20 Ways to Marriage Improvement and a Better Sex Life

April 15, 2009

My postings become ever so scarce, mostly because there has been no real movement. Well, not much. And none in the right direction.

Arwyn has effectively learned how to game the whole counseling business and keep the topics in safe territory. As an avoider, sometimes this suits me emotionally but not so much in reality. And the larger question of just how committed Arwyn is to any meaningful degree of intimacy remains to be seen. She does like to talk about selected topics, and sometimes I’m perfectly keen to engage her in these conversations about what to do for a vacation or fixing the house or about the kids. But there has been no real physical affection the last few weeks to speak of. The thing is that she seems perfectly fine with that.

We did go out of town for a few days (with the kids) and that was a trip that had fun moments but was bereft of any affection. And the few times I tried to just reach out to her were met by simple indifference or moving away. Last night, I had finally just had it. We went to bed at 9:30 (way early for me and about right for her) and I did want to just cuddle and snuggle. And yes, I would have liked some sexual intimacy with that, but I was simply starving for some real reciprocal physical touching. She was having none of it. She was in her typical inverted position and I actually inverted so we were both in the same direction although not in the same plane when it comes to covers of blankets. She complained that her back was hurting and mine has been bugging me for the past week as well. Part of my problem is the lack of physical comfort, which I need to find a way to deal or cope with. But she gradually got more irritated with me being so close to her and my breathing. I finally suggested that maybe we needed to get new beds…one for each of us. she asked me what I was talking about and I suggested that that is the way we were practically sleeping anyway. She took some offense and pointed out several times in the last two weeks when I was tired or not feeling well. As if she was keen to have sex on those days or had any intentions or inclination toward any physical affection then.

I relented and got back in my own position in the bed under the proper plane of covers. She said she was just too tired and I said that was fine. “However, you need to understand that just because I’m not pawing you all the time that does NOT mean I am okay with involuntary celibacy.”

“That’s fine.” she responded.

“That’s the problem; you’re too fine with it.”

And that is where it ended.

shit. I feel like I have bloodied myself over and over against the same brick wall. What I said last joint counseling session is more true than ever and is also a reason for my lack of blogging. I feel spent. I’m tired and tapped out. I simply don’t have the energy to keep rolling that big boulder up the hill just to have it roll right back down again.

Sure we had fun with the kids last week. But I could have probably had more fun with the kids without Arwyn’s whining and fussiness and paranoia. I could have been with my sister, a nanny or Arwyn’s mother. Yeah, these are good times just being with someone I care about. But we are essentially strangers to each other and that seems to be the way Arwyn prefers it. THAT is a very bitter pill to swallow.

Let’s see if I can list the interventions attempted in order to improve our marriage or deal with the lack of intimacy in no particular order. I wouldn’t put a lot of stock in these if I were you, considering they haven’t done much for me so far.

