I’m working on an entry applying some of the Schnarchian principles to chastity but since doing more reading I need some additional processing space. So here you go.
The hugging chapter was revealing as was my little experiment which has not been repeated. Schnarch says that it usually takes at least 2 minutes to find a truly relaxed and connected state and sometimes over 20 minutes and even then there’s no guarantee. I found it interesting because in Dr. Phil’s Relationship Rescue program he prescribes hugging for 2 minutes every day. And it was at that point that Arwyn decided to opt out of it for an unspecified amount of time.
Schnarch’s most famous suggestion for revving up sex is to have eyes-open sex. And he does get to that, but I wanted to spend some time with kissing and foreplay as a sort of foreplay into actually talking about sex. And like the hugging, there is a lot going on in the kissing and foreplay.
First off, Schnarch does chide us all for feeling perfectly comfortable demanding that our partner look at us while talking but see nothing wrong with not looking at the person we are kissing while kissing them. Movies and television and other role models perpetuate this behavior for sure. Everyone closes their eyes when they kiss! Right? In fact I remember an old song (maybe by Crystal Gayle?) that chided her lover for no longer closing his eyes when they kissed. But we really do sort of put ourselves in a position of having to practice some sort of emotional braille with this particular foreplay-like behavior. In fact I’ve started sometimes opening my eyes when Arwyn and I are doing the perfunctory “off to work” kiss. I’m not sure how I’d feel about have her eyes looking back but I’m willing to explore.
Kissing is one of those areas where we begin to negotiate the terms of our intimacy. It probably means more in terms of our own perceptions than it does about our partner’s state of mind in how we perceive it. We can’t really truly know, even if we ask. But we usually don’t for the same reason we keep our eyes closed. Namely, we can only tolerate only so much intimacy. We may claim we want more but that claim rarely truly plays out in our own behavior. We act in selfish ways and succumb to selfish interpretations in order to justify our own behaviors which usually truly get in the way of intimacy.
Foreplay is even more of a mine field. Or mindfield. According to Schnarch, foreplay always takes place. It may be pretty freakin’ short, but it always happens. It is where both partners negotiate where the boundaries are for whatever intimacies that are to follow. He even goes so far as to describe it as a sort of pushing and shoving match between married couples as they attempt to gain whatever position. Anyone reading me for a long enough time can attest to that as we’ve had a number of these sort of interactions. According to Schnarch, it’s not about communicating because we are, in fact, communicating butt loads in these little slapfests. It happens because we are so emotionally fused that there is total and absolute gridlock. Arwyn feels like an abused victim and I feel like a rapist. Poorly differentiated couples can not tolerate a lot of intimacy so it is not uncommon that foreplay be very short or almost skipped altogether. What little there is is often scripted and mundane. This is because the fused couples can not self-soothe and opt for the safety of a routine.
For instance those of us who begin with a back rub every time. What is your partner doing during the backrub? Mine is lying face down and is almost always absolutely silent. In fact, sex is a terribly silent exercise. There is very little talking but I’m sure there is gobs of tension, anxiety and insecurity. We’ve both gotten to the point where sex isn’t a lot of fun for either of us. Much of it is because of all the tension around the fusion and me simply appealing to my reptilian self just to get off. I’ve written before how I felt like a reptile and that insight was more accurate than I knew then. Arwyn treats me like one because I act like one.
The scripted aspect of sex is all about regulating the intimacy and finding comfort in the routine. I know where the script is going to go pretty much every time and I don’t like most of it. But I go along with it anyway. I almost skipped this section to run ahead to chapter 12 where Schnarch talks about the mercy fuck. But I’m glad I didn’t, since the section on kissing and foreplay really hit home.
Schnarch talks much about treating past issues in the present. Psychotherapy has traditionally involved going through past issues and hurts and dealing with childhood issues. Many times the claim is made that “We need to deal with the underlying problem before we can move forward” or “We need to deal with this past abuse or history first before moving on:” The efficacy of this approach is pretty minimal because it simply isn’t realistic. It’s not how life is lived. It also involves leaving people stuck and then spending years and thousands of dollars delving into past issues that simply can not be changed.
Schnarch uses the sexual crucible approach to deal with these past issues in the present. So unlike a behaviorist who really isn’t dealing with past issues at all, he uses present behavior and the solutions to move forward within present circumstances. How dependent this is on the skill of the therapist remains to be seen.
In my own case, the fear of abandonment is an underlying factor that has absolutely ruled all my relationships. I can not stand for things to get too good because past experience tells me that it will turn to shit. Opening up to another person involves a hell of a lot of risk and a hell of a lot of hurt. I swore to myself that I was not going to be hurt like that ever again. The result is this terrible gridlock we have now. I am absolutely not any more differentiated than Arwyn who has divorced parents and an alcoholic father to contend with. Arwyn means a lot to me but more intimacy means a lot more hurt. But there’s obviously a part of me that really wants it. I want to know and be known. But only so much.
This even goes into my smoking which still rules me. I started way back when as a way of self-medicating myself after a bad, bad emotional breakup. I was devastated beyond words because I had opened up so much. Truth was, this other girl couldn’t handle the intimacy of that relationship. Neither could I, as it turned out. So on the heels of heartbreak, smoking was my way of self-medicating. It still is. And this is one area where Schnarch is less focused and fuzzy. He places a lot of importance on the skill of self-soothing but has not explained exactly what that looks like or how to do it. In a way, smoking could be a way to self soothe but it is also a way engage that marital sadism that I wanted to skip ahead and read about because I know Arwyn dislikes it. Why she married a smoker lends itself to a certain amount of masochism inherent in the system. Don’t worry. Arwyn and I both share equally sadistic qualities. I’m just more willing to admit it at present.
