Too Differentiated?

January 23, 2009

Funnily enough, Emily and my therapist both brought up similar questions about Schnarch or at least my take on his approach. So this is a golden opportunity to explain to y’all how and why I like this approach.

This concept of differentiation is troublesome to a lot of people, because it seems to imply a growing separateness that if taken to an extreme results more in having parallel lives than intimate ones. People take it to mean a sort of growing independence from one another and a loosening of the ties that bind. In a sense, it is true that it does loosen the bonds of fusion. However, to look at it as something that encourages a degree of divisiveness is misreading the approach.

Arwyn and my situation perfectly illustrates this. Basically, the fact that we tend to drift into parallel lives on our own is the major problem. We are avoiders and when the the tough gets going, so do we. We’ll run away with an occasional skirmish or two in between. So on the surface, we look like we are TOO differentiated when in fact the opposite is true. We are fused like welded steel to the point where a move by one of us threatens to break the other. It is how we end up in the icy grip of gridlock.

Many of you last year were recommending some sort of face-off or confrontation. But that would not and could not happen until the anxiety from the existing painful situation got higher than the real or imagined result of a confrontation OR until I felt strong enough to withstand whatever the fall-out would be. The latter occurred because I engaged in a great deal of self-introspection. Schnarch’s approach was and still is, the only approach that rationally explains why Arwyn and I have the difficulties that we do. Once I understood that Arwyn was coming from a fairly logical place given the circumstances, it was much easier to be more understanding. The biological/libido model of sex drive could not do it.

That’s not to say I’m uncritical of Schnarch. There are some areas where his statements clash with my Christian beliefs. For one thing, he starts of acknowledging that gays and lesbians can also benefit from his approach. I have no doubt that this is true, but he attempts to shoe horn those lifestyles into the definition of marriage. Okay, fair enough, I’m not going to make a huge deal about that. However, later on he makes an even bigger deal about evolution. Again, I have no problems with Schnarch’s using this belief to give his approach more scientific credibility. However, when he talked about how women eventually went from being in heat once per year to having a more irregular and unpredictable cycles of desire, he goes on to say how men and women and men and men and women and women began pairing off because of the more variable schedule of reinforcement. Since when is homosexuality compatible with natural selection? I could see men getting it on when the women weren’t “on” so to speak, but that doesn’t fit the science of evolution. Nor does it have a lot to do with his core approach, which is why it’s easy for me to dismiss it in favor of the relevant aspects of it.

My therapist asks me, “What about ‘becoming one flesh’ as described in Genesis? That seems to favor fusion and go against differentiation.”

Funny thing, that term “one flesh.” There are a whole lot more spiritual things that could have been written or translated. One heart, one mind, one soul…those are all things that seem more appropriate to a book like the Bible. But it says “one flesh.” How can two become one flesh? To me, the sexual image is the only one that comes to mind. How else can we be one flesh? There are many ways of relating, but fleshly relations between men and women are almost necessarily sexual. But something that I’ve learned about sexual intimacy is that to be truly satisfying it demands a lot more from your heart, mind and soul than most people realize when they are just starting out. Our sexuality is a lot more complex than any animal. Any of us can lose our desire very quickly from a variety of disruptions that are not necessarily physical or biological. The fusion Schnarch is talking about is not fleshly fusion, but it almost feels like it sometimes. What makes human sexuality greater than the sum of its parts is the fact that we each bring something special and unique to it. The more spiritual and emotional depth we have, the more we can pour into it.

And this is why marriage is a system. In Eden, there was a perfect relationship between God and the creation. There was no sin, no predation, no victimization, no disease, no ill will. But once sin entered into, it all went to Hell. The one flesh relationship was totally whacked. So was the rest of creation. But consider this: before the first disease ever entered, God had already created the medicinal plants to treat them. Where’s the evolutionary advantage in that?!? God had also put a mechanism in place to deal with human sin, and marriage is part of that elegant system. We basically help each other to grow. When Arwyn and I first met, I was a much shallower person than I am today. I would argue that since starting this blog I’ve grown a lot. It’s not because of Schnarch, either. It’s because my marriage to Arwyn has forced me to grow and develop into a better person. The Passionate Marriage approach simply helped me to realize that my marriage needed a lot less fixing than I thought. The marriage gets painful largely because of the sinful attitudes I bring into it. I’m the one who brings the resentment, selfishness and anger into it. Now it is true that Arwyn brings her own unique brand of dysfunctions into the relationship. However, I can not help her remove her dust specs until I first move the lumberyard from my own eyes.

