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Unhealthy Couple Dynamics

Normal Marital Sadism (NMS)*

Learning to hate our partners

     We don’t really anticipate that one day we will take pleasure out of hurting someone we love. We want even less to admit to it. For most people & couples, their reflex is to deny immediately any form of dishonesty and heartaches we cause to each other. What possible reason could justify such behaviour towards a person we have chosen to live the rest of our lives with? The answer is NONE! That is the reason why we don’t want to admit it, especially to our partner.

Normal Marital Sadism

      Sadism is defined as deliberately hurting someone, by feeling pleasure or gaining a sense of satisfaction out of it. In long-term relationships (married or not), this phenomenon is more wide spread than we would like to admit to ourselves. For this reason, it is why we consider it “normal” to do marital sadism. But what is defined as normal doesn’t necessarily mean that it is healthy, but in this situation it means widespread. Normal Marital Sadism (NMS) is a form of particular violence that is subtle between two partners, which contrary to popular belief actually love each other, but also hate each other.

Love & Hate: Same continuum, just different extremities

Romantic relationships would be way simpler if we could always feel good and feel love for our partner. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case! There will always be parts of our partner that we will truly detest. We aren’t perfect and we aren’t the same as our partner on every aspect. These differences create important conflicts, that are hard to overcome, which make us feel hate towards our lover. The way we deal with this ambivalence between the love and hate we feel towards our partner determines greatly how our relationship will develop.

To deal with theses contradictory emotions in a healthy way, it is necessary to have a good
emotional balance. This balance allows us to live better with the fact that we can sometimes hate our partner very profoundly, but also that are partner hates us. The second part is normally the hardest for most people, because it impacts our self-esteem and our sense of self (identity). When the most important person in our lives hate a part of who we are, it can be difficult to deal with the emotions that this rejection creates. It is a difficult reality to accept for someone who doesn’t have a very high self-esteem.

How Does All This Operate Between Partners?

     The more we know our partner, the more we are capable of hurting them, because we’ve had access to their insecurities along the many years. Generally between partners, we sooth and help each other through our hardships and limits. The thing is, the game is played differently when we are in an important conflict with them. Especially when the couple has sexual difficulties, which is where most people feel very vulnerable. When we don’t have a solid-flexible self and a capacity to self-sooth, we can easily feel attacked by our partner, because we take things personally. This tends to create a reflex for vengeance to downplay are hurt feelings and anxiety. Hence forth, the vicious cycle of Normal Marital Sadism begins:

  1. One of the partners feels hurt or emotionally injured
  2.  In return, they attack to feel better about themselves
  3.  The other partner feels hurt and attacks back
  4.  Repeat step 1-2-3

Let’s give a more concrete example to illustrate the point. A woman has more sexual desire than her lesbian partner since the beginning of the relationship. After many attempts to initiate sex and being refused multiple times, she starts feeling reject and unloved. The partner that has more desire starts feeling less desirable each time she initiates sex. One night where she tries once more, she gets rejected AGAIN. Unable to deal with the rejection any longer says to her partner that she has a problem and needs to deal with it and says she is frigid. The partner with less desire attacks back by saying that she is the one obsessed with sex and needs to control her sexual urges. We can all imagine where this story is going. Obviously, gender and sexual orientation can be interchangeable in this situation, as every couple dynamic faces these issues.

A variety of more subtle examples can be found in couples where a partner deliberately irritates the other and gains satisfaction out of it (E.G.: not changing the toilet paper roll, spending an important sum without talking about it to our partner, ignoring or being sulky, sighing of irritation, giving a look of disapproval, etc.). All these behaviours aren’t done in an innocent way, even though we tend to act that way. We are trying to get a reaction out of our partner and when we get caught, we pretend that we didn’t know or that we forgot.

To Admit It or Not to, That is the Question?

      We would need to be crazy to admit that we do Normal Marital Sadism (NMS) to our partner. What would be the advantages of doing such a thing? Actually, it becomes a question of integrity and loyalty that allows us to build a collaborative alliance and work on our points of emotional balance. It also allows us to get past our emotional gridlocks in our relationship. Admitting our NMS to our spouse allows our partner to know who we truly are (the good and the bad) and have self-validated intimacy. How can you justify being loved or loving someone, when you only present parts of who you are and not the whole you?

