Family conflict and violence at Christmas time

Blog Post No.150

By Dr Jim Byrne

Posted on 27th December 2016 (Originally posted on 6th December 2015)

Dr Jim’s Counselling Blog:

Principles of couples counselling: The importance of negotiation and fairness between marriage and cohabiting partners

Copyright (c) Jim Byrne, 2015-2016



domestic-violence-at-christmasEvery Christmas, the incidence of domestic violence increases significantly, because of the stresses and strains of the Christmas and Winter Holiday madness, whipped up by marketing gurus, to promote sales of unnecessary ‘stuff’. But also because of the lack of commitment to equality in relationships (which most often involves male domination, except when it involves female domination!)

But the underlying weaknesses, which allows domestic violence to emerge, is cultural conditioning, or the lack thereof.  A fully functioning democratic and humanistic culture would outlaw any form of the use of violence to settle our differences, at home, at work or in international relations.

In this blog post, I set out to review two principles that are important to happy and healthy couple relationships.

Those two principles come from the Duluth Domestic Abuse Intervention Project[1].

However, because of pressure of time and space, I had to settle for reviewing just one principle this time. (I’ll review the second one next week!)

duluth-model-and-fairnessThe principle that I am reviewing is one of eight from the Equality ‘wheel’, and this is it: The importance of negotiation and fairness between marriage and co-habiting partners.

I review this principle in the context of the fact that Dr Michael Edelstein, a former colleague from the world of Rational therapy (REBT) refuses to discuss fairness issues with his couples therapy clients because (he says) he cannot identify any objective criteria for judging what is fair and what is unfair. 

However, in the process of reviewing the principle of negotiation and fairness, below, I will outline some very obvious criteria for assessing the presence or absence of fairness in couple disputes.


Just over a year ago, I introduced the Duluth Domestic Abuse Intervention Project, and I said I would return to that subject, and explore the two wheels which they use to teach the distinction between unhelpful and unjustifiable ‘Power and control’ approaches to couple relationships, on the one hand, and civilized and indispensable ‘Equality’ approaches, on the other hand.

equal-status-within-couplesEach wheel contains eight principles, and the Duluth project advocates the use of the eight ‘equality principles’, and rejects the use of any of the eight principles of ‘power and control’.  In brief, this means that the appropriate way for a couple to relate to each other is from a basis of equal status, and an immoral and illegal way to relate is through the abuse of power to control the other person.

It seemed to make most sense for me to tackle this distinction by reviewing pairs of principles, one from each wheel.  However, in practice I have found that, because of space constraints, I cannot review two principles in one blog post – so I will review one ‘equality’ principle this week, and one ‘power and control’ principle next week.


Equality 1: The principle of negotiation and fairness

This week I want to begin by reviewing the ‘equality principle’ of ‘negotiation and fairness’.

michael-edelsteinMy way of going about this, to begin with, is to refer back to the debate I had, in 2010, with Dr Michael Edelstein, a former colleague of mine in the world of Rational therapy (REBT).  Michael is a clinical psychologist who lives in San Francisco, practices REBT, was born in Brooklyn, NY, completed his academic psychology training in New York City, attended the REBT Institute from its physical inception in 1965, associated with Albert Ellis beginning in 1963, authored three books on REBT, trains therapists in REBT, and so can be assumed to know his REBT very well.  (Michael is also known as ‘The 3 Minute Therapist’, whose website can be found at:


On the importance of fairness, justice and morality

At the time when I was preparing to post my paper on ‘Fairness, Justice and Morality’[2] (back in 2010), Michael wrote to me to say that:

“Everyone has their own subjective view about what is fair. My preferences and hedonic calculi differ from that of others. Since there’s no cosmic or absolute criterion for evaluating fairness, I have not come up with a useful way to view it. Consequently, I advise my clients to jettison the entire concept”.

I was pretty sure Michael was overlooking something here about fairness.  So I argued the point with him, but I could not persuade him to take the concept of fairness seriously.

Today I would argue my case differently.  This is what I would say:

the-golden-ruleThere is a huge objective criterion of fairness which has been around since ancient Chinese civilization: the Golden Rule.  The Golden rule can be expressed like this: You morally must not treat another person less well than you would like them to treat you, if your roles were reversed.

And you must treat your marriage partner at least as well as you would like them to treat you in identical circumstances!

Contrary to Michael’s viewpoint, this principle is very easy to apply in situations of conflict with couples in therapy.  Each member of a couple either is, or is not, willing to treat their partner at least as well as they expect to be treated.

This couldn’t be clearer, and (in my opinion) the most likely potential explanations for Michael Edelstein’s inability to see this point, back in 2010, were: (1) that he was influenced by the amoral philosophy of Albert Ellis[3]; and/or (2) the nonsensical philosophy of Logical Positivism; and/or (3) the useless system of Act Utilitarianism (which is much less usable than Rule Utilitarianism); and/or (4) the ubiquitous philosophies of neo-liberalism and post-modern moral relativity! (Because of lack of space, I will have to defer further clarification of the distinction between Act and Rule Utilitarianism until next week).