Yeah, it really is that Biblical. I hurt myself when I try to judge Arwyn. When I condemn her, I condemn myself. When I try to change her into something she is not, I am violating her integrity especially if I’m not sure who I am! And marriage necessarily involves discovering who I really am. I can not discover that if I am always retreating and avoiding. I’ll never discover who I am as long as I am busy pointing out someone else’s flaws. I can not become the person I want to be if I treat others unkindly and with disrespect. Marriage challenges all of those things and it is done in the context of two sinful people trying to coexist intimately together. It is an ecology that was purposefully designed to develop the best by sometimes bringing out the worst. Differentiation is simply allowing enough room to grow and develop for the cycle to turn freely. But both people are part of that system and moving apart or bailing out is just breaking it. That isn’t differentiation at all, because differentiation means to be able to be close to someone without being threatened or without falling apart. If you are not close to someone, of course you’re not going to fall apart, but neither are you truly differentiated. You’re simply at a particular stage of development and you aren’t going to grow until you are part of a system that challenges you to be more than who you are today.

This is why the divorce rate is higher among those who have already been divorced. They get married, get into emotional gridlock and bail before they advance any further. They get remarried, and when they reach a similar stage of emotional development they often find themselves in the exact same place as when their prior relationship hit the skids. The solution to emotional gridlock is not to bail out, although I know the temptation as much as anyone. It is to play through it. Suffer through it. Oh my; none of us wanted to hear that!! But if you think about how much of the suffering is self-inflicted, it begins to make a bit more sense.

I struggle, struggle, struggle with all of this. You all have gotten to watch the sordid mess, at least from my perspective. Yeah, Arwyn and I have both progressed. For awhile. Then we go back into the crucible and gridlock some more. And then hopefully come out better…again. Slow, long and painful this journey is.

I did go to the next session of Arwyn’s church’s marriage mini-session and the leader actually pulled it out and passed one out for everyone in the room. Yes, the ENQ made it debut there, but Arwyn and I just looked at each other and chuckled. The leader probably got that and the whole idea from our therapist, since they are loosely associated with one another through the church. And he got it from us, because he had never seen it before. I would describe this last session as Harley Lite, because while she is drawing most of her material from him she seems to also bring in other things from other authors occasionally. It was more tolerable than the last one, but it still amounts to a giant bother because the kids are thrown off schedule and get to bed late causing problems the next day.


An update on anxiety

January 18, 2009

In my last entry, I spoke about some of my disdain for this therapist we’ve been seeing. It has nothing to do with his personal convictions, or his personality but everything to do with his marriage to the family systems approach. He has spent months trying to map out our family of origin and then tries to help us interpret things through that lens. The problem is that family systems is regressive while also being an other-validated approach. It has limited usefulness, especially for a supposed sex therapist.

Arwyn and I had a number of these little sniping sessions last weekend. It resembles a type of guerrilla technique where she says something potentially deep (but snarky) and then withdrawing as quickly as possible. One topic that came up was a mini marriage seminar her church is having on Wednesday evenings. She went without me the week before and brought back some material from it. I didn’t know it at the time, but much of the material is derived from our old friend Harley, who developed the ENQ. I liked much of his material, but it is mostly incompatible with Schnarch’s view of differentiation. The entire “Love Bank” principle is based on validating your partner in the hope that the other will feel positive enough to return the favor. I told Arwyn I would be wiling to attend just to check it out. My response was less than enthusiastic, which violates a major tenet of Harley’s which is that you don’t do things or ask your partner to do things that they can not enthusiastically support. Those of you presently enduring the tyranny of this know the pitfall of this principle. It devolves into not being able to do anything!

