January 24, 2008

I haven’t updated my weight in awhile, so I think I’ll do that for a minute. My weight loss efforts actually do figure into things. This morning I was at 189.8 which is about 3 pounds off from my eventual target. Over the holidays, I maxed out at about 196 but fluctuated between there and 192, which my body seems to like. I work on the elliptical and the step mat but not every day or even every other day. Maybe I get 2-3 times a week if I’m lucky simply because demands at work have been quite heavy the past couple of weeks. I did manage to download Stepmania 4.0 CSV which is a very nice looking release and I like many of the new display features. But it has slowed me down and I’ve had to adjust to it.

When I first began losing weight and posting about it, it was largely driven by my need for better health and a changing self-image. I needed to get rid of the pounds because my knees were driving me nuts. Anyone else who struggles know of what I speak. So I did some research, found an exercise that I adore, some foods that I also adore and went for it. The little “Biggest Loser” competition didn’t hurt either. But somewhere towards the end, I mused on these pages; how much weight do I have to lose to get my wife to want me? It’s at that point that Rod Smith chimed in with a comment that I really needed to get Passionate Marriage. I had been following 2amsomewhere’s posts on the subject and was somewhat familiar with Schnarch and his writings from lurking alt.support.marriage. This name would come up on other relationship blogs on occasion also.

In November Rod and I did make efforts to contact each other by telephone. One time I woke him up after he was asleep! He was very nice about it, and told me to call back earlier the day the next day, which I did try but got an answering machine. He left voice messages on my phone as well as by email. I’m okay with all of this because just knowing he was there was sufficient. Plus I got the book and figured after reading it I might have more to talk about afterwards. The point being that I was too busy (and careless) to even make a phone therapy connection but as it turned out his advice was spot-on. He gave me a small shove in the right direction.

The last time I had a major discussion with Arwyn, it was almost like an assault or a guerrilla attack. It was short and a skirmish that left more questions than answers and certainly didn’t do anything to make me feel better about our marriage. It was bad timing all around.

This time, it was not planned at all. I went to the store after work and she and the boys had gone to church. We got home about the same time and she put the boys to be while I got ready for the next day. I was tired and was ready to go to bed. This is highly unusual as she normally goes to bed early and I stay up late, mostly after midnight. She was in already bed when I came in the bedroom. I sat for a minute contemplating whether to turn in or go back to the living room and turn on the computer. I laid down and attempted to snuggle up to her in the inverted position. To my surprise, all I found at the foot of the bed was her legs. Her hands reached down in the dark and moved over my legs and bum and wondered what i was doing. I switched positions, feeling a bit embarrassed but was able to snuggle without her moving off. And then we began to talk.

At first it was about her church, where the senior pastor is taking a leave of absence “to recharge” and another pastor there just left the ministry with no known explanation. More casualties of “church.” I shared with her my evolving views of church. She’s known that my views were under construction, as it were. She thought I was fancying starting my own church as part of a “house church” movement. I can’t say the thought hasn’t crossed my mind, but I’ve come to realize that conflict is just part of the growing process. Leaving and starting a church would be a futile attempt to escape and avoid that growth; there really is no escape anyway because conflict is inherent in me. And to carry this where I’m going, leaving my marriage for someone else wouldn’t solve my conflicts because the conflicts that I have with Arwyn are conflicts I have with me.

In that sense, it is about me and my own deficiencies. Confronting my own mess has been a major part of this process. Meanwhile, Arwyn has been working on step 4 in her 12-step program for the second time. This step closely mirrors the process that I was going through as I was learning to confront my own issues. We were going through identical steps at identical times. We did discuss this process. Arwyn went through all 12 steps last year, and I knew she was doing it. I waited for step 8 and step 9 to come around. It never did, at least for me. So when she told me she was doing the 12 steps again, I was skeptical that it was doing her any good at all as she was obviously in some deep, deep denial about what she was doing to me.

