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A conversation with Dr Jennifer Finlayson-Fife on the topic of obligation sex.
Is it a part of every marriage? Is it harmful to one, or both spouses?
To learn more from Jennifer and find her Room For Two Podcast – check out her site https://www.finlayson-fife.com/
Also listen to her other episodes on SMR:
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Speaker 1: You are listening to the regular version of Sexy Marriage Radio. Smrnation.com.
Corey Allan: Coming up next on Sexy Marriage Radio.
Jennifer Finlayson-Fife: So we have this idea that men are the actors and they're also the ones capable of being evil and the women are always good because they're so ineffectual. And that's just not my experience. I think it's also obviously deeply dismissive of women. I see men and women as equally capable and equally capable of good and equally capable of evil. I mean, they may enact who they are in the world in different ways.
Corey Allan: Welcome to the show. I'm Dr. Corey Allan alongside my wife, Pam. We explore the wisdom and skills of the world's smartest relationship minds. We have in depth conversations with authors and counselors, psychologists, and professors, doctors, and specialists, and some shows with just Pam and me. Each episode explores topics every relationship faces and seeks to offer a framework and practical advice that you can use to build a deeper understanding of how your relationship works and then helps you frame your conversations to propel life and marriage forward. If you're new to the show, or you're looking for the simple way to tell your friends about SMR, we highly suggest our episode starter packs. These are collections of our favorite episodes organized by topic and help new listeners get a taste of everything that we do here on the show. Go to passionatelymarried.net/starter or search for our show in the Spotify app. Got some feedback for us or something we've missed, or we haven't covered, or simply want us to address something specifically for you? Send us a message by calling the show at 214-702-9565, or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Coming up on today's regular free version of Sexy Marriage Radio is a conversation with our friend, Dr. Jennifer Finlayson-Fife. And we discuss the world of obligation sex. Could it be beneficial for one or the other spouse or both? Is it part of every marriage or is it destructive for everyone? And on the extended version today, which is deeper longer, and there are no ads, you would subscribe at passionatelymarried.net/smracademy, where they're actually isn't extended content today. Instead, everybody gets the free show today. If you like the show, you can also help us out by rating and reviewing SMR on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or however you listen. Your comments help spread the word about the show and help others frame their conversations about what happens behind closed doors. Enjoy the show.
Well, I'm excited to welcome back to this show, Jennifer Finlayson-Fife, a colleague, a Schnarchian, therapist extraordinaire that is all over the place and has been ... If you've been around Sexy Marriage Radio any length of time you shouldn't be unfamiliar with her because you've been on here several times already, Jennifer. So it's great to welcome you back.
Jennifer Finlayson-Fife: Yeah, thanks for having me.
Corey Allan: We see things pretty similarly. Part of this is probably because of the training and upbringing, both in religious upbringing that's this pretty dogmatic and conservative with rules and rituals that supersede a lot of the spirituality even. And one of the things I really wanted to get on with you is to dive into this whole world of obligation sex, because this is something that's been a thread of Sexy Marriage Radio for the 10 years it's been in existence. I've always taken the stance of obligation sex or mercy sex is bad for both, ultimately. But I wanted to talk with you about ... Let's get into the nuances of it. Because I think it's a blanket statement if we say it's bad and it's awful and never. But it's also one I can't in good faith say, "Oh, but it absolutely should be done." So I wanted to know where do you stand on this and then let's talk into the different avenues that this takes us. When you see couples that come to you and this becomes a thread, what flags go up for you or what questions come to mind?
Jennifer Finlayson-Fife: Well, just the idea of obligation sex is problematic. Which is different than saying ... And we can come back to that. That's different than saying sometimes having sex when you know it's your spouse who is really wanting it and you're making a decision to come along or to have sex or to accommodate what they want. That's different than how I would think of obligation sex. Right?
Corey Allan: Right.
Jennifer Finlayson-Fife: So I don't mean to say that both people must be aroused equally-
Corey Allan: No. I get you.
Jennifer Finlayson-Fife: That's never going to happen.
Corey Allan: And that's the nuance. That's the nuance of this thing, because I think if a couple looks at the entirety of their sexual relationship, at least for components of marriage, there's an element of one partner, the higher desire, is leading the charge, more aroused, more engaged, and the other could make the decision ... That's one of the phrases you've made before in the past of it's a decision and it's a choice. So therefore it's not so much I must, it's just, yeah, I'll come along with this and maybe I catch up, maybe it's just for you, but there's nuances in there.