At out last therapy session last week, it hit the proverbial fan. On the way to the therapist, I played some of Schnarch’s audio book. I happened to pick the chapter on integrity which is truly the real meat of his approach. She recognized much of it as I confronted the therapist about how his and Harley’s approach lacked a grounding in reality. At the conclusion, I gave him a CD on which I had copied about 5 chapters of the book. The therapist seemed genuinely interested and appreciative and noted that he spends a lot of time on the road so would listen to it. His familiarity with Schnarch is marginal at best. When we discussed it, he was under the impression that the Passionate Marriage approach drove people further apart, which couldn’t be further from the truth. It drives people out of feeling trapped but more into a greater capacity for love.

Arwyn hasn’t made any moves toward sex, and that has been fine by me. I was worried that she might try something right before therapy as that has been sort of a pattern for her but my integrity was not tested this past week. And that’s sort of where we are at. I don’t want Arwyn to feel like she has to have sex with me simply to medicate my bad mood, or to fulfill and obligation or just because she might be asked about it in therapy. I suppose if she could derive some joy out of fulfilling a need of mine, I would be okay with that, but that isn’t the vibe I’m getting. In her mind, I’m obsessed with sex. And if sex was happening, it might only be about 10% of the relationship but because it is such a deficit area, it takes up more mindspace.

I’ll expand a bit more on my thoughts on my other blog. I don’t post often enough for multiple blogs but it is handy when I do decide to do multiple posts.

Return to Schnarch

January 6, 2009

Anyone reading the past month or so knows my relationship has seemingly stalled and begun taking a nose dive. Just when things were starting to look up, too! But this is the way it goes, sometimes. Well, pretty much ALL the time, because that’s sort of the way marriage works. A few steps forwards, and seemingly a few steps back into gridlock. But gridlock is where we are, because that’s where we have to be.

Last weekend, I went ahead and downloaded the mp3 version of Schnarch’s most recent book,Secrets of a Passionate Marriage. For me, it was a totally worthwhile download. Here, I could listen to Schnarch’s words delivered as he meant them to sound. And he manages to go through the whole thing in less than 2 hours. While I had begun rereading certain parts of Passionate Marrige, I was having a hard time getting into it. With the mp3, I could listen to it as many times as I wanted, in any order. Schnarch delivers his prose in a conversational style, sometimes in front of a “live” audience, as you can sometimes hear people laugh in the background as he delivers a humorous line.

And after the 3rd or so time through, some of this started to really sink back in. The therapist has been SO dead wrong in his approach. Pretty much all marriage therapists and sex therapists get it wrong, even though this stuff has been out around 20 years! The reason why it might not be so popular is because there is a definite spiritual focus on this approach to discovering intimacy. Schnarch makes no bones about how elegantly the sexual relationship acts as a catalyst for growth, change and intimacy. Or the fact that human sexuality is a product of deliberate and complex design. However, I do need to throw in a caveat that Schnarch is NOT an evangelical and is totally fine with referring and treating gay couples with his approach. But this should not detract from the truth that he reveals.

And that truth is, is that I’ve been dead wrong. I think I was saying that a year ago, too. For some reason, once we got into therapy, I sort of laid what I had learned then down. That was mistake. Just the act of calling a therapist and making an appointment and following through…these were all acts of trying to break the emotional gridlock. How odd that firing the therapist might be the next step in breaking this episode of emotional gridlock!LOL!

But we have been chasing our tails around the issues, here. There has been a bit of progress in that we have had more sex. Considering the score was a big fat ZERO for the previous year, it wouldn’t take much. On the intimacy front, I can say there was SOME progress, but much less pronounced.

The therapist is treating this as a communication issue, and it is definitely not a communication issue. The message could not be more clear: I want more sex. She does not. There is no way that the message could be more clear than nailing it to our foreheads! We get it! It’s right there! She wants a dog. I do not. In the case of dog ownership, I am the low desire partner. There is no communication issue, here! No matter how many times I speak her love language, she is not going to budge from her position. No matter how many times she speaks mine, I’m not getting a dog.

The problem is not one of speaking and listening. It is a problem of anxiety. Today, while listening to Schnarch, the light bulb went on. I’m getting it. Again.

