Recently a reader of this blog sent me the following question:
“Do you have any thoughts regarding the book Fifty Shades of Grey that’s all the buzz right now?”
I read the first 125 pages of the first book. Prior to this book I’ve read a few spiritually based books, great reads, very uplifting, not to mention that I’ve focused on growing in my faith and spirituality over the last two years. 50 Shades has been all the buzz, I wanted to see what it was about. Reading the book felt wrong. I enjoyed the positive and uplifting feelings I experienced with the last couple books I read, this book however made me feel like I was taking 2 steps back in my faith and spirituality. Something about it wasn’t right. It’s not a very good book. It’s unfortunate that it’s getting so much attention.
May I get your thoughts on it?
Thanks for your question. I’ve been thinking about this issue more and more of late, not just because of its popularity in the common press, but because it keeps coming up in therapy. It keeps coming up in therapy, not because clients are touting its praises, but because they are traumatized by the behavior. The joy ride isn’t all the sound bytes say. Too many people try on for size things recommended in the media only to find them wanting later.
I’m glad you listened to your conscience and quit reading. There’s no sense in tempting ourselves. There is such a thing as discernment. You aren’t a prude for feeling something was amiss. Something is.
In brief, Fifty Shades of Grey* is all the rage right now in the press, supposedly secretly being read by sexually bored or unfulfilled 40-something plus year old women on their Kindles so no one will know they are reading erotica, er, ah, pornography.
Gina Ogden, who happens to have the same counseling license I have, keeps being interviewed about it and is even the keynote speaker at the AAMFT annual convention this fall. She says as women age (men, too) they need a little excitement to keep the embers burning. She’s quoted in a recent article on Yahoo: “An extremely titillating book like this slows you down and gives you a fantasy from the reality of your life, from taking care of the kids, parents, working.”**
According to Wikipedia it’s sold 20 million copies worldwide in a matter of months. The plot is a young single woman being seduced by a young, very wealthy and successful (he has his own helicopter) businessman, who has a very secret room with things he buys at the hardware store to use on his latest girlfriend.
If a leading sexologist and marriage therapist recommends it and millions of people are reading it and it’s all the rage, it can’t hurt, (sorry, a pun intended) can it?
We live in a day where boundaries are blurred or non-existent (abortion = freedom and does not = death, cohabitation = marriage, feelings = love, same-sex is the same as what’s going on between a husband and wife), so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that tying your wife up should be equated with love. Er, not even your wife. Your girlfriend. Er, not even your girlfriend. An acquaintance you met in the course of your work whom you manipulate to sign a contract subtly making her an accomplice: since she signed it, she can’t say she never asked for it, right?
The problem is there is real content here and the real content conveys a real non-verbal message and the non-verbal message is not tenderness and caring.
For example, your wedding ring symbolizes your commitment to each other until death you do part. It is an unbroken circle. I have had many people in therapy because their spouse took his or her wedding ring off. The act of removing your wedding ring is highly symbolic and filled with meaning. The act of tying your spouse up for the purposes of making yourself happy is highly symbolic as well. I’ve had many clients in therapy where the symbolism behind the actions of bondage and sadomasochism (abbreviated BDSM) have terrorized, traumatized and stripped any sense of safety and protection away in the relationship. You were supposed to protect me and you threw me to the wolves instead…and enjoyed it! Folks, this is creepy.
The BDSM fan would say, “Well, we make sure we have permission first.” This is all a ruse, making the other a victim and putting the blame on the person who supposedly can say when to stop. “But if I stop you won’t be happy.” Victims try to make their perpetrators’ happy. Boundaries are blurred. Right = wrong. Confusion reigns.
Fundamentally, protection is the essence of marriage. Marriage between a husband and wife is the building block of society. A husband protects his wife. A wife protects her husband. This instinct (I call it the Mother Bear Instinct) happens the moment you get married. To counter this instinct and to symbolically convey domination, imprisonment, and sacrificial death is to invite devastation into your life, your spouse’s life and yields a trail of unintended consequences.
If you’ve read other of my blogs on sexuality, you’ve noted I’ve discussed from time to time the difference between the Sexuality of Life and the Sexuality of Death. The Sexuality of Life is the life-giving, mutual and meaningful sexuality between a husband and wife. Everything else creates or simulates death and depravity (rape, sexual abuse, sodomy, abortion, and pornography, to name a few, including BDSM). Some people believe that if you are married you can do whatever you want in your marriage bed. I do not hold this belief. Just because you are married, this does not take away the meaning of your actions. Your actions speak louder than words. You can be selfish and hurtful about sexuality just like you can be hurtful and selfish about anything else. The problem with hurt in the sexual arena it that is it so traumatic. You can bring the Sexuality of Death into your marriage if you are not careful.