Jennifer Finlayson-Fife: Well, and very important is it an act of self or not to step towards that? Or is there some other covert issue happening between the couple that even framing it as obligatory is a signal or expression of? So there's many dimensions of this, but men often have higher testosterone so they often feel what they might experience as spontaneous desire more frequently than women do. Women often feel psychological desire after their body becomes aroused. So that is to say for women, it is not unusual for there to be a decision to step towards sexual behavior and the psychological where their body and mind are working together, happens further down the path. But I don't call that obligation sex. That's desire based sex.
Corey Allan: Absolutely.
Jennifer Finlayson-Fife: Desire to get there. So that's why you're going to allow yourself to touch and be touched.
Corey Allan: And I love the concept of stepping towards. It's that yeah, let's go check this out and see what comes of it. Not a, oh, well, here you go and I must. Okay.
Jennifer Finlayson-Fife: And so much of life and doing good in life is doing things ahead of feeling like it. That is to say so much of parenting and being fair and decent as a partner is doing the right thing even when a lot of your body is saying yell at them and shame them or whatever it is.
Corey Allan: Or kick them out of the house and it's time for you to move out already right?
Jennifer Finlayson-Fife: Yeah. This morning I was driving home and I realized my husband hadn't done something and it bothered me that he hadn't done it. And so I had in my head I wanted to come in and be like, "John, how could you not have done that?" And then I was thinking that is so indecent. It's not helpful. It's indulgent of me. And so I managed to not do what I felt like doing to do what was the more right thing to do. We have to do that in marriage. Now that's different than saying you need to satisfy your man's needs. I'm not talking about that idea. I'm just saying that so much in marriage is about working around your initial impulses or lack thereof and creating and doing what is good for the partnership, good for the family.
Corey Allan: And so let's land there. And I think for the sake of our conversation today, Jennifer, let's keep it in the concept stereotypically speaking of the wife being the lower desire. Just for the sake of our dialogue and just so the audience, SMR nation understands. We're using this as a stereotype, just for the sake of our argument. Just because it makes it easier to talk about concepts and characteristics. Okay.
Jennifer Finlayson-Fife: That's right. And you and I for those that are interested, did a whole podcast on the woman as the higher desire partner, didn't we?
Corey Allan: Yes we did. And we've done one on the woman as the lower desired partner. So if you go back in the archives, they're both in there.
Jennifer Finlayson-Fife: They're both there. Yes.
Corey Allan: So we have tried to address it from both and there's nuances ... And I think you and I both agree. There's nuances if a woman takes the status of a higher desire, that's different than a man taking the status of a higher desire. A lot of it's societal, but there's also some internal. But for the sake of conversation today, the impact of this whole concept of it's not coming of a move towards self, it's coming out of a move towards obligation, role, ritual, manipulation-
Jennifer Finlayson-Fife: Earning.
Corey Allan: Earning. Perfect. So if we start with just the wife on the lower desire scale, what's the impact of that that you see that she needs to be aware of if she's hearing this dialogue we have today and goes, "Whoa, this is really close to home."? How do we know that they're playing the role that's not moving towards self it's moving more towards obligation?
Jennifer Finlayson-Fife: Or maybe the way I would say it is to look at if you're having sex and resenting it, why are you doing it? And I don't mean to say you shouldn't be having sex. I'm just saying, why are you saying yes and resenting?
Corey Allan: Perfect.
Jennifer Finlayson-Fife: And I think of resentment is often that you're making a decision while holding someone else responsible for your decision. This is not just in sex of course. This is often in life that we are choosing things, but then holding others responsible for the fact that we chose it or that they didn't give us what we wanted for having chosen it or whatever. We have sometimes covert contracts that are a part of the choosing. But if I'm saying yes, but resentful, why? Now, there's a lot of reasons why. One might be that ... Well, I'll take the easiest one. Is you just need to grow up and take more responsibility for your choice. So that is to say a lot of us like to just not really claim our choices and be upset that we have to make them at all. You marry-
Corey Allan: Sure.
Jennifer Finlayson-Fife: Yes. So-
Corey Allan: Because this is one of the things we've said before in the history of SMR, this idea of, I don't want to make this choice because I want to hold someone else responsible because if it goes badly, I want to be able to blame somebody other than me.
