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.