bored with sex, and avoid him/her by sleeping, working, drinking,
playing sports, community work, etc. If you see several of these signs
in your life, start working on the relationship soon.
Self-help exercises: Learning to meet each others intimacy needs
Scarf (1987) interviewed Stuart Johnson (formerly at Yale
Psychiatric Institute) and described several ways to break out of the
polarized interactions in which couples can only fight. Keep in mind the
previous discussion of unconscious motives influencing our selection of
a partner: a partner may be selected to re-enact a childhood situation
or a partner may be selected because he/she enables us to deny our
faults by projecting these negative traits to the partner. Most fighting
spouses do not understand all the complex underlying reasons for the
quarrels; thus, they have no idea how to change.
These simple exercises force the couple into new ways of
interacting which require each person to self-explore, to self-disclose,
to listen carefully without having to defend one's self, to have some
control, to give up bitter accusations, to understand the partner, etc.
The couple should schedule an hour in a private place, at
least once or twice a week. During the first half hour, one
partner simply talks about him/herself. But, nothing can be said
about the partner or about the marriage. The second partner
says nothing at all for 30 minutes but listens attentively. During
the second half hour, they reverse roles. Each "speaker," in
turn, talks about his/her life, needs, hopes, characteristics,
disappointments (no blaming!), hurts, joys, plans, etc. When
both are finished, there should be no discussion --not one word
about the session for at least three days. This is important.
Each person listens to the other but inhibits the attack-
This exercise also sidetracks "projective identification."
Example: if a wife is projecting "feeling stupid" to her husband,
for the process to work the husband must respond in some way
suggesting he thinks she is stupid (that's the basic purpose,
namely, to get the painful, horrible self-accusation out of her
mind and into his mind and behavior, so she can hate "being
dealt with as stupid" rather than thinking "God, I'm so
stupid!"). If the wife is not conscious of feeling stupid, then she
isn't going to say that as she talks about herself. Since the
husband is prohibited from responding, the usual trigger to an
outrage ("you think I'm stupid") can't occur and they learn
more about each other. However, if while talking the wife
becomes more aware of her own feelings of inadequacy, i.e.
takes personal responsibility for the "I'm stupid" self-
evaluations, then the couple have made remarkable progress