Jennifer Finlayson-Fife: Yes. That's right. And we don't want the exposure of choosing. Choosing, deciding, desiring are exposing realities. And so our natural, our early developmental selves wants the cover of folding into someone else's desire or getting others to validate our desires. So to just claim and take ownership of who we are is developmentally ... How to say it? A further step along and a lot of us resist that step. So sometimes we just have to grow up and take more responsibility. I'm a grown adult. I can say yes or no. I don't have to go forward and have sex. A lot of times it's tricky because we want two things. We want to be partnered. We want our spouse to bring their sexuality to us and us alone. We don't want to be insecure. We want to know that we're wanted, but we don't want the exposure of sex. And so it's easy to then resent that ... How to say it? Contradictory position. I want the validation of your desire, but I don't want a desire. So sometimes it's just confronting that we're trying to negotiate the impossible. I want all of your loyalty and exposure and none of mine.
Corey Allan: That's a sophisticated needle to try to thread, isn't it?
Jennifer Finlayson-Fife: I did. I tried to do it. I've told this story sometimes before, but when I was dating John, I dated him for three years and he's older than me and so he was clear that he wanted the partnership and that he was unapologetic for wanting it. And I liked that, but I didn't want to desire back. I just wanted to be desired. And then I wanted to be more ambivalent and uncertain. Of course that's cruel. I mean, I understand why I wanted it. All the validation for me. All the control for me. It erodes a partnership very quickly if you don't grow out of it.
Corey Allan: Right.
Jennifer Finlayson-Fife: And so I had to choose either out or in, if I was going to be fair and have any self-respect.
Corey Allan: Right. Because that's the act of fair play-
Jennifer Finlayson-Fife: Because it was eroding that too.
Corey Allan: Right. That's the act of fair play for both of you, not just you.
Jennifer Finlayson-Fife: Yes. Exactly. And it was eroding my sense of self actually, I felt bad about myself because I was so terrified to choose one way or the other. Well, and what I was doing to avoid the choosing. So there's that. Okay. Then there's also that sometimes we ... How to say it? We can choose because ... I'll go with the one that maybe most of us think of is I have to earn my value. He provides. Let's go with a typical, conservative religious idea is he provides, he's the man of the house, I owe him for that provision. I owe him for that protection. And so my job is to make his life easier sexually and otherwise. Like one of the people I was talking to and working on a book right now and she was saying, "Well, I understood that my job was to make him comfortable in every way I could and that included sexually. So even though I didn't like sex, I knew that was my marital ... That's part of the marital contract."
Of course this person just had more and more and more just aversion to sex because it just felt ... She has no self there. It's like a way of earning, but you come to resent that quickly. That you have to basically in such an intimate way earn your value, earn your keep. But a lot of people feel like they need to do it. And I have plenty of clients and people in my dissertation research who talked about their mothers saying to them on their wedding day or whatever, "Make sure you never say no because otherwise he'll get it elsewhere. The man's got needs. Don't deny them." Essentially.
Corey Allan: And that's the message that drives me the most crazy because it treats both members of the relationship ... It's so degrading.
Jennifer Finlayson-Fife: It's horrible. Yes. And it makes men into basically untrustworthy impulsive children that you're supposed to respect as authority, as having somehow more strength than you. So the paradox is you're taking care of them because they can't handle themselves. And a truly desirable man doesn't feel ashamed of his sexuality, but he handles his sexuality in decent ways. It gives the idea that men are not that. And so not only does it kill desire because now she's got to take care of him like a child, which she's doing ... Takes care of the kids during the day, takes care of the big kid at night. That kills desire.
But also just the fundamental idea that men cannot handle themselves is also so degrading for men and women. So there's that frame. And then there's the idea of women who will ... Or low desire people who will have sex, but will withhold while they do it. So it's more of a ... There's a punishment in it. So I will allow you in, but I will make sure you know that I don't desire you. So there can be a hostility and cruelty in it. I will not give you the satisfaction of feeling desired. So it's like a way of torturing while being sexual. And it's deniable. "Look, I don't have as much desire as you. What do you want?"
Corey Allan: Yeah. It can always be explained away. Right.
