Therapy Smackdown

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Soon after my last entry it was therapy day. I was looking forward to completing the Top 20 list, but we never even got to it. We ended up in much deeper waters.

The therapist almost always starts off the the session the same way. He asks us to tell about something the other person did in order to strengthen the relationship. For instance, Arwyn kept the boys out of my hair while I worked on some projects that had a hard deadline coming up. That made me feel like she was empathetic of my plight and supportive. Stuff like that. Arwyn mentioned me being similarly supporting of her and her preschool work stress.

But Arwyn moved from there directly to the conflict we had the prior weekend where the sex didn’t happen. This was a bit surprising that she would want to go there, but she did. So we began hashing it out, her and I, while the therapist took a very long (figurative) step back and watched. He did jump in a time or two but for the most part watched and took notes. And he got a good view.

It’s been a number of days so I can’t remember every little thing we said. But I do remember getting a bit aggressive with her on this issue of sexual avoidance. I told her that I felt like she hadn’t heard a thing on my list from the week prior. At that point, the therapist prompted her to do some reflective listening, which involves her repeating back what I just said to her. I still think it’s a dumb exercise, as she was able to repeat back everything almost verbatum. Talk is amazingly cheap.

I do remember one specific exchange we had. She complained that no matter what she did, sexually speaking, that it would never be good enough. This is a VERY common statement made by those with lower libidos. In their view, they wonder why we’re so selfish in continually raising the stakes or constantly asking for more or why we can not simply accept our mates for who they are.

I remember when she dished this out at the therapy session, thinking that the therapist was entirely too willing to let this slide. Or he was unable to respond. Or he wanted to hear me respond. And when I did, I think his eyes bugged out as went into Schnarchian mode, reflective listening style.

“So you’re saying that I’m never satisfied with what you do?”

“Umm, yeah, most of the time it seems that way.”

“You feel like whatever you do, it isn’t enough or isn’t good enough?”

“Yes, that pretty much sums it up.”

“So what I’M hearing, is that you think I should be satisfied with whatever you decide to do.”

“No, I didn’t say that.”

“But that’s exactly what is sounds like to me. You’re telling me that I should be satisfied with whatever it is you decide to do.”

“But that isn’t what I said.”

“I know that’s not what you said, but that’s how it sounds to me. Whenever you complain that what you do isn’t good enough, you are telling me that my desire for more intimacy is not legitimate and that I should be satisfied with whatever you decide to offer. Would you be happy if I operated that way?”

“No.”

“And here’s the thing; you’re the one who claims to be the perfectionist. I see how committed and dedicated you are towards everything you do. Your work, the church, the boys, your friends, and even the laundry. You put everything you have into being prepared and doing the job exactly right. I see you prepare, anticipate and fully participate in every single area except for one: me and our sex life. Now tell me exactly how am I supposed to feel about that?”

The therapist was totally silent at this point, and Arwyn was in tears. Things were awkwardly silent for a bit, before we moved on. She did acknowledge that I had a point and she could see how I might feel neglected. But part of her problem is being paralyzed by guilt. Some of this is earned, I think, but it also gets carried away in that she thinks she’s all horrible which gets hrer stressed which isn’t exactly and arousing feeling. My goal was not to inflict guilt so much as to be heard.

This therapy session went overtime, but the therapist felt we needed it. I think he needed it as much as us as he’s still learning this business.

We ended the session with a new assignment: explain what it is like to initiate sex. Each of us. That should be interesting, especially since initiating isn’t something Arwyn does often or well. At one point she tried to defend her lack of initiation by saying, ” Well I saw you were doing something on the computer and I know how you get when I interrupt you!”

“And when was the last time you interrupted me because you wanted sex?” I came back.

“Oh, well…um…never I guess. Yeah, you have a point.”

“Well yeah! Maybe if you interrupted me more often for sex, I wouldn’t be so irritated when you interrupt me!” We were both able to laugh about that.

We covered a lot of ground that I’m not covering here, but you can tell that this was an intense session. Perhaps the whole strategy of the therapist was to get us to go at each other more directly or maybe he just wanted to see how we engaged in verbal sparring. Whatever the reason, it was mostly her and I going back and forth on each other. Thing is, is that Arwyn for all of her protestations that I don’t talk enough to her tends to lose her way and becomes quickly over matched in these exchanges. This is why I have been learning to bite the bullet and listen to her without speaking until she feels she has said what she needs to say. My past tendency has been to challenge her on every point, debate style. She appreciates this but has complained that I don’t talk enough and she feels like she does most of the talking. Despite her saying she wants me to talk more, I don’t believe a word of it. As long as I say what she wants to hear, she’s totally fine with it. But that is just not going to happen because even when I try to say what she wants to hear, it sometimes comes out in a way she can take offense to. She’s not as crazy as Aphron’s wife that way (and I thank God for that!) but I’ll just say that it is all part of her marvelous feminine mystique to read an extra thing into a message that simply isn’t there.