  1. Dr. Phil’s Relationship Rescue: she bought this one for herself but never did it. But I did and did all the stuff without the benefit of the workbook. She never touched it. When I got to the part where I had to interact with her, she said she wanted to wait until she had a chance to go through it herself. And that’s where that ended.
  2. Praying together: I bought several books on this and Arwyn looked them. But this lasted less than 2 weeks because Arwyn couldn’t decide on a good time to do it.
  3. Date night: tried this several times with several permutations with the latest being a “media free night.” Some okay talking and even some decent sex happened on occasion but it was never a consistent thing. something else always pre-empted our night.
  4. Real dates: A local church used to offer respites once a month that we did at times. But they were for 4 hours and took place at odd times like 10-2 or 2-6 0r 9-1 and sometimes 5-9. The ticking clock really got in the way of feeling relaxed. But our youngest was conceived during one of those respite times. But neither of us were really into the inconsistency of this program.
  5. A raft of self-help and relationship books as well as a ton of research into various peer-reviewed journals. Many of these were good, but I was the only one reading them. It gave me dandy insights that I could share…
  6. iVillage Clashing Libidos/Mismatched Libidos or whatever it might be called now. It can be a really nice support group and it can also be a snake pit. iVillage had some really screwy terms of service as far as what was considered appropriate or not and I was forever testing limits. I probably called some stupid people stupid and got fire for it more than once. Which led to…
  7. Blogging. Here we are! My own space so I can write my own stuff and interact with whoever I want, whenever I want. Or not. All without censorship. I made some nice virtual friends and for awhile this was the place to be for relationship issues. Some of this has helped keep me moving things along through it being a sort of accountability/support group. Maybe my lack of energy is caused by less blogging on it as much as it is a result of it. Reading other folks has been a source of good ideas and inspiration at times.
  8. Chastity play. That was a major theme of this blog and the archives still bring in bus loads of kinksters. At times, it did seem to help in various ways, but when Arwyn’s interest in that venture waned, it was less and less fun to do by myself. In fact, I began to resent her more for her total lack of interest and involvement in this kink. I know it isn’t her fault if she’s not into that sort of thing, but it looks like non-interest in ME. And I’m still looking for refutation of that particular view.
  9. 2-minute intimacy. That was my own pet campaign, where I tried to just get two minutes of hugging/holding each day. It was a bit nightmarish, because I discovered that 30 seconds was the best I could get consistently. I’m sure I came off as being overly needy during this, but it was based in small part on one of Dr. Phil’s exercises (which may have come from Schnarch) which involves hugging until relaxed.
  10. Schnarch. This is not a program, per se, but his material has provided me with a good deal of insight. I would say that I did benefit a great deal from it, and have benefited from occasionally revisiting it. Basically, it is more about altering my own attitude more than Arwyn’s behavior. However, it also allows for some integrity in the midst of conflict, which is why I felt I had to let Arwyn know that I was not okay with the way things are at the moment.
  11. Individual prayer, supplication, Bible study and generally wrestling with God over this issue. Otherwise, I would have flown this coop long ago. This has been a spiritual journey more than anything else.
  12. Counseling. Mustn’t forget this! Afterall, this was a major thing that my blog readers spent years clamoring for. Oddly, most of the folks clamoring for it have never done it themselves. Or not so oddly. And about now is where readers/commenters will tell me I haven’t found the right counselor.
  13. Compromise. Yes, this is what marriage is all about, right? So when Arwyn was too tired, not interested or whatever the reason not into sex, I could ask for a handjob and she would do it more often than not. BUT it was decidedly NOT remotely what I wanted or needed. It became an emotionally sterile procedure designed to medicate me and get me off her back. At least it made me more aware that intimacy was what I wanted and needed.
  14. Money and gifts. The getting of gifts happens to be a love language of hers, so sometimes this actually works. I can seemingly buy some genuine affection for about $200, or so it seems. Cash does seem to be an aphrodisiac of a sort, which seems to be true the world over. Money can’t buy love, but it can buy something that looks an awful lot more like it than what a lot lot of people get from those who claim to love them.
  15. Extra chores, extra help around the house, extra appreciation, extra extra, extra! All these extras gave Arwyn a lot more time in order to invest in other interests. I was not one of them. I know, I should be able to do them just because with no expectation of anything in return. But the extras depleted me and added extra stress and another avenue of criticism when they weren’t done right. I’m not talking about washing the car once a week. This is floor, toilet and shower scrubbing, vacuuming type stuff. Plus the cooking and groceries that I always do.
  16. Give myself a make-over. Losing gobs of weight, stopped smoking and did more stuff with the kids. These were all major points of contention for Arwyn as far as how she viewed me. Or so she said. But honestly, these were just more conditions and obstacles. I think the “no deep kissing because you smell/taste like smoke” was the most telling. She just does not go that way, period. The above things were good, in and of themselves and make me a better person/father all ’round. But there was always a part of me that was hoping that these things would help win her over.
  17. Talking, confronting, arguing fighting. Off and on over the years, we get into it over the sex and intimacy issue. for her, intimacy = talking. For me…not so much. I’m willing to do my version and hers at the same time or switch off but sex is just important for me to feel like I’m a man married to a woman and not just a roommate or girlfriend. so we have blow ups and blow outs about it. Things might improve for a week but it slides back again.
  18. Avoiding. This is something that I’ve tried more often than not, and is definitely Arwyn’s tactic/intervention of choice. Basically the idea is to outlast the other person or outlast the problem. Either way, I get screwed and not in a good way.
  19. Solo sex. Hey, if I can’t be intimate with my wife, perhaps I can deepen intimacy with myself. Chastity play extended into this arena as well as the aneros and the fleshlight. Sure, I learned a thing or two about kinkiness and subspace and what trips my trigger, but that’s not exactly the sort of intimacy I was looking for. It certainly is not the sort of relationship that entered into my mind on my wedding day. “Wow, I’m married! Now I can stick stuff up my butt!” Right.
  20. Affair. The closest I ever got was that deal with Cleopatra a few years ago. We spoke on the phone once and it wasn’t even phone sex or cybersex, it was more like exchanging frustrations and flirtations. About the same time I got flirtatious with a co-worker or her flirting with me more like. Heaven knows I enjoyed that attention, but both women had way more issues than I wanted to deal with as if I didn’t have enough of my own! It never even got to much of an emotional level but I won’t lie. I was seriously flirting with the idea of having an affair.
  21. ENQ – I did this twice. The first time, Arwyn said she would do it, but did not. The second time she did it when the therapist assigned it. Hat tip to Joanna who brought that up.
  22. Toys. These would be toys to enhance HER pleasure, specifically some cock rings to help me maintain a firmer erection plus some added textures to hit her buttons. Initially she seemed somewhat positive about it, if not a bit reserved. But when it came right down to it, it was a disaster. She refused to even try them.

#20 is not exactly “marriage improvement” so probably shouldn’t be on the list at all, but it was something I thought of at the time as a way to cope with the constant rejection. And that’s really what keeps bringing me down. Intimacy issues and hang-ups would be a lot easier to deal with if they didn’t come bundled with so much rejection. I can not touch my wife, hold my wife, caress my wife or kiss my wife in the manner that I would like to without getting told that I can’t.

