My first post in this series tackled Mr. Perfect and his crazy wife. Here we turn to The Ice Queen and the Martyr, another commonly seen couple.

Here are some examples of what you hear from The Martyr in session:

“No matter what I do, it’s not good enough. She doesn’t show any appreciation or affection. I guess I don’t communicate well. But I’ve heard from other girlfriends that I’m actually great at communicating. ”

“We haven’t had sex in months. She pushes me away. I guess I should try harder, but I already schedule date nights, help with housework, and get up with the baby.”

And from Her Highness:

“He is always on top of me. He always needs more, more, more. No matter how much attention I give him, it’s not enough.”

“I can’t even relax for a second and watch TV. He is always trying to grab me or talk or cuddle. I am exhausted.”

At first glance, we are squarely on the side of the Martyr. I mean, the poor guy just wants a little cuddle. What’s wrong with his cold, nasty wife? He deserves a warm, loving woman. He’s even thinking about his own contribution to the issues. But, if you closely examine his comments, he instantly dismisses the idea that he could be at fault, and toots his own horn instead.

And the Ice Queen initially seems to be as cold as her moniker. I mean, the poor guy just wants to feel loved. But is it so strange that she wants to be left alone for a bit when she is tired? It appears that when she wants to relax, her husband demands more and more attention, and is unwilling to respond to her needs for personal space.

I would imagine a dynamic like this was going on in the notorious recent sex spreadsheet incident that was all over the internet.

The spreadsheet maker obviously was trying to show how unfair his wife was being. Sadly, he was probably feeling unloved, and was hoping that this “proof” would make his wife realize how badly she was treating him (Martyr role).
Of course, listing the ways you feel wronged, whether in a passive aggressive or directly attacking way, usually has the opposite effect. It is probable that this couple’s sex life took a turn for the worse after the wife received this spreadsheet. She likely felt attacked and shamed, and protected herself emotionally by closing off even more (Ice Queen response).

Also, the Ice Queen may feel unappreciated herself. As I discussed here, women (and men!) often detach when they feel overwhelmed or that their contribution is unacknowledged. In this case, the wife may be doing quite a bit with the baby and for the home, but when she asks for time to unwind, her husband makes her feel guilty.

She may not mind getting up with the baby, so his help in this regard may not feel particularly meaningful to her, but she is explicitly asking him to leave her alone for a few minutes to decompress, and he won’t. He seems to think that if he does X, Y, and Z, irrespective of whether his wife even values these things, then he should get physical affection in return. And this “tit for tat” dynamic is toxic.

How can the Ice Queen and the Martyr improve their relationship? Ideally, each can try to reflect about their own motivations, accept and own their contribution to the discord, and validate and empathize with their partner. Expressing appreciation for each other’s positive qualities and behaviors can also help. And love means responding to what your partner actually wants and needs, not what you think they should want or need. And this requires directly asking them what makes them feel loved.

The Martyr is likely feeling very insecure about whether his wife loves him, which is why he tries to get her to show her love via sex. If he were able to directly express this fear, his wife might find it easier to empathize with him. For example: “When you pull away from me, it makes me scared that you don’t love me. Then I try to tell you everything I do so that you will think of me as lovable again. But I think sometimes this backfires and I sound like a conceited jerk.”

The Ice Queen should also examine what is keeping her from wanting to be close and directly state this to her husband, while also being empathic. For example: “I really need an hour of no touching when I first get home, because I feel very tense and stressed. I understand this hurts you, but I want you to know that I love you, and I would like to cuddle before bed when I am more relaxed.”

Hopefully, the guy with the spreadsheet reads this article and starts making a spreadsheet of all the great things his wife does for the marriage. That’s a lot likelier to get him laid.

Next Time: Mr and Mrs. “Just Not Feeling It”: Is There Any Love to Rekindle?