Q: If your wife says another man's name while making love, what does that mean? It was her ex’s name — my stepson’s dad. She apologized, saying it was only because she remembered needing to call him about problems their son’s having at school. Although I don’t think she’s cheating, I can’t say I believe her excuse, as she compares me negatively with previous men in her life. Had I blurted out another woman’s name, she never would’ve forgiven me. She has lots of anger and a very suspicious nature. She goes through my phone and constantly checks up on me. I know she’s had men cheat on her, but I’ve given her no reason to doubt me. Her response when I try to have a healthy discussion about this or anything is either “whatever” or calling me names and starting a full-blown argument, then suggesting we shouldn’t be together. That’s the last thing I want for our kids.
A: There you are, trying your best to give your wife an orgasmatastical time in bed, and not only does she belt out another man’s name, she decides to get a head start on her to-do list. (Apparently, what you thought was her sex face is also her “Did I schedule that parent-teacher conference?” face.)
Chances are, your wife’s explanation, that this was just a brain burp, is the truth. And people’s minds do wander during sex — especially when it’s not exactly their first time with a particular partner. They just don’t usually let on that they’re talking dirty but staring up at the crown molding and resisting the impulse to reach for the telescoping feather duster.
Although every relationship gives rise to wounds, slights, and things you wish you could unhear, how you respond depends largely on what your “base” is — personally and as a couple. If you’re emotionally secure and your relationship is loving, you can shrug off a whole lot — maybe even tease your wife about her sexual faux pas by yelling out your own name in bed or moaning your to-do list: “Ohhh…when you do that to me, it makes me think about calling to change our health insurance to a PPO.”
When you get married, it isn’t just to a woman and all her annoying inlaws; you also marry all her unresolved issues. Your wife’s insecurity makes her feel vulnerable, but instead of expressing her fears and giving you the chance to allay them, she takes the emotionally “safe” way out — attacking you. Her motto: “Don’t go to bed mad. Stay up and scream about what a worthless worm your husband is.”
Tell your wife that you need to remake your marriage to save it — because you love her and for your kids’ sake. Because she fights dirty and you seem unable to stand up to her, you should bring in a therapist as a referee. What you can do yourselves is make a pact to never treat each other like you’ve forgotten you love each other. For backup, the way couples have a “safe word” in sex, you can agree to call “Empathy!” if the poo-flinging gets out of hand — your signal to stop and call up some compassion for what the other person must be feeling. It won’t teleport you into instant maturity. But, because it’s really hard to be a hugger and a hater at the same time, it should remind you that “till death do us part” is supposed to be a really romantic promise, not a battle cry.
Q: My wife of five years wants us to go to couples counseling. We’ve been fighting a lot these past two years, but I don’t think that’s reason to talk to some stranger about our issues. We love each other. Shouldn’t that be enough for us to work through things together?
A: Is this also your approach to a broken leg? “Who needs some stranger with a medical degree? Lemme see what I got in the garage.” Or when your house is burning down: “I see no reason to invite some stranger from the fire department into my life.” Love might be the answer to some things, like who to get chocolate for on Valentine’s Day, but it doesn’t make you a great communicator. When you aren’t getting through to each other on your own, the wise (and courageous) thing to do is seek help. This does require letting go of the need to be right and overcoming qualms about being judged. But, exposing what isn’t working is your best shot at fixing things…much as you’d probably rather stamp your feet and insist, “Everything I need to know about being married I learned in kindergarten!” (Apparently, “Don’t eat paste” is a little-known cure for everything from financial woes to erectile dysfunction.)