Death Move Marital Arguments contain a toxic message, akin to ‘the poison on the tip of the dart (Gottman/Bumberry).” The apparent question isn’t really a question. Like the body of the dart, the question is only a delivery system for the poison. “Why are you such a slob?” is not a question looking for an answer. “What color are your eyes?” is a question looking for an answer.
“Why are you such a slob?” is a poisonous counterattack mas- querading as a question.
“You are defective, and one evidence of that is you are a slob.” The initial question, “Why aren’t you ever interested in sex?” wasn’t a question either. It was a poisonous attack: “You are defective, and one evidence of that is you are a frigid bitch.”
Whether disguised as question and counter question, or sarcasm and counter sarcasm, the death move marital argument boils down to one refrain, repeated endlessly:
“You’re no good.”
The “Death Move” is a phrase borrowed from legendary golf instructor Jim McLean. He espoused the belief that there was no one perfect swing in golf, rather that there were a range of possible planes. However, he held that if you wandered outside the acceptable range, then you had initiated a death move, from which there is no recovery.
“No, you’re no good.”
The “You’re no good” is inaudible. It’s inaudible but understood; it is boilerplate. Jen will fill in the blank. “You’re no good because _____________________.”
To which David will respond, “No, you’re no good because________________.”
They will simply hurl the fill-in-the-blank post-boilerplate at each other. The post-boilerplate is the part written into the blank space after ‘because;’ it is the modern equivalent of the crockery couples hurl at each other in old movies.
Instead of plates and dishes flying at each other’s heads, we have accusations flying through the air. Now the “You’re no good” portion is unspoken. If the allegation is “You’re no good because you never take out the trash,” what Jen will say is “You never take out the trash!”
Dave’s response is “No, you’re no good because you are always late,” though the audible portion will be “You’re always late.”They almost seem to be speaking at cross-purposes until the secret writing is revealed. It’s like when kids write secret messages on a paper with milk. The page looks blank before “you never take out the trash,” but when held over a candle, the secret message appears: “You’re no good because…” And the important part is the secret message: “You’re no good.”
SO, IT’S AN ARGUMENT ADDICTION?
In marital shorthand, if the “You’re no good…” gets left out, and whatever filled in the blanks becomes the repetitive and choreographed exchange. Leave out “you’re no good” and what do you get?
When the you’re no good gets left out then the familiar exchange is heard:
“Can’t you ever take out the garbage??”
“Can’t you ever be on time?
It is so important to understand this, because it reveals why Judge Judy doesn’t work. It is not that the Judge isn’t wise, and it is not that the solutions offered by the Judge are unreasonable. It is that, as we will see, no amount of sensible divvying up who takes out the garbage, or when each partner is ready to leave, — no amount of adjudication will address the underlying “you’re no good” that is the heart of the problem.
If you can stop the “Death Moves” and rebuild and you’ll make a bad marriage good and good marriage great. We’ll show you how, we promise.
The first and most obvious sign that your partner isn’t enjoying sex is your partner is not having an orgasm. This may be clear to Captain Obvious, but it eludes Captain Oblivious.
Therapist: How’s the sex?
Dave: It’s getting so much better. Last night she gave me a blow job!
Dave thinks this is a positive sign, but it is not. This becomes clear when the therapist asks what happened then. Dave says he felt so good he drifted off to a wonderful sleep.
Dave, who thinks he is on the highway to happiness, is in fact speeding down a dead end street. He has been complaining of not having enough sex, but he has forgotten or never learned the cardinal rule. If you want to have more sex, you have to make it fun for your partner; and this certainly at least includes making sure your partner has an orgasm.
“We had intercourse; she didn’t come but she felt really good and enjoyed it.”
Polite is not the same as positive, and sat still for it does not equal satisfied by it.
Polite wears down, polite doesn’t last.
Another sign that your partner isn’t enjoying sex is the timing argument. Here the sex itself may be “fine,” but that won’t matter if the romantic encounter never occurs.
