Marriage Sharing and Sex
Let me tell you about I couple I saw named Sue and Ethan. On one occasion, Sue is in bed reading a journal she wrote when she was a teenager. Her husband, Ethan is a doctor and is in the family room watching a video and ironing. Ethan comes to bed and leans over, giving Sue a peck on the cheek. Then he reads the newspaper. They read in silence, but Sue is starting to boil. Finally, she slams closed her notebook. Their conversation goes something like this:
Sue: I wasn’t going to say anything because I don’t want to start a fight. But I think I should communicate what I’m feeling to you.
Ethan: Go ahead.
Sue: What do you mean go ahead? Like you’re doing me a favor to listen to me?
Ethan: What do you want to say? Say it and I can go back to my paper.
Sue: That’s the whole point: Listen to what you just said. Say it so I can go back to my book…you just want to get me out of the way. You’re not interested in who I am.
Ethan: I don’t know why you’re starting like this. I’m relaxing.
Sue: You never focus on me, unless we’re having sex. So we have a good sex life and that’s great. When you come to me in the kitchen and put your arms around me, that’s great too. But you focus on my body. You don’t focus on my mind, or my feelings or my heart.
Ethan: That’s not true.
Sue: Do you ever say to me, like my women friends: What’s going on with you?
Ethan: I am here for you whenever you need me. I was in there ironing. What other husband is ironing? You don’t appreciate me for what I give you. I’m not one of your girlfriends. I’m not going to say to you, “Oh how are you? What happened to you today?”
Sue: Why not? Don’t you care about me? What I’m thinking and feeling?
Ethan: You share with me what you’re thinking and feeling. We don’t have to have a review every night of Sue’s day.
Sue: You know what brought all this up? I’m sitting here reading this diary from when I was 17. I’m struck by what a different person I was then. And you see me reading this diary night after night and not once have you ever asked me about it. You’re not interested.
Ethan: I figure if you wanted me to read it you would say, “Ethan, here — read this.”
Sue: Remember that game we used to play, “Let’s talk about what happened when we were five?” We talked about what we were like when we were kids. We laughed. We played.
Ethan: (he laughs) That’s because I wanted to get you into bed.
Sue: You’re not funny. As soon as we got married, you stopped asking me anything.
Ethan: I know you.
Sue: You think you do. I want us to be more intimate. When I thought about what it would be like to be married this was my fantasy: We’d lie in bed side by side for hours, and we’d talk, talk, talk.
Ethan: Sue, I had another fantasy…we’d lie in bed and have sex, sex, sex. And then we’d hold hands. And lie there without speaking. You have to understand. I talk all day. You know how many patients I saw today? Every single one of those patients was needy. When I come home, I need quiet.
Sue: Oh, that’s great. So what are we married for? To screw?
Ethan: I need my space, too. You have to respect my needs too.
Sue: I just wish you were more….available for me. I wish you wanted to talk to me. To listen. To share my life.
Ethan: I’m here for you, Sue. But you have to understand: there are different ways of sharing.
In relationships, you expect others to fulfill your emotional needs. When those needs are not met, you feel frustrated. Ideally, you talk, explain your needs and frustrations, and negotiate for improved results. However, few feel free to clearly express their needs. Instead, when you want more affection, or wish your partner would share more of the chores, you may express your frustration indirectly, complaining in an area you feel safer. For example, you feel tired, but instead of asking for comforting, you lash out with a complaint. When you attack the other person, they escalate by defending themselves and counterattacking. Because your discussion is about a topic completely unrelated to your honest emotional need, your conversations can never lead closer to the solution. The arguments seem empty and endless because they are missing the point.