See? My female readers are already offended!

D.

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9 Responses to Therapy Smackdown

  1. Rosie says:

    No, I’m not offended. Been in a similar therapy situation/s, different issue, when my ex. could only say over and over again “I don’t understand what you all are saying.” Because he did not want to take responsibility.

    It’s nice that you feel good about what came out, a sense of validation. Good going.

  2. Desmond Jones says:

    Just from where I sit, Digger, this looks like more progress. I mean, she’s coming to see how it looks from your angle, and she’s never been able to do that before. . . Keep it going. . .

  3. aphron says:

    My wife is crazy?!?!

    Sounds like you had a good exchange. In many ways, Sybil has similar traits as Arwyn (except the avoidance thing). She’s a perfectionist in everything she does except me and sex. With the children, folding clothes, working in the office, etc. she is totally meticulous. With me it isn’t that way.

    I’m glad you had that exchange. Although you may think it is dumb, the whole repeating back what the other is saying seems to be working. Although I don’t expect Arwyn to change, she may soften a bit. That would be a monumentally awesome thing. Keep up the good work.

  4. FTN says:

    Do I need to pay you some sort of royalties if I print out your “You’re never satisfied with what I do sexually” conversation and post it on our fridge?

  5. diggerjones says:

    Thanks for not being offended Rosie! My initial writing of that last part was “It’s just part of the typical female neuroticism to become insecure over something that simply doesn’t warrant any anxiety.” Glad I could tone that down into something more acceptable.

    Sure she sort of sees it, Desmond. And I feel better for getting it out there, too. Where it goes, we’ll just have to see.

    Call me crazy for thinking Sybil might be crazy, Aphron. Maybe it’s me reading too much into her blogname! The trick in reflective listening is to not repeat what the other person is saying, it’s to repeat back what you *hear*. And that isn’t necessarily the same as what they are saying, especially for someone as intuitive (and ornery) as me.

    I’ll release the above under a GPL, FTN. You can use it only if any revisions are freely released and it’s share and share alike. Or something like that.

    Now I need to get back to cooking up the rest of that Big Foot I’ve been storing in my freezer. They are getting thicker than possums down here in Georgia!

    D.

  6. 2amsomewhere says:

    Good job on challenging the “it’s never enough for you” line, Digger. I had many a conversations on that theme with the wife.

    The conversations usually ended up with her in tears and me backing off. There were a couple of times she whipped out the guilt card and complained that if she would have given me as much attention as I expected she would have been my slave.

    I’ll release the above under a GPL, FTN. You can use it only if any revisions are freely released and it’s share and share alike. Or something like that.

    Take a look at the Creative Commons licenses, Digger, that’ll probably be more appropriate for prose than then GPL. 😉


    2amsomewhere
    (finally on his own)

  7. diggerjones says:

    Challenging that line is directly derived from Schnarch’s work. 2am. Fortunately this falls under fair use 😉 I felt like she had gotten away with that whole “not good enough” business for too long. In the case of your wife, I’d say that she already had you enslaved in chains of neglect, guilt and deprivation. The guilt card doesn’t hold up to reality. Yeah, you and I might be selfish bastards but witholding isn’t going to cultivate more generosity. By getting a grip on myself (and it was not an easy thing) I was able to escape her grip on me. I was not *blaming* her, but just not allowing her to get off so cheaply.

    Yeah, Creative Commons…Doh! Most of my CC dealings are with music, so I don’t even think about it with blogs and such.
    D.

  8. Emily says:

    Actually, Digger, I’m quite willing to ignore the occasional misogynist comment (a semi-regular feature of your blog, alas!) because I think the conversation was an important one for you guys and a useful one for me and others to think about.

    None of us find it easy to change. You have made a lot of effort to change to improve the relationship and the reality is that Arwyn will need to make the ongoing effort to change, too. There’s no point in soft-soaping the issues, as long as its a reasonably resepctful exchange. I guess the only thing is to make sure it really is communication (which it seems to be, here) designed to address the issues and challenge behaviour and not verbal sparring to win points and make Arwyn look and feel bad.

    Honestly, Digger, you guys have come a long way. I think Arwyn’s previous comment that the marriage is better than its been in years was a very significant one. From an outsider’s point of view, it actually looks like a much more alive relationship, even if more conflictual, than I’ve ever seen it.

  9. seafoamselkie says:

    I think it is the dynamic of a relationship which at least makes it feel real…. when in a static, holding pattern, that can invite despair. At least if something is happening, then one can feel that some form of progress – good or bad – is being made.

    I found it interesting the dynamic between you and your wife vis-a-vis dialogue. My partner has a real issue talking as have i although for some time now, throwing out thoughts into the black hole has become commonplace (and pointless).

    I have been a “lurker” on and off in your blog for some time- I guess I find it fascinating to follow someone who works so damn HARD – I find that kind of commitment perplexing yet quite wonderful.

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