In our book Argument Addiction we write that couples differ over how frequently they want to have sex. There are many variations of this argument. Here’s a typical story we hear. Dave comes home from a business trip. He walks into the kitchen where Jen is preparing dinner and grabs her ass.
Dave: Are the kid’s at hockey practice? Let’s do it!
Jen: God! Is that all you want from me?
There is a ‘chicken or the egg – which came first?’ quality to this argument. Dave is saying “First we’ll have sex, then we’ll feel close.” Jen is saying, “Not so fast: first we’ll feel close, then we’ll have sex.”
If you are having this argument, the antidote is to appreciate rather than resent a fundamental difference between the sexes. Men often achieve emotional closeness through sexual intimacy. When they have sex, they feel it is a way to be closer to their partner. Women, on the other hand, often need a sense of emotional closeness, understanding, appreciation, and connection in order to feel interested, in order to feel ready for sexual intimacy.
How to talk to your partner about sex:
People have trouble talking about sex because there is so much self-esteem tied into sex. Neither partner is comfortable with the idea that they might not be the best, not only the best in the present but also better than all who came before. A tall order!
The trick is not to be defensive, and not to attack.
Attack is basically telling the partner they’re no good. “Other guys last longer,” “my high school girl friend gave better head,” “you take too long to come.”
Many avoid attack by being silent. Partners who are more than free with feedback in other areas (“Is that any way to stack the dishwasher?”) are curiously silent on the subject of sex.
The fix is to be steadfastly curious, while giving helpful rather than critical feedback.
The default position is “What can I do to make this the most fun possible for you?” Of course you can only make it easy for your partner to give feedback, you can’t waterboard them. On the other hand, if they summon up the courage to give some actual feedback, (“Right there is better” “Slower” “Like this”) then you had better be happy to hear it. If you are resentful or defensive, this will be the last feedback you get!
Why Scheduling Sex Beats Waiting To Be In The Mood
There are no couples where each wants sex the same amount. There is always someone who wants sex more, and someone who wants sex less. To be fair, the roles can switch: perhaps Dave wanted sex more often before the enforced diet of sex when the couple were trying to get pregnant. But in any case, it would be safe to say that right now, today, someone wants sex more, and someone wants sex less.
Things certainly didn’t start out this way. When the couple first met and — as Shakespeare would say — first started coupling, everyone was eager.
Of course, this dynamic is the same with same sex as with heterosexual couples. To make it simple we’re going to talk about Dave and Jen. When Dave and Jen first met at work, or on Tinder, or at a party or on blind date, or in a bar, or wherever — when they first met they were “hot” and sex was great.
What happened? How did we get from there to here?
When they first met the potent chemicals of infatuation flowed through their brains and bodies. It was almost like a visit to the crack den. Dave was amazing, thought Jen. Jen was fantastic, thought Dave. They were in love.
The crack den is great, the people are great…until the crack wears off. Then the place is full of cockroaches, the people have rotting teeth…
When the chemicals of infatuation wear off, it’s not as bad as in the crack den. But certain characteristics of your partner, to which you may have been blind (or deaf) previously, now come to bother you. Furthermore, there may be characteristics of your partner that he or she was not rushing to reveal in the infatuation phase. Same for you.
In any case, you are less enamored.
All this is natural, and not that far from normal. The question is how you deal with it.
Both people are less happy, and they start to blame the partner.
Now think about this: If last night they went to a cinco de mayo party, drank half a bottle of tequila, and had a jolly time…then today they would not be blaming each other because they were now less jolly. They would realize that last night jolly came out of a bottle. But no one says, “Gee I’ve got a hangover from those infatuation chemicals.” Instead they blame their partner. He/she/they used to make me happy. Now not so much.
After that, the arguments start:” All day and still you didn’t take out the garbage!”
“This is how you stack the dishwasher? The spoons are nesting with each other.”
“Late again? Can’t you ever be on time?”
There are countless arguments, and as the relationship sinks into argument addiction, sex very commonly gets added to the pile of disagreement.
“Let’s fool around.”
“I’ve got a headache.”
