My wife called me by the wrong name during lovemaking. Not sure what to do now. Your thoughts?
I'm a forgiving person. I thought, maybe she was having a one-time fantasy. Hurtful, but after so many years of marriage, kids, trials and tribulations, and our history together, it's a forgivable moment. I got over it in a matter of days. Pretty quick, considering. Nothing has meaning until we give it meaning. Right? I chose not to over-think it. Let it go.
A week later, when she called me the wrong name during sex again, I was flabbergasted. Years later, in personal counseling, I told my therapist, "Well, it's not a pattern until it happens three times." He responded, "In psychology, two is a pattern." That wouldn't matter anyway. After the second time, I was in utter shock. Yes, one might think I should have immediately confronted her, lashed out, demanded answers. Truth be told, I was dumbstruck.
As I processed the first event, I thought empathetically, she must be highly embarrassed and ashamed anyway. Why rake her over the coals? Assuming that, I felt a sense of justice that she too, must be feeling very badly. As for me, I was even more stunned than the first time. The first time, I reasoned, must have been some utterance, driven, uncontrolled, from the primitive part of her brain. What the hell?! How could this occur a second time? Wasn't she so ashamed and embarrassed that she would avoid doing this again? I didn't know what to make of it.
This time, still stupidly naive, I thought, there's no way she would do this again, but if she did, I will confront her on the spot. I will confront her loudly and emotionally. I will confront her the way she and I both deserve. I will. Or, I won't. I thought I was ready.
Another week later, when she called me the wrong name during sex for the third time, I wasn't surprised. I thought I'd be angry and confrontational, but I was saddened, disappointed, and just plain hurt. Too deflated to confront her, I pretended to hear nothing and thus, said nothing. We finished. I rolled off, stared at the wall, and fell asleep hours later. I wasn't having audible hallucinations. This really was happening. She didn't lose voice control in some sex-induced trance. If she would just stop, this would go away.
About ten days later, guess what. She called me the wrong name during lovemaking for a fourth time. I went off. My penis still in her, I reached over, turned on the light and confronted her, "What the hell?! Who the hell are you talking to?!" I pulled out and finally, finally confronted her. It was a brief confrontation and verbally combative, albeit in one direction. I finished by suggesting she get some counseling. Within a few short minutes, I could hear the rhythmic purr of her sleeping breath while I laid awake for the next several hours. And, what the fuck is up with that?! Apparently not something she needed to lose sleep over.
It would take years of denial, adherence to my values, more denial, self-doubt, depression, counseling, and suicidal thoughts to finally, finally come to grips. The obvious conclusion would be, she was cheating on me. At first blush, it may appear she was. However, I believe there was actually something even more disturbing going on here. She was doing something worse. What could be worse? I will get to that.
With a kindergartner and a second grader asleep upstairs, I was in no hurry to upset the apple cart. That is, I did not want to rush to a conclusion where we separate. By separating, I could only see myself in some apartment, alone. I would deny myself the daily influence I deserved to have on my daughters. No way. I remember having thoughts of divorce, but again, I couldn't bear being parted from my kids. After the fourth wrong-name event and subsequent confrontation, we buried it. We didn't discuss it, mention it, or regard it for years. I didn't know it at the time, but I continued to revert to my training which was fine by her. That means silence. She would not have to explain it or own it. I would not have to confront it further. Let's pretend it didn't happen.
But this episode in our lives together served as a catalyst for me to examine our relationship. I had some qualms about our relationship, but overall, we were quite successful. For the first time, however, I really started paying attention. Maybe most people would have just walked out over this and maybe they would be right to do so. I'm not most people. I am who I am, a product of my experiences, especially that pivotal moment when I established my highest personal value, an integrated family.
This was a huge wake-up call though. I started paying attention to the nuances in our marriage. There was certainly a history of slights by her, but they were spaced out enough that I always looked at them as one-off events. Not wanting to upset the family balance, I always overlooked them. Of course, this just served as my unwitting permission for her to continue. So, here I was, fifteen years in to the marriage and deciding to start paying attention. Bad on me for not paying attention before. However, I didn't think the one I was married to was the one I needed to protect myself from. Probably, the most loyal love I've ever received was from my parents. Thus, with them, I could be totally unguarded, at ease, vulnerable. I held my wife in that same esteem, but it was becoming apparent this was a mistake.
Take away the physical advantage men have over women and they become equal. It becomes a matter of wits. I didn't realize at first, but there was a competition going on in my house. There was one person who wanted to be on top and be recognized by all as in-charge. It wasn't me. As the kids entered school, we started making new friends. The running joke in those years was, I would hear about my own upcoming social engagements from my kids' friends' moms. "Oh, see you Friday night for dinner." What? A minor display of unilateralism, but repeated over time, it demonstrated who had the power. It also demonstrated a lack of respect. Not only would she make commitments, she made it clear I wasn't involved. Then there was her unilateralism with me present. We might receive a social invitation together and she would accept or deny without any consultation with me, without even looking at me. I know this certainly made an impression on people because the disparaging comments found their way back to me. She was in charge and seen that way, but at my expense.
Then there were the cocktail parties where she would dump me like wet lettuce and go work the room, solo. Sure, I can socialize, but it's not like I didn't spend time standing alone. She preferred to rub elbows with those she perceived as wealthy. I get it. I would be there at the end of the night anyway. Why team up with me? To her credit, when we entertained, she was amazing. She would make the guest list, do the inviting, and the planning. She was like a one-man-band in the kitchen and received the accolades she deserved. Oh, I tried to participate, but always heard, "I got it." I seemed relegated to just go get some more ice. That's all fine, I guess, but she would consistently accept help and participation from guests. This happened frequently enough that I received smart-ass comments about this, too. "Don't you do anything here?" I believed that's just how she wanted it. Effective and seen that way, but at my expense.