You think bondage is fine? Check out this short list of some of the practices, words and phrases of the BDSM crowd as listed in Wikipedia:
dominance and submission
exercise control over others
consensual use of restraint
controlled by their partners
And that’s just from the introduction in Wikipedia. The list goes on and on: chained to a wall, handcuffed, humiliated, tapegagged, cuffed, lashing, fastening with chains, punishment, caned, immobilization, flogging, whipping, to name a few. There is real content here. A message is being conveyed. You can’t do these things without consequences.
The words and terms themselves convey and imitate death, ancient pagan sacrificial rituals, imprisonment, slavery, and even murder.
Compare this to what should be (!) conveyed between a husband and wife when they are sexual with each other (The Sexuality of Life):
making love with each other
fondly looking into each others’ eyes
knowing each other
not seeking your own
not rejoicing in evil
babies and connection to the next generation (!)
The contrast is startling. Death and life are not the same.*** You aren’t going to get life by living on the edge of death. You can introduce death into your marriage by dabbling in this stuff.
When I told my wife what I was writing about she asked, “What’s that?” I’m really fortunate I have a wife who is innocent enough to not know about Fifty Shades. When I described it she said, “Why would women want to put themselves back into slavery all over again?” Which is my point, exactly. But not just women. Men, too.
If you are wise you wouldn’t be reading and inviting the Fifty Shades lifestyle into your life or your marriage.
Stay away. Stay very far away.
*For the purposes of this review I read a few chapters of the book on Google Books.
** If you are bored in your sex life with your spouse there’s a really good chance your marriage needs a major tune-up. Sexuality in marriage is often a picture of how well the marriage is doing, like the oil light on the dashboard of your car. When the oil light goes on it tells you there’s a problem in the engine, like you need oil. Likewise, if there is a problem in sexuality most of the time it means there’s something amiss in the marriage. Trying to spruce up sexuality without dealing with the real problem is like hooking up a loud speaker to a fire alarm without dealing with the fire: it’s just going to make the problem worse.
***This is one of the recurring themes of the Bible. See, for example, Deuteronomy 30:19 “This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live.” See also Jeremiah 21:8 and John 5:24.
Really, I’m a pretty nice guy and I’m not too mean. I’ll even let a bunch of stuff slide if I think we can get somewhere from a different route. But I’m having a hard time just sitting back and let Coach Petrino’s explanation of his affair fall without first tossing it in the air a bit.
If you remember the coach was caught having an affair with a lady 26 years younger than him (Jessica Dorrell), whom he hired. It all came out after he got into a motorcycle accident with her on the back and tried to hide it. He ended up losing his job over the lies and deception, not to say the hurt he caused his wife and four children and his fellow coaches, players and the Razorback Nation.
The explanation of his affair from Petrino I’d like to comment on was released to the Associated Press and reported in CBS News after a request using the Freedom of Information Act and included the notes Razorback Athletic Director Jeff Long kept while he questioned Petrino after Long found out about Petrino’s coverup. The USA Today reported:
Petrino told his boss that his affair with Dorrell began with a kiss last fall and ended sometime in February when the two decided to simply be friends.
Let’s clear this up: Affairs don’t start with a kiss. And they don’t end when two affairees decide to just be friends.
Affairs start long before the kiss. It started the first time he felt his heart crossing a line in his thoughts about Dorrell or the first time she crossed a line in how she treated him and he did not tell his wife about it.
When I ask my clients, when did it cross “the line,” most know immediately what I mean. Either Patino or Dorrell may have crossed a line.
Actually, you don’t want to even be close to the line. You don’t play Frisbee right next to the edge of a cliff. You play far far away.
This is one of the benefits of being married. You can talk with each other about crazy people that are seeking to cross lines with you and the temptations you face at your work and life and the two of you can talk about how to handle these crazy people and the temptations and you can keep your dignity instead of crossing a line, because the vultures are circling looking for an opportunity to come down and pluck out your eyes.
In therapy I liken the temptation to have an affair to a slippery slide. Every step up the ladder is one more decision closer to an affair going beyond emotional to sexual. By the time you are kissing your affairee, you are more than likely dancing on the top of the slide. For most there have been dozens of decisions they didn’t talk about with their spouse, all of which are secrets. The power of the secret is the secret and delusion reigns. The fact that Petrino says his affair began with a kiss is a sign of that delusion.