Jennifer Finlayson-Fife: Yeah. But I know how to make you feel small. Sometimes we are very loving to our partners, but we can also be very unloving to our partners if we feel ... A lot of people I work with have a lot of competitiveness between them and a lot of anger and sometimes that anger is played out most easily in deniable form. And there's reason for this, but I think we sometimes in our cultural narratives, larger culture, religious narratives have the idea that men are the actors in life and they're the bad ones. Women are innocent and just between children and men, they're innocent and kind and warm and good and impotent. But that makes them powerless. So we have this idea that men are the actors and they're also the ones capable of being evil and the women are always good because they're so ineffectual. And that's just not my experience. I think it's also obviously deeply dismissive of women. I see men and women as equally capable and equally capable of good and equally capable of evil. I mean, they may enact who they are in the world in different ways, but women are just as capable of wanting to create goodness in the world and love and also create hostility and hurt. We just do it in more conniving ... We're better at it.
Corey Allan: More conniving.
Jennifer Finlayson-Fife: We're better at hiding it. Yeah.
Corey Allan: Okay. I'm going to just move right along there. I'm glad you said that one because I wasn't thinking the word conniving, but there is this element, like you're describing of it paints ... There's this prototypical painting of men and women. And it turns into a hierarchy a lot of times. It seems like there's this element of, we all are capable of immense cruelty but it's just how do we hide it? How are we blatant? Because the male side of it seems like that's part of the competitiveness, that's part of the dominating. And so it's explained away that way. But women are equally capable of being as cruel. It just comes out a different way and I love the framework.
Jennifer Finlayson-Fife: And men of course can be very manipulative too.
Corey Allan: Totally.
Jennifer Finlayson-Fife: All that's true.
Corey Allan: Totally.
Jennifer Finlayson-Fife: But just that ... I have an adolescent daughter and sometimes seeing how girls can do cruelty in these more socially sophisticated ways. I don't know. It doesn't serve women well to pretend that men are the ones that are able to hurt and women are not. I really see men and women as truly equal.
Corey Allan: No gender has cornered the market on the capabilities of cruelty and goodness.
Jennifer Finlayson-Fife: No. On goodness or evil. That's right. Okay.
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I want to switch gears just a little bit and talk about the impact on the higher desire, on the husband, with this concept. And then I to land the conversation with the idea of what do we do? What's some of the best ... I believe you operate in coaching and counseling with couples similarly to me that the main heavy lifting that we do is helping people get a better view of what they're doing. Of just let's look at it through a different frame. Let's look at it this way. And then it really starts to turn into ... Once somebody sees it, it's not that we have the answers of here's what you should do now. Instead, it's just, what does your character say you should do based on this discovery? So giving away the what you should do in some regards, but I want to talk about if we're talking about this concept of seeking more of an obligatory, resentful, I must sexual encounter as the higher desire with a man, what's the impact on that? What's fueling that that you see?
Jennifer Finlayson-Fife: I'm not sure if I quite followed your question though. Can you give it to me one more time?
Corey Allan: Sure. I'm trying to think of it as, so a lot of times a woman might do this because it's an obligatory, it's her role. He's doing all of this so therefore I got to take care of the big kid at home and at night. He's earned it. There's all these different elements rather than it's freely chosen. Consciously chosen. But I think men can come into the same concept. My experience has been husbands come into this with a well I'm owed it. It should be. I shouldn't hear no.
Jennifer Finlayson-Fife: The entitlement.
Corey Allan: I shouldn't really have to earn it. And so I think that is a fuel of this obligation sex message of you're seeking something you don't necessarily even want in the long run.
Jennifer Finlayson-Fife: Yeah. A lot of men set it up to be obligatory. As soon as you start talking about needs, you're going to get exactly what you're bargaining for. Which is, if you start talking about it in terms of needs, you have basically made it impossible for it to be about desire. And so you may get a wife who's willing to meet your needs, but then to complain about not being desired. Well, you've set up a meaning in which it doesn't even make sense. Because either this is just about your gratification or it's about an act of intimacy and desire. I can understand when we are not getting the validation we want sexually or otherwise, we can do things to pressure that validation. I feel unappreciated and how can you not do this? And I do all these great things and you still don't desire me or whatever. And then if you get your spouse to agree, well, then you feel like, okay, great.
Corey Allan: Right.
Jennifer Finlayson-Fife: They're only doing it because I made it so painful to not do it.
