I believe in passionate marriages, even as more and more books come out in support of the idea that monogamy is nothing but a political structure; I beg to differ. Done right, making love to the same person for decades can be an exploration of depth and surprise that is literally mind blowing. I know this is not the norm in our culture but I also feel it is important to bear witness to the wonder of love that works.
I love David Schnarch’s evolving treatise on this topic because it looks at the hard work of relating in a realistic and straightforward approach. Unlike many writer/therapists, he uses the couples who don’t succeed as role models as much as those who do. What’s more, is that he is able to do that without judgment. His approach, which he has coined Crucible Therapy, is different from conventional therapy in that it emphasizes individual personal growth rather than communication skills or compromise/ negotiation as the goal of therapy.
He calls relationships “people growing machines” and this he believes is what makes a relationship passionate over time. He builds the foundation of his newest book, Intimacy and Desire: Awaken the Passion in Your Relationship around what he calls the Four Points of Balance in a relationship. All of the dynamics in the relationship from its daily functioning to its sexual capacity is based on the couple’s ability to successfully differentiate from each other.
The first point of balance in intimate relationships is the development of the Solid Flexible self. He defines this quality as the ability to be clear about who you are and what you’re about, especially in the face of someone else demanding you conform to their expectations. This is where real independence is born, when each partner in the couple has the clarity and courage to be themselves and not be giving up themselves or what they love for the other person. This tendency in couples of becoming more like each other is actually what kills the passion in a long-term relationship. Allowing real differences to live between you is where passion is born.
The second point of balance is the ability of each partner to calm and soothe his or herself. His term “quiet mind- calm heart” is at the foundation of sound mental and emotional health. It means that you are not relying on anyone else, including your partner to regulate your own anxiety or make you feel better. Many relationship carry this unnamed expectation that is a silent deadly killer. It is impossible to stay passionate about someone that you have to parent continuously. It is impossible to explore deep eroticism with someone for whom you are constantly having to hold up emotionally.
The third point of balance is the ability to stay to present and calm when your partner is dealing with their own emotional issues. This is the place where many couples abandon each other, either by distancing from each other or by overreacting to the other person’s situation. The urge to fix someone is a common detractor that makes sexual intimacy a huge challenge for both partners. Developing what Schnarch calