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6 Lessons Melissa Gorga Needs to Learn About Abuse

Marriage Therapist: Are You in A Sexually Abusive Marriage?
Self, Sex

Something seems dangerous about this Real Housewife's relationship dynamics.

Melissa Gorga's new book, Love Italian Style, is a valuable piece of anthropological evidence that culture and tradition can distort reality. Melissa is in an abusive relationship, and she doesn't even know it! Perhaps that is what her Italian traditions have taught her — to call a controlling husband "involved", to call rape "love" and to call herself a "puttana"

Call things by their name
The first chapter in my book, Divorce Your Drama, is based on the need to call things by their name. As a Latina myself (a grouping that includes Italians, by the way), it took decades for me to unravel the crazy-making lessons I was taught growing up. I have learned that, unless and until we are able to call things by their name, not only will we perpetuate misbehaviors, we will actually encourage them and endorse them. Unfortunately, that is exactly what Melissa Gorga has done in her book: to perpetuate detrimental traditions. If she reads this post, she will learn the following six lessons:

1. If your spouse punishes you when he doesn't get sex, this is a form of sexual abuse.
Let's start at the beginning. Sex is about vulnerability and giving of oneself. It is a deep expression of trust and love for both the self and the other person. This kind of romantic love is only true if it is freely given. 

If your security — financial, emotional, physical — depends in any way on you complying to perform sexual favors, you have crossed the line from freely giving yourself to coercion. The coercion can be subtle; as simple as knowing that if you want to go shopping tomorrow for shoes, you'd better give it up tonight. It can be as simple as knowing that if you want him to be nice to your family when they come over, you should consider taking the initiative in sex tonight. It can be as good-intentioned as helping him "work out his anger" so he doesn't take it out on the kids.

Over time, the abuser conditions the other person to believe that his response (anger, violence, withdrawal, indifference) is her responsibility. He delegates his self-control to her, and she falsely believes that she indeed has that kind of control over him. Ultimately, he is always in control of his choices and in control of himself. But instead of putting himself on a time-out when he loses control, he punishes her for "provoking" or "not preventing". This is classic behavior of any abuser. Melissa, please take notes.

Hardly ever does sexual mistreatment exist without other forms of abuse. 70 percent of domestic violence includes rape and sexual abuse. And in marriages, due to the expectation of intimacy, emotional abuse and manipulation almost always get played out in the bedroom.  

2. If your spouse requires sex in order to engage with you, this is a form of sexual abuse.
In other words, if he only pays attention to you when you are sexually appealing, he is also emotionally abusing you. The strength of a marriage cannot possibly hinge on meeting all of your spouse's sexual needs. If he is unable or unwilling to engage with you when you are not "in the mood", or if all of his intimate moments with you depend on him reaching an orgasm, then girlfriend, this is an abusive relationship.

At minimum, he is not husband material. Yes, men are highly visual and sexual. Therefore, when you are in a committed relationship with a man, it is important to invest in healthy sexuality. However, you are more than your sexual organs. A man who cannot value the whole woman and engage her mind and spirit as well as her body has not fallen in love with her. Rather, he has just secured a source of at-will safe sex. Chances are that, if he only notices you when he is aroused, he is probably noticing other potential sexual conquests out there as well.

3. If your spouse demands that you do things you are uncomfortable doing, this is a form of sexual abuse.
The organization LoveIsRespect.org rightly states that if you are repeatedly pressured into having sex, you are being sexually abused. No, it might not be rape because legally, for an act to be defined as rape, forced penetration must have occurred. However, especially in marriage, it is very possible to be pressured and manipulated into relevant activities. If your spouse consistently requests that you perform sexual activities that you are dislike (sexual toys, pornography, certain positions, anal intercourse, exhibition, filming you, etc.), and pressures you — ever so gently — into satisfying his wish, you are probably experiencing sexual abuse. What if he asks once, you try it and don't like it? That's OK. But if you don't like it, and he asks you to do it again anyways — that's rude. If he asks repeatedly? He's a jerk. If you know that declining his request will be followed by more insistence and even a little bit of backlash, then you are certainly experiencing sexual abuse.

4. If you comply with a sexual request out of fear for the repercussions, you are acting like a victim of abuse.
Melissa Gorga writes: "In the beginning, Joe wanted to have sex every single day, at least once, if not twice or three times… If I didn't give it to him once a day, he'd get upset. I can do something that pisses him off on a Monday, but if we had sex on Sunday night, it blows over more easily. But if we haven't done it for two days and I give him attitude? It could be a huge fight."

First of all, who cares that he would get upset if you didn't "give it to him" once a day? Since when is it bad to feel upset? And since when is it a wife's job to make sure their spouses never get upset? This is all about you, Melissa; it has very little to do with him. It seems that you are afraid. For some unresolved reason, you are afraid of his anger, and most likely afraid of your own anger, too. And you will do anything — even have unwanted sexual intercourse — to minimize the chances of anyone getting upset. This is what victims do. This is what women who want to avoid getting hit do. This is what women who have either been abused or are being abused do to avoid danger. If it looks like a duck, walks likes a duck, sounds like a duck... it is a duck.  Call it by its name: you are afraid of his anger. 

5. If your focus is on "damage control" with your spouse, you are acting like a victim of abuse.
Dr. Phil says "Don't go along to get along. Peace at any price is no peace at all." If you find yourself simply avoiding his anger, his snide remarks or his silent treatments, you are behaving like a victim. If you go along with his requests just so you all can get along, don't speak up or don't affirm yourself, you're exhibiting victim-like behaviors. Instead, you shut up, you lose yourself, and you give in. The result is a happy husband and a trophy wife: one satisfied spouse and another spouse who once again "won" by not getting yelled at. But note that only one spouse is satisfied. How do you feel? Similarly, if you have sex with your spouse (or comply in any other area) just you can get him to say "yes" to what you want, you are a manipulator. There is no love in that.

6. If your believe your sexuality and appearance can keep your spouse from cheating, you are acting like an enabler.
Melissa Gorga writes: "The way I see it, if a wife is a puttana, her husband will never feel the urge to go outside the marriage to actual whores, or strip clubs. He won't hit on women in bars, or drool over his friend's girlfriends or the secretary. He'll rush home to his wife, who makes sure he'll have a good time (the best time) in the comfort of his own home."

You are wrong, Melissa. His cheating is not your fault! I can't believe that women still fall for that. His cheating is all about himself.  It is something he does to himself and to you, not because of you.

Dr. John Grohol explains the "Fallacy of Change" as a cognitive distortion. When you think that somehow you can change or control other people, you are practicing magical thinking. What you wear, or how tight your abs are or how often you have sex with your spouse will not change your spouse! If your partner lacks integrity and strength of character, any reason will be a good enough reason for them to cheat. If dinner is not always ready on time, if your hair color is off, if the kids are loud at dinner time, if his clothes are not ironed... these are not acceptable reasons for him to find pleasure outside of the committment he made to you. If you spend your energy and time trying to keep the other person from cheating, you are actually enabling their self-centeredness. The opposite of this is to set clear boundaries and consequences. You can own your part — yes, look your best and invest in your health. However, set boundaries as to what you are and are not willing to live with, and let your spouse know what you will do if he violates your boundaries.  

How we are raised, and what we believe is "culturally acceptable" will always influence our values. However, we can choose to re-write the cultural scripts and to edit our traditions to embrace true love and sanity. It can be painful and scary. We might lose a few friends and relatives. But making those tough choices will always be worth every tear.

Francesca Escoto is bestselling author of Divorce Your Drama, speaker, life and startup coach, and serial entrepreneur.  You can follow her at francescaescoto.com

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