The Two Choice Dilemma, Marital Sadism and the Mercy Fuck

Some of you will love this and some of you won’t.  This is the part where we finally weigh in on the cost of being an avoider.

 

Basically in life we tend to not like making the hard choices.  We like making choices where it is win-win.  The lose-lose propositions require a certain amount of pain.  So we avoid making those choices, hoping that a more favorable option eventually comes around.  Sometimes it does.  But in the area of sexual disparity, it mostly won’t, at least without making a choice.

 

To quote Schnarch:

 

“Pop psychology tells us what we want to hear: you should expect your partner to accept, understand and validate your position even if he doesn’t agree– he should even say you make sense!  That strategy works as long as there’s enough room for everyone to have his or her own feelings and act upon them.  But many marital therapy approaches don’t work in the bedroom because they try to avoid two-choice dilemmas.  We can agree to disagree as long as we are focused on feelings and perceptions.  When the issue is behavior, however, flexibility is reduced significantly.  You can’t agree to disagree about sex.  When your spouse says he or she is never doing a sexual behavior– or never having sex again– you don’t feel like saying, “Thanks for sharing!”

 

When we say we have no choice, what we’re really saying is that there is no choice we want.  There is always a choice, but it is often a choice that we don’t want.  What we really want to do is make a choice that suits us at the expense of the other person.  Some people think monogamy is a great thing…for the other person.  The choice to not have sex is based on the assumption that the other person will not exercise their choice to have sex.

 

In the ’60’s and ’70’s it was popular to say that it was unrealistic to expect one person to meet all of your needs.  The have-it-all saying was based on avoiding the 2 choice dilemma.  In fact, that’s at the crux of the “Have-it-all” mentality.  It pretty much avoids the whole reality of making hard choices and the economic reality of the principle of scarcity.

 

So we have this couple who we can call Digger and Arwyn.  Schnarch names them Audrey and Peter.  Arwyn seems to care less about sex while Digger is frustrated at the lack of sex. 

 

Arwyn’s gambit is based on the idea that she can not have sex because there is too much pressure.  She says that if there wasn’t so much pressure, she might be more open to sex.  Plus, with Digger initiating she never has a chance to initiate.  So Digger agrees not to initiate and thus not to pressure Arwyn.  So a week goes by and Arwyn does not initiate because then she would simply be responding to the pressure of the agreement.  Another week goes by and she does not initiate.  As time passes, Digger’s frustration grows and Arwyn knows it but does not initiate because she is feeling pressured by her own thoughts of having to do what she does not want to do.  She doesn’t want to want Digger while she does want him to want her.  New “if only’s” surface as she continues to try to hold out just enough hope to keep the marriage intact.  She may even try to improve in other areas in order to compensate for this one marital lack.

 

So where does that leave Digger?  Anything he possibly does will increase pressure.  Damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t.  So now he faces a 2 choice dilemma.  No sex or force growth through making a choice whether or not to have sex.

 

2amsomewhere referred to this a bit earlier in a comment about those bloggers who choose to have affairs.  They essentially take the choice away from their partner while trying to have their cake and eat it too.  Two choice dilemmas are a pathway to growth and an affair essentially robs themselves of that opportunity as well as that of their partner.

 

So I get that I’ve helped enable this sad state of affairs in perpetuating a sexless marriage.  Arwyn holds all the cards, sexually speaking.  What little sex we’ve had over the past few years has been not so good so I’m not really wanting it too badly from her at the moment.  I’d like to be in a monogamous sexually-fulfilling marriage but it remains to be seen whether I’m willing to pay the freight in order to get there. 

 

The scenario described in chapter 11 perfectly matches where I’m at with Arwyn more or less.  It’s irritating that I had to read through so many other chapters to get here, but here I am. 

