Carol was sure something was wrong with her husband. At one point, she said laughingly, but with some serious consideration, that he was either having an affair, or was gay. After all, what else could it be? He didn’t seem excited about sex. He wasn’t responsive emotionally, constantly found fault with her, and was critical and angry. There was no way to explain his behavior, other than to attribute it to one of those two factors. She said, “I watched him throughout the entire summer, but his behavior never changed. If anything, it got worse.” So, her only solution was, “I’d better go to Dr. Ed again.”
Jordan was equally bewildered. He described his wife as frigid, cold, and never interested in being intimate which for him, meant sex. He said, “either she was abused as a child, or my ultra-religious mother-in-law convinced her that “good” women don’t enjoy sex, just tolerate it for their husband’s sake, and only look forward to it when they want a child.” He added, “I ran my own experiment. “Two months, one week and three and a half days ago, I decided to see how long she could hold out, or if she would initiate any type of sexual involvement on her own. You probably won’t be surprised that she showed no interest.” His conclusion: she’s definitely frigid, or sex is only an act to be tolerated to appease a husband’s desires. It was the only way he could explain her behavior.
Interestingly, both Carol and Jordan saw themselves as warm, loving individuals who only desired affection and closeness, but whose spouses were severely lacking in that area. Although it took considerable time, each of them eventually came to see that they hadn’t demonstrated the proactive behavior needed to deal with the situations they felt they were trapped in. Carol was able to say, “It’s crazy, but now I can almost laugh at my own behavior. Last summer, we went away for two vacations and two extended weekends, but I never enjoyed them. I constantly felt that he didn’t care, and that I didn’t matter. Now I realize I did nothing to improve things. I just played the victim. You’ve helped me to see that. It’s strange, because if you had told me that when I first walked in, I would have left and looked for another therapist. After all, in my mind, I was the one trying to get close and being rejected. I was the one who always asked if something was wrong. We went to Hawaii and the Caribbean and spent one weekend in Austin, Texas, and another in New Orleans, but I never appreciated them. Now, I clearly see that I pushed him away by blaming and criticizing him.”
Jordan, by his own admission, did nothing, asked for nothing, and played the spectator waiting to see if his wife would chase him. That isn’t to say that, prior to his two months, one week, three and a half days period of self-inflicted deprivation, he hadn’t frequently complained and accused her of being asexual. I further suspect that during that time, he wasn’t the loving, nurturing, supportive spouse he perceived himself to be.
Both Carol and Jordan lived their lives from the outside in. They attributed their upset and their reactions to their partner’s behavior. It enabled them to avoid looking at themselves, or asking, “What’s bothering me? Why am I angry at my partner?” Had they asked, their answer, in all likelihood, would have been “He/she is either gay, having an affair, asexual, or totally frigid.” Essentially, they look at their spouses, instead of looking at themselves. My statement to them would have been, “You may be right. They may well be what you suggest. But why do you choose to be angry at them? After all, you’re the one who chose them and you can choose the way you react to them. You can leave. You can stay with anger and resentment, or act with understanding, compassion and love. You can tell them, without criticism, how upset, hurt, rejected, uncared for, unloved and insufficient you feel about yourself. Most of all, however, you need to focus on you while expressing those feelings, not on them .
Needless to say, that isn’t what most people do. Instead, they say, “you don’t care”, “you’re never home”, “you never help with the kids”, or “all you want is sex, not me.” You need to see that it’s not whether your statements are factual. It has nothing to with what your spouse may or may not have done. It has far more to do with recognizing what you’re feeling, what you want, and you communicating your feelings, without blame, anger, resentment or hysterics. Behavior which, I believe, stems from your emotional dependence, a desperate need for love, and an inability to be vulnerable and openly ask for what you need. If you look at the emotional patterns exhibited by both Carol and Jordan, you can readily see that neither one was emotionally vulnerable: they both chose to view their situations in a manner that justified their being angry, feeling emotional upset, and sufficiently resentful to restrict true expressions of love or warmth. The purpose being to avoid being at risk and devastatingly hurt, emotionally.
So, in the future, what I would have you do is never deal with situations on the basis of right or wrong. Deal with them on the basis of what you want and feel. Ask yourself before you react, “will this behavior get me what I want?” If your answer is no, don’t do it. The problem is that most of us learned early in life to blame others instead of looking at ourselves and taking responsibility for our own actions, thoughts and responses. What I want is for you to accept who you are, own and express your fears and needs in a vulnerable manner and determine whether your partner is willing to accept you that way. If not, you can then ask, “why am I staying with this person?”
So, the next time you become over-wrought, hysterical and angry with someone, don’t concern yourself with how unfair or wrong the other person is. Instead, ask yourself why their being wrong causes you to be so angry and distraught. Because, in the end, understanding where you’re coming from is the only way to help you to determine where you want to go in the future.