The second mistake Petrino made was thinking if we stopped the affair sexually, we can remain friends.
Ah, no. If someone led you down the road to an affair (a devastating road strewn with the bodies of your loved ones, friends, colleagues and your dignity trampled underfoot), the last thing you are going to want to do is chum around with that person. No. That would be, like, you know…..stupid. The two of you have proven that together you can’t respect boundaries so, no, we aren’t going to tempt each other to cross boundaries again. The affairee needs to be off your list, off your contacts, off your cell phone, off your email list and all the old emails and gifts and pictures and mementos destroyed. We are done with that lifestyle. Done. Done and Done. If your affairee refuses to honor these boundaries, you change your email and/or cell phone number. We don’t mess around with this stuff.
If they still refuse, you may have to call the police.
I’m not kidding.
The reason we don’t mess around with this stuff is not to appease your spouse who is understandably pretty upset by this if you’ve had the courage to face it with him or her. That’s a byproduct. No. The reason you don’t mess around with it is because you don’t want to tempt yourself again. Affairs that are over sometimes do heat up again. Keep all the logs off the fire. The embers are still there.
Telling your spouse about all these things before you end up going up the slide is the way to go. Then you’d never go down the slide in the first place!
If you are on the slide and don’t know what to do, give us a call. We’ll help you face these things so you can deal with it and learn from it and have the courage to face your spouse honestly, so that, over time, you can get your life, marriage and dignity back.
But when Mr. Cain admits that he gave Ginger White money for a long time, and even recently,
“because she was out of work, had trouble paying her bills and I had known her as a friend…. I’m a soft-hearted person when it comes to that stuff. I have helped members of my church. I have helped members of my family.
“And I know a lot of other people who had done the same thing. She was asking me to help her, and sometimes, quite frankly, it was desperation,” Cain said….
And, he acknowledged, “My wife did not know about it, and that was the revelation. My wife found out about it when she went public with it.”
Not only didn’t his wife not know about the financial assistance, he said, but she also “did not know we were friends until she (White) came out with this story.
“My wife now knows,” Cain said. “My wife and I have talked about it and I have explained it to her. My wife understands that I’m a soft-hearted giving person.”
He said his wife “is comfortable with the explanation that I told her.”
then I’ve got to write something. He’s laid out the nature of an affair for all the world to see.
Since I deal with affairs for a living and one of the big issues is helping the couple get on the same page regarding what is and is NOT an affair so we can deal with it, these statements by Mr. Cain can help us clear the air.
There’s a widespread belief that you only have an affair if you’ve had intercourse with someone. That’s a bunch of baloney. Any seventh grader can tell you you can do a lot more things sexually than just intercourse and you can do a lot more things in an affair then just not have sex.
Over the years I’ve dealt with hundreds of trust issues around people outside the marriage from clandestine meetings with coworkers and texting and emails and “chatting” and calls about issues other than work on the one hand and repeated sexual encounters with people of the opposite sex over a long period of time: emotional involvement on one end and sexual involvement on the other. The spouses of these folk on both ends of the spectrum sound the same when they describe how they are taking their spouses’ actions. They use the same words. They use the same inflection. They convey the same despair. How could this possibly be?
The reason? They were having the same experience. They were just as upset when their spouses were involved with others emotionally as they were if they were involved sexually. In fact, most people would tell me it hurts them more if their spouses were involved emotionally than sexually because the plumbing works. You can do it with anyone. But in order to be emotionally involved with someone you have to LIKE them! You have to give them your HEART.
That’s led to my definition of an affair:
Any time you meet someone else’s needs when you should meeting your spouse’s needs or any time someone else (or in the case of pornography, something else) is meeting your needs, when your spouse should be the only one meeting those needs, that would be an affair.
Obviously this includes sexuality. The only person meeting your spouse’s sexual needs is you and the only one meeting your sexual needs is your husband or wife.
But this also includes affection.
And emotional needs.
Needs for companionship.
Needs for fun.
Needs for friendship.
Needs for someone to open up to, to talk to, to share.
Needs for recreation, fitness.
Needs for tenderness, compassion, a listening ear, banter, acceptance.
And yes, financial needs.
NO. We’re not going to go exercise with someone of the opposite sex at work during our lunch hour. Recreation and exercise are major doorways to sexual affairs. It connects the couple (yes, they are acting like a couple) in their experience, when they should be having those experiences with their spouses.
