What to Expect From Your Marriage

"Inrelationships, if you always do what you always did, you'll always get what youalways got." ~ Amy Dickinson

Acommon complaint in letters to advice columns is that a spouse is chronicallyneglecting various needs of the complainer, or refuses to do something that thecomplainer fervently desires.  Sex may bethe most common missing element described by people who write this type of letter – and women complain about the lack of it at least as often as do men – but itcan be anything from refraining from cussing to refraining from describing embarrassingor quirky attributes of the complainer to outsiders.

Tome, sexually frustrating one’s spouse seems to me to be the most strange of allsuch complaints, because it would be so easy and take so little effort to givethe frustrated spouses what they say they want. Do these spouses really care thatlittle about keeping the other spouse happy? That would seem really mean ifnot vicious.

Afterall, sex doesn’t take all that much effort, especially if you are not especially concerned about your own pleasure.  Whynot make the other person happy occasionally even if you don’t enjoy ityourself?  A mere half hour everyweek or two might be just the ticket. 

Yousay it’s a chore?  So is going out andbuying your spouse gifts on birthdays, Valentine's Day, and Christmas.  A lot of peopleseem willing to do those things.   How about meeting all of your other responsibilities at your job and at home?  Chores all, at least much of the time.  For most people, willing!

Evenif the man is completely physically impotent and incurably so…and there's no G-rated way to say this... let’s just say his tongue probably works OK, doesn’t it?

Hereis a typical example of a letter from a sex deprived wife, from the column Annie’s Mailboxfrom March 10, 2012.

"Dear Annie: "John" and I have beenmarried for 15 years. He is a wonderful person and a great father...Our relationship is fine on the surface, but it's emotionallyempty. There is little intimacy, which has been an issue throughout ourmarriage. It manifests itself periodically in arguments that never seem to getresolved… He wonders why I cannot "just be happy," because from hisperspective, everything is fine. I have told him clearly that I need moreattention and affection, but I have come to the realization that he is"just not that into me.

… Annie, I love my family. I am not asking for a magicalromance. I don't think it's too much for a woman to need occasional lovingphysical gestures from her husband. I can't figure out why it's so hard for himto express his love if he cares for me as much as he says.

I don't want to leave, but things could be so much better ifJohn would only put a little more effort into our marriage. Any suggestions onhow to improve things? Or am I just destined to have an emotionlessrelationship?" 

The Annies answer: "There is a variety of reasons why a man may notshow any interest in his wife: He could be gay, asexual, not attracted to youor having an affair. He could have low testosterone or other medical oremotional issues. The real problem is that he refuses to address it…"

Well those are all possibilities, but why would she havemarried someone like that in the first place if she craved affection so much?  It sounds from the letter like she just thinkshubby might just an A-hole, does it not? I mean, she seems to think that he is someone who is depriving his dearwife of that which she craves, for no apparent reason.

But is that what is really happening?  Could be, but I have another, more likelyexplanation. The writer starts by saying that they have been married forfifteen years.  It doesn’t sound likethis is a new problem, so what that probably means is that she has been putting up with this treatment for fifteen years.  And, after she mentions that, she praises the guy for being a “wonderful”person.  What, you may ask, is so wonderfulabout a guy who is more than willing to almost totally neglect your needs justbecause he can?

I find the husband’s response to be telling.   He asks her whyshe cannot "just be happy, because from his perspective, everything isfine.”  She also says that she has madeit clear that the lack of intimacy bothers her a great deal.  So why would he think everything is justfine?  Why wouldn’t he already know the answer to the question of why she just “can’t be happy?”

Well, unless the guy has the IQ of a turnip,the only reasonable explanation for his apparent obtuseness and confusion isthat he doesn’t believe her when she sayshe wants more intimacy.  Remember,she has been putting up with this for fifteen years.  In her letter she says he is wonderful and that she does not want to leave.   If we are hearing this in a letter she writesthat may be up for public consumption, then the odds are extremely good that he hasheard her say this stuff.  Many times.

The much less obvious explanation for thisstate of affairs – and so often the less obvious interpretation turns out to bethe correct one for patients who I see in therapy - is that he takes her passiveacquiescence of the state of affairs as a signal that she actually prefersit!  So, when she complains about it, hebecomes confused and asks her why she is not happy, since he is doing exactly whathe thinks she wants.  Maybe she really wants to avoid sex and affection, but also enjoys complaining!

He will never tell her about such thoughts becausehe knows that the thoughts will probably be greeted with great defensiveness,outright derision, or indignation from her that he is blaming her for his problem withintimacy.  That will get him exactlynothing but grief, so why bother?

More important, he is helping her to not face her issue with sex and affection, because he is volunteering to pretend to be the bad guy by denying her.

So could she really be covertly avoiding sex as muchas he is?  And if so, why?  Well, the answer to the first question is aresound, hell yes.  This does not meanthat on some level she really does wish for more sex, but that for some reasonshe is more comfortable with the current state of affairs than with the “improved”version.  The answer as to why might be a one of many possible issues between her and her own family of origin, but she does not give usany clues in her letter about what those issues might be.

And what happened to his libido?  Again, we don’t know.  Maybe he has a whore/madonna conflict abouthis wife being a sexual being.  But itcould also be many other things.

The point is, they are both avoiding sex, not just him. 

A different letter writer in the Dear Abby column of3/15/12, says that she has been married for 32 years, and for all these yearsher husband has lied continually.  He fabricates the most outlandish stories, and the whole family knows it.  Furthermore, he is said to neverown up to anything he has done wrong, but instead blames the letter writer forhis actions. If she confronts or challenges him, he gets defensive and saysshe’s "always" belittling or challenging him in front of others. 

The probably translation, according to my scenario, is that she covertly thinks that he has a need for continuous humiliation - so she helps out by humiliating him -  and he thinks his wife needs to humiliate him - so he gives her plenty of opportunities.  After all, from the perspective of each, that is exactly what the other has always done.  For 32 years.

"Inrelationships, if you always do what you always did, you'll always get what youalways got." 


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