It should be no surprise that through these and similar experiences, I came to feel disregarded, disrespected, and taken for granted. These were not isolated events. They accumulated to become a condition. There was more. She had longing eyes. Actually, I was okay with that even if she was a little obvious. There are attractive people out there. They're noticeable. I see them, too. But there was one fellow in particular that seemed particularly interesting to her. We would see him only occasionally, but when we did, they got along exceptionally well. In fact, this goes back to before we were married. It did make me feel a bit insecure. On one social occasion, she blatantly dumped me to go hang out with him. Really, I think the situation produced two things for her; validation from another male and an avenue to try to make me jealous. It worked at first, but then it just became insulting.
Years later, in couple's counseling, I accused her of maintaining a long-term flirtatious relationship with this particular guy. She denied it at first, but then admitted it was true. The hardest part about it wasn't it's existence, it was that she played it out right in front of me, in my face. Two friends asked me separately if I saw what they saw. It was then I realized this wasn't insecurity driving my imagination. There were no verbal put-downs, no arguments, nothing exciting over the years. On the outside, we appeared solid. We ran a very successful household. What confused me was, I was enjoying a great lifestyle largely due to her professional success. In many ways, she showed a lot of care for me.
However, the negatives just kept accumulating. Aside from the above, there was a withdrawal of affection on her part. For a time, the only affection given was in response to mine. When it did come my way, I got peck-type kisses. Two pencil tips could share more surface area. Hugs were air-hugs, like when people hug others out of politeness. Head games came to bed, too, more than the wrong name issue. I can only describe her negative behavior toward me as like death by a thousand cuts. What was confusing was hearing "I love you" between the cuts. I tried to limit my thoughts on her behavior to the time since she called me the wrong name in bed. That proved to be very difficult. I couldn't help but see a pattern than spanned our entire marriage.
Ultimately, I realized the pattern preceded our marriage and the roots were laid in our dating years, in our foundation. Yes, I understand my own participation here. By allowing her disregard, disrespect, unilateralism, and more served as my permission for her to continue the behavior. My parents' modeled an excellent marriage. My parents in-law apparently also had an excellent marriage. I sought to copy that. However, when our dads dated our moms, I doubt they ever had to deal with things like this: Having their girlfriend display a picture of an old boyfriend on their bedroom wall for two years while they dated. I bet they never had the experience of picking up them from a guy's apartment on a Saturday morning to hear, "We're just friends." I bet they never found man's length black hair on their girlfriend's pillow, multiple times. I bet our dads never had to see a picture of our moms in bed with a guy, then another one with a different guy.
There's more. I cannot emphasize enough how much I take responsibility for my own situation. I accepted her behavior and therefore gave permission until I withdrew it. I was the Yang to her Yin. My fault was not having the awareness and self-esteem to stand up or walk out. I remember having questions before marriage, but thinking, "I think this is the best I can do." I said I would circle back to the episode of her calling me the wrong name during sex. Further, I said I would offer a reason for her behavior that didn't include cheating. Regarding being called the wrong name during sex, I believe it was an attempt to make me feel wholly insecure. I call it worse than cheating because cheating is usually an act of self-gratification, not necessarily meant to harm someone else. If she did it to make me feel insecure, that makes it a truly offensive act meant to undermine me and cause me harm.
In her error, she counted on me staying silent like I had with her other slights. Even with the wrong-name episode, it went four times in short order. When was that going to stop? I've read a lot about forgiveness and learned there are acts where forgiveness is not appropriate. In brief, deliberately harmful behavior often belongs in the non-forgivable category. In personal and marriage counseling, I have been cautioned about tying meaning, if any, to events. Being called the wrong name during sex on four different occasions certainly rises to the level of being meaningful. I asked my wife in counseling what the meaning of this was. Over and over she said, "I don't know, but I'm sorry." That answer is not working for me. Her back up answer was, "stress". Also, not working for me.
My explanation is very plausible, especially considering she has conducted other behavior intent on causing me jealousy and insecurity. It makes sense. In counseling, I have been guided through a technique called 'reframing'. That is, the ability to find alternate explanations for events. It's a good thing, but not a panacea. I'm not going to lie to myself and call it reframing. Sometimes things are as they appear. After years of personal and couple's counseling, I feel dead-ended. One counselor asked a brilliant, pointed question of me, "What do you want from her?" I had to sleep on the question. I wanted an authentic explanation of why she took up this behavior toward me. Particularly, I wanted and explanation of why she called me the wrong name in bed. The answer remained, "I don't know, but I'm sorry."
I believe she strived to maintain two conditions in our marriage. The first condition is that she be in the power position and is perceived by outsiders as such. The second condition is she attempts to make me feel insecure as a way to perpetuate her power position. Build herself up by pushing me down. In public, she might have her hand on my shoulder. Behind the scenes, it's different. The marital experience feels like I have to alternate being on my toes or on my heels. I am quite able to forgive. I'd prefer to forgive and continue having a great family. On the other hand, if she truly doesn't understand her own behavior, why shouldn't she repeat it at some point in the future. That makes forgiveness now foolish. One advisor offered, "Maybe that's just who she is." I know and that's what scares me. It’s not what she does. It’s who she is.