Lets play games. Part II – Marital Games



Based on Games People Play by Eric Berne

Corner: Illustrates clearly that most games have a manipulative aspect and their function is to serve as a barrier to intimacy. This game plays more or less like this

  1. Mrs. White suggests to her husband that they go to the movies. Mr. White agrees.
  2. Mrs. White makes an “unconscious” slip. She mentions quite naturally that the house needs painting. This is an expensive project and Mr. White has recently told her that their finances are strained and requests that she doesn’t embarrass or annoy him by suggesting unusual expenditures, at least until the beginning of the new month. This is therefore an ill-chosen moment to bring up the condition of the house and Mr. White responds rudely.
  3. Mrs. White takes offense and says that if he is in one of his bad moods, she will not go to the movies with him and he had best go by himself. He says if that is the way she feels about it, he will go alone.
  4. Mr. White goes to the movies alone (or out with the boys), leaving Mrs. White at home to nurse her injured feelings.

There are two possible gimmicks to this game. A. Mrs. White knows from past experiences that she’s not supposed to take his annoyances seriously. What he really wants is for her to show some appreciation for how hard he works. But she refuses to play and he feels badly let down.  B. Mr. White knows from past experiences that he is not supposed to take her pique seriously. What she really wants is to be honeyed out of it; then they would go off happily together. But he refuses to play. He leaves the house, feeling cheerful and relieved but looking wronged. The most obvious gain here is avoiding intimacy.

Courtroom: Is usually played in the therapist office, it has three players, the plaintiff, the defendant and the judge (usually the therapist). The husband begins plaintively “Let me tell you what she did yesterday. She took…etc etc” The wife then responds defensively, “Here’s the way it really was…and besides just before that he was…and anyway at the time we were both…”

In its everyday form this game is best observed played between two siblings and a parent.

Frigid woman: The husband makes advances to his wife and she is repulsed. After repeated attempts, he is told that all men are beasts and all they are interested in is sex. He desists for a time, then tries again with the same result. Eventually he resigns himself and makes no further advances. As the weeks or months pass, the wife becomes increasingly informal and sometimes forgetful. She walks around half dressed or forgets her towel when she takes a bath so he has to bring it to her. If she drinks heavily she may become flirtatious with other men at parties. At length he responds to these provocations and tries again only to be rejected again. So he stops trying. He declines the negligee parade and forgotten towel. Then one evening she actually approaches him. At first he doesn’t respond remembering his resolution but then nature takes over and now he thinks he surely has it made. His first attempts are not repulsed but he becomes bolder and bolder wife steps back and cries: “See what did I tell you, all men are beasts. All I wanted was affection but all you’re interested in is sex!”

Uproar: This one of the most important marital games. The premise is a strong sexual desire but it accompanied by a strong fear of intimacy. Right before the unspoken moment of intimacy, one of the partners picks a fight. It can be about anything but usually involves misplaced feelings of jealousy. The fight ends with both partners retrieving in separate rooms slamming the door. This asserts that they have their own separate spaces where the other is not allowed.

What games do you play?

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