Intermittent “good behaviour” can keep a couple from getting needed help for their marriage. I see this all the time, and I know it is extremely difficult to break the cycle.
Basically, it looks like this – one spouse is either doing something that is harmful to the other or to the marriage, or they are refusing to do something that is necessary for the other or the marriage – BUT, every so often, the person does the right thing. That moment of doing what is right, that intermittent good behaviour, is done just often enough to keep hope alive. It’s a lot like starving someone to near death, and then giving them just enough to keep them marginally alive. When they are about to crawl off to find food on their own (or to just die and get it over with) an extra large portion of food is presented, possibly with promises of more regular feeding. However, those promises are short lived, and soon it’s back limiting.
What I hate about this, and yes, I use that strong work intentionally, 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 is not really an issue – it is 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.
Let me suggest that keeping someone on the edge of starvation is not 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 that 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 .
OTOH, if you are guilty of doing this to your bride, please know that you are killing her love for you, and destroying your marriage and any children you have. This is an extremely cruel thing to do, and you need to stop immediately. If you can’t stop, get help – please.