Well, there you go. I’m probably missing some things from the above list, but you get the idea. This has been a very long process. Ordeal. Journey. Whatever. It has been long spanning no less than 10 ten years and going back to the beginning. To be sure I made mistakes and have tried to own up to them to Arwyn. I have asked for forgiveness but I’m not sure I ever got it from her, but you can not compel a person to forgive you or to love you. And that’s where I am; not too sure the woman I love loves me.

Too Differentiated?

January 23, 2009

Funnily enough, Emily and my therapist both brought up similar questions about Schnarch or at least my take on his approach. So this is a golden opportunity to explain to y’all how and why I like this approach.

This concept of differentiation is troublesome to a lot of people, because it seems to imply a growing separateness that if taken to an extreme results more in having parallel lives than intimate ones. People take it to mean a sort of growing independence from one another and a loosening of the ties that bind. In a sense, it is true that it does loosen the bonds of fusion. However, to look at it as something that encourages a degree of divisiveness is misreading the approach.

Arwyn and my situation perfectly illustrates this. Basically, the fact that we tend to drift into parallel lives on our own is the major problem. We are avoiders and when the the tough gets going, so do we. We’ll run away with an occasional skirmish or two in between. So on the surface, we look like we are TOO differentiated when in fact the opposite is true. We are fused like welded steel to the point where a move by one of us threatens to break the other. It is how we end up in the icy grip of gridlock.

Many of you last year were recommending some sort of face-off or confrontation. But that would not and could not happen until the anxiety from the existing painful situation got higher than the real or imagined result of a confrontation OR until I felt strong enough to withstand whatever the fall-out would be. The latter occurred because I engaged in a great deal of self-introspection. Schnarch’s approach was and still is, the only approach that rationally explains why Arwyn and I have the difficulties that we do. Once I understood that Arwyn was coming from a fairly logical place given the circumstances, it was much easier to be more understanding. The biological/libido model of sex drive could not do it.

That’s not to say I’m uncritical of Schnarch. There are some areas where his statements clash with my Christian beliefs. For one thing, he starts of acknowledging that gays and lesbians can also benefit from his approach. I have no doubt that this is true, but he attempts to shoe horn those lifestyles into the definition of marriage. Okay, fair enough, I’m not going to make a huge deal about that. However, later on he makes an even bigger deal about evolution. Again, I have no problems with Schnarch’s using this belief to give his approach more scientific credibility. However, when he talked about how women eventually went from being in heat once per year to having a more irregular and unpredictable cycles of desire, he goes on to say how men and women and men and men and women and women began pairing off because of the more variable schedule of reinforcement. Since when is homosexuality compatible with natural selection? I could see men getting it on when the women weren’t “on” so to speak, but that doesn’t fit the science of evolution. Nor does it have a lot to do with his core approach, which is why it’s easy for me to dismiss it in favor of the relevant aspects of it.

My therapist asks me, “What about ‘becoming one flesh’ as described in Genesis? That seems to favor fusion and go against differentiation.”

Funny thing, that term “one flesh.” There are a whole lot more spiritual things that could have been written or translated. One heart, one mind, one soul…those are all things that seem more appropriate to a book like the Bible. But it says “one flesh.” How can two become one flesh? To me, the sexual image is the only one that comes to mind. How else can we be one flesh? There are many ways of relating, but fleshly relations between men and women are almost necessarily sexual. But something that I’ve learned about sexual intimacy is that to be truly satisfying it demands a lot more from your heart, mind and soul than most people realize when they are just starting out. Our sexuality is a lot more complex than any animal. Any of us can lose our desire very quickly from a variety of disruptions that are not necessarily physical or biological. The fusion Schnarch is talking about is not fleshly fusion, but it almost feels like it sometimes. What makes human sexuality greater than the sum of its parts is the fact that we each bring something special and unique to it. The more spiritual and emotional depth we have, the more we can pour into it.

And this is why marriage is a system. In Eden, there was a perfect relationship between God and the creation. There was no sin, no predation, no victimization, no disease, no ill will. But once sin entered into, it all went to Hell. The one flesh relationship was totally whacked. So was the rest of creation. But consider this: before the first disease ever entered, God had already created the medicinal plants to treat them. Where’s the evolutionary advantage in that?!? God had also put a mechanism in place to deal with human sin, and marriage is part of that elegant system. We basically help each other to grow. When Arwyn and I first met, I was a much shallower person than I am today. I would argue that since starting this blog I’ve grown a lot. It’s not because of Schnarch, either. It’s because my marriage to Arwyn has forced me to grow and develop into a better person. The Passionate Marriage approach simply helped me to realize that my marriage needed a lot less fixing than I thought. The marriage gets painful largely because of the sinful attitudes I bring into it. I’m the one who brings the resentment, selfishness and anger into it. Now it is true that Arwyn brings her own unique brand of dysfunctions into the relationship. However, I can not help her remove her dust specs until I first move the lumberyard from my own eyes.