Corey Allan: Right. That's the catch 22 that I think a lot of times people don't recognize is that ... I use it in the concept of, I want you to come with me on this trip with all of my friends and I know you don't really want to go, but I really want you to go. And then when you come and you're miserable and I'm mad because you're not having fun and you're mad because you had to come and it's tearing the lowest common denominator because we fuel off of each other and I easily can fall back on the, well you didn't even want to come. I can hold that over your head forever right?
Jennifer Finlayson-Fife: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Right. And it's a different thing to say, "I really want you to come. I would really like you to be there." Than, "You should come. I do so much for you and the fact that you won't come on this trip with me." Meaning it's an act of intimacy in a sense to say, I would love for you to be there. Now if the lower desired person comes on the trip, but resents her own choice, using the same framing, well then that's not fair on her part.
Corey Allan: Well, but doesn't it go deeper-
Jennifer Finlayson-Fife: And if you're using obligation and pressure ... Go ahead.
Corey Allan: Yes. Yeah. Doesn't it go deeper than this too though Jennifer? Because I think there's this element over the course of a relationship that I really want you to come is code for, no you're coming because if you don't, I'll give you enough grief that you didn't so therefore ... That's that deniability statement. Well, I gave you the option to not come, but I'm going to treat you incredibly poorly if you don't.
Jennifer Finlayson-Fife: For sure. For sure. If that's going on in the marriage, then it is code. It's not I just want you to-
Corey Allan: I find that going on a whole lot actually.
Jennifer Finlayson-Fife: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. But I'm also often trying to talk to higher desire people about a distinction between disclaiming desire. Because a lot of high desire people then try to just suppress their desires or mask their desires or not talk about anything because they're afraid they are pressuring. And there is a distinction between pressuring as in you're going to pay if you don't say yes versus look, I'd love for you to come. And it really is a true invitation. It's a true statement of self and you're really not going to make them pay if they say I don't want to. That's harder.
Corey Allan: No, absolutely. Because that's more what your statement was of that's the invitation and that's the, I will take the hit if you choose as your own autonomous being to do what you want to do that's not in line with me. I'll take that hit and I'll figure out how to make it okay and do what I can to not take it out on you.
Jennifer Finlayson-Fife: How to handle myself.
Corey Allan: Right.
Jennifer Finlayson-Fife: Yeah. To handle myself in the face of your actual agency. Your ability to really make decisions. I mean, that's a hard part of relationships, isn't it? Is that somehow our-
Corey Allan: That's ongoing.
Jennifer Finlayson-Fife: Spouses don't just exist to reinforce us even though they should. Anyway.
Corey Allan: What? What are you talking about?
Jennifer Finlayson-Fife: Exactly.
Corey Allan: I was not aware. Okay. I love this idea too, of husbands or higher desires, when you frame it as need, you immediately take away the likelihood of desire. Are there other things that come mind?
Jennifer Finlayson-Fife: As Esther Perel says, it can be about work or play, but it can't be both. If it's need it's about, you've got a job to do girl. That's work. If you want it to be about playfulness, it has to be about desire and choice. Now, I know it's also true that when somebody has suppressed sexuality or is afraid to see herself or himself, whoever's the lower desired person, as a sexual being, it can often put the higher desire person in a tough spot because they desire something that they're trying to figure out how do I handle this in a way that's fair when I have such limited control over the situation. I can only control who I am in the situation and there's really not ... Sometimes people are like, "Okay, okay. But still, what do I do to get her to want to?" That's what they come down to is give me the tools. Give me the secret code. And unfortunately-
Corey Allan: That's our next episode we're recording right?
Jennifer Finlayson-Fife: Yes. Exactly. Exactly. Except it's going to be behind a paywall, that one. How you get the-
Corey Allan: Totally behind ... We could charge whatever we want, girl.
Jennifer Finlayson-Fife: Right. Because you're going to want that control.
Corey Allan: If we indeed had that answer.
Jennifer Finlayson-Fife: Yes. If we had it is the bummer. We need to come up with it. But you can't unfortunately. Well, that's the thing. The thing that's so precious about being desired truly ... Not for a reinforcement, but truly this person desires you is that it's a grace. It's a gift. You don't make it happen. If it's truly freely chosen, you know you are just in the deep benefit of someone who chooses to love you. Now you can control your desirability. You can control whether or not their desiring you is a good choice but you can't control if someone desires you because that's an act of self and an act of strength and an act of courage to take the risk of really letting someone matter. So it is painful to ... So we want that most precious reality to truly be chosen freely, but because it's so hard to handle our disappointment and our fear in that place, we often go in and ruin it by putting pressure, punishing. That kind of thing.