NO. We’re not going to be texting co-workers about personal stuff or even texting and asking if they are having a good day. Texting is doorway to an affair. It is intensely intimate and private and intimate and private things lead to places that play with our heart stings and the hearts of those on the receiving end.
NO. We’re not going to call our “friend” and talk about our day and check up and tell each other our concerns and worries. You should be doing that with your spouse. A good rule of thumb is to NEVER talk about your personal concerns with others of the opposite sex except your spouse.
NO. We’re not going to eat lunch alone on a regular basis with an opposite sex coworker. That’s too intimate and sends the wrong message to your spouse (most important), your co-worker you are having lunch with (if you do this they are probably nurturing a secret crush on you and/or you on them) and your other co-workers (tongues will wag). Everyone is going to doubt your integrity on that deal and it’ll just bite you in the butt.
NO. We’re ESPECIALLY NOT going to give a needy person of the opposite sex money! Crap. Are you kidding me? It’s NOT our job to meet someone else’s financial needs. As a couple OUR money is OUR money and WE decide who to GIVE to. This is a subject for discussion and prayer. This isn’t anything either of us does alone. Too much is at stake.
NO. If he is having financial problems and you feel compelled to help him, you need to bring your spouse on board and the two of you discuss how you want to handle the situation. Maybe give to him anonymously through your church or other non-profit group? If you give her the money directly, especially if it is more than once, you create a very questionable and dependent relationship.
Finances are particularly dicey. If Mr. Cain gives money to this gal, it creates an unbalanced relationship. The key to long-term relationships is keeping them relatively balanced, with a fair give and take. You borrow your neighbor’s lawn mower. He borrows your ladder. If he never borrows your ladder, the relationship is unbalanced and won’t work and every time you want to borrow his mower, he’s going to resent you, unless you give him a nice Christmas present or something to balance it out again. If Mr. Cain gives Ginger White money, what is she going to give him back? Over and over he gives her money and she doesn’t give anything back?
That’s just weird.
And frankly unbelievable.
Really, really unbelievable.
And if it’s true it’s a decided lack of good judgment on both their parts.
And he didn’t tell his wife?
I can tell you that I’ve had people in therapy for a lot less than this and I would guess that anyone who found out that their spouse had a “secret” friendship for YEARS and on top of that gave this person money for YEARS and never told his spouse about it, that when the spouse found out about it, she would feel a tremendous amount of violation of trust on that deal and would be screaming mad and if she didn’t I’d be trying to goad her self-respect into gear.
Here’s a good rule of thumb: As married people we don’t have secrets from each other. Period. No secret activities. No secret friends. No secret spending of money. Married people don’t have secrets unless they want to be unhappily or formerly married.
The whole advantage of being married is checking in with each other about whatever and getting some feedback so that you don’t do really stupid stuff, like give money repeatedly and secretly to a needy woman. If he would have told his wife of this needy woman years ago his wife would have put a stop to it and Mr. Cain might still be a presidential candidate. Really. Accountability works, folks. Secrets and marriage don’t mix.
Here’s how I think of it: If you are single you can do whatever you want. You probably shouldn’t, but no one cares.
If you are married, somebody cares. So you touch base.
If you have a secret relationship with somebody and you also give this person money over a long period of time and you DON’T tell your spouse, then what you are telling your spouse whether your spouse finds out or not is that you don’t need your spouse in your life and you can do what you want and you are basically living a single life. If your spouse doesn’t figure this out and she is “comfortable with the explanation that I told her” then somebody isn’t telling somebody the truth or somebody isn’t dealing with reality and we’re living in fantasy land and we aren’t calling a spade a spade.
I don’t believe for a minute Mr. Cain’s wife is “comfortable with the explanation that I told her.” The normal reaction in a situation like that is extreme violation, abandonment, fear, worry, insecurity, and what the crap other things is he not telling me? Secrets in marriage = a lie, because the idea of marriage is we run things by each other and neither of us just does our own thing. So if you’ve been doing your own thing with this other woman for 13 years and giving her money and not telling me, how do I know that you what you are telling me now is the truth? You just got done lying to me for 13 years. And I believed you. Now, just like that, I’m to believe you now when just a few days ago I find out you’ve been lying to me this whole time? And be “comfortable?”
This is just crazy stuff.
If you have secrets from your spouse you need to come clean. If you can’t come clean come see me and we’ll chat about it and figure out a way. Or tell your spouse and then bring him or her in and we’ll talk about building trust back. It takes a long time. It can be done. But you don’t just say you are sorry and expect everything to be Okay. That is decidedly NOT the way back to healing.