The debate in 2010

Back to what I wrote to Michael in 2010:

drjim-counsellor9“I’m pretty sure most people would agree on this principle of fairness, no matter how subjective the concept of fairness might seem to be in some other cases.  In other words, although we humans sometimes have problems defining what we mean by fairness, from case to case, we (reasonable people) nevertheless find the concept of fairness indispensable, and we more often than not do find ways to define it which are ‘socially agreed’ (by some group or community, some society or country, some continent, or some strata of some culture, etc.).  In negotiations between individuals, we often find that the idea of what is fair is ‘inter-subjective’ (meaning, shared between several individuals; or common to a whole group of people), and not just ‘merely subjective’ (meaning – when used pejoratively – locked in the mind of one isolated, unrepresentative individual).


At one point, Dr Edelstein got back to me to clarify that his problem with the principle of fairness was a practical one:  How can it be used in couples therapy with squabbling couples?  Surely this is not possible since there do not seem to be any objective criteria by which to define fairness.

Today, I want to test Michael’s perspective against one of the two wheels of the Duluth Domestic Abuse Intervention Project[4].

Objective criteria in couple conflict

non-violent-partnershipThe equality wheel: The equality wheel is segmented into eight subdivisions, each containing one principle.  All eight principles are subsumed under two headings: either ‘Equality’ or ‘Power and control’.

In the remainder of this blog post, I will take a look at just one of the equality/non-violence principles: Negotiation and fairness.

Under this principle (which emphasizes the importance of negotiating outcomes, and doing so fairly), there are three ‘guidelines’, or ‘key points’, as follows:

# Seeking mutually satisfying resolutions to conflict;

# Accepting change; and:

# Being willing to compromise.

My response to Michael would be that, in my relationship with my partner, I can demonstrate fairness by (1) negotiating satisfying resolutions to conflicts; (2) accepting that changes are inevitable, and showing that I am willing to change when (reasonably) necessary; and (3) being willing to compromise when we have conflicting goals or desires.

To apply the ‘principle of generosity’ to Michael Edelstein’s argument, let us focus on his alternative to using the concept of fairness.

“As far as I can tell in working with squabbling couples, both justifying their own position with what’s ‘fair’, I have not arrived at any objective criteria to settle the fairness argument. I tell them, ‘Discussing what is fair is a dead end and often toxic to relationships. Discuss what works for both of you, instead’.”

What could this mean to a couple: (‘What works for both of you’)?

Here are my attempted answers:

  1. If they have a ‘mutual problem’, as defined by Helen Hall Clinard[5], then nothing works for both of them; because what Partner 1 wants is the very opposite of what Partner 2 wants and vice versa; or, at the very least, the two goals are mutually exclusive! (So Michael could study Chapter 4 of Helen’s book, and introduce his couple clients to the process of ‘turning conflict into cooperation’. That would provide him with some practical approaches to building fairness in practice, based on objective criteria.

But there is an immediate, and, I suspect, an insurmountable problem here for Michael, because of his rigid conformity to Albert Ellis’s belief system.  Let me explain:

In the opening paragraph of Chapter 4, Helen Clinard writes this: “Sometimes it is not easy for a person who is causing you a problem to change in the way that you want.  People who work or live together often have conflicting needs”. (Page 109).

But according to (Extreme) REBT theory, people do not have any needs at all (in the interpersonal area)![6]  Apart from air, water and basic food, everything else is treated as a ‘want’ or a ‘desire’ in Extreme REBT.[7] In other words, for Albert Ellis and his extreme stoical followers, ‘need’ is a synonym for the dreaded words – ‘should’ and/or ‘must’ – which “have to be” totally outlawed (and replaced with mere preferences)!

  1. If any of Michael’s couples lack clarity about how to compromise, Michael could teach them how to do that. For example, he could teach them the example used in Getting to Yes, by Fisher and Ury[8] – about sharing an orange – not by arbitrarily cutting it down the middle, but by finding out ‘the reason’ each partner wants the orange, and (perhaps) discovering that one mainly wants the peel (to put in a cake mix) and the other mainly wants the fruit (to squeeze as juice). But, to go down this route, Michael would have to believe that people have rights and needs, and that does not seem to be part of his belief system.
  2. If Michael studied Fisher and Ury, he could then teach his couple clients their basis system, which is:

(a) Separate the people from the problem. (Michael is officially good at this, since REBT theory teaches clients to distinguish between their partner, on the one hand, and their partner’s behaviours on the other).

(b) Talk in terms of interests rather than positions. (This is harder for Michael, because he has been trained to fit the whole phenomenal world into just two boxes – [1] Reality [which Must exist exactly as it is], and [2] Your Preferences [which do not have to exist at all!] Can he make the challenging shift towards considering that clients have real-life interests, {arising out of felt needs} which harden into positions?])