Most people won’t even admit to themselves that they do NMS, because they don’t want to admit being so mean and having such an ugly side of their personality. That would also deteriorate their self-image and self-esteem even more. They won’t want to be truthful to their partner’s about it so that the person who is the most significant in their lives doesn’t rejects them.

Take the time to reflect on the next sentence and understand what it means for you and your couple:

Admitting the worse in us, brings the best in us, because the worse in us cannot even admit its own existence!”- David Schnarch

* Inspired by the book Intimacy and Desire from David Schnarch

Other related articles: 

Emotional Gridlock: The Underlying Issues in Couples

Construct a healthier couple’s dynamic

How to Construct and Maintain it

Once you’ve figured your type of alliance, it is important to understand that it only takes one partner to change it so that is becomes collaborative.

What Is a Collaborative Alliance?

      A collaborative alliance works out and reinforces our 4 points of balance. This type of alliance requires that you see your couple as a team and that you are prepared to confront yourself and your partner when the time comes when they are not holding up to the collaborative alliance. It is the capacity for each individual to evaluate and self-criticize by taking your responsibility by promoting honesty with yourself and to your partner.

Ingredients to a Good Collaborative Alliance

  •  Taking the time to self-confront about our implication in the dynamic of the couple and your sexuality
  • Not to distort the truth or retain information to manipulate our partner
  • Being completely honest with our partner, even if it is at our disadvantage or difficult
  • Maintain the alliance even though our partner is not
  • Not letting our emotions take the best of us and focusing on what needs to be done
  • Reconstructing the alliance is more important than the fact that you lost it
  • Understand the reasons why and when we lose the alliance
  • Confront our partner when they have dropped the alliance, by remaining open about our contribution to the lost of it
  • A collaborative alliance tests your integrity

     A collaborative alliance is not a reflex most people will have in a conflict, because it isn’t always advantageous and comfortable to maintain it. Although, it does show our capacity to remain loyal and our level of integrity towards our partner and ourselves. It is based on a profound friendship that obliges us to become better people and become a better partner. It allows us to surpass our biggest obstacles and build a strong foundation for a couple.

     It is hard to keep a collaborative alliance, because it requires us to question ourselves at a profound level (solid-flexible self). This reflection can cause an identity crisis where we must redefine ourselves without losing our integrity. It obliges us to make very difficult decisions that determine the nature of our relationship and our future with our spouse. A collaborative alliance throws us in a very uncomfortable zone where it is necessary to confront the question of: do we want to be in this relationship.

Collaborative alliance and our sex lives

      It is also present or absent from our sex life. If a person is paying attention to other things during sex and remains in that state, this person has dropped the alliance. If the other partner ignores the missing connexion, it is possible that they have a collusive alliance to avoid getting into a conflict or maybe their wasn’t even an alliance to begin with.

     In a collaborative alliance, we are ready to push our level of sexual maturity to develop our erotism and maximize the intimacy we share with our partner. One dares more in sexual behaviours, because we consider our couple and our sex life to be more important than our limitations and difficulties. We take a decision to be more mature sexually and truly enjoy what sex we can have with our lover. We value ourselves and inhibitions fall to make room for our most erotic self and reach our full potential.

Our emotions make us lose our collaborative alliance

     To often we let ourselves drop the alliance due to our emotions. When we feel discomfort, uncomfortable, nervous, many will just to cope out and go into one of the other types of alliances. We can let our emotions dictate our behaviours and the future of our relationships. If we were to always base our decisions on our emotions, we wouldn’t go very far in life, because at every bad emotion we might feel, we would come back to our original place. We must learn to self-sooth our emotions and face our limits to be able to reach our full capacity.

Francois Renaud M.A.

* Inspired by the book Intimacy and Desire from David Schnarch

Also read:

Normal Marital Sadism: Learn How to Hate Your Lover (coming soon)

Emotional Gridlock: The Underlying Issues in Couples