Critical Mass

It’s really interesting now, reading other relationship blogs and seeing where they are in this growth process.  And then looking and seeing where I am and comparing.  Most are in a state of gridlock of some sort where there is a high desire partner wondering how long they are going to have to wait until the low desire partner decides to fly right.  There’s a lot of pressure put upon the low desire partner to pony up and show up.  But it’s only been in the last 50 or so years where this has been true in western culture as previous generations saw it differently.  It was the high desire partner who had the libido problem and people looked for ways to lower their desire. 


How times have changed.


The thing is, is that a partner who occupies the high desire in one area (sex) may occupy the lower desire in another area, like food, shopping, eating out, spending money or traveling.  I often use shopping because this is an area where Arwyn and I occupy opposite sides of the desire spectrum compared to sex.  She’d rather savor the experience of going to stores and looking at stuff where I’d pretty much like to get it all over with as soon as possible or do it online.  It’s difficult for me to find passion for all the time and resources involved in shopping as there are other things I’d rather do.


Couples facing these issues have a choice as to what they do.  They can ignore it, confront it or grow.  Like shopping, sex isn’t something you can really ignore and avoid.  You either do it or you don’t.  I try not to, so Arwyn come up with ways to get me to do it using all the tools of the trade.  Manipulation, guilt and anger are all tools she uses to get me to go.  And often it turns into a crappy experience because of the resentment I bring along with me.  I don’t respond to pressure much better than she does.  


Confrontation and communication are not going to increase my desire in this area very much.  One of the myths we carry around as a society is that all we have to do is communicate better and more often.  But confrontation and communication involves trying to change our partner.  This is why communication-based therapies fail.  What we communicate ends up being criticism and contempt and that will get us no where.


The answer is personal transformation and growth.  And that happens on the heels of reaching critical mass.


Critical mass happens when things finally come to a head, putting one partner into the crucible thus dragging the other in, too.  While the low desire partner controls the supply of whatever is desired, the high desire partner has control over if and when a couple enters the growth cycle.


Arwyn and I are definitely in the critical mass stage.  You know when you’re there because the overall climate of the marriage changes.  Previous encounters that involved sniping, resentment and criticism cease.  The marriage actually settles down as “business as usual” does not continue.  One partner begins to differentiate and the other senses it.  Empathy and respect actually increase as anger and criticism decrease.  Instead of roiling conflict, the tone quiets down.  There is more straight talking.


Not a lot of that last for us, but we are in a spot where it is now possible from an emotional stand point.  We’re each standing on more solid ground instead of leaning in and smothering or trying to dominate each other.  The whole power play/control atmosphere has just collapsed.


This critical mass stage just happens to coincide with me reading this chapter and this book in general.  I’m not trying to change Arwyn, I’m changing me and she is making her own adjustment.  And it’s not for the worse.


This might be where Arwyn departs from 2Am‘s wife and where we take a bit different path.  2am‘s wife reacted to his differentiation by trying to emotionally bludgeon him back into fusion.  She did not seem interested in growth but wanted to keep things the same.  Any concessions she made involved little cosmetic things that did not involve any real or lasting change in her own behaviors or attitudes.  He quieted and became resolved but it’s difficult to see where she ever did.  She continued to hang on to taking inventory of his faults without looking at her own.


Arwyn, on the other hand has been taking her own inventory, literally.  She’s doing a second year in her 12 step study at church and my reading Schnarch’s book coincides with her working on step 4.  She’s talked a bit about doing it but hasn’t shared a lot about it.  She knows I’ve been reading this book but hasn’t talked about it.  Neither of us is pressuring the other to be or conform to anything.


But we’ve both been infinitely more relaxed.  The hugging has picked up and it is a more intimate and affectionate even.  It is a longer, more lingering event.  There are kisses during the hugs that are not met with a grimace but are welcome.  It’s difficult to describe but it just started to happen when I quit feeling entitled to anything other than my own thoughts and feelings.  I’m not trying to change her as much as I try to better appreciate the person that she is.  What also helps is that I see that she is sincerely making an effort to grow.  It’s not in a way or direction I would choose, but she is making an honest effort of it.  I’m trying to support and affirm that while not being all up in her business.  It inspires me to keep going on my own.


