How many tearful, angry women come into my office in extreme pain over feeling like they have to have “sex for peace” with their husbands for fear of their anger? What kind of life is this?
Do their husbands know these women feel this way? Could they possibly continue to pressure their wives for sex knowing that they feel this way…that it hurts their wife and their relationship in ways that may never be able to heal? For someone to pressure, manipulate and hold happiness hostage for sex is a huge BOUNDARY PROBLEM! It is a sign of severe CODEPENDENCE on his part that he is that out of touch and has such damaged boundaries about sex and intimacy. At the extreme, he becomes an abuser and possibly predator. In a relationship, it can become abuse and an intimacy killer. (Read Pia Mellody’s book, FACING CODEPENDENCE 2003
I find it so sad that women, smart and sophisticated women, feel this way and live this way.
Their rationale is that if they don’t have sex with him often enough, or when he wants it, he becomes sullen, pouty and mean to her and the kids. They claim to have sex with a man, with whom they feel nothing but anger and pain, in order to have a peaceful and safe home for themselves and their kids. How is this not prostitution or rape? Isn’t it “forced” sex for emotional/behavioral remuneration?
Women of all classes live with this distortion on a daily, weekly, monthly and yearly basis. They do not even see it as abusive because they see themselves as “colluding” in this “sexual” dance. They believe it is a wife’s responsibility to “make” her husband happy. They feel there is something wrong with them, at some level, or they wouldn’t put up with it.
When I tell women they do not have to do this, they look at me as if I am speaking Greek. Educated, intelligent women can take months in a supportive therapy relationship before they can see another possibility. Or even before they see they have the right to say NO!
Because there has been so little honest communication in the relationship by this time, the first step is to help women get the courage to speak their truth. They have to tell their husband that they are not happy about this and say they do not want to have sex under these conditions. They have to explain to their husband that they have felt forced and resentful and hurt to the point of not even liking them anymore. They have to ask for this to change clearly, honestly, calmly and specifically. And they have to be ready to stick with it and be firm.
“I do not want you to demand or manipulate me into having sex anymore. If I say NO, I want you to respect my No.”
“I do not want you to be irritable with me and the children if I do not want to have sex with you. If you are unhappy it is your responsibility to find a way to soothe yourself and not take it out on others.”
In some cases, the men are totally unaware that their wives have been feeling this way. They may be defensive at first, in reaction, due to their own shame about their sexuality or behavior. They may feel rejected and unloved and have a hard time hearing the feedback. They may have their own unfinished business from childhood that’s got them feeling so miserable.
If a respectful conversation takes place as a result of opening this up, great! Keep talking. Listen to each other and work out a plan for how to have mutual respect and rebuild the love.
If the response is defensive and attacking, walk away. Take a time out and tell him you’ll came back later when he’s ready to talk about this in a respectful way.
If it doesn’t get better, seek out some professional couples counseling to help you hear each other.
While it is possible to come back from this destructive marital dance, it does take two to tango. If either party is unwilling to talk it through and work on it respectfully, it is time to end the marriage.
Women and men need to know that they do not have to stay in a relationship in which they do not feel loved, respected and valued. We should never have to beg to be loved and treated well. We have the right to EXPECT this in all our relationships.