 

What really drove me mad getting to this chapter was the section on marital sadism.  I know I have a very thick red line of sadism running through me.  A very bad nastiness that has nothing to do with the good nastiness of sex.  It’s in all of us and it occurs in pretty much every marriage.  Deep down, in our heart of hearts we hate our spouse.  That bit was hard to grapple with as I read it, but the realization of it lead me right into that old saying: the opposite of love isn’t hate, it is apathy.  Hate seems like maybe we’re putting it more strongly than it really is, but our squeamishness about that is a result of some false beliefs.  Namely we think that love and hate can not coexist.  Where hate is, love can not be and where love is, hate must be absent.  This belief leads us into denial which pretty much guarantees that we’re going to behave worse towards our chosen spouse.  The fact is, hate exists in the world of love and love exists in the world of hate.  We have to confront that evil nasty side before we can move on.  The whole idea behind the reflected sense of self is so that other people won’t make a fuss about the nastiness we have inside of us.  We want to be loved by others so that we can love ourselves.  By focusing on how great we are (through listening to what our itching ears want to hear) we can deny our evil nasty side.

 

Differentiation comes from confronting our evil side and truly repenting.  That’s my take, not Schnarch’s but this is a dot that he left to be connected.  We get all self-righteous and inflict cruelty on others to justify ourselves.  We elevate ourselves by depressing others which isn’t exactly a recipe for self-respect.  On the other side, we constantly compromise our integrity by accepting the bullshit of others.  The perpetrator/victim mentality has gotten me no where. 

 

In this section we encounter the mercy fuck and the mind fuck.  I’m willing to wager that most of you know exactly what I mean, at least if you’re married.  This is not to be confused with the pity fuck that Chelsea Summers wrote about recently. 

 

The mercy fuck is the penultimate of marital sadism.  Basically the mercy fucker says, “Okay, I don’t want to have sex with you but I’m going to allow you to mount me and I’ll do the minimum to get you off.  You’d bloody well better appreciate it, too!”

 

This is followed by the mind fuck, where the mercy fucker doesn’t respect the fuckee because he is so willing to accept such poor sex.  “See?  This only proves that all you want is to use my body!” when that is all that is ever offered.

 

The person who is offered the mercy fuck is basically given a choice between sex even a hooker would be ashamed of giving or no sex at all.  The only real way of dealing with the mercy fucker is to stop doing it.

 

Then we have the woman who fakes orgasms and then resents her husband for feeling so good about the job he’s doing.  That’s a mind fuck.  “Yes dear” is a mind fuck because we all know that it means “Yes, but don’t complain if it’s not done with enthusiasm.”

 

Basically, marital sadism allows partners to screw each other two ways at once.  Lousy oral sex technique while feigning ignorance and other passive-aggressive war mongering techniques are all part of “normal” marital sadism.

 

We hate our partners, but that is a reflection of how much we loathe ourselves.  We need to deal with our self loathing in order to get along with each other.  We need to confront our hate and deal with it.  Notice I’m not saying make it go away, I’m saying deal.  Stop blaming and start standing.

 

What that means for Arwyn and I remains to be seen.  But I’m digesting this and thinking about it.  I’m sure you all might have something to add to this discussion in the way of experiences.  You can read pretty big chunks of that chapter here, if you want.

 

D.

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16 Responses to The Two Choice Dilemma, Marital Sadism and the Mercy Fuck

  1. 2amsomewhere says:

    I knew you’d like Chapter 11, Digger.

    Unfortunately, not all of our situations are as easy to unearth as it was with Peter and Audrey. Audrey liked to fuck, but it wasn’t with Peter because his globally passive nature didn’t do it for her.

    The next few chapters will try to map out the process that is happening with all the couples from the prior chapters. I think it will go a long way toward helping you to see what I was doing in the early part of 2007.


    2amsomewhere

  2. Digger Jones says:

    Yeah, 2am, I’m still a bit put off by the fact that I think Schnarch could have lead off with this chapter instead of burying it towards the back. I look forward to moving on with it so I can get a better feel for the route you’ve taken and why you’ve gone there. Because so far, it looks a lot like you’ve jumped out of the system entirely which is going to make further growth more difficult without having that dynamic to foil your own narcissism.