She admitted that she had “forgotten” to deal with me in those steps, and I corrected her and told her she had most likely simply chosen to avoid it altogether. She admitted to that and we went into a discussion about our avoidance issues and the fact that we were both first class avoiders. One of the major problems is that neither of us was interested in listening to what the other had to say and so we simply avoided the major issues. We agreed that this was likely something we both acquired from our respective backgrounds and that we would need to work in order to overcome that. Much of arwyn’s avoidance stems directly from issues I brought up in that long thread “XH and Me” where most people forgot all about the “me” part and wanted to talk about XH. Fact is, I have many of the same exact issues as I related there. My brain allows me to intellectually out-flank a whole lot of people and I have my own sense of moral rightness that makes others feel small, stupid and wrong. I can effectively use this to keep people from getting too close and intimidate them while beaming with pride when others tell me how great a Sunday school teacher I am or how great and smart I am in general. Smartness is a long way from wisdom, as evidenced by me stupidly asserting my moral and intellectual superiority over my wife.

Nothing says “I love you” like making a person feel small, stupid and wrong.

Keep in mind, this intellectual power was what fueled her initial attraction to me. She came to the young adult Sunday school class I was teaching and really liked my teaching skillz. She was hungry for knowledge and saw me as being a person who had a lot to offer her.

But later, she always felt judged and controlled by me, and gave up arguing with me a long time ago. To wit: I was always “right” and she was always “wrong.” My “rightness” pretty much put us on a collision course with disaster. God was using my marriage to wring that self-righteous pride out of me. I’ve still got plenty of it so there will be more wringing, I’m sure. But avoidance was about her only choice, as she saw it. She felt she was always walking on egg shells around me. Yeah, I see it, now. I really was judging her and found her wanting most of the time. The more she withdrew from me, the more I judged her as being inadequate which pretty much guaranteed that we would overheat and become disconnected. There was no such thing as a “discussion” because differing views automatically made us adversaries and if I become an adversary with anyone, I play to win. This is not a winning strategy for making friends and influencing people.

For her part, Arwyn had her own way of winning a fighting which was almost a form of emotional jujutso. To wit:

Jujutsu evolved among the samurai of feudal Japan as a method for dispatching an armed and armored opponent in situations where the use of weapons was impractical or forbidden.

My emotional fusion made me an easy target for this sort of thing. While I was using my intellect, she was using my own heart against me.

We talked about the whole business of marital sadism. I have a sadistic streak so wide, it’s pretty pointless denying it. Arwyn heartily agreed with that. But the real revelation to her was when I talked about my struggle in dealing with her sadistic side. And that opened the big can of worms that you have all been waiting for.

I told her that based on Passionate Marriage I had figured out that early part of our relationship that was so vexing to me. Namely that we were having sex all the time and then after we were married, sex had dwindled to pretty much nothing. The reason for that early sex wasn’t desire, but it was insecurity. Arwyn and I share very rich, deep wells of the fear of abandonment. Her sexual behavior was her attempt to avoid that whole abandonment scenario, and so it was all fueled by her insecurities. She would have sex even though many times she didn’t want to because insecurity reigned. However, she was also feeling guilt and shame over our premarital sexual behavior. By the time we actually got married, the shame and guilt had grown to a point where it overcame her insecurity about our relationship. Once the commitment of marriage was finalized, that insecurity disappeared but the guilt did not.

On top of this, we can add a generous dose of resentment. I was pretty much in total reptilian mode in the early years of our marriage. I really liked sex, and my self worth was totally tied to it. If we had enough sex, I felt loved. When I didn’t, I felt rejected and unloved. Arwyn’s self-worth was also tied to sex. But the more sex we had that she didn’t want, the more she felt used. She felt that in my view, sex was the answer to all our problems. She was pretty much right. She resented me for my controlling ways and then wanting sex on top of that. At the same time, her guilt increased because now I’m really making her feel like the bad wife.