(c) Generate a variety of possibilities before deciding what to do. (This approach fits better into the Egan Model[9] than it would into Michael’s simple ABC model).

(d) Insist that the results be based on some objective standard. (Like the Golden Rule; or mutual influence.  But, would Michael be willing to use the Golden Rule?)


  1. Michael could also teach his couple clients the three ‘key points’ I extracted from the Equality wheel of the Duluth project, as follows:

# 1 Seek mutually satisfying resolutions to conflict;

# 2 Accept change; and:

# 3 Be willing to compromise.

He could cover #1 above with either the Golden Rule, or Helen Clinard’s Mutual Problem Solving process.  Point #3 is covered by Fisher and Ury’s negotiation process; and, again, by the Golden Rule. And point #2 is an expression of the Buddhist principle that “change is the law of life” (and the [moderate] Stoic principle of ‘accepting the things you cannot change’).  Point 2 is also subject to the principle (from Professor John Gottman) that we should “let our partner influence us” – and my refinement, which is this: “Let your partner influence you, up to, but not beyond, the degree to which they are willing to allow you to influence them”!


Moving on…

justice-and-fairnessIf a couple comes to see me, and Partner 1 says that Partner 2 is acting unfairly, I will explore that complaint in terms of how it fits within my understanding of how the Golden Rule – (of treating other people the way we would ideally like to be treated in our turn) – would apply to their situation. I would encourage the partners to compromise, and to seek mutually satisfying resolution to their conflict.

I will try to teach Partner 2 the costs (in the medium to longer term) of acting unfairly; of not compromising; and of not seeking mutually acceptable outcomes (on average). (The cost to the oppressive partner is the ultimate loss of the relationship. The second cost is gaining a reputation for oppressive behaviour and immoral and often illegal action against their partner).

I will teach each partner the absolute necessity to allow their partner to influence them (up to, but not exceeding approximately 50% of the time, on average), and to expect to be able to influence their partner (up to, but not exceeding, about 50% of the time, on average).

If the partners insist on bickering about the precise percentages that each of them gives, or takes, I will conclude one of two things:

  1. Either, one (or both) of them is stuck in exploitation mode; and they are not trusted by their partner; or:
  2. This is a ‘presenting problem’, and the ‘real problem’ is hidden; perhaps a deep, emerging incompatibility, or a serious lack of satisfaction with the love or sex or romance in the relationship. (When a couple is deeply satisfied with the level of love and passion and romance and comfort in their relationship, they both seem to be able to ‘cut their partner some slack’ in their partner’s areas of deficiency!)

My experience

jim-renata-counsellors-hebden-bridgeBut eight or nine times out of ten, when I work with unfairness issues in couples’ therapy, I can help the couple to resolve their problems, by teaching them to operate from The Golden Rule. And by allowing their partner to influence them, on a completely egalitarian basis – give and take.  (“If I do this for you [today], what will you do for me [tomorrow]?”)

I teach them that playing ‘Top-Dog/Under-Dog’ will lead to the dissolution of their marriage or relationship, normally after a protracted period of completely avoidable misery! Or, sometimes, all of a sudden, and without any possibility of fixing it after the fact! (“You had your chance, mate!”)


That’s all for this week.

Part 2 will look at a power and control issue!

Best wishes,


Dr Jim Byrne – Doctor of Counselling

ABC Coaching and Counselling Services



[1] Source:

[2] Byrne, J. (2010b) Fairness, Justice and Morality Issues in REBT and E-CENT. E-CENT Paper No.2(b).  Hebden Bridge: The Institute for E-CENT Studies. Available online:

[3] Byrne, J. (2013) A Wounded Psychotherapist: Albert Ellis’s childhood, and the strengths and limitations of Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT). Hebden Bridge: CreateSpace/I-CENT Publications.  For more information on this book, please go to

[4] See pages 244-245 of Manhood: An action plan for changing men’s lives, by Steve Biddulph: the 1994/98 edition.

[5] Clinard, H.H. (1985) Winning Ways to Succeed With people.  Houston, Texas: Gulf Publishing.

[6] Miller, T. (1993) Self-Discipline and Emotional Control: How to stay calm and productive under pressure.  A CareerTrack audio program.

[7] Miller, T. (1983) So, You Secretly Suspect You’re Worthless, Well You’re Not A Shit and I Can Prove It.  New York: Lakeside Printing.

[8] Fisher and Ury (1990) Getting to Yes: negotiating agreement without giving in. London, Hutchinson Business.

