Intermittent “good behavior” can keep a couple from getting needed help for their marriage. I see this all the time, and I know it’s extremely difficult to break the cycle.
Basically, it looks like this:
- One spouse is either doing something that’s harmful to the other or to the marriage, or they’re refusing to do something that’s necessary for the good of the other or the marriage.
- BUT, every so often, they do the right thing.
The right thing is done just often enough to keep hope alive. It’s a lot like starving someone nearly to death, giving them just enough to keep them marginally alive. When they’re about to crawl off to find food on their own (or just to die and get it over with) an extra large portion of food is presented with hints or promises of more regular feeding. However, those promises are short lived, and soon it’s back to limiting.
What I hate about this is that it keeps many marriages that could be healed from getting help until it’s too late. The problem is kept hidden and nothing is done about the underlying issues. It just keeps going, tearing up the victim and the marriage. What is being rationed isn’t really the issue. It’s often sex, but it can also be affection, respect, time together, or many, many other things that are needed for a healthy marriage. Regardless of what is rationed, the harm is the same.
Keeping someone on the edge of starvation isn’t done accidentally; it takes a lot of careful reading of the situation and acting neither too soon nor too late. I’m sure some do it less than fully intentionally, and I suspect for some it’s such a habit it’s almost automatic. But it’s never a coincidence or accident, and it’s not going to get better on its own. If you find yourself in this situation you need to act, and the sooner the better. A great place to start is with the book Boundaries in Marriage .