Schnarch starts the next chapter asking the question, “Where is your mind during sex?” If you ask your partner what they are thinking about during or just after sex, they might say, I’m thinking about you.” And they might be lying.
A wondering mind is almost inevitable just because that’s the way our minds work. We think about all sorts of things. Some people are making grocery lists, sorting laundry, doing taxes, memorizing baseball stats or any number of mundane things. They may be imagining someone else who could be there instead. Perhaps a past lover who did things better than the one poking or licking or sucking you now. You might be worried that the kids might hear or maybe expecting a phone call or wishing for a phone call. You might be thinking about painting the ceiling mauve.
You might be thinking about your sensations and how good a certain thing your partner is doing and hoping they keep doing it. Or how lousy it feels and hoping they stop. You might be worried about whether they like what it is you are doing. Are you doing it right? Will you last long enough? What are they thinking? Are they as bored as you? Do they notice that stretch mark? Do you wonder whether you smell or taste bad? Do they smell or taste bad?
Thing is, none of the above involves a lot of emotional engagement with the partner.
There’s a whole lot of stuff to think about during sex. Is it any wonder that we seem to be happy enough just getting off? This is one reason why we settle for routine sex. We go with what works and keep doing it over and over and over. It’s also why it gets boring. So we get mad and suddenly it might not work anymore. We fight or avoid. And we get into gridlock.
This is the process Schnarch describes as the people growing machinery of marriage. We are constantly challenged to grow and change and two partners can challenge each other to grow. But this can only happen in a long term relationship. When we abandon the fight and get a new partner we essentially abandon growth and have to start all the way over reconstructing the crucible in which we need to grow. He also made a more profound statement:
People grow most through going through those developmental processes they are trying the hardest to avoid.
That’s pretty powerful stuff. The avoidance and gridlock that Arwyn and I are currently locked into is a result of our fusion. Paradoxically, the machinery really is working. While we are avoiding we are each working on ourselves in different ways. But there is a showdown that is coming. Neither of us is particularly comfortably in the rut we’re in. So she goes to church and Bible study and step groups for her own growth. I go to another church and read books and blog and write growing in my own way. Neither is “wrong” per se. In fact, one could argue that there’s a lot of growth potential through some rich cross pollinating that could take place. But that’s the problem. There’s no pollinating going on. We’re missing out on some growth potential. We’re both avoiding the pain of it. So far we’ve been evenly matched at least that way, for better or worse.
In this chapter, Scnarch talks about different sexual styles. The sexual trance style is more sensate-focused, which requires a lot more concentration and being free of distractions.. That often includes the partner which is why this is mostly done in the dark with eyes closed.
Partner connection is another style that has its own levels each characterized by different levels of differentiation. It’s what we often want on the higher levels but what we often end up doing at the lower levels. I’m not getting in to all 6 levels, but I can see where I’ve tried various forms of both of the above styles but on very low levels of differentiation.
On the trance level, it’s all about my body, what I feel and how good it feels. I want Arwyn to feel good, too, but sexual trance is akin to sort of like getting high or drunk together. It seems to be more separate than together. On a higher level, it can be more mutual and emotionally connected, but I’ll just come right out and say I’ve never gotten there.
Now I have gotten about half way up the partner connection ladder. But I’ve yet to really properly differentiate enough where Arwyn is more than a reflected source of validation and borrowed functioning. In fact, I’m just now coming to think where I can conflict with her without getting too wrapped up with anxiety. It’s a matter of growth for both of us and that can only happen when we conflict. We are in conflict now, and it has led to us growing…apart. But it has set a stage for the machinery to really smoke. At least that’s how I see it optimistically speaking. I’m sure she won’t see it that way.
The last sexual style is role play. My forays into chastity play could be construed as an attempt at that, but according to Schnarch it requires a very high level of differentiation to pull off because a person has to have enough confidence to pull off the role without getting totally engulfed by it while becoming a real part of it.
According to Schnarch, the highest differentiated people can assume any of the three styles. This is because that people-growing machinery of marriage never stops. Boredom sets in, which causes conflict and then couples have to work through it. But the work can eventually become less painful after doing several turns and partners get in the groove of constant change and growth.
So now I’ve gotten my mind wrapped around the idea of conflict not being as bad as what I’ve always internalized. It doesn’t mean the end of the relationship even though it looks a lot like it. And the whole avoidance thing has drug on so long there’s going to be pain involved regardless. This is just what I was looking for: a direction to grow in where it doesn’t have to be Armageddon.
I have no idea if I’m making sense or not. But I wanted to get this down so I could move on. The chapters of this book seem to get better as I go along, and I’m sort of striving to get to the “better” ones. A bunch of you are contemplating getting it and I would recommend it. But you may just want to watch and see where I end up going, too. I’ve been around this sort of thing before and it may not end up going anywhere.