    Instead if plopping another post, I’ll just extend here:

    Since reading it, I’ve had to come to grips emotionally with Arwyn’s sadistic side. Looking at her, she does a swell job of appearing as the victim. In this blog some of you have pointed out something that was not so readily apparent to me: she’s a perpetrator as much as me. She has been perfectly willing to watch me suffer for *years* while playing the part of victim with whatever her own history of abuse is. I know that I may have played my role, but she was doing this long before she met me. I’ve been too easy in letting her flip the script every time. We fight about sex and she starts melting down with assorted tears and hysterics which puts me back on the defensive. That dog isn’t going to run anymore. In some ways, seeing her sadism has been more enlightening than looking at my own, but it fits in a way because it has allowed me to play the role of victim right here in my own blog! But the blog is simply me putting out there what is already in my own mind. If I didn’t write it down, I’d just be stewing in that same juice. Many of you have pointed this out but I wasn’t getting it or maybe not wanting to get it. Because this does add a bit more urgency to *doing* something.

    Going through this has had another collateral effect as far as my spirituality. The light bulb went off: The institutional church is a crucible, too! It’s a lite version of marriage in that it becomes a part of the people-growing machinery through the conflict, tensions and dysfunctions. It isn’t perfect and it was never meant to be! Yeah, as an institution it suffers from some very serious and sick psychopathology but it involves the very same sort of negotiation for integrity and differentiation vs. fusion and dependency. I didn’t see that coming.

    D.

  3. 2amsomewhere says:

    … it looks a lot like you’ve jumped out of the system entirely which is going to make further growth more difficult without having that dynamic to foil your own narcissism.

    I’ll respectfully disagree on this point because you haven’t read the chapter on reaching critical mass. Although Schnarch’s example stories wind up improving their relationships, there is still the possibility that a marriage may dissolve.

    Unlike Weiner-Davis, whose works pummel you with the idea that divorce is bad, bad, bad, and unnecessary, too, Schnarch doesn’t make such promises. The sexual crucible that Schnarch describes is not a remedy; it only creates an environment where true intimacy may emerge.

    I think you have some computing background, so this analogy might make sense. The common algorithm for the lifespan of a relationship could look something like this:


    do {
    this->getLife()->liveMarriedLife();
    } while ( !this->getLife()->isUnbearable() ) ;
    this->getLife()->getDivorced();

    Most marriage therapies look like this:


    renewal:
    this->getLife()->setUnbearable(false);
    do {
    this->getLife()->liveMarriedLife();
    } while ( !this->getLife()->isUnbearable() ) ;
    this->getLife()->seeCounselor();
    if (this->getLife()->flipACoin() == COIN_FACE_HEADS)
    goto renewal;
    else
    this->getLife()->getDivorced();

    Schnarch’s crucible rewrites things like this:

    while (true)
    {
    while (!this->getLife()->isEmotionallyGridlocked())
    {
    this->getLife()->liveComfortCycle();
    }
    this->getLife()->enterGrowthCycle();
    this->getLife()->selfConfront();
    this->getLife()->selfSoothe();
    this->getLife()->selfValidate();
    this->getLife()->discloseToPartner();
    this->getLife()->reachCriticalMass();
    if (this->getLife()->cannotMaintainIntegrity())
    break;
    }
    this->getLife()->getDivorced();

    In Chapter 13 (p. 376 ff), Schnarch asks the question of whether there is any good reason to get divorced. He says that aside from situations where physical abuse is involved (get the hell out of there), that is something that no one, other than one’s self, can answer. No therapist can tell you. No book can tell you. The process of arriving at the answer is an act of differentiation itself.

    In my own experience, I believed that choosing to stay in a marriage where my wife refused to self confront would require me selling out my own integrity.

    Schnarch isn’t about saving marriages as an end unto itself. He’s about encouraging the growth process that strengthens a marriage or puts an unfixable marriage to an end.


    2amsomewhere

  4. Trueself says:

    Sigh. . .

    This post aroused some very strong feelings in me, but so far I can’t seem to put words to those feelings.