Yeah, it really is that Biblical. I hurt myself when I try to judge Arwyn. When I condemn her, I condemn myself. When I try to change her into something she is not, I am violating her integrity especially if I’m not sure who I am! And marriage necessarily involves discovering who I really am. I can not discover that if I am always retreating and avoiding. I’ll never discover who I am as long as I am busy pointing out someone else’s flaws. I can not become the person I want to be if I treat others unkindly and with disrespect. Marriage challenges all of those things and it is done in the context of two sinful people trying to coexist intimately together. It is an ecology that was purposefully designed to develop the best by sometimes bringing out the worst. Differentiation is simply allowing enough room to grow and develop for the cycle to turn freely. But both people are part of that system and moving apart or bailing out is just breaking it. That isn’t differentiation at all, because differentiation means to be able to be close to someone without being threatened or without falling apart. If you are not close to someone, of course you’re not going to fall apart, but neither are you truly differentiated. You’re simply at a particular stage of development and you aren’t going to grow until you are part of a system that challenges you to be more than who you are today.

This is why the divorce rate is higher among those who have already been divorced. They get married, get into emotional gridlock and bail before they advance any further. They get remarried, and when they reach a similar stage of emotional development they often find themselves in the exact same place as when their prior relationship hit the skids. The solution to emotional gridlock is not to bail out, although I know the temptation as much as anyone. It is to play through it. Suffer through it. Oh my; none of us wanted to hear that!! But if you think about how much of the suffering is self-inflicted, it begins to make a bit more sense.

I struggle, struggle, struggle with all of this. You all have gotten to watch the sordid mess, at least from my perspective. Yeah, Arwyn and I have both progressed. For awhile. Then we go back into the crucible and gridlock some more. And then hopefully come out better…again. Slow, long and painful this journey is.

I did go to the next session of Arwyn’s church’s marriage mini-session and the leader actually pulled it out and passed one out for everyone in the room. Yes, the ENQ made it debut there, but Arwyn and I just looked at each other and chuckled. The leader probably got that and the whole idea from our therapist, since they are loosely associated with one another through the church. And he got it from us, because he had never seen it before. I would describe this last session as Harley Lite, because while she is drawing most of her material from him she seems to also bring in other things from other authors occasionally. It was more tolerable than the last one, but it still amounts to a giant bother because the kids are thrown off schedule and get to bed late causing problems the next day.

An update on anxiety

January 18, 2009

In my last entry, I spoke about some of my disdain for this therapist we’ve been seeing. It has nothing to do with his personal convictions, or his personality but everything to do with his marriage to the family systems approach. He has spent months trying to map out our family of origin and then tries to help us interpret things through that lens. The problem is that family systems is regressive while also being an other-validated approach. It has limited usefulness, especially for a supposed sex therapist.

Arwyn and I had a number of these little sniping sessions last weekend. It resembles a type of guerrilla technique where she says something potentially deep (but snarky) and then withdrawing as quickly as possible. One topic that came up was a mini marriage seminar her church is having on Wednesday evenings. She went without me the week before and brought back some material from it. I didn’t know it at the time, but much of the material is derived from our old friend Harley, who developed the ENQ. I liked much of his material, but it is mostly incompatible with Schnarch’s view of differentiation. The entire “Love Bank” principle is based on validating your partner in the hope that the other will feel positive enough to return the favor. I told Arwyn I would be wiling to attend just to check it out. My response was less than enthusiastic, which violates a major tenet of Harley’s which is that you don’t do things or ask your partner to do things that they can not enthusiastically support. Those of you presently enduring the tyranny of this know the pitfall of this principle. It devolves into not being able to do anything!

At out last therapy session last week, it hit the proverbial fan. On the way to the therapist, I played some of Schnarch’s audio book. I happened to pick the chapter on integrity which is truly the real meat of his approach. She recognized much of it as I confronted the therapist about how his and Harley’s approach lacked a grounding in reality. At the conclusion, I gave him a CD on which I had copied about 5 chapters of the book. The therapist seemed genuinely interested and appreciative and noted that he spends a lot of time on the road so would listen to it. His familiarity with Schnarch is marginal at best. When we discussed it, he was under the impression that the Passionate Marriage approach drove people further apart, which couldn’t be further from the truth. It drives people out of feeling trapped but more into a greater capacity for love.

Arwyn hasn’t made any moves toward sex, and that has been fine by me. I was worried that she might try something right before therapy as that has been sort of a pattern for her but my integrity was not tested this past week. And that’s sort of where we are at. I don’t want Arwyn to feel like she has to have sex with me simply to medicate my bad mood, or to fulfill and obligation or just because she might be asked about it in therapy. I suppose if she could derive some joy out of fulfilling a need of mine, I would be okay with that, but that isn’t the vibe I’m getting. In her mind, I’m obsessed with sex. And if sex was happening, it might only be about 10% of the relationship but because it is such a deficit area, it takes up more mindspace.

I’ll expand a bit more on my thoughts on my other blog. I don’t post often enough for multiple blogs but it is handy when I do decide to do multiple posts.

Return to Schnarch

January 6, 2009

Anyone reading the past month or so knows my relationship has seemingly stalled and begun taking a nose dive. Just when things were starting to look up, too! But this is the way it goes, sometimes. Well, pretty much ALL the time, because that’s sort of the way marriage works. A few steps forwards, and seemingly a few steps back into gridlock. But gridlock is where we are, because that’s where we have to be.