Corey Allan: Right. So if we pivot this then what do we do when we start to recognize this as a dynamic? Because I don't think just from what you've described and what I know of you and what the audience should know of me, if they've listened any length of time, it's not like we've got this completely figured out. The worst in us still shows up and I'm punitive or vindictive. Or you had the statement with John of like, how could he have ... Okay. That's a grown up opportunity. So it's not like we ever arrive at, okay, now the scales are off my eyes. I see clearly. I'm good. I'm home free now. But recognizing it as one, but what are some other things that couples need to do that can be best next steps to make sure they shore up their side of the equation if you will, with this dynamic?
Jennifer Finlayson-Fife: Yeah. Well, I mean, I think one of the hard things about life is that AA adage, which is ... I always butcher it every time, but basically the ability to control what we can control and to let go of what we can't and to be wise enough to know the difference. Simple idea, very hard to live by. Because we all are so busy trying to control what we can't and we're completely obtuse about controlling what we can and it hurts to look at what we can control, which is who we are because that's often disillusioning and puncturing to do that. And we're so able to see the limitations of people around us. It's shifting that from the ... We may well see our partner pretty clearly, but that's different than that's our job is to fix them or correct them and to pull it to ourselves. So when you say like, "Oh gosh, I do that. I make my spouse pay for not wanting to have sex. I just tell myself I'm just hurt." I mean, we have lots of narratives we tell ourselves. "No, I'm not angry. I'm not punishing you, I'm just hurt." Say that to me. Which is a way they tell themselves that they're just smarting over there because of the puncture rather than they're actually exuding a lot of hostility and cost to their lower desire spouse.
And so if you can actually see clearly what you're doing and what it would be like to be on the other side of you, why you might not desire you if you were your spouse, for example, or to do the lower desire position, what it would be like to feel locked into a marriage with someone who does not want to deal with her or his sexuality. Very hard. Very painful. And what do I want to do about who I am because it's in recognizing our impact that our development morally is able to happen. The next step to get to your question is once you see what you're doing, well, it's very simple, but hard, is to not do it anymore.
Corey Allan: I love that. That's right up there with the two doctors. Here we are, Jennifer. My shoulder hurts when I move it this way. Well don't move it that way.
Jennifer Finlayson-Fife: Then don't move it. Exactly. That's why you have to pay the big bucks to talk to us. We're like, well, don't do it anymore. Yeah. But as silly as it sounds, it's also true.
Corey Allan: Absolutely.
Jennifer Finlayson-Fife: Right. I can't go in and shame my husband for not having done this thing. That's not helpful. It's not fair. I do lots of stupid things. And I want to be a better person than that. So I'm not going to do that. Okay. Now, first of all, I was able to talk about the thing, but do it in a nice way. Not even just nice. Fair and kind. Meaning, "Hey, I just saw that this didn't happen." And it was all good. So you can think about if I'm not going to be ... The problem was not that the issue didn't need to be addressed. It did and it was time sensitive. The issue was could I be decent? Well that's not too much to ask. Could I be fair? Could I be humble? Could I recognize that I do things like that a lot also and that I'm not going to be that kind of person because I don't like that kind of person. I'm not going to be self-righteous and mean.
Corey Allan: That's coming out of one of the phrases I love from you is the idea of it's coming out of goodness from me and for us. Because you're talking about an impact of a dynamic. That something people do that we live in close proximity with impacts us. So it's not that I'm a doormat or I'm steamrolling you because I want it my way, which ultimately I think we do want it that way. But when we recognize, wait, a goodness in me would lead more towards I'm standing up for me and I'm still looking out for how and them in it.
Jennifer Finlayson-Fife: Yeah, exactly. I felt better about me for doing a decent thing. He feels better about me. Okay. And the relationship is better. It's like, why would I do the other thing? All it does is give you a hit of self righteousness for a moment. But then you have to live in all the negative reverberations. So it's stopping ourselves. Now why it's hard to do that is because it feels good to do self-righteous, mean, self-justifying things. It's what we know. It's habitual. And to not do it creates more anxiety upfront because your mind hasn't mastered another way. And when our brains are in development that stretching towards something you don't yet know is uncomfortable and somewhat aversive and so our minds resist it.