    Sigh. . .

  5. snow66 says:

    Here is the link to an interesting story. Two couples went to one of Schnarch’s workshops. One of them ended up divorced.

    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/13865371/

  6. Square1 says:

    It’s interesting your stands on love, hate and apathy, or what I’ve always just called indifference. I’ve always ascribed to the belief that there is a fine line between love and hate. Why? Because it’s the people we care about that can and do hurt us the most. This goes back to my thing about quick to forgive, but not so quick to forget. You may forgive somebody for something, but it doesn’t banish the pain you feel over it, and if shoved away it takes root and produces the lovely little history list of resentments left to grow wild. So yes, these little weeds need to be pulled and regularly, to avoid that fertile ground for marital sadism. Which is not to say that I have the solution for how that is supposed to be done, other than good communication. But defining that is still a mine field ladened zone at times.

    I’ve always said the worst thing you can offer someone is indifference. I realized that the first time I thought of one of my abusers from childhood and realized that I didn’t feel anything one way or the other about them anymore. Now that was sheer freedom, but not the kind of freedom you want within the context of a marriage.

  7. Rosie says:

    You have really presented a thoughtful presentation. So many good points, especially about playing the victim. It seems you are really coming to a conclusion and it seems it will be a viable one for you. Arwyn, whether she acknowledges it or not, will be a part of that conclusion. She will actively make her choice. The statement from above may well describe her past and future reaction –…”the worst thing you can offer someone is indifference” which is really the same thing as avoidance.

  8. FTN says:

    This sentence:

    “See? This only proves that all you want is to use my body!” when that is all that is ever offered.

    That one got to me, for some reason. I feel as though in MY situation, we’re doing well, we’re doing much better than years ago. Yet for some reason I still feel like that intimacy is lacking! That sentence, that thought-process, still seems to loom in the background.

    And it sucks.

  9. aphron says:

    Excellent post. If we basically hate our spouse, how do we move beyond it? How do we let go of the hate? Can I borrow that book, after your finished?

  10. 2amsomewhere says:

    aphron writes:

    If we basically hate our spouse, how do we move beyond it? How do we let go of the hate?

    If I read Schnarch right, we don’t let go of the hate so much as we let the hate let go of us.

    Chapter 11 argues that we simultaneously love and hate our spouses, but we refuse to admit that hatred because we have been raised to view hatred and love as mutually exclusive things. We wind up denying the hatred, and it winds up bubbling up in subtle ways. This is where normal marital sadism comes into play. We express or hatred through covert torture and deny that we do it.

    At the heart of this denial is emotional fusion. If you look at the truth table Schnarch builds on p. 310, it becomes clear that a big deterrent to admitting hatred is that it runs the risk of the spouse taking offense to this disclosure. Recall that in earlier chapters, a hallmark of differentiation of self is the ability to disclose that which is least likely to be validated by your spouse.

  11. tajalude says:

    Hmm… interesting. Regarding the mercy fuck… I think my husband and I have both “endured” that for the sake of the other in the course of our marriage, although 99% of the time once you get started, you’re going to enjoy it.

    But regarding the “mind fuck”… I, of course, was the woman faking orgasms and then getting pissed at my husband for thinking he was Ron Jeremy. Since coming clean, the quality of our sex has greatly improved, and now I get to have real orgasms, whether at his induction or by other means. It’s not perfect, but it’s an improvement. I tried the avoidance route for a few years, and it literally got me nowhere. Coming clean and working through it feels so much better. It can be done.

    I’d suggest my husband & I read this, but he’s still working on that same book from July of ’06, so maybe in the next lifetime…

  12. Digger Jones says:

    Well, 2am, my computer programming skills never went beyond BASIC but I think I catch the gist of what you’re saying. I’m considered a power user who also knows enough about Linux to annoy other windows users! I’m still working on chapter 13. Maybe this weekend.

    You’re introspective enough to work it out, Trueself, although I can see where parts of the post might be disturbing. Welcome to the crucible!