Last weekend, I went ahead and downloaded the mp3 version of Schnarch’s most recent book,Secrets of a Passionate Marriage. For me, it was a totally worthwhile download. Here, I could listen to Schnarch’s words delivered as he meant them to sound. And he manages to go through the whole thing in less than 2 hours. While I had begun rereading certain parts of Passionate Marrige, I was having a hard time getting into it. With the mp3, I could listen to it as many times as I wanted, in any order. Schnarch delivers his prose in a conversational style, sometimes in front of a “live” audience, as you can sometimes hear people laugh in the background as he delivers a humorous line.

And after the 3rd or so time through, some of this started to really sink back in. The therapist has been SO dead wrong in his approach. Pretty much all marriage therapists and sex therapists get it wrong, even though this stuff has been out around 20 years! The reason why it might not be so popular is because there is a definite spiritual focus on this approach to discovering intimacy. Schnarch makes no bones about how elegantly the sexual relationship acts as a catalyst for growth, change and intimacy. Or the fact that human sexuality is a product of deliberate and complex design. However, I do need to throw in a caveat that Schnarch is NOT an evangelical and is totally fine with referring and treating gay couples with his approach. But this should not detract from the truth that he reveals.

And that truth is, is that I’ve been dead wrong. I think I was saying that a year ago, too. For some reason, once we got into therapy, I sort of laid what I had learned then down. That was mistake. Just the act of calling a therapist and making an appointment and following through…these were all acts of trying to break the emotional gridlock. How odd that firing the therapist might be the next step in breaking this episode of emotional gridlock!LOL!

But we have been chasing our tails around the issues, here. There has been a bit of progress in that we have had more sex. Considering the score was a big fat ZERO for the previous year, it wouldn’t take much. On the intimacy front, I can say there was SOME progress, but much less pronounced.

The therapist is treating this as a communication issue, and it is definitely not a communication issue. The message could not be more clear: I want more sex. She does not. There is no way that the message could be more clear than nailing it to our foreheads! We get it! It’s right there! She wants a dog. I do not. In the case of dog ownership, I am the low desire partner. There is no communication issue, here! No matter how many times I speak her love language, she is not going to budge from her position. No matter how many times she speaks mine, I’m not getting a dog.

The problem is not one of speaking and listening. It is a problem of anxiety. Today, while listening to Schnarch, the light bulb went on. I’m getting it. Again.

Basically, Arwyn has a whole lot of anxiety about intimacy, especially as far as it is expressed sexually. But it also translates into her being a general avoider, too. And so it is, that I happen to share a lot of the same sorts of anxiety but it expresses itself a bit differently. We’re both kind of distant folk. Not unfriendly, but we have big boundaries around us and we keep a big distance. But at the same time we want a type of closeness. That’s the big rub, here. We both want to be close but we both want distance. It just so happens that I’m capable of having sex while maintaining quite a bit of distance. In other words, my emotional involvement doesn’t have to be terribly deep for me to have an orgasm. Arwyn is actually a lot alike me in that respect except she actually requires quite a lot of distance to orgasm. That’s why she prefers the lights off and the eyes tightly shut and she does not want me looking at her face while she is in the throes of passion. In other words, her emotional involvement is pretty well evenly matched with mine. It’s low. But there is a part of her that wants more.

What’s getting in the way is anxiety and fear. Sex is simply one way to have closeness while managing the anxiety, but Arwyn has simply not mastered much in the way of managing her fears. And so, like every other couple on the planet, we have to deal with the sexual leftovers.

Sexual leftovers is what every couple has when it comes to sex. Each person makes a list of what is too disgusting and perverted and then the other person makes their list and then you agree on the leftovers. That’s what you call compromise, right? But that leads to sexual boredom which leads to tension and eventual gridlock. At some point, the anxiety comes to a head and then has to be dealt with.

I feel like I’m drifting, here.

A few months back, we had probably the greatest breakthrough EVER as far as sexual intimacy. It was at a time when we were good all around. One night we approached each other and we ended up in the lotus position. Yeah, I figured out what it was. But I might have underestimated the amount of courage that went into this for her. And we may have done it a time or two since then. But some how we were able to manage that face-to-face intimacy.

Okay, I’m getting tired and need to turn in, but at least I have a better idea of what is going on and I’m not nearly as snarky on Arwyn as I was earlier. I’ll have to expound more on the differentiation aspect of this later, as we are still having to work through that.

Just some New Year’s Thoughts…

January 1, 2009

I saw a question on the christian Nympos blog that really perked my ears up where a guy asked how he can tell whether or not his future wife will be a Christian nympho:

Since I’m not supposed to have premarital sex, how can I tell if a woman will be responsive on a regular basis after marriage?

How does one find out if a girl is sexually healthy, active and willing to experiment with out sleeping with her?

Of course I did comment and you can read the edited version of it on their website. It was edited, because I included a link to my own site weighing in on the topic with considerably more detail.