I’d like to see Schnarch get together with John Gottman, who quantified anxiety and how couples reacted to each other in more concrete and tangible ways through pulse and respiratory rate and facial gestures. Anxiety and tension do have quantifiable analogues and using single subject research designs, the effect of different self-soothing techniques could be compared.
Okay, now I’m ready to talk about doing things with eyes open. Schnarch actually spends a couple chapters on this, with eyes-open kissing and foreplay leading to eye-open sex. I used to open my eyes open a lot more but I don’t know if I’ve ever seen Arwyn do it. And sometimes I don’t like what I see. Not only are her eyes closed but there is a sort of grimace in her face. Pain? Could be. Concentration? That could also be. The eye-open bit flies directly in the face of a lot of modern sex therapy that is sensate focused. The therapists tell a person to focus on their own sensations which means keep the eyes closed.
Schnarch sees things decidedly different and I have to agree with him. One of my chief complaints is that Arwyn “isn’t there” during what few sexual encounters we have had. Her handjobs pretty much are sterile exercises. Her kisses perfunctory. Her fucking is scripted. Her boundaries are rigid. But all that says a lot more about me than her in that I’ve been willing to accept these paltry offerings until relatively recently.
I’ve written before about how I did better during the handjobs when Arwyn and I would talk. We’d talk about dirty diapers, laundry, finances, chores that needed to be done and pretty much what every couple talks about when they talk. She just happened to be rubbing my cock at the time. But what made these encounters better for me rather than her doing it in stony silence was the fact that while talking, she was at least somewhat present. We tried it with her facing me, and I did like that but I don’t think she did. She preferred to lay down beside me where she didn’t have to look at me. But I do enjoy having my eyes open more than not, at least to a point.
The purpose is to actually connect, emotionally and mentally as well as physically. But that sort of connection can only really be made if we’ve done a lot of our own internal work where we can comfortably invite someone else in. It represents a more authentic form of intimacy. I’m living proof that it is possible to have sex without really connecting and I’m not sure I have ever truly connected with Arwyn during sex. I’m not exactly an open book as noted above so I picked someone in a very similar stage of differentiation as myself. And we really are well matched in many ways.
It is impossible to not communicate during sex. Fact is, I’ve been getting the message louder than I would have liked. So now I have little choice but to grow in response to dealing with it. It may take the proverbial atomic bomb blast to get Arwyn in motion and that might be where we’re headed. But I’m still getting a handle on my own insecurities in the meantime.
Cat asked an interesting question in a comment below. What if Arwyn is just honest and says she loves me but isn’t in love with me? What that is, is a code that basically says that she wants to be nice and somewhat caring but does not want to be with me and does not want to want me. Wanting to want and working towards making an intimate connection is an act of will at this stage of the game. For my part, I need to be willing to deal with that possible reality. At that point I have some serious choices to make. Adult choices that involve my own integrity. If I’m reading him correctly, I think that is where 2amsomewhere has come out. He looked at the situation and saw where he was not going to grow a lot more with the woman he was with because she was unwilling to differentiate and grow.
I’m not in that spot right now and funnily enough, I don’t think Arwyn is either. When we do speak of these things there is a fair amount of emotionality involved and my gut tells me she is more keen to working things out than she lets on. But she has no idea how. She longs for deeper emotional connections but not with Lizardman me. I have some personal and self-centered issues of my own to work out in order to escape my inner reptile.
It’s a paradox that getting emotionally closer to someone else involves becoming more of myself. This is because being emotionally fused and relying on this other person to hold me up through borrowed functioning and a reflected sense of self is inherently a very selfish thing. It places the responsibility of my anxieties and fears in someone else’s lap when I need to be holding my own self up so that I have a greater capacity to care. Emotional fusion places rules and expectations on the other person that are heavy and burdensome and pretty much suck the life out of desire, passion and sexual intimacy. My pushiness with Arrwyn and trying to guilt and manipulate her into sex was sort of akin to rape. But I was raping myself emotionally as I set myself up perfectly to be rejected and then hurt by her rejections. That also sort of answers the chastity cage comment by Snow66, at least in part. It was a game we were very poorly prepared for. While it might have fostered some strong feelings by me it was still not on a human level of depth as far as intimacy and closeness. In fact, it likely increased Arwyn’s anxiety level which would send her desire even further in the crapper.
However, I do think there was valuable and necessary growth that took place there. Arwyn could see my attitude improvements while wearing the cage and she was somewhat open to that. But the emotional weight of holding the key combined with the guilt factor of me kinking up probably didn’t advance things the way I had hoped. That’s not to say there wouldn’t be any benefit later. I think Tom over at Vanilla Edge demonstrates that good things can happen if the relationship is in a better place. At least they’re funner to read. I’ll think about expanding that later as I get further into the book.
It still feels like it’s taking me a long time to get through it. I know, it’s all a process and it’s all good but it is not a fast read. I can’t tell you how many times I’ll read and reread various points. I wouldn’t mind spending $30 on a DVD movie version of this thing. Maybe even $50 if they had live demonstrations performed by actual couples!