directly about the dynamic. Showing her the relevant excerpts from Schnarch and saying, "See, doesn't this sound like us?" would do no good.

The path to resolution is through my own crucible, where there is only confrontation of me and my own issues. I need to stay on this path to learn myself, set my boundaries, differentiate, and then hold onto myself, regardless of the consequences.
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