So I’m cautiously hopeful that we’re working to a better place.




10 Responses to Critical Mass

  1. Tom Allen says:

    And often it turns into a crappy experience because of the resentment I bring along with me.

    Arwyn can always call one of her girlfriends to go shopping with. Maybe you could call one of her girlfriends to have sex with?

  2. Rosie says:

    Your positive attitude is great. But I can’t help wondering how the two of you will ever really be partners if you don’t both read the same book/s. It seems that the two of you will always be on different pages (bad pun) and in different head spaces. The book has influenced your thinking so much, and yet you still can’t share with her. Just my thought.

  3. sailordlv says:

    I think it’s great that you have, still, the optimism you carry. I know that it’s hard, to be true to yourself and let the partner make adjustments to that new reality, but having followed your path as you’ve decided to do that, its really quite encouraging to see your progress.

    Here’s hoping it continues!

  4. sixdegrees says:

    I do think you’ve turned a corner. Not sure about critical mass, as I don’t think that an explosion is pending. Rather, I suggest that the way forward will be measured growth rather than an abrupt change.

    I think we are all guilty of trying to bludgeon our partner into changing so that they meet our expectations and needs – using whatever tools are available to us – intellect, verbal sharpness, or guilt. Personal growth can not start until we put down our clubs and start taking responsibility for our own needs.

  5. Square1 says:

    I don’t really have any comments to add, other than I’m kind of pondering through this, and that I wanted you to know I am still reading.

  6. Digger Jones says:

    Don’t think I haven’t thought about it, Tom! She has more than one friend who has been on the opposite side in not getting any intimacy, but I have no idea how she handles that sort of conversation. All of them are now divorced so you’d think that would be a warning of some sort.

    This is a conundrum, Rosie. I’m going to ask her about the book and maybe have her mention it to some of her recovery friends as I would be surprised if none of them had heard of it and equally surprised if they didn’t recommend it. She certainly wouldn’t read it on *my* recommendation. “positive” attitude is a relative thing and not easy to maintain. But being busy with my own growth keeps me from gouging out her eyes trying to remove her speck, if you know what I mean.

    Yeah, I’m going to try to keep at it, sailor. If I can hold on to my own progress, I’ll better be able to deal with whatever changes come down the pike. I just need guidance on where to go next.

    Sixdegrees, the temptation to reach for the club is enormous! It’s always within arms reach, it seems. I may have overstated the critical mass or maybe it is there and kind of moves off like a weather high pressure system until the next one moves in.

    Thanks for reading, Square!


  7. Tom Allen says:

    All of them are now divorced so you’d think that would be a warning of some sort.

    ::thumps desk in frustration::

    This was the situation a few years ago wit us. It seems that Mrs. Edge had a different friend, cow-orker or acquaintance every week who was getting divorced, splitting up, or was on the outs with her husband. In most of those cases, they seemed (to me) to be couples in which the wives complained that their husbands would “pester” them.

    I used to explain that husbands are people, too, and don’t like to feel irrelevant. When trips to Disney, new mini-vans, redecorating, and soccer games conspire to crowd out the intimate moments, then is it any wonder that the marriages become unraveled?

  8. Emily says:

    Well, pesonally, I find this entry quite hopeful. There is something very lovely about allowing each other to just be, and the increased affection and appreciation you are sharing.

    Whether or not my Big Dude and I went through a crucible, I’m not sure, but we are enjoying a peaceful phase of mutual appreciation and closeness, even during times when there is no sex.

  9. […] & Redemption A struggle for freedom « Critical Mass Busting Loose January 24, 2008 […]

  10. C-Marie says:

    I can almost say that it’s somewhat of a similar experience here..
    The more I stop feeling entitled to hot, passionate sex, the better I can see him for who is in this relationship. The more I stop expecting him to desire me like a love sick puppy, the better I can operate within myself on many other levels. I know that doesn’t so inspiring but I am less angered at him, somewhat less resentful and have accepted it for what it is… it stops me from browbeating myself over it or about it.
    -and of course things are good. We don’t have the confrontation to deal with, or at least he doesn’t.
    Do I sound bitter? Oops.

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