I feel kind of bad about that link being stripped out, but I also sort of know why they did it, since many of those things can not be known until after one actually has sex, and having sex outside of marriage is wrong. But with just a bit more investigation, it is apparent that while their site may be a great help to many, they really are not too interested in being an open community. No trackbacks or even links to commentors own blogs. And that makes me feel a bit bad for the guys who are asking questions over there, because those women are mostly there to help and support other women. Oh well. Keeping folks like that on the RSS is just an act of frustration. Good resource but women like my wife have absolutely no interest in a site like that.

I’m rereading the Schnarch book, as the insights gained there were so key to the progress Arwyn and I made last year. It enabled me to not be so defensive and handle the rejection better which eventually began to help her move in a more positive direction. While the therapy sort of jumpstarted things and brought some accountability to bear, we have not managed to get to any real depth in almost a year.

This past year, I did manage to meet some important goals:
1. We did break the 2 year sex drought and intimacy went forward before it slid back.
2. I got my weight down to a low of 187 before gaining back to 207 Still working on it.
3. The weight gain was largely caused by quitting smoking. Smoke free since July.
4. Other than the house, we are Debt Free!
5. I’m playing solidly in the standard level in Stepmania
6. Still on Supaeasy on FoF (which will work with any PC compatible guitar controller)

So, much progress has been made over the last 12 months, it will still take a lot of work to maintain these things. I could light a cigarette today and still enjoy it. And the weight creep and debt creep are constant threats. But the intimacy battle is the big one.
2009? Who knows? I like the idea of continuing to reinvent myself in new ways and become a better me. None of these things would have happened without God providing the means, the strength and the grace to follow through. Only God knows the plans He has for me and it is going to be an adventure no matter what.

Hoping the best for all of you in 2009!

The Disconnect

December 28, 2008

Here’s something I picked up from the Christian Nymphos in an interview Cinnamonsticks did with Shannon Etheridge:


Christian Nymphos: What are the most significant things that you see competing
with young people growing up with a healthy sexual understanding?*

Shannon Ethridge: Most teens think that if they are ever going to have good hot
sex, they’d better do it now when they are single, because once they get married
they probably won’t see much action. Where do they get that notion? From tons
of things they see in the media (frigid wives, frustrated husbands), but mainly
from their own parents’ relationship. Over 90% of teens say they don’t want a
relationship like the one their parents have, and most that I talk to insist
that their parents don’t even have sex. I usually laugh and ask, “How do you
think you got here if your parents don’t have sex?” Then they’ll acknowledge,
“Well, my parents must have had sex before, but based on how they treat each
other, I can’t imagine that they do anymore.” This is a sad report card, and a
wake up call for us parents.

To me, this perfectly captures a problem with marriage in modern times, and especially within Christian homes. There is a real disconnect between what we say we want for our kids and and what they are actually seeing from us. I can hear the song and dance espoused by church people everywhere about sex is a beautiful and wonderful thing within the committed relationship of marriage. True love is worth waiting for and yadda, yadda, yadda. Sex within marriage is WONDERFUL and WORTH WAITING FOR!

I’m sorry kids, but that is SO not true. It is a lie. It is such a blatant lie that it really and truly undermines every other thing that comes out of the church door. It makes the church a caricature of itself. Are church people really that stupid or are they deliberately just being deceptive? Because I am not seeing it in either quality or quantity. I see the potential for something much richer, but it does not seem to be playing out in real life. Or perhaps I am not old enough (and have not suffered enough) to see it realized. Of course, I’m talking about a genuine sense of trust and intimacy with regards to sexual relations.

So now I’m thinking about Proverbs chapter 7

6 For at the window of my house
I have looked out through my lattice,
7 and I have seen among the simple,
I have perceived among the youths,
a young man lacking sense,
8 passing along the street near her corner,
taking the road to her house
9 in the twilight, in the evening,
at the time of night and darkness.

10 And behold, the woman meets him,
dressed as a prostitute, wily of heart.
11 She is loud and wayward;
her feet do not stay at home;
12 now in the street, now in the market,
and at every corner she lies in wait.
13 She seizes him and kisses him,
and with bold face she says to him,
14 “I had to offer sacrifices,
and today I have paid my vows;
15 so now I have come out to meet you,
to seek you eagerly, and I have found you.
16 I have spread my couch with coverings,
colored linens from Egyptian linen;
17 I have perfumed my bed with myrrh,
aloes, and cinnamon.
18 Come, let us take our fill of love till morning;
let us delight ourselves with love.
19 For my husband is not at home;
he has gone on a long journey;
20 he took a bag of money with him;
at full moon he will come home.”

21 With much seductive speech she persuades him;
with her smooth talk she compels him.
22 All at once he follows her,
as an ox goes to the slaughter,
or as a stag is caught fast
23 till an arrow pierces its liver;
as a bird rushes into a snare;
he does not know that it will cost him his life.

24 And now, O sons, listen to me,
and be attentive to the words of my mouth.
25 Let not your heart turn aside to her ways;
do not stray into her paths,
26 for many a victim has she laid low,
and all her slain are a mighty throng.
27 Her house is the way to Sheol,
going down to the chambers of death.

