Too Differentiated?

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.

4 Responses to Too Differentiated?

  1. Dave says:

    I don’t know all the different approaches that you’ve researched, beyond what you have described; but I know this-

    I’m very impressed, often, by your willingness to dig in and work on yourself, your acknowledgment of individual failings as contributory to where your marriage is, is great.

    So kudos to you, and as always, all the best in your efforts, you have my prayers and hopes for improvements always.

  2. Desmond Jones says:

    Wow, Digger. . . I’ve been reading here for what – three years or more. And this might be the best thing I’ve ever read here. Really. You taking ownership of your own ‘stuff’, and its effects on your marriage, and the constructive approach to your own part in moving forward; your commitment to the marriage (which you’ve stated before, but not quite so clearly and firmly as you do here; at least in my recollection); and your hopefulness for the future of your marriage. I don’t know if all this is as new in your ‘lived experience’ as it seems like it is on this blog, but this is very good, very insightful stuff. . .

    And, if I can venture to translate ‘differentiation’ into ‘Theology of the Body’, it seems like you’re saying something on the order of – in order to make a Gift of Self, first you have to have a Self. . . Am I understanding it rightly?

  3. Digger Jones says:

    Hmmm, I’ve never tallied all the different approaches I’ve tried, but it is a bundle. Dr. Phil, Mars-Venus, Gary Smalley, Willard Harley, John Gottman…just off the top of my head. They all had said good things, but were bent on fixing broken marriages rather than fixing broken people. All of them saw gridlock as destructive rather as part of a greater person-building process.

    You pretty much nailed it Desmond, as that’s exactly what I was driving at. The idea of having more of a self to give as a gift, whether to your spouse or to God, is central to the whole concept. Differentiation is not a selfish, narcissistic thing as much as an introspective moral inventory-taking exercise. How can I have moral integrity if I am always relying on others for feedback or borrowing from someone else’s moral functioning? Marriage helps develop moral integrity by always challenging what we think we know. This does open up some new fields of thought for me.

  4. Ali says:

    Just dropping by.Btw, you website have great content!

    Have You Ever Stayed Awake at Night Stressing About Whether or Not Your Marriage Will Last … And What You Can Possibly Do to Save It?

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