And then we tried to fix each other. A classic example of this is the 3rd year of our marriage, Arwyn bought Relationship Rescue. She went through about 4 chapters and then didn’t read anymore but did leave the book lying around thinking I really needed to read it. I did glance over it back then and thought it wasn’t too bad of a book for her. Two years later, I picked it up off a dusty shelf and then went through every single exercise. When I came to her at the appropriate time and attempted to follow Dr. Phil’s advice, she really wanted nothing to do with it. A few months later, I bought her the workbook for her birthday. That workbook has never been opened. To say she regretted buying that book is an understatement! She bought it with the idea of changing me, but when I did do it, she resisted it! Because it was another case of me controlling her, she wanted none of it.

A major part of this discussion involved our differing ways of getting to this point. Arwyn does better as part of a group-type structured process where I am able to get stuff from a book and learn independently. I went through Dr. Phil’s book alone. I was able to exercise and diet and lose weight without weekly meetings. I was able to discover and apply vital things from Passionate Marriage without a therapist or a support group — apart from my blogger friends, of course! I play with computers with very little in the way of classwork. I even play around a bit in Linux just getting things off the internet. But this is not at all typical, which is what makes me exceptional as a teacher. It’s what makes XH able to do much of what he does. But it also results in some problems relating to others who are not on the same page. I get exasperated at others for being too slow. Arwyn seemed to always be too slow and she didn’t appreciate me reminding her of it. Her going and finding her own group of friends in a different church through a 12 step group seems to be just what was needed for her to work on herself. And she has been doing it with the help of the group and her sponsor. It was helpful having my own background in 12 step groups because much of what Schnarch talks about translates fairly easily into 12-step-ese. I was able to share what I had learned from reading this book pretty much what I shared here. Writing has been another vital part of processing what I’ve learned and I’m getting better at harnessing that in order to internalize and retain it.

I shared with her my revelation about her own sadism in watching me suffer all of these years in virtual sexlessness, knowing perfectly well that I was suffering. She stood by and watched and participated in it while doing nothing or even rejecting my efforts to resolve it. I treaded carefully here, because I knew this was extremely sensitive territory we were in. Almost every previous discussion of sex has resulted in her and I both getting defensive and her totally melting down. But she did not meltdown at all. She took the hit and held it together. That was truly an amazing thing to witness.

Then we got to some nitty gritty. Basically, for pretty much our whole marriage, the sex has been awful. I did point out that she might have been ahead of me in that department for not wanting bad sex, while I was willing to ask for a double portion of it. She pretty much agreed with my assessment: it’s not that she did not like sex. She did not want it from me. It took me all this time to really figure it out to a point where I could deal with it and handle that without falling apart.

This is what emotional gridlock and critical mass does for a marriage. It makes emotional fusion such a totally untenable position that we are forced to move away from it and grow like a hermit crab that outgrows its shell and has to shed it to go find a new one. We were both ready to listen because the alternative was too much to take.

We discovered that we were on the same page in a lot of areas. We both wanted good sex and not bad sex. We each affirmed the right of the other to avoid bad sex and go for good sex. What entails “good sex” was not discussed, however. Just getting to this point was nothing short of monumental. I told her that I wanted to pursue that with her. I think the act of choosing her was an important one, at least for me. I’m not sure I’ve ever truly done that, before. Honestly, it comes to me that I’ve accepted her, settled for her, preferred her, cared for her, tried to win her, and done other things. But I don’t know if I’ve ever truly chosen her. She asked me out the first time we went out. Schnarch did write extensively about this, and I’m going to have to look it up again as it didn’t register first time through and i didn’t write about it because it didn’t hit me.

Moving on to better sex might be a daunting challenge, but I think she might be up for at least approaching the challenge of it. She seemed to be very open to it last night at least. No we did not have sex. By the time we concluded, it was already 1:30 a.m. and we both had to get up early and I was tired before we started the conversation. But we were snuggled together and touching and holding hands and it really was probably more intimacy than we had shared at any other time. Hence the proposed title “This is the most significant conversation we’ve ever had” which is a statement Arwyn made.

We concluded by deciding that we would avoid more positively. Namely that we were going to avoid avoiding these sorts of conversations in the future!