Okay, I’m having a problem here. If I just look at verses 13-18 alone and omit everything else– You know what? I would kind of like that sort of attention! Seriously, who would not want to be sought eagerly and be offered the best seat in the house and be invited to take our fill of love till morning? I think what makes the guy foolish is that he only hears that part and ignores the rest. But that is the siren call that lures men away. Women are under the grossly mistaken impression that when a guy is viewing porn, he is looking at a body and she has to compete for that perfect body. Those women could not be more mistaken. It is the portrayal of availability and eagerness that makes the women of prOn more attractive. A nice body doesn’t hurt, for sure. But I know guys who are married to some pretty nice looking women who have struggled with porn. The struggle didn’t exist because of their wife’s looks, it was more her attitude of unavailability. Prostitutes make the bulk of their money from married guys who are not getting certain things done at home. And a lot of these porn/prostitute consumers are Christian married men.

On our end of it, we have to struggle with the attitude of our own entitlement. Our own selfishness. This is really where I am. There has been sex here (very little), but it has been bad sex because there has been so little intimacy around it. On FTN’s Quality Sex Metric (FQSM) I scored like a 4.5 or something. It was about as low as a couple could possibly have while being naked together. Arwyn was not really into it and my own realization of that did not help matters. The lack of eagerness, the lack of responsiveness to my touch, the lack of her initiating anything resembling intimacy….it has added up to a giant FAIL around here. The therapist has been 0% help here. We have not been meeting too regularly due to childcare and scheduling issues. And when we do meet, it does not seem to be very productive. I do notice that for a Tuesday night session, Arwyn will often be somewhat receptive on a Sunday or Monday night so there is a sort of accountability factor there. But she isn’t really into sex as a recreational activity. She never really has been although I think I was fooled into thinking it was early on.

So I am in a state of not being particularly festive. I have zero interest in going to a prostitute because what I really want is a relationship. I really want sex to be part of that relationship. Why am I being led to think that that is asking too much? And what of all the kids growing up in this sort of climate? There really isn’t a good way to talk about sex (or relationships) with them without being hypocritical about the mess that we live in. That I live in.

By not wanting sex with me, Arwyn might be living more authentically than I am. Why should I want intimacy with someone who seems to find me so unattractive? It’s not just about the sex. Stand back a minute while I noodle this out…

I say I want intimacy, which I define as knowing and being known. But it is also about being valued and having my values valued in a reciprocal fashion. I’m not exactly all sure about what that sort of reciprocity would look like exactly, since the person with the lowest desire for intimacy ultimately controls it. And that person is not me. In a sense it seems as though that the only people who are going to get as much intimacy as they want are the people who have the least need and desire for it. Such an odd and unfair economy. Arwyn exhibits very little desire for intimacy from me, or at least the sort of desire I want and need. She likes my time and my acts of service, but giving those does not translate into filling any of my intimate needs. Right or wrong, sex is a big part of that marital reciprocal expectation. If asking for more intimate acts are so far removed from Arwyn’s core values, she will never make any meaningful changes in that direction and it is unfair of me to ask her to make such an accommodation. All such sex would translate into mercy sex or pity sex or guilt sex, which it seems to be the most consistent part of the sexual diet. Ar least the diet consisting of two people. A one-person diet enables me to get along, but that might be part of the problem, too. I’m getting along miserably instead of being angry and confrontational. Geez, what kind of choice it THAT?!?!

Talking a bit about Chastity Devices

December 20, 2008

Okay, I’ve been too busy to post but not too busy to read and occasionally comment. I’m still alive!

While trying to keep up on my RSS feeds, a couple of articles really caught my attention. Actually a lot of them did until I read an article by one of the spice girls on the Christian Nympho blog. Cumingirl addresses a question about chastity devices, and my ears were totally up and zeroed in. After reading that, I went to visit our resident chastity expert, Tom Allen, to see if he had picked this little story up. He hadn’t, but his most recent post is certainly appropriate to the points that Cumingirl makes.

Cumingirl, meet Tom. Tom, meet Cumingirl.

Cumingirl fields a question from a guy who struggles with porn. At some point, he and his wife experiment with a chastity device in order to help him ditch the porn habit. After she loses interest in a few months, he is back to the porn. He asks what she thinks about chastity devices, and Cumingirl answers from her sincere Christian perspective, which is insightful whether you’re a Christian or not. Tom, who admits to being in the “not” category says the same thing as Cumingirl; if you have intimacy and relationship problems, no device or toy is going to solve it. A problem of the heart has to be addressed at the heart level. You can not solve an emotional or a spiritual problem with plastic or steel.

My own experiences into chastity confirm this. I was looking for a solution and while it provided a certain amount of short-term relief, it never did anything about the core intimacy issues. In fact, like Tom in his earliest forays into chastity, I ended up feeling even more neglected. Any kind of play where you are playing alone is going to come up empty and unfulfilling. It goes from being arousing to being lonely without the active and loving participation of a real intimate partner. First comes the intimacy. THEN perhaps, it can lead to higher highs.