[9] The Egan Model, developed by Gerard Egan, asks three core questions: (1) Where are you now?  (2) Where do you want to get to? And (3) What actions could you take to build a bridge from (1) to (2)?  For more information on this model, go here:

The ABC model asks only (or mainly) this: “What are you telling yourself to make yourself so upset at point C (Consequence) about point A (the noxious stimulus, or Activating Event)?” For more on the ABC model, please go to (In other words, for a classic REBT therapist, the client is NOT upset (by definition) by their partner’s unfairness (or any other feature of their partner’s way of being), but rather by their (the client’s) own beliefs about their partner’s behaviour! This is an expression of the extremist stoicism of Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius. (Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius also developed more moderate positions, such as the principle that its best to accept the things you cannot change, and only try to change the things you can).


The Men’s Movement and the Duluth Model

Blog Post No. 141

By Dr Jim Byrne

Reposted on 31st May (Originally posted on 8th February 2016)

Dr Jim’s Counselling Blog: Duluth model, Domestic violence, Power and Sexism; and the problem of men and sex…

Copyright (c) Jim Byrne, 2016



Although it is really hard to get around to writing blogs at the moment, largely because of the heavy workload on my new book, I feel a strong urge to try to keep up the momentum of my consideration of the Duluth project on Domestic Violence; and how it is linked to wider issues of human relations. As I began to think about what I could write today, some very interesting connections appeared in my mind – after a long walk in Hardcastle Crags with my wonderful wife!

The Duluth model

Duluth-model-courses.jpgThere is quite a lot of material on the internet about the Duluth model.  And I was glad to see that it does take very seriously the social influences on both parties in an abusive relationship; and the historical nature of the problem of domestic violence and emotional abuse.

The Duluth project established as a first principle the need for a consistent response to domestic violence from all social agencies, including: using the police in a zero tolerance process; and giving the police a consistent strategy and belief system about the problem.  This results in a coordinated law enforcement and community response.

The next element, in my reading of the process, is to find a way to help her (the female victim) to liberate herself (and to stop taking on the perspective of the [male] oppressor). And this is where the process becomes problematical for me: because in the UK, fully one-third of victims of domestic violence and abuse are male!  Men! Not ‘her’s, but ‘him’s!  And these people, these victims of violence and abuse, should not be dropped from the description of the process. (More later).

The Duluth model helps the victims of domestic violence to find their own way out; to come to understand that their partner does not have a right to control them.

The Duluth model acknowledges that the problem of domestic violence is a social problemand not an individual problem – the individual abuser and abused grow up in a process ofsocial construction of their sexual and gender identities – in which they internalize stories and images of gender roles and identities – and wrapped up in this is often the idea that “I have the right to batter those people who oppose me, including my marriage partner”.

The Duluth model also teaches antidotes to the various problems (identified on the Power & Control Wheel (see previous blogs) – including teaching sexual respect as opposed to sexual abuse.

You can learn a lot more about the Duluth model here:


The social psychology of power

Men-who-are-battered.jpgI intend to begin this next section with a look at the fact that social psychology of sexism is not able to make any definitive statements at the moment about the dynamics of relations between men and women – except that masculinity is a cherished social identity, and that bad things happen when it is threatened.

If you look at Chapter 13 of The Social Psychology of Power(2010)[1], which is on ‘Power and Sexism’, by Theresa Vescio, Kristine Schlenker and Joshua Lenes, you will find this admission: “Social psychological theory has assumed implicit linkages among power, gender, and sexism, but the specific nature of these linkages has yet to be thoroughly explicated and critically tested”.  (Page 363).

Criticism 1: For this proposition to be valid and helpful – that “masculinity is a cherished social identity, and that bad things happen when it is threatened” – we would have to be confident that:

(a) this happens in most if not all cases; or certainly in a majority of cases; and:

(b) that the opposite was not also true.  (That is to say, we would have to be confident that femininity is not a cherished identity, and there are never (or almost never) any bad consequences when feminine identity is threatened).

Criticism 2: We would also have to be confident that our proposition could not be incorporated into the broader conception that when an individual’s self-concept, or ego image, is threatened, they tend to respond badly.

And if we gave any thought to that idea, we might be inclined to change our claim to this:

Some individual egos seem to be so fragile that, when they are threatened, they tend to respond badly, for example, defensively or aggressively.

Social-psychology-power.jpgBy this point, I have lost confidence in the validity and viability of Vescio, Schlenker and Lenes’ (2010) proposition regarding masculine identity, threat, and bad responses.

What these authors ignore is that femininity (or female identity) is also a cherished social identity.  And that sometimes females react badly to threats to their self-concept.


Soft and harsh influencing tactics

These authors also distinguish between soft versus harsh influencing tactics as supposedly used by men.  The idea is that when masculinity is threatened, men turn from using soft means of influencing their female partner, to the use of harsh influencing tactics, which presumably include verbal and physical aggression.

But this cannot explain a huge element of the statistics on domestic violence.  That is to say it cannot explain how to account for those occasions when women switch from soft influencing tactics into using verbal and physical violence against their male partner!

