April 12

When I Was a Child…

April 12, 2017

Marriage, Stress Management

Susanne called and said that she was furious at her husband, Tom. When I asked what had happened, she said that earlier that evening he had hinted that he wanted sex with her. She wasn’t adequately responsive—at least in his mind—so he said, “Well, I fixed a really nice dinner for you tonight, didn’t I?”

She blew up, which is somewhat understandable considering that what he was doing—however unconsciously—was telling her that if he gave her food, she was obligated to give him sex. The old Food for Sex Program. This is not at all unusual. People trade something—power, attention, flattery, money, and all manner of goods—for sex every day.

But what she wondered was why she reacted so strongly. So I suggested that she sit quietly and feel me holding her hand. Just say nothing, I suggested, and feel. In about two minutes she began to sob. She remembered her first sexual encounter—at about age eight—which had occurred decades ago. A boy next door had come over to her house while her parents were away, and spent much of the day with her, following her around, playing, and eventually buying her a soda.

After a few hours, he asked her for sex. At that point, she had only the slightest notion of sex, but she easily deduced from the way he phrased his request that he was asking to use her in a demeaning way. She felt used and dirty, and refused the sex. But she was left with a traumatic feeling about her selling sex to another person.

Then when Susanne’s husband suggested that she owed him sex because of something he’d done for her, it triggered the old trauma, and she felt like a whore. She was insulted and hurt. Once again, we see the power of “When I was a child . . .” because we so often react to those traumatic experiences, and very often to experiences we don’t even remember.

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