Tracy started to get herself together. She did what many couples are loathe to do – get honest about their hatred for their partner. Dr. David Schnarch has introduced to the field of marriage and sex therapy the idea of normal marital sadism. (You can read about it in his books including his most recent Intimacy and Desire.) Most couples – and most marriage therapists – act as if hatred and aggression and hostility don’t exist when they try to keep their focus on affirmations, compromise, and communication skills. We seem to think that if we focus elsewhere, the bad stuff will melt away. It took Tracy some time, but she finally got honest about her hatred.
When she did, their arguments changed altogether. They stopped getting to the emotional and out of control level they had before. Tracy just didn’t get sucked in and Charles could no longer befuddle her into picking fly shit out of pepper. She had much bigger piles to deal with so she stopped getting lost in a sea of (pepper) oblivion. Her sense of calm was fueled by the reality that she was now going to deal with the real issues before her instead of continuing to dance around them in a vicious, bloody circle.
The initial shift in perspective came quickly for Charles when we started to explore his propensity to mess with other people’s minds. In the course of our exploration of his family of origin and where his expertise may have come from, Charles unabashedly shared with me his belief that no matter how negative or mean his parents might be, if they died feeling they’d lived a good life, then they’d had a good life. Charles was asked a question he’d never been asked before: “So, if your parents die with their heads up their asses, enjoying the view, then they’ve lived a good life?”
What Charles had never considered and what his parents never concerned themselves with was collateral damage. They lived, and they taught their son to live, as if the pain left in their wake was invariably the fault of others. Charles was overwhelmed mentally and emotionally when he began to see his narcissism and cruelty to his loved ones.
He had grown up being dubbed the Golden Boy. He was the youngest of 3 and he had learned by watching his sibs how to stay out of the fray by not talking. He learned, without even thinking, that if he was quiet enough or skirted around topics enough, his sibs would soon get the unwanted attention, and he would escape it.
But this story went well beyond Charles just learning to escape chaos. Being dubbed the Golden Boy by his parents, he was caught in a web he denied the very existence of. His parents were ruthless in their dealings, but always under the guise of “helpfulness” and Charles was their henchman. He walked around narcissistically believing he had himself together and the problems his wife and children and siblings were experiencing were because of their own choices.
After a few sessions and a lot of hard work Charles’ sight went from completely blind to about 10% visibility, but it was enough for him to change how he interacted with his parents and sibs and, of course, with Tracy and their children.
Charles limited his involvement in his parents’ personal and business dealings (something he was completely enmeshed with heretofore). He stopped criticizing his children’s every decision and opinion and started playing with them more. They warmed to him very quickly.
The changes he made with Tracy started with him thinking more about her and the effect he had on her mind. Because he was so overcome at just how blind he’d been to himself, the natural effect was for him to enter into their interactions with some serious self-confrontation. He’d ask himself what his real attitude was. He’d ask himself if he was working to steer their conversations in unfair ways and, if he was, he stopped and regrouped.
For the first time in his life, he slowed things down in his mind and watched his own behavior and attitudes and motives as well as those of others. Needless to say, Tracy started to see him as a man she could respect…because he finally had some self-respect that included consideration of his effect on others.
As the story went, they got along much better and interactions grew much warmer. But there was still work to be done. As it turned out, there was a lot more for Tracy to do on her side. And until she did it, sex and intimacy and deep partnership wasn’t going to reach the level it could. Stay tuned for the next post about Tracy and the work she did. You’re not going to want to miss this one, Ladies!