So, as it stands at the moment, the research project sketched out by Vescio, Schlenker and Lenes (2010) – to explore the circumstances under which men flip from soft to harsh influencing tactics, as their masculine identity is threatened, cannot help us to understand the real problem (and certainly not the whole problem) of domestic violence (which is perpetrated by both men and women).

Further clarification

In blog post 139, on 16th January 2016, I presented a list of statistics for domestic violence in the UK. The first two lines of those key statistics were as follows:

# 1. Each year around 2.1m people suffer some form of domestic abuse – 1.4 million women (8.5% of the population) and 700,000 men (4.5% of the population)[2].

# 2. Each year more than 100,000 people in the UK are at high and imminent risk of being murdered or seriously injured as a result of domestic abuse.[3]

Firstly, with regard to line # 1 above: More than one third of the people who “suffer some form of domestic abuse”, are men.  So quite clearly, this horrible statistic owes nothing to the fact that “masculine identity is cherished”: which is assumed to call up ‘bad response’ when it is threatened.  Clearly, the reason most of those men are being abused has something to do with the family history of the women who abuse them!

Of course, it is very bad that two thirds of those victims are women; but this is a question of degree and not of qualitative difference between the genders!

Male-victims.JPGSecondly, with regard to line # 2, we do not know the gender breakdown of those potential victims of murder or serious injury.  It may be that many more women than men are seriously injured or killed by their partners or ex-partners. This is a horrible fact (e.g. two women each week are killed by a partner or former partner.  Truly horrible!) But this apparent differential between the impact of male violence – (death and serious injury) – and female violence – (serious and minor injury) – is no cause for celebration by women; no indicator of some kind of cultural superiority of women over men.  On the contrary, women have been spared their own deep blushes by virtue – very largely – of the fact that they do not have the muscle-power (on average) to do as much harm to their partners as they might have done if they were more physically powerful!


So, in the absence of any real help from the experts on the social psychology of power, I am going to have to ‘plough my own furrow’, if I am going to make sense of the Duluth model for myself.

That means I have to try to fill in the blanks and gaps from my own prior reading, studying and questioning of what is going on in the world of relations between men and women.  And also use my seventeen years’ experience of working with couples with all kinds of problems of conflict.


Potential reasons for domestic violence

If I had the funding to set up a research project on domestic violence, I would want to research the following aspects of couple relationships:

  1. Given that sixty percent of the population have been estimated to have secure attachment styles (arising out of ‘good enough mothering’ in their early childhood), and that twenty percent are probably anxious-ambivalent, and a further twenty percent are anxious-avoidant, how might this relate to the statistics for domestic violence?

(a) Is it possible that we would find that domestic violence is very low among those people who are found to have secure attachment styles?

Violent-ambivalents.JPG(b) Is it possible that the majority of violent partners (male and female) would be found to have the anxious-ambivalent attachment (or clinging) style of insecure attachment?

(c) Is it possible that a minority of violent partners (male and female) would be found to have the anxious-avoidant (or remote) attachment style of insecure attachment?

(d) Given that some anxious-ambivalent types and some avoidant types are also found to have the additional complication of what is called the “disorganized attachment style” – in which they sometimes cling, sometimes avoid, and often go blank and find it difficult to process what is going on in their relationships – and that these “disorganized types” come primarily from families in which they felt their parent or parents were frightening (or frightened), might it not be the case that disorganized attachment style would show up significantly more often that the other styles in the perpetrators of domestic violence?

(e) And, to what degree can the Duluth model address such problems of insecure attachment style? Do they allow sufficiently for the idea of the need for therapy?  Or do they assume that the influence of family history, including violent family history, can easily be sloughed off in an ‘advice session’ or an educational process? And, in any case, can therapy really help in these situations, when the offender may often not be aware of the need to take responsibility for their dysfunctional relationship style? And we must also remember that some people have character distortions – tendencies towards evil behaviour – because of their earliest, inadequate socialization experiences.


So, attachment styles would be my first area of research interest.

  1. But, secondly:  I would also be interested in looking at the role of sexual jealousy to see:

(a) how frequently that is the trigger that challenges masculine identity, (and female identity), and triggers angry retribution. And:

Ego-state-offerders.JPG(b) I would also want to look at how much of this sexual jealousy problem is an outgrowth of sexual dissatisfaction in the female, resulting from the lack of sex-education of the male.

  1. And, thirdly: After the previous areas of research, I would be interested in exploring the ego-state profile of those offenders (using Transactional Analysis), to see how often these individuals show up as “scoring high on Critical Parent ego state”; or “scoring high on Angry-Rebellious Child ego state”.  This would lead to the question of how to help those individuals to “grow their Adult ego states”, and specifically the Good (Moral) Side of the Adult ego state, rather than the cunning or calculating, bad (and immoral) side.  Again this would call for therapy (and particularly character-forming therapy, with a moral core – like E-CENT) – rather than mere advice or guidance.


