I laid down my notes for chapter 5 of Schnarch’s Passionate Marriage over at Unsolicited Advice WP. Now I’m going to see if I can illustrate how those concepts have worked and played out with Arwyn and me in our marriage.
When we first met, Arwyn was the one who went after me. She pursued me, called me and asked me out. She’s the one who suggested getting naked the first time we ever had sex. She seemed to like and want it everyday, twice a day! I almost got concerned about whether or not she was some sort of nymphomaniac and whether I could keep up or not! In fact, I almost (almost) got to point where I saw sex as a chore! I mean it was night time and it was time for sex. We woke up and it was time for more sex. But the sex wasn’t terribly adventurous and the passion…meh. But she was perfect in so many ways and had such an apparently easy temperament. She seemed so perfect. Almost too perfect.
Sex is a crucible for growth and seems to cultivate emotional fusion. It can deepen emotional ties and create increased significance between two people. It’s the wonderful and awful thing about it. It feels pretty good, too!
So why was my now overly frigid wife so willing to fuck the hell out of me back in those early days?
It’s because she was far from the laid back person she presented. She suffered from some really deep insecurities that created tension. That tension and anxiety drove her into seeking acceptance in the one way pretty much guaranteed to get my attention. Sex. This is why Schnarch says that some tension can increase sexual desire and behavior. This is why we see this tape played and replayed so many times over and over. That early sexual feast is largely driven by insecurity and a need to be needed and accepted.
But that sort of acceptance is only so deep. At some point, someone is going to feel used and in this case it was the person who started it, which was Arwyn. It was inevitable, though. Either she was going to get there, or I would. I could not even sustain the everyday 2x a day rate we were doing and if I had backed off sooner she might have stepped up the eroticism. However any move she made in that regard was going to be short-lived.
A lot of people have commented that Arwyn lives in a world where she gets what she wants. She can live and enjoy life at my expense and doesn’t have to suffer through sex. But that isn’t true at all. Like anyone else, Arwyn wants intimacy and closeness and she doesn’t have it. And she isn’t keen to fuck someone who treats her like a fucktoy. So she avoids sex and sexual discussions and even sexual thoughts. The reason is that intimacy involves a whole lot of risk, not the least of which is the risk of losing it. She knows full well the pain of such loss. So in a sense, there is some operant pain-avoidance going on. It’s not so much the fear of intimacy, but the fear of its loss.
And that, my friends, perfectly and utterly matches mine. I fear abandonment and loss every bit as keenly as Arwyn. Make no mistake: intimacy scares the hell out me. Not so much the closeness itself but the fear of its loss. Therefore, these fears play out neatly in how I experience Arwyn’s sexual rejection. I feel like she is totally abandoning me. I feel like that because I am not sufficiently differentiated. I need her to validate me through sexual desire. It’s the reflected sense of self at work. That’s where all this loneliness and depression comes from. I feel abandoned. At the same time, we have pretty much adopted the same strategy for dealing with our mutual fears: emotional withdrawal.
We really are a perfect match. Only in a fairly destructive and dysfunctional way.
Ironically, that distance and avoidance has given us some room for introspection. She is working on herself independent of stuff I’m doing. In a sense, the avoidance has sort of worked for us. We’re growing in ways we would not have done outside of the marital system. And that’s kind of what’s amazing about marriage: it’s a system unto itself that sort of encourages growth and correction in its own way. So while Arwyn and I follow this one particular path, other couples can grow following a different and less avoiding path.
The insight I’ve acquired here has helped me see where some of those folks on my blogroll are at. FTN, who seems like a fairly decent guy and his wife, Autumn, sometimes defy conventional explanations of sexual dysfunction. But apply the idea of differentiation and some of Autumn’s hang-ups (and FTN’s corresponding self-reflected insecurities) make sense. XH and his wife have a similar interaction going as far as intimacy. XH has a basic awareness that they aren’t meeting their sexual potential but is a bit confused by it in light of improved frequency and more varied sex acts. It’s more a matter of intimacy than just sex as an act.
Hazel who is the perfect female LL person models this very well in her relationship with a husband who appears terribly selfish and lazy. Her and her husband both seem to suffer from a buttload of anxiety. It keeps her from enjoying sex and keeps him from even trying to connect emotionally during sex instead preferring to make it a mechanical porn reenactment.
