"He Wants Sex All the Time"
The Counselor's TurnBalance of Power
"Power struggles are very common in marriages. Sean and Patty's problem may have appeared to be purely sexual, but in fact, they were locked in a battle between his aggressive personality and her passive-aggressive one.
"Sean was direct about what he wanted from Patty -- and insistent on getting it. She accommodated him, but unconsciously got her revenge by having a one-night stand, bouncing checks and being chronically late. It was a vicious circle: The more demanding Sean became, the more Patty quietly fought back. Still, I believed they could work it out if they each accepted their own part in their problems and changed their negative behavior.
"First, the couple had to come to grips with their sexual past: Sean's eagerness to have sex too early, as well as Patty's infidelity. If they didn't find closure or see how one problem had led to the other, their lingering bitterness and resentment would keep undermining their relationship.
"I encouraged Sean to acknowledge that he pressured Patty for sex when they were first dating. He apologized and said, 'Until now, it never occurred to me that I might have contributed to your acting in a passive-aggressive way and your infidelity.' In turn, Patty had to realize that by not speaking up for what she wanted, she had allowed Sean to take advantage of her. 'You were victimized,' I said. 'But your lack of assertiveness created the very situation that you hate.'
"Next, we explored how the couple's families had shaped their personalities. The son of highly successful and controlling parents, Sean grew up feeling that he had to live up to their expectations and follow the career path they had chosen for him. To compensate for his frustration at work, he developed his bullying and aggressive personality at home, and he didn't realize he was being too demanding about sex because he was used to getting his way. Realizing this, Sean felt ashamed and vowed that he would try to be more sensitive to his wife's feelings.
"Patty was submissive like her father, but, like her mother, she developed devious ways of getting even with her husband when she felt overpowered by him. Initially, Patty rejected my suggestion that she was passive-aggressive, but once she accepted this, she realized how wrong she had been to use their family finances as a weapon. Once she determined to have sex on her own terms, she would no longer need to take out her anger by mismanaging money. 'You complain that Sean treats you like a sex object, but you've allowed yourself to be treated that way,' I said.