Corey Allan: That's one of those things because it's that whole uncharted waters. It's that whole, I have no idea where this will lead. It freaks us out because it's like, give me the map. Give me the steps. One, two, three, four, five. When instead I can give you step one. I don't know what step two is until you take step one.
Jennifer Finlayson-Fife: That's right. And a lot of times people are like, "Okay, I see what I'm doing wrong. What does right look like?" And I don't mind trying to give people a picture of what right could look like but it's more about facing what's wrong and allowing your mind to be in the uncertainty that it actually develops into a more capacious mind. A mind more capable of doing what's good and fair. I was reading Robert Keegan recently. He's a developmental psychologist who talks about ego development. And he was talking about some research of even looking at kids that are in the pre operational stage moving into the operational stage or concrete operations. And he was saying they would give a question that could only be answered in the concrete operation stage to pre-op operational kids. The kids that were pre-operational would just answer from a pre-operational stance that made no sense. The kids that were in between though, you'd ask the question and he was saying that they would get noticeably upset. Because their brain couldn't quite put it together and they knew the other was the wrong answer. And so they were in that uncertainty of their minds trying to get their head around a more sophisticated way of thinking.
Corey Allan: That's fascinating.
Jennifer Finlayson-Fife: Yes.
Corey Allan: I'm going to interrupt you real quick because I want to jump to just a quick detour on this. I'm curious because I'm dealing with aging parents. And as faculties go down mentally, I've got a mom that's got early stage dementia or at least mild dementia right now and COVID has really hit the seniors in my world on forgetfulness, affect, everything. And what I'm seeing is some of that panic when they don't know what's being talked about or an answer. And I'm wondering if that's similar of they're recognizing something's off and it creates this panic because I don't know. I don't know what to do. I used to know and I don't. And it's almost the reverse of this.
Jennifer Finlayson-Fife: That's the reverse. And it may be a little different. My father also had dementia before he died and he was at least at times self aware enough to know that he could not do what he used to be able to do. And it was quite painful for him and frightening to feel the increasing dependency, to feel the loss of self literally as his body was becoming less able to support the mind he had known. So that's a little different because it's more about recognizing a deterioration or-
Corey Allan: Gotcha. Okay.
Jennifer Finlayson-Fife: A loss of self. The part I'm talking about is more when your brain is trying to wire up at a higher level you have to tolerate this comfort for growth to-
Corey Allan: To be able to get that. Yes.
Jennifer Finlayson-Fife: Yeah. Like learning anything, you have to be subjected to your incompetency to build competency. And that is an uncomfortable process. But one of the best things you can do is not do the old thing. My daughter's a musician. I sometimes use her as a example of this, which is, "No, you need to change your hand position." And then it messes everything up. Everything she could do from the more limited hand position now she can't do from the new position. The way she rebuilds competency at a higher level of skill is to not go back to the old hand position because then she's keeping in place the old system. And that's what our mind's like to do when we dismiss disconfirming data of our worldview. Many of us don't listen to the wrong news station as in the one that doesn't confirm our worldview. We listen to the news station that confirms our worldview. Okay. Very tempting. We all like it. But it makes us stupid. Okay. Because it keeps us just in this more limited frame. We can't account for as much reality.
Corey Allan: Right. It's an echo chamber.
Jennifer Finlayson-Fife: Yeah, exactly. The more we subject ourselves to the disconfirming, the more uncomfortable it is, but it also allows our brain to accommodate more truth as opposed to assimilate everything into the mind we're already in. The limited mind.
Corey Allan: Okay. That's good. I want to point out that phrase. You always are good at turning phrases, by the way. I'll give you commending on that. But your statement of we have to be subjected to incompetency to achieve competency. That's such a great depth of a phrase on just what that means because I think that's the beauty and the power of the whole theory Schnarch put together and is built off is just that idea of I'm subjecting myself to something for the betterment of me and those I care about.
Jennifer Finlayson-Fife: That's right. Yes. And that's so much what human beings are. That's how amazing we are is that we can literally grow and change and develop more capacity if we will go through the discomfort of it.
Corey Allan: Right. Well, we have to do that physically as kids when we grow. I mean, I still vividly remember college year freshmen laying in bed at night with my legs aching because of growth pains. Because I didn't grow ... I grew six inches my freshman year. It was painful. But I was pleased because I didn't want to be 5'5" any longer. I wanted to hit up over six foot and so come on, yeah. It's about time.