Basically, Arwyn has a whole lot of anxiety about intimacy, especially as far as it is expressed sexually. But it also translates into her being a general avoider, too. And so it is, that I happen to share a lot of the same sorts of anxiety but it expresses itself a bit differently. We’re both kind of distant folk. Not unfriendly, but we have big boundaries around us and we keep a big distance. But at the same time we want a type of closeness. That’s the big rub, here. We both want to be close but we both want distance. It just so happens that I’m capable of having sex while maintaining quite a bit of distance. In other words, my emotional involvement doesn’t have to be terribly deep for me to have an orgasm. Arwyn is actually a lot alike me in that respect except she actually requires quite a lot of distance to orgasm. That’s why she prefers the lights off and the eyes tightly shut and she does not want me looking at her face while she is in the throes of passion. In other words, her emotional involvement is pretty well evenly matched with mine. It’s low. But there is a part of her that wants more.

What’s getting in the way is anxiety and fear. Sex is simply one way to have closeness while managing the anxiety, but Arwyn has simply not mastered much in the way of managing her fears. And so, like every other couple on the planet, we have to deal with the sexual leftovers.

Sexual leftovers is what every couple has when it comes to sex. Each person makes a list of what is too disgusting and perverted and then the other person makes their list and then you agree on the leftovers. That’s what you call compromise, right? But that leads to sexual boredom which leads to tension and eventual gridlock. At some point, the anxiety comes to a head and then has to be dealt with.

I feel like I’m drifting, here.

A few months back, we had probably the greatest breakthrough EVER as far as sexual intimacy. It was at a time when we were good all around. One night we approached each other and we ended up in the lotus position. Yeah, I figured out what it was. But I might have underestimated the amount of courage that went into this for her. And we may have done it a time or two since then. But some how we were able to manage that face-to-face intimacy.

Okay, I’m getting tired and need to turn in, but at least I have a better idea of what is going on and I’m not nearly as snarky on Arwyn as I was earlier. I’ll have to expound more on the differentiation aspect of this later, as we are still having to work through that.

Just some New Year’s Thoughts…

January 1, 2009

I saw a question on the christian Nympos blog that really perked my ears up where a guy asked how he can tell whether or not his future wife will be a Christian nympho:

Since I’m not supposed to have premarital sex, how can I tell if a woman will be responsive on a regular basis after marriage?

How does one find out if a girl is sexually healthy, active and willing to experiment with out sleeping with her?

Of course I did comment and you can read the edited version of it on their website. It was edited, because I included a link to my own site weighing in on the topic with considerably more detail.

I feel kind of bad about that link being stripped out, but I also sort of know why they did it, since many of those things can not be known until after one actually has sex, and having sex outside of marriage is wrong. But with just a bit more investigation, it is apparent that while their site may be a great help to many, they really are not too interested in being an open community. No trackbacks or even links to commentors own blogs. And that makes me feel a bit bad for the guys who are asking questions over there, because those women are mostly there to help and support other women. Oh well. Keeping folks like that on the RSS is just an act of frustration. Good resource but women like my wife have absolutely no interest in a site like that.

I’m rereading the Schnarch book, as the insights gained there were so key to the progress Arwyn and I made last year. It enabled me to not be so defensive and handle the rejection better which eventually began to help her move in a more positive direction. While the therapy sort of jumpstarted things and brought some accountability to bear, we have not managed to get to any real depth in almost a year.

This past year, I did manage to meet some important goals:
1. We did break the 2 year sex drought and intimacy went forward before it slid back.
2. I got my weight down to a low of 187 before gaining back to 207 Still working on it.
3. The weight gain was largely caused by quitting smoking. Smoke free since July.
4. Other than the house, we are Debt Free!
5. I’m playing solidly in the standard level in Stepmania
6. Still on Supaeasy on FoF (which will work with any PC compatible guitar controller)

So, much progress has been made over the last 12 months, it will still take a lot of work to maintain these things. I could light a cigarette today and still enjoy it. And the weight creep and debt creep are constant threats. But the intimacy battle is the big one.
2009? Who knows? I like the idea of continuing to reinvent myself in new ways and become a better me. None of these things would have happened without God providing the means, the strength and the grace to follow through. Only God knows the plans He has for me and it is going to be an adventure no matter what.

Hoping the best for all of you in 2009!