I meant to address this back when I was posting on Schnarch last year, as I had some thoughts of how chastity played into differentiation. Basically, what I and most married guys who get into it are looking for, is more attention and intimacy but we are really attempting it through more fusion. The lock and key is an interesting metaphor for the fusion we are attempting. When attempted with a spouse who is naturally averse to greater intimacy, the result is fairly predictable. She may have some curiosity at first and perhaps some intrigue but it is mostly weird. Once she understands the concept she’ll be so reluctant that it will take all sorts of manipulation to get her to go along with it, however reluctantly. Using the idea of excessive masturbation, porn and cheating are all attempts to leverage shame, guilt or even anger into getting her to go along with something she is not really into. The idea is that once the wife gets a taste of the good life and you doting on her and doing all the chores and she gets all high on the power, that she will want to keep you locked up forever. VICTORY! Right?

No. Because at this point, some really stupid games commence. First off, the guy is going to do all sorts of stupid things in order to be punished. Or even worse, he’ll escape. Then the search is on for a more secure device. Tom really gives this myth of the escape-proof device some good treatment in his post, but it does need to be restated. There is no such thing. Some devices make escape more difficult but anyone with even a minimum amount of determination will be able to get out and get his rocks off. So security is a total myth. The IDEA of security can be immensely powerful, psychologically. But I’ll never forget the time I discovered how to pick the lock that came with the Curve. It totally wrecked that emotional dynamic. From then on, (after buying a better lock) I never tried to pick the lock again. Part of the attraction of this kink is the emotional roller coaster that Tom so eloquently describes. I really, really miss that but my wife would not be a participant in that and it would eventually lead to more resentment if I chose that path with out her active and at least somewhat positive participation.

Emotional fusion always leads to a dynamic where a person is either grasping and clutching or actively trying to avoid. Spouses tend to alternate roles, thus one spouse pursues while the other avoids until the pursuer tires and the then they switch roles. Instead of facing each other and squaring off, there is a tendency to always be facing the other’s back. So in the D/s dynamic that many chastity folk aspire to, the sub invariably tops from the bottom by some form of manipulation and the dominant (woman) may even go along with it for a time. But being differentiated means being able to live and share with someone intimately without being so enmeshed that any emotional anxiety they have automatically spills over. It’s one thing to be empathetic and supportive, but that’s hard to do when both people are going to pieces! Living with another person’s uniqueness is a really difficult thing to do, but it is developmentally crucial. Wearing a chastity device isn’t going to help at all. It can lead to temporary relief of a sort, but failing to address core intimacy issues will only result in a rebound effect that leaves even more resentment than existed before.

Cumingirl does not condemn chastity play and says it can be a part of a sexual repertoire just like any other sex toy. She admits that it isn’t her thing, but says it is okay if both partners are into it. I would extend her comments by saying that there might be a place for this type of play for Christian couples as they explore the effects of tease and denial. It can be a very powerful emotional experience for both as long as neither feels forced or manipulated into it. The most interesting scenarios I’ve read are when it is not truly a D/s thing at all. The guy knows he can get out any time he wants, but chooses not to. The woman, knowing this, also appreciates the gesture he makes in handing her the keys to his favorite toy. The key (and by extension, his manhood) becomes precious to her. She thinks of him and he thinks of her. It’s not something that is forced, manipulated or coerced. If a guy wants out, he should be free enough and willing enough to ask to be let out or at the least, safe-word out. If she gets tired of the game, she can freely opt out. There simply needs to be some understanding of each other’s needs in a way that is not destructive or that ignores other problems within the relationship.

Using a chastity device somehow in conjunction with the teaching in 1st Corinthians 7 seems like a better answer, to me. If it is by mutual agreement, it can be a tremendous time of emotional bonding where sexual tension can help increase spiritual devotion and attention. By sharing one another’s thoughts and sensations this is actually a way to increase differentiation (because the experiences are in fact unique between the one locked and the keyholder) and appreciating one another’s uniqueness and gifts without insisting they be exactly like us. I would really like to have that sort of bonding, but I do have my own issues of intimacy to deal with and work out. I do miss that psychological intensity where the chastity cage really focused me in on my wife.

Why aren’t I more like that all the time? Why rely on a $200 piece of plastic to get me to focus? For one, I’m rather thick emotionally and too full of selfishness and pride. The plastic cage does provide some amount of mental bending that leads to some extra opportunities for reflection. Like those 2 and 5 a.m. wake-up calls. Those really help knock my head into a different space. The awareness (and somewhat discomfort) make the subtleties of of my emotional neediness more blatant. Admittedly, that can get old for a woman who might be bothered by that sort of thing fairly quickly. She doesn’t need any more children and childish foolishness! But as Tom said, without the teasing the denial just turns into neglect and loneliness. I think that’s where the rebound comes into play. Once I get out from under the influence of the cage, I realize how little attention I have been receiving and get bogged down in resentment. And that’s all me, because I go into it relying on my wife to give me that extra attention. While wearing the cage I do become more needy for attention, but can subsist on smaller morsels. Hand holding takes on new and more exciting dimensions that would not otherwise happen. But I also become more keenly aware of the rejection and avoidance. And I’m not sure whether that is a good thing or a bad thing. There’s some comfort in numbness but there is also a lack of vibrancy, too.