That is so common that it has become a punchline for comedians. Over time it becomes less comedic for those who live it
Let’s say Dave, because that’s how this would be portrayed in most dramas, wants sex. Jen is tired, or not in the mood, or has that “headache”, or the kids are still up, or may wake, or whatever.
He continues to push it, she fends him off, and so it goes.
He either becomes more angry or more sulky.
She becomes more convinced that he doesn’t understand her feelings. becomes more convinced that he doesn’t “really” care about her, doesn’t appreciate her, and becomes more determined not to “give in.”
Then sex turns into a power struggle. He wants it, she doesn’t.
On top of this is the fundamental difference between men and women regarding sex.
Men think: We’ll have sex, then we’ll feel close.
Women think: First we’ll feel close, then we’ll have sex.
Sex turns into a point of contention. Worse yet, it turns into a competition: if you win (and have sex) I feel like a loser. Meanwhile, if I win (and thus no sex) you feel like a loser.
We have the zero sum game, someone always loses.
Wouldn’t It would be so much better if sex was like the Mexican/Italian argument?
Dave: I’m up for Mexican food.
Jen: I was thinking of pizza.
Probably this will get resolved: ideally Mexican, and then next week Italian, or vice versa.
What would work best is if sex got resolved the same way.
Ideally, this would be relatively easy to resolve. (Mexican this week, Italian next week, etc)
The difference is that personal self esteem is tied up in sex. If she doesn’t want to have sex with me I’m not worthy, If he just wants to have sex with me I’m a doormat.
The argument about sex usually revolves around frequency. The argument can be like an
expansion of the old New Yorker cartoon.
Dave: How about sex?
Jen: Not now.
Jen: How about never? Does that work for you?
Better to get the competition and the self esteem out of sex. The problem is that other disputed areas bleed into sex.
Jen is angry about the kids, or the division of labor, or something, so now she doesn’t want sex.
Dave is angry about how she berates him, or how she watches cable news and won’t talk to him, so now he is “turned off.”
Now, let’s step back. In the real world if you have a problem in one area, you don’t want it to spread into the next area. In a large office building, if there is a fire, everyone will shut the fire doors so it doesn’t spread.
In a hospital, if someone has a contagious disease, the effort will be to contain it, to use an isolation room,and prevent spread.
In marriages, there needs to be an equal effort to prevent the spread of discontent.
If Dave and Jen disagree over where to eat, there is no need for that to spread into a disagreement over what movie to see.
The target is to contain disagreement, as opposed to encouraging its spread.
The same is true with sex. Sex at least was fun; let’s keep it that way.
It should be the opposite of you didn’t do x so I’m not interested in sex. It should be you did x but I’m not letting that affect my interest in sex.
That said, there is tremendous argument over when sex will occur.
Obviously, we propose that the couple schedule sex on a mutually agreed basis.
How would this work?
Let’s imagine that Dave wants to have sex once a day, and Jen comes up with once a month. Suppose they settle on once a week.
We maintain that marital happiness will markedly improve.
Doubters most often complain of the “loss of spontaneity.”
The question is what spontaneity?
The spontaneity of demanding, pleading, threatening — and the inevitable responses of evasion, denial, and postponement? For many couples the spontaneity ship has already sailed.
If you were having a bounty of spontaneous sex you wouldn’t be reading this.
Forget spontaneity. Focus on preserving a source of nourishing fresh water well in a possibly increasingly arid landscape.
Sex can be a positive in your relationship. Couples that are having a sexual relationship generally get along better than their counterparts who aren’t. You may feel that scheduling will inhibit “stick your finger in the wall socket” sex. But if that isn’t what you are having then you are not giving that up. Stop swinging for the fences, and striking out.
Of course, both partners have to enthusiastically undertake this plan, or it will devolve into the old conflict. If the “once a month” partner starts finding excuses to avoid the once a week, encounter things will soon return to where they are now. Likewise, if Mr. once a day continues to complain that once a week is not enough, then the partner will lose interest.
But if both partners enthusiastically embrace the compromise, then the relationship will markedly improve, and not just sexually.
Surprisingly, degree of compatibility and satisfaction in your relationship can dramatically increase in short order when sex is scheduled.