Jennifer Finlayson-Fife: Let's do it.
Corey Allan: Exactly. But it was a way to frame it to where it meant something then. And I think that's the beauty of, if we can look at just our dynamic, like this whole thing we're talking about. If you can start to see the discomfort it's a meaningful process.
Jennifer Finlayson-Fife: Yes, that's right. That helps a lot. Yes. It does.
Corey Allan: Then that changes our fortitude, if you will on-
Jennifer Finlayson-Fife: That's right. Or that courageous people go through that disorganization, not weak people. Strong people. So the meaning we give to it helps tremendously.
Corey Allan: That's good. All right. Well Jennifer, this has been fun. Tell the members of the nation how they can find you and what you're up to.
Jennifer Finlayson-Fife: Sure. Sure. You can find me at my website, which is my last name, finlayson-fife.com. I have online courses there about self development and sexual development. And what I mean by self development is developing how to develop a more robust sense of self and how to develop as a sexual being. High desire people have as much anxiety about sex in my experience as low desire people, but they don't know it. Often they do. And then I also have some marriage courses there as well. So a strengthening your relationship course and also enhancing sexual intimacy.
But then I'm also doing something called Room for Two, which is a couple's coaching podcast where I'm working with real couples who are bringing their marital issues often about sex and desire and working with those couples for other people to listen in. And I've been doing that almost a year now. So it's been great. And I've gotten a lot of good feedback about it because it gives people a chance to see themselves in the other marriages, because we all are human and doing very human things. But you get to get my feedback and to see yourself not sitting on that couch and getting the direct feedback, which can often be hard. Instead you can let someone else be humiliated while you watch. You're like, "What a loser. I can't believe he said that." And then you're like-
Corey Allan: Golly. But deep down you're like, "Oh, I would've said the same thing." Yep. Oh man.
Jennifer Finlayson-Fife: Exactly.
Corey Allan: Well Jennifer, it is always a pleasure to catch up with you and talk and talk through some of these things because ultimately, I think everybody benefits with the work that you do so I appreciate it so much.
Jennifer Finlayson-Fife: Thank you. Thanks so much.
Corey Allan: Anytime we get a chance to talk to Dr. Jennifer Finlayson-Fife, or JFF as she's known around here, there's lots of things that jump out from those conversations.
Pam Allan: Yeah. I love listen to her. I love the point of need versus desire. Oh, he needs it. And that totally squashes desire because I've got a job to perform rather than being passionate about this desire that may be there.
Corey Allan: Yeah. The Esther Perel statement of it can be work or it can be play. It can't be both.
Pam Allan: Exactly. But also the mom on the wedding day saying, "Well don't ever say no, because he needs it." And that dumbs him down, number one. But-
Corey Allan: Sets everything up for all kinds of disaster and struggle.
Pam Allan: All kinds of disaster. So need versus desire. Probably my favorite takeaway.
Corey Allan: I loved her statement of when it's a conscious choice that is leading towards a desire too, that it's of selfness and selfhood and goodness. That's part of the dynamic. And that's such a good thing because I think it helps give couples hope that have been caught in the need world. To see it as wait, but I can still choose this and then I don't hold resentment towards my choice. That's awesome.
If you want to check out more of Dr. Jennifer, as she's been on SMR in the past, episode 437 is the lower desire wife, which to date is still the most downloaded and popular episode we've got. Episode 463, sex for emotional attachment and when the husband is the lower desire, which is fantastic because we flip the script. And then I highly recommend Jennifer's Room For Two Podcast. You get to hear what goes on inside coaching rooms.
Pam Allan: You can pull so much from that.
Corey Allan: She's working with couples, they have real issues, and you get insight into what goes on. Worth it.
Pam Allan: Right. So many people have similar things that are going on. You can definitely get a great insight for yourself.
Corey Allan: Transcripts are available on the show notes on each of our episodes pages. All our advertisers' deals and discount codes are also on each of the show's episode pages at passionatelymarried.net. Please consider supporting those who help support the show. The greatest compliments you can give us is to share the show with those you care about. Remember, we improve those around us when we improve ourselves. So take on yourself first by applying what you hear each week on our show. Thanks for listening and we'll see you next time.
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