Mu Ling, C-Marie, Joeflirt, Nutty Man, Xi , Aphron and right on down the blogroll…these are all the same sort of growthy systems which seem to have big doses of emotional fusion going on. We’re frustrated because we care about what the other person thinks.
I need to give a few folks special mention, though. Oblivion, Trueself and Desperate Husband have seemingly responded to their issues by going outside the system. They got lovers on the side or “friends with benefits.” On one level they are trying to get out but on another they seem to be lingering where they are. They may have progressed a bit on the differentiation ladder bit it isn’t going to be much. The reason is that a new and long distance relationship is going to involve the same sort of dynamic Arwyn and I had and every other relationship in the beginning. They have the tension of insecurity and newness and that super machine of the reflected sense of self working overtime (along with a biological cocktail of powerful endorphins) combined to blind them to the fusion they are going to have to work through down the road eventually.
Two others need to be mentioned, here. Therese and RS give us some unique perspective because we have two married folk blogging separately. It’s also unique because RS has been the lower desire one seemingly pulling the puppet strings to Therese’s HL. Funnily enough, I expect this script to be switched with the second child. But regardless, it is similar to all the other cases above. It is a case of two people who do care about each other but struggle with how to deal with the other person’s significance and the threat of loss through lack or respect, lack of acceptance or abandonment physically through divorce or death. They have done so many right and proper things to get closer to each other before and during their marriage. RS’s affair wasn’t so much a sexual thing as it was having issues with his emotional fusion with Therese. They are going to be working on that issue the same as the rest of us; forever.
I never said differentiation was fun.
Like any other kind of growth it is pretty painful. But you are either growing or you’re not. And if you’re not, you’re probably dying. But take no solace there, as I suspect there will be a lot more growth in the hereafter!
Hugging Till Relaxed
Since I’ve started this chapter I might as well blog where I’m at with it, since Arwyn is camped on the computer. Also working on this is relatively easy so far.
When I first saw the title for chapter 6, I thought, “Why devote an entire chapter to hugging? The title pretty much says it all right? You hug and keep hugging through the initial jolt until you are both relaxed. Good enough. Next!”
But with Schnarch nothing is ever straight forward or as simple as it seems. I may or may not get into all the theory and mechanics behind it all, but I can report on some initial findings in this area.
First off, Arwyn and I are not terribly huggy with each other, especially when we’re not feeling close. However, it is something that we can still do and she really doesn’t feel terribly threatened by it. So while reading this chapter, I couldn’t wait to try it out to see how things worked or didn’t. And it was interesting.
One thing emphasized about Schnarch is the idea of having a self-supporting stance during the hug instead of leaning into each other like an A frame. This is what you might call a “Differentiation stance” with the idea being that both partners can enjoy the hug more when neither or both are off balance. So when I did this, it made we realize how much I was usually leaning into Arwyn and how much weight I would put on her as I would try to meld into her. Ah! Fusion! And fusion is not a good thing, here. So I do have a recollection of her complaining about my heaviness at times, and herr not being able to handle extended hugging because of that.
I approached her in the kitchen and she was taking some shirts somewhere to be hung up and I simply stepped in front of her. And that was all there was to it. She went easily into a hug and had no problems with it at all. And she really had no problems staying in the hug for an extended time either. There wasn’t as much interaction with each other because my youngest son wanted to either get in the act or deliver commentary. But we hugged for a good minute or so. She wanted to finish hanging her shirt so she gave me a quick kiss and was off. End of experiment.
How relaxed was I? Not terribly. Looking right at her just had me getting awash in insecurity about my breath, my hair and my face. But I held on. She was sort of leaning on me and would drop her head on my chest as I am a full head taller than her. Her arms were up about my neck and shoulders and were a lot more relaxed than my arms around her which were a bit on the tight side until I noticed and sought a more comfortable posture for them.
So in this particular exercise, it would appear that I might be the more tense partner of the two of us. Also it does nicely demonstrate that we are not so totally estranged and separate as I might convey at times. There’s at least enough room for this little affection and that’s something. It shows that there is room for affection and maybe some intimacy down the road, you think? A lot of the lack/loss of intimacy is on account of me being such a prickly pear. I do project a heaviness that can often intimidate. Also I don’t invest a lot into relationships because I don’t want to lose and be rejected. It’s just easier to ward people off in the first place than contend for them to keep them from leaving.
All that from just a hug.
More research to follow.