Unhealthy Couple Dynamics

Normal Marital Sadism (NMS)*

Learning to hate our partners

We don’t really anticipate that one day we will take pleasure out of hurting someone we love. We want even less to admit to it. For most people & couples, their reflex is to deny immediately any form of dishonesty and heartaches we cause to each other. What possible reason could justify such behaviour towards a person we have chosen to live the rest of our lives with? The answer is NONE! That is the reason why we don’t want to admit it, especially to our partner.

Normal Marital Sadism

Sadism is defined as deliberately hurting someone, by feeling pleasure or gaining a sense of satisfaction out of it. In long-term relationships (married or not), this phenomenon is more wide spread than we would like to admit to ourselves. For this reason, it is why we consider it “normal” to do marital sadism. But what is defined as normal doesn’t necessarily mean that it is healthy, but in this situation it means widespread. Normal Marital Sadism (NMS) is a form of particular violence that is subtle between two partners, which contrary to popular belief actually love each other, but also hate each other.

Love & Hate: Same continuum, just different extremities

Romantic relationships would be way simpler if we could always feel good and feel love for our partner. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case! There will always be parts of our partner that we will truly detest. We aren’t perfect and we aren’t the same as our partner on every aspect. These differences create important conflicts, that are hard to overcome, which make us feel hate towards our lover. The way we deal with this ambivalence between the love and hate we feel towards our partner determines greatly how our relationship will develop.

To deal with theses contradictory emotions in a healthy way, it is necessary to have a good
emotional balance. This balance allows us to live better with the fact that we can sometimes hate our partner very profoundly, but also that are partner hates us. The second part is normally the hardest for most people, because it impacts our self-esteem and our sense of self (identity). When the most important person in our lives hate a part of who we are, it can be difficult to deal with the emotions that this rejection creates. It is a difficult reality to accept for someone who doesn’t have a very high self-esteem.

How Does All This Operate Between Partners?

The more we know our partner, the more we are capable of hurting them, because we’ve had access to their insecurities along the many years. Generally between partners, we sooth and help each other through our hardships and limits. The thing is, the game is played differently when we are in an important conflict with them. Especially when the couple has sexual difficulties, which is where most people feel very vulnerable. When we don’t have a solid-flexible self and a capacity to self-sooth, we can easily feel attacked by our partner, because we take things personally. This tends to create a reflex for vengeance to downplay are hurt feelings and anxiety. Henceforth, the vicious cycle of Normal Marital Sadism begins:
  1. One of the partners feels hurt or emotionally injured
  2. In return, they attack to feel better about themselves
  3. The other partner feels hurt and attacks back
  4. Repeat step 1-2-3

Let’s give a more concrete example to illustrate the point. A woman has more sexual desire than her lesbian partner since the beginning of the relationship. After many attempts to initiate sex and being refused multiple times, she starts feeling reject and unloved. The partner that has more desire starts feeling less desirable each time she initiates sex. One night where she tries once more, she gets rejected AGAIN. Unable to deal with the rejection any longer says to her partner that she has a problem and needs to deal with it and says she is frigid. The partner with less desire attacks back by saying that she is the one obsessed with sex and needs to control her sexual urges. We can all imagine where this story is going. Obviously, gender and sexual orientation can be interchangeable in this situation, as every couple dynamic faces these issues.
A variety of more subtle examples can be found in couples where a partner deliberately irritates the other and gains satisfaction out of it (E.G.: not changing the toilet paper roll, spending an important sum without talking about it to our partner, ignoring or being sulky, sighing of irritation, giving a look of disapproval, etc.). All these behaviours aren’t done in an innocent way, even though we tend to act that way. We are trying to get a reaction out of our partner and when we get caught, we pretend that we didn’t know or that we forgot.

To Admit It or Not to, That is the Question?

We would need to be crazy to admit that we do Normal Marital Sadism (NMS) to our partner. What would be the advantages of doing such a thing? Actually, it becomes a question of integrity and loyalty that allows us to build a collaborative alliance and work on our points of emotional balance. It also allows us to get past our emotional gridlocks in our relationship. Admitting our NMS to our spouse allows our partner to know who we truly are (the good and the bad) and have self-validated intimacy. How can you justify being loved or loving someone, when you only present parts of who you are and not the whole you?
Most people won’t even admit to themselves that they do NMS, because they don’t want to admit being so mean and having such an ugly side of their personality. That would also deteriorate their self-image and self-esteem even more. They won’t want to be truthful to their partner’s about it so that the person who is the most significant in their lives doesn’t rejects them.
Take the time to reflect on the next sentence and understand what it means for you and your couple:
Admitting the worse in us, brings the best in us, because the worse in us cannot even admit its own existence!”- David Schnarch

* Inspired by the book Intimacy and Desire from David Schnarch






Other related articles:
Emotional Gridlock: The Underlying Issues in Couples

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There are 5 comments on this post

  1. Revenge: The Ugly Side of Infidelity - sexcoupletherapy.com
    54 years ago

    […] of an instant separation. If you ever do admit to it, do yourself and your relationship a favour: Do NOT pretend this is an unconscious thing!The thing that is hard about stopping revenge is that we actually truly enjoy it. We feel entitled […]


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