The centrality of sexuality to male-female relationships

And as I worked on the content of Appendix F of my new book – an appendix on how to understand and control depression – yesterday – I kept getting this intrusive thought: “The twin foundations of a good relationship are comfort and passion”.  And, in this context, of couple relationships, ‘passion’ means ‘sexual passion’.  And I found myself wondering about the sex-education of the specifically male offenders who are addressed by the Duluth model.

This is not to deny that women are also offenders, but I want to focus for a moment on men.

Individual men grow up in families in which they get to have various experiences of relationship, secure or insecure, safe or frightening, and they watch the relationships between their mother and father for clues as to what a man is; and how a man functions; and what love is; and how to get it, and give it.  And, let’s face it, most men are seriously short-changed in this so-called social education.  And in most schools, they are being shaped for a role in the labour market – often a lowly role.  Their education is not primarily about learning social education, emotional education, how to relate to the other kids, and so on. And when they get up towards puberty, what kind of sex-education do they get?  In the past, almost nothing – except perhaps some horror stories about the badness of sex.  And more recently, perhaps a harassed teacher who is in a bad relationship trying to ‘cover the sex education curriculum” in a quick and dirty fashion, to minimize their own embarrassment; and also so we can all get back to the real business of education, which is, er… learning how to be a passive employee in an uncaring economy! (This is my current best guess, or inference).


Men and sex – a case of promoted ignorance

Men-and-sex-Zilbergeld.jpgAnd so I stopped writing about depression and went and found Bernard Zilbergeld’s excellent book, entitled Men and Sex: A guide to sexual fulfilment. Chapter 3 is very instructive.  The title is this: ‘It’s two feet long, hard as steel, and can go on all night: the fantasy model of sex’.

Human sexuality is a learned phenomenon, and yet we are all told to just ‘be spontaneous’, and ‘do what comes naturally’.  But almost nothing of our cultural sexuality ‘comes naturally’.  We learned it, from somebody, and more often than not, those experts were talking out of their rear ends. And even though we went along with the fantasies we learned, at least to some degree, many of us men also feel anxious because deep down, we know we haven’t the slightest idea about how to be sexually intimate in a relaxed and loving and playful manner (to the degree that we are depended upon traditional male sex ‘education’).

The fantasy model of sex comes to us from authors like Henry Miller, Harold Robbins, Norman Mailer, Mickey Spillane, and their more modern equivalents. What these authors taught us is this:

Every man wants to have sex all the time.  Sex is all about the hard driving f**k.  Real men, they insisted to us, have a big steel cock which can go all night.  This is what women want, we were told.  We were asked to believe – when we were too young to have much critical sense – that women literally want to be ‘split apart’ by a big steel cock! 

What utterly misleading nonsense!


Other influences

Of course, some of us also got a ‘second education’.  One in which we were told of the historic abuse of women by men, which made us feel guilty about wanting to use our non-existent big steel cocks on any of them.

And some of us got an earlier education in which sex was outlawed as sinful and dirty!

And some proportion of us felt totally split by the guilt induced by the Women’s Movement, because, somewhere, just below the level of conscious awareness, we still carried the emotionally charged memories of being beaten by our mothers – slapped physically, and verbally abused. Or hearing our mothers encouraging our fathers to beat us with his belt!

And then one day we got our chance to ‘make it’ with a woman; but we found we did not have a big steel cock (surprise, surprise!); and we were too timid to ask for what we would really like in the way of comfortable intimacy.  And so we were caught in a nasty net. We had no idea who we were in all this, and no idea how to find a way out. We were now flying at low altitude in a flimsy plane that was far from airworthy; flying too close to adjacent mountain ranges; and unable to bail out! (Thank you very much, Henry Miller!)


Ignorance of female sexuality

Sex-and-erection-ejaculation.JPGZilbergeld presents ten myths that men are persuaded to believe about sex, each of which is false; and all of which set men up to fail, to feel anxious, and to be unable to function as good lovers of their female partners. Then, in Chapter 5, he presents a case study which shows just how bad the situation can be:

“Arthur (a client of mine) said in his initial interview that he was a premature ejaculator.  When asked if he had any control over when he ejaculated, he answered affirmatively, indicating that he could last for thirty-five minutes to forty minutes in intercourse.  But that obviously wasn’t sufficient, he maintained, since his wife climaxed only rarely.  He thought that if he could last a few minutes longer, his wife would have more orgasms”. (Page 80, Men and Sex).

Now, if I (Jim) heard that Arthur’s wife had become angry and aggressive with him, I would not be the least bit surprised, after such a long period of pointless pumping!

“Arthur was looking in the wrong place”, writes Zilbergeld. “Teaching him to last for fifty minutes or two hours would probably have been a huge waste of time.  Anyone who has some control over when he ejaculates or who can last for thirty minutes can by no stretch of the imagination be called a premature ejaculator.

“What Arthur didn’t realize is that many women never have orgasms during intercourse and that many others reach orgasm this way only a small percentage of the time unless supplementary manual stimulation is applied (to the clitoris – J.B.) simultaneously. Lasting for hours on end doesn’t help the situation any and will probably only bore everybody.  If you are labelling yourself premature, carefully examine what you mean by that and how realistic your goals are for lasting longer”. (Pages 80-81).

Arthur has no idea how female sexuality works, like many men, and perhaps most men, even today, in our ‘enlightened times’.


Finding a way towards male sexual wisdom

Metal_Dog__Long_Roa_Cover_for_Kindle (853x1280)I was very unfortunate in getting my sex education from the Irish Catholic church.  I was, however, very fortunate (at the age of eighteen years) to meet a fairly sensible guy who was studying an encyclopaedia of sex, and he shared some of his insights with me, especially about sensual touch.  That was helpful, because it conveyed to me that sex was importantly about caressing the body of the woman in a way that would not tickle or scratch, but instead excite and please her.  But I only had one conversation with this guy, so he didn’t have time to get to the genitals, alas!

But I was fortunate to find out about the location and function of the clitoris in my early twenties, quote by accident: and that is an essential piece of sex education for all males.  I wonder what proportion of the offenders dealt with via the Duluth model are really victims of poor sex education, which is taken into a long-term relationship, and combined with an insecure attachment style, and poor communication skills?  That’s an explosive mixture.

The reason I was so keen to publish Daniel O’Beeve’s autobiographical novel – Metal Dog, Long Road Home – some time ago, was that, part way into reading his manuscript, I realized that Daniel was really educating the male reader in the journey he had taken from sexual ignorance to sexual wisdom.  Of course, his journey was also one that started with his inability to feel and express love, and progressing to the point of becoming a fine lover in a wonderful relationship with a wise woman.

Daniel’s initiation into sex

I knew I was reading a future classic when I came to the chapter where he is an innocent twenty-two year old virgin, wandering through rain-swept Blackpool; alone and lonely; and then he bumps into the woman with whom he will first experience the joys of conjugal sex.   This is how it begins:

Daniel is in Blackpool, working at the Dental Manufacturing Company, living in a boarding house, with his corrupt younger brother.  He has come to this place with his younger brother, Tandy, at his mother’s request.  It seems Tandy was “interfering with his younger sister”, and their mother asked Daniel to “take him away”.

Daniel is very unhappy; it’s a rainy Saturday, late afternoon; and he’s walking along the prom in the pouring rain; then he stops into a fish and chip shop to get some food to take away.  On the queue, he meets a beautiful dark-haired woman who lives next door to his boarding house.  They get chatting, and she shares her umbrella with him on the way home; and then invites him in to eat their fish and chips together.  After eating, they sit and watch TV together, and smoke cigarettes.

Brief Extract from Daniel’s book:

Section 4 (of Chapter 8). My coming of age…

Metal_Dog__Long_Roa_Cover_for_Kindle (853x1280)Two hours later we were still watching television together; and then I found my face close to hers, so I kissed her.  She (Belinda) responded passionately, and we hugged and kissed for quite a while.  She ended up lying across the sofa, and I was lying on top of her, kissing her, and fondling her body through her clothes.  Then she had to go to the toilet, so she slid out from under me, and I lay on my belly on the sofa.

I heard the toilet flush, and suddenly she was on my back, grinding her hips against my bottom.  I became very aroused, and we began to undress.  I picked her up and carried her, naked, to her bed.  As we fell into the bed, I slipped between her legs and entered her moist vagina.

It was like an explosion at the centre of the earth, reverberating throughout the whole universe.  My first fuck; my first ejaculation inside a woman.  I was no longer a self-doubting virgin.  I was at last A MAN!  At the age of twenty-two.

Better late than never!

As I fell into a deep, satisfying sleep, I had a big, broad grin on my silly face!


At some indeterminate juncture in space-time, this scenario was played out; possibly in a dream, or a dissociated fantasy.  Three alien beings are peering into Belinda’s flat in Blackpool, through their directable wormhole in space-time:

Professor Valises is rubbing his three eyes with his little, blue, furry hands: “What just happened?” he asks, as he looks at his two colleagues.

Kolonel Balaga: “In the parlance of this part of the infinitely mystifying universe, ‘Prince Cinders just got his end away!’”

“But did he not notice the contract?” asked Dr Kala.

Kolonel Balaga: “What contract?”

“Very well observed, doctor”, said the professor: “Belinda quite clearly told him, in plain English, that she always falls in love for a brief period, becomes very passionately involved, and then falls out again, by falling in love with somebody else.”

“Oh, yeah!” said the kolonel.  “Now I think back: you’re right.  She did.  She said she always falls hopelessly in love, for a few weeks, then the passion dies, and she falls for somebody else.”

Professor Valises: “So why is Daniel still here?”

“Well,” said the kolonel: “the poor sap does not have many alternative places to be.  He doesn’t want to be next door with his degenerate brother; and he does not want to be out wandering the streets in the wind and rain”.

“But now he is in for some serious pain”, said Dr Kala, glancing from the professor to the kolonel.  “She’ll let him down hard, and it will wound him seriously.  If this was me, I would take her at her word, and run away.”

The kolonel looked thoughtful: “Well,” he mused, “we’ve been monitoring this likable idiot for a long time now; and he has never had a break half as good as this.  Even if she throws him out the window on his head in the morning, he will still be leagues ahead of where he was just three hours ago.” 

Professor Valises looks worried: “I just don’t understand humans; and especially this one.  She told him how she has always related to men; by loving them and then leaving them.  And he says: ‘It won’t be like that with us’! Where did he get that idea?”

Dr Kala: “That response fits the facts as I see them.  Daniel is a twenty-two-year-old innocent, going on fifteen.  He has that silly Dostoevskian Idiot-Prince script: ‘If I am good and pious, everything else will take care of itself (through the love of God)’.  Nobody told him about Hiroshima!  Or Mai Lai!  Or Auschwitz; or the Gulags.  Or all the good, god-fearing Christian black people in the US who are treated like trash.  He doesn’t even know the history of the people of Crumble-Baan.” 

Professor Valises: “I wish we were allowed to intervene.  I would like to at least be standing under the window to catch him when she throws him out!”


I was unaware of this commentary upon my life.  I had more important things to experience.

I was snuggled up to Belinda, sleeping in her bed, with a self-satisfied grin on my face.


  1. The unknown art of love…

Those alien beings never sleep.  They are on constant watch to see how their subject behaves:

Professor Valises: “How long have we been studying humans; jointly and individually; collectively?”

Dr Kala: “About fifty to seventy years”.

“And in that time,” says the professor, “how many have we found who could think straight in the presence of sexual excitement?”

Dr Kala and Kolonel Balaga speak in unison: “Precisely none!”

The little blue professor smiles, and then chuckles: “Look at that silly grin on his boyish face. If I had tear ducts I think I could actually cry on his behalf!”

Dr Kala: “Yeah! Humans will endure any kind of pain in exchange for this kind of transient sexual encounter.”


In the middle of the night I awoke, got up and went to the bathroom.  I was very happy.  A voice was singing in my head, and my heart was warm and happy.  Within a couple of minutes I was back in bed, dreaming.

The aliens’ viewing window was open:

Professor Valises: “He looks happy, doesn’t he?”

Ober-Kolonel Mitta Balaga: “Yeah. Ignorance is bliss.”

Dr Kala: “You mean, his ignorance of the contract; that she will throw him out after a few weeks?”

Kolonel Balaga: “Well, yes, that.  But also, did you not notice something about the love-making?” 

Dr Kala: “Ahhhh?  No! I don’t think I did!”

Kolonel Balaga: “Don’t you think it was very quick? Speedy? Kind of ‘wham, bam, thank you ma’am’?”

Dr Kala: “Wow!  Of course.  You’re right.  And she said nothing about it.  She did not ask him to take care of her needs.”

Professor Valises: “Well spotted.  And that may be why she gets tired of her lovers so quickly.  She does not specify what she wants and needs; and they take care of their own needs, and ignore hers.”

Dr Kala: “Holy Shit! That’s a bad sign.  This relationship is doomed!”


…End of extract!



Metal_Dog__Long_Roa_Cover_for_Kindle (853x1280)Daniel’s story shifts to new locations, new points in time, moves back and forward along the time line of his fascinatingly difficult life of confusion and ignorance, and his struggles to understand what it means to be male, and how to find love.

(PS: Before Belinda had got involved with Daniel, she’d had a long string of casual relationships.  When she was much younger, she had been married, but her husband found she had been unfaithful to him, and he cut her face in several places with a flick knife!  The link to Duluth!  Her husband responded like somebody whose self-concept had been seriously undermined; but none of her subsequent or previous short-term lovers did so!)

On the way out of his relationship with Belinda – the storyline of which has to be seen to be believed – Daniel discovers, too late, a copy of a book called the Myth of the Female Orgasm. He discovers the nature and location of the clitoris way too late to save his relationship with Belinda.  (He leaves because Belinda has been unfaithful to him – but if this undermined his cherished sense of masculinity, it did not call forth any bad behaviour from him.  He did not berate her, or hit her.  But then, he was an ‘avoidant’ rather than a ‘clinger’!)

And my main point is this.  If many of the men who fall foul of the Duluth project were to have read Daniel’s story of his journey from sexual innocence and ignorance, to sexual wisdom and emotional maturity, they might well have avoided the shameful fate of becoming ‘wife batterers’!

If you want to read Daniel’s story, you can get a paperback copy or a Kindle version here:

Metal Dog – Long Road Home – at the ABC Bookstore…


That’s all for now.

Best wishes, and brotherly affection.


Dr Jim Byrne

ABC Coaching and Counselling Services