    I haven’t watch the MSNCB clip yet, sbow, but look forward to do so when I get a working high speed connection!

    Taja, you don’t have to wait on your husband. Seriously. The beauty of the crucible approach is that the first person who goes in takes control of the process, which is some comfort to a high desire partner who pretty much forfeits control over the area the low desire person is low desire in. Even if he *never* reads it, you’ll still get to have your say. And those of us who think about growing have to face the reality that our partners just might not be at that point of introspection. By being good to ourselves we can be good to each other.

    D.

    No, Square, I don’t think indifference is something that would go over well in a marriage! But I can see where differentiation might sort of look like that, in that you learn to separate yourself from the situation and the person to achieve some degree of objectivity and emotional stability.

    To that end, Rosie, that’s sort of where Arwyn seems to be in her behavior. But I do think she is in her own crucible and working on herself. There is a reduction in the active hostility and tension from both of us. I’m not seeing the active hostility that we’ve had in the past or that we see in other relationship blogs.

    Aw, don’t sweat it too bad, FTN. In Autumn’s case, I think she really has no idea what to do with her sexuality. She makes it more about you than herself and she really needs to look at herself and her willingness to “want to want” you.

    I’m trying to fly through these responses here…

    Aphron, 2am nails it pretty well in that we need to own up to the hate and deal with it. And disclosing it seems like such a scary thing, right now, so don’t feel left out if you feel like you’re not up to that. I don’t think I am quite yet.

  13. snow66 says:

    The msnbc link is to the transcript, so no high speed required…=)

  14. therese says:

    Digger,
    first of all, thanks so much for going through the book like this. Your summary and analysis have provided some good topics of conversation between RS and myself. I’ve always enjoyed or at least found beneficial marriage/sex/relationship conversations with him, but its been a while since either of us have had the time to read a book ourselves to start such discussions.

    I just wanted to briefly comment on something you said above:
    Going through this has had another collateral effect as far as my spirituality. The light bulb went off: The institutional church is a crucible, too! It’s a lite version of marriage in that it becomes a part of the people-growing machinery through the conflict, tensions and dysfunctions. It isn’t perfect and it was never meant to be! Yeah, as an institution it suffers from some very serious and sick psychopathology but it involves the very same sort of negotiation for integrity and differentiation vs. fusion and dependency. I didn’t see that coming.

    While I, as a Catholic, obviously value “The Institution” more than you do, I agree with your assessment that there is a lot of conflict, tension, and dysfunction within it but also believe like you said that it was never intended to be perfect. I believe that the reason there are now 30,000+ entirely independent Christian churches is evidence that people want and expect a perfect church with perfect people and no problems, and when they encounter imperfection, they feel there is nothing left to do but form a new congregation.

    Not that I can really blame anyone for that desire because we as humans, being created to enjoy Heaven with God, have an innate yearning for perfection. But finding a perfect earthly community is as realistic as finding a perfect earthly marriage.

  15. Square1 says:

    I suppose I define indifference differently then. Because to me, indifference is neither avoidance, nor detachment in order to accomplish objectivity. Indifference is simply a lack of concern or care one way or the other. In my case, as with my egg donor, I really don’t care whether the woman is alive, dead, safe at home, or bleeding out in an alley. It makes no difference to me. I probably have more empathy for a complete stranger than I could ever muster for her. Some people might say that I must be angry with her, or hate her for these kinds of statements, but honestly there is just no emotion at all.

    In avoidance, there is a concern about hurting the other party, or being hurt by them.

    In detachment, the emotional attachment is temporarily ignored in order to think things through logically, but then returned to once the best course of action is decided.

    With indifference, emotion, empathy, concern, fear… they simply don’t exist, and do not brook opportunity for harm or good.

  16. C-Marie says:

    I took a look a the chapter chunks link in your post and once I started reading I couldn’t stop. Wow. I could place myself and my relationship with JM in so much of it. Half the battle is knowing – the other half is doing something about it.
    It leaves a lot to digest….

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