Manipulation: A Strange and Terrible Bedfellow, Part 3

By Anne Gagliano

When you took your spouse to be your “forever bedfellow,” I imagine the last thing you wanted was for them to be strange or terrible. But over time, perhaps that is exactly what they’ve become. Manipulative. Vengeful. Coercive and controlling. With these types of behaviors, sex has morphed from something spontaneous and satisfying into something frustrating, disappointing, even burdensome. In Parts 1 and 2 of this column (Derek: insert links here), I detailed how manipulation can develop into a bedfellow. It begins with a desire gap or one spouse who desires sex more than the other. This gap can lead to a type of sexual “bargaining” where one partner seeks to get what they want by promising to give the other what they want in return. If not “paid,” punishment may follow.

Ways in which spouses punish each other sexually may include constantly saying “no” (or giving the “cold shoulder”), irritating or criticizing till the mood is utterly dead, making zero effort to be attractive with gestures or deeds of romance and affection, or threatening to go elsewhere. And these punishments may be a result of common problems in a sex life, the two chief ones being fear and hostility (or anxiety and anger). When it comes to fantasies, multiple studies reveal that number one for women is romance; hence, it is natural to conclude that this is a top need. If romance is denied, she will not trust her husband and intimacy will fade, resulting in anxiety and anger. Number one in the fantasy department for men (again, according to experts) is sex. A man’s top need is for his wife to respond to him sexually; if she does not, he may become psychologically damaged, resulting in anxiety and anger. This cycle can become a vicious one that’s tough to break. Spontaneity, freedom, and pleasure are lost when making love descends into a game of control to make your partner jump like a puppet on a string.

So how do we keep this from happening?  To keep sex from becoming a negative fight instead of the positive expression of love it’s meant to be?  It really all begins with this: time. Research shows that of the 168 hours there are in a week, only about two of those are spent making love. Just two!  In other words, the remaining 166 hours are spent doing other things as a couple. What you do the entire week determines the quality of your love life; will it be positive and pleasurable, or negative and disappointing?  This is a vital question, as a fulfilling sex life is essential to a long and lasting and happy marriage. What goes into those 166 hours is where the answer lies.

The first step is to look at sex as an opportunity for “making love,” as the ultimate expression of deepest affection. It is a chance to give and receive in ways that are satisfying to you both. No fireworks or shooting stars required, just pure affection and focused attention. Emotional closeness and positive responses. And to set the stage for this wonderful event, take the time throughout the week to give words of praise instead of criticism. Give gentle caresses with no ulterior motives. A gentle pat, an admiring glance, a smile. I absolutely love it when my husband Mike catches my eye across a crowded room and gives me a “wink”; this says to me that he sees me, shares my thoughts, and desires me above all others. My heart still thrills at these types of things even after all our years together. Researchers tell us that without such affectionate, pre-foreplay efforts, sexual interest begins to wane.

Making love is like “building up.”  Building up what exactly?  Building up your marriage. Your relationship. Your love. Each gesture and effort throughout the week sets the tone and creates an atmosphere that will lead to the pleasures of sex—and, within the act, the ultimate conclusion: a thrilling “climax.”  Firefighters, take special note here: The word climax is Greek for ladder. You of all people are familiar with these!  Ladders allow the firefighter to climb to the event of rescue, of fighting fire, of preserving life!  So, too, is the act of making love a climax, a ladder leading upward to the purest connection of life for yourself and for your relationship.

Enjoy the closeness that only sex can truly bring by building each other up all week long. Husbands, this is done by making your wife trust you with her heart, her emotional needs, her desire for tenderness. Remember her birthday, bring her flowers, call her often from the station, and let her vent when she has a problem. Her trust in you will soar, her anxiety and anger will fade, and passion will follow. If she sees you to be her strong, concerned protector who leads by example, she will respect you. And if she respects you, she will respond to you with passionate abandon, relaxed and safe in your loving arms. True romance realized.

If she’s not responding to you, find out why. Take the time to talk, to listen, and to show you care about her as a person, not just as a sexual partner. Your goal should be to please her in every way above all else and to show this in word and deed. With a truly unselfish attitude of sacrifice, no manipulation is needed.

And wives, with your husband’s “coat of protection” (or, in our case, bunkers) wrapped around you, encircled in his shelter and love, remember to show him how you feel. Words are typically not enough. Pay special, unsolicited attention. He will thrill at your touch, as it is typically his deepest need. Reflect onto him all that he pours into you, and he will thrive. Flourish. Become the champion you need him to be. And all it takes is open, vulnerable, heartfelt response. Don’t withhold your touch with selfish demands of the “Honey Do List”; this may damage his psyche, his confidence, his faith in you. Instead, spontaneously seduce with an unselfish desire to please, and watch him do all that you ask and more because he wants to, no manipulation needed.

In an atmosphere of unselfishness, desire grows. The opposite is also true; nothing is as unsexy as selfishness. Which will you choose?  Control or sacrifice?  Building or destroying?  It takes time. It takes effort. During those 168 hours of the week, stack multiple gestures of kindness on top of each other, and these will lead upward as a ladder lifting you both to the climax of making love. Manipulative gestures will fall away. The puppet strings will be cut. And freedom and spontaneity and passion will allow you to soar to the greatest of heights. Unselfish love is the best aphrodisiac of all.  


Anne Gagliano has been married to Captain Mike Gagliano of the Seattle (WA) Fire Department for 32 years. She and her husband lecture together on building and maintaining a strong marriage.


  • Anne Gagliano  has been married to Captain Mike Gagliano of the Seattle (WA) Fire Department for 34 years. She and her husband lecture together on building and maintaining a strong marriage. They also wrote Challenges of the Firefighter Marriage , available from Fire Engineering Books & Video.

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