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Johnny and his girlfriend, Rachel weren't getting on well after two years together.
There were lots of arguments, sometimes quite stormy ones.
When one night, Johnny smashed his fist through the kitchen door,
a friend suggested, he might try therapy.
It felt odd at first to be in a room with a stranger,
who wanted nothing more than to listen to him closely.
She asked what fights between him and Rachel were about.
"Oh, this and that." Said Johnny.
Was there anything else he was sad about in his relationship?
"Sad" was a useful word to use.
It made Johnny feel that his anger wasn't some kind of horrible madness,
which was the vibe he tended to get from all other observers.
His anger was coming from a place of weakness and inadequacy,
which, crucially, a therapist could understand,
and not immediately judge him for.
There was a lot of sadness around sex.
Johnny and Rachel had been going for months without too much of it.
Johnny would try sliding a hand over gently, but Rachel would subtly ignore him, pretending to fall asleep.
The rejection was silently killing Johnny, and was at the root of his increasing coldness and snappiness with Rachel.
"That must feel pretty painful to be turned down," said the therapist,
in such a sympathetic way, that Johnny, who is an ex-marine, felt tears welling up.
Johnny began talking of his childhood.
He'd grown up in Texas and had never known his father.
His mother had been beautiful, volatile, and an alcoholic.
He always had a sense that he was a burden to her.
He'd been a chubby boy, slow at school, shy at home.
When he was fourteen, she'd left him in the care of her sister,
and had gone to live with a lover in Chicago.
Johnny and his mother rarely saw each other now, beneath Johnny's outward strength, not far beneath,
was a sense he was unacceptable to the core of his being,
unable to sustain even his own mother's interest.
The feeling of self-loathing and shame was easy to reawaken,
and Rachel's sexual disinterest played right into it.
The problem was, that Johnny wasn't good at translating his hurt into anything another person could understand,
let alone sympathize with him for.
We tend not to be endeared by people who'd call us rude words and break furniture,
however vulnerable they might be feeling inside.
Rachel had come to see her boyfriend as a bully, not a hurt, lost boy,
though that was, beneath it all, perhaps precisely what he was.
The therapist suggested something as basic as it was brilliant:
rather than trying and failing to have sex,
Johnny should tell Rachel a little bit more about what it felt like to be him,
when his hand laid rejected, untouched by her in the bed.
Most importantly, he had to stay calm when he explained himself to her,
on the basis that, unlike when he'd been young, he now had agency, and choice, and a possibility of maturity.
Put like this, Rachel understood at once.
She didn't have some macho guy at her hands; she was picking up on echoes of a lost, scared boy, whom she actually cried for when it was explained to her like this.
It wasn't that Johnny and Rachel immediately had sex all the time.
Rachel's job often left her not in the mood,
but the meaning of lack of sex changed between them.
Rachel understood how Johnny might interpret her tiredness,
and took steps to reassure him of her basic love for him.
Johnny better understood why rejection had a habit of stirring up such uncontrollable hurt in him.
Johnny gradually lost the old sense of helplessness.
"She isn't my mother, and I'm not a little boy at her mercy."
He stated one day in therapy,
and it felt like the most obvious and momentous of points.
Johnny took on board what belonged to the past and what belonged to now.
The therapy lasted over a year.
Johnny and Rachel are going to be married soon.
The School of Life offers therapy in person or over Skype.
Click here for details.
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Sexual Rejection

57352 Folder Collection
Tim published on February 24, 2017    Tim translated    reviewed
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