Intimate Terrorism: The Deterioration of Erotic Life by Michael Vincent Miller came out in 1995, but I didn’t read it until 2011. Miller believes that men and women are trapped in an adolescent view of what intimate loving relationships should be and then make constant ‘terrorist’ attacks on each other when inevitably they don’t get what they think they should. He draws illustrative examples from literature from John Cheever, Willa Cather, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and D.H. Lawrence and from movies like Annie Hall, Fatal Attraction and from much-publicized relationships such as that of Woody Allen-Mia Farrow and its breakup.
He says that when two people begin to fail at making each other feel powerful through appreciating and affirming one another they may seek to gain power for the sake of protection at the other’s expense. This leads to intimate terrorism.
Lover’s touch each other in tender places, but so do intimate terrorists. Lovers do so for the sake of pleasure, but intimate terrorists do so for the sake of power. Terror can come in the form of saintliness, rationality, complacency, ambivalence, emotional openness, and endless explanations, lying and telling the truth. There can be silence, infidelity, coldness in bed and indifference to each other’s concerns. There can also be jealousy, criticism and infantilizing.
In marriage and other intimate relations, such faith comes to an end. When two people are consumed with their own anxieties are no longer able to experience each other as a whole, then the problems set in. Lovers can idealize each other at the beginning only to project negative qualities on each other at the end.
“There is no terror like that of being known,” said Ralph Waldo Emerson and he was right. The intimate terrorist can do a great deal more damage than that of a stranger. In order to save the marriage to two people involved must be able to overcome hatred and the disagreements that cause that hatred.
Keep in mind that it is not absolute power that corrupts a marriage, but powerlessness that corrupts a marriage. When one person feels powerless then things are going to deteriorate quickly. The power balance must restored or the marriage must end. In any case, Miller urges couples to create “breathing space” first and foremost.
He’s so pessimistic in tone he doesn’t leave much hope, but he does do a thorough job of exploring the topic in depth. It is definitely worth a read.