It’s All About Managing Anxiety

Marriage is a people growing operation in more ways than one. In the biological sense, the child rearing comes to mind, but it also helps raise the parents as much as the kids. It stretches and extends us in ways that we never would have imagined. When we see marriage as an environment that fosters growth, perhaps we can stop seeing it as something that is always broken and always needing to be fixed. Marriage involves the most fundamental unit of common culture and society because it represents the closest commitment that we may ever have with another human being. But that sort of closeness and commitment is not without some challenges.

Aphron recently posted about the need for control, and postulated the reason why people feel like they need to be in control. It all comes down to anxiety. I define anxiety as a heightened state of physiological arousal that is antagonistic to comfort. In other words, anxiety causes DIScomfort. That can be physical, psychological or both at the same time. In fact it is difficult to have physical discomfort apart from psychological discomfort. The two go together.

Think about stealing the first kiss. How did you feel? Chances are, you experienced some anxiety before, during and after that first kiss. And even if you’ve kissed a person a thousand times, you may feel that same anxiety again when kissing someone new. Generally, whenever we do something new, we experience anxiety. So most of us like it when things don’t change very much. We feel comfort in routines and the sameness of our surroundings. We like coming home to our own house. Control is about maintaining the sameness and managing our anxieties. The more anxious a person is, the more they tend to be very controlling. In Aphron’s case, Sybil seems to like sex but she likes it strictly on her own terms. She is terribly insecure and anxious and while she wants to have an illusion of surrender. But if Aphron ever truly took charge and made her truly submit, she would feel terribly anxious and would no doubt accuse him of betraying her trust in some way. So her illusion is basically the tyranny of the submissive; you take charge but ONLY as long as it does not threaten me.

But here is an astounding fact: couples are always evenly matched in how well they handle anxiety.

And right about now Aphron is feeling insulted, as are the rest of you. Each and every one of you probably think you handle anxiety better than your spouse. But you don’t. I didn;t say you handled it the same, I said you handled it equally well. In Aphron’s case, he tends to internalize his considerable anxiety. But it is definitely there, and Sybil effectively dominates him by externalizing her considerable anxiety. Whenever Aphron asserts himself, he can pretty much count on a whithering counterattack designed to put him back in his place. She tends to be extremely reactive, but Aphron reacts internally in almost an equal degree as she does externally.

Back to that first kiss, it provoked a lot of anxiety but you did it anyway. And lo and behold, we may have eventually came to like it. We like sameness, but we also crave novelty. But we tend to like our novelty to be fairly well controlled. We basically want to have our cake and eat it too where we have sameness and novelty at the same time which is impossible. This is how the two-choice dilemma plays out in reality. We’d like to have the good rush without the anxiety but the universe doesn’t work that way. God programmed us in such a way that boredom produces its own discomfort and causes us to to seek out new frontiers where we grow. And we face new anxieties. Facing anxiety is most often a way to open the door to new joys.

FTN’s recent post about his forays into eyes-open orgasm is a case in point. He and Autumn had to confront some serious anxiety in order to get to that point but once it happened it was electric. It wasn’t just the fact that their eyes were open but it was also that they made a leap into greater intimacy together. At that moment, it was more than physical it was spiritual. Most problems people have in relationships have to do with managing anxiety and discomfort. I’m not talking about real pain, just the anxiety around the possibility that there might be some pain involved. Some of us have spouses that are uncomfortable with certain sex acts. It’s not that one act within marriage is more perverse or dirty than another, it is more personal development and anxiety.

It was interesting how Aphron put his introduction to his follow-up/quote of my post about returning to Schnarch.

He tends to be a very introspective person and is struggling to obtain more sex.”

I can plead to introspection, and the struggle to obtain more sex has been a recurring theme. But it is really more intimacy that I really want. I can have sex if I want. If I ask Arwyn for a hand job, she’s willing to make that sacrifice. But I don’t want that kind of autistic sex where she stares into space and thinks about laundry while rubbing my magic lamp. So my dilemma is that if I really want sex that is good, I have to work harder and wait longer than I would normally want.

Going long periods without sex is a painful existence. Having sex is equally painful because then I get anxious about when it is going to end or stop. I can’t have it both ways. I have to choose which anxiety to face, and then I have to face it like an adult. And that’s really the hard part. The brat in me feels entitled to complain and throw a tantrum and most people wouldn’t blame me for it. But I don’t want to be a brat who sulks and pouts and tantrums. So in the final analysis this has less to do with Arwyn than it does with me. True, it is our interactions that bring out a lot of these internal conflicts with myself, but ultimately they are my own self-defeating thoughts and beliefs that cause so much of my anxiety and pain. Using her to medicate that pain through sex isn’t a terribly loving thing to do. But at the same time, there is my own integrity to contend with and how much I can allow her to violate it by allowing her anxieties to rule over both of us. And that is the beauty of marriage in that we are forever given new opportunities to manage our anxieties while staying close to another person. It’s probably the hardest thing any of us will ever do.

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One Response to “It’s All About Managing Anxiety”

  1. sixdegrees Says:

    Your reply to Aphron’s comment is well-said.

    Being true to one’s self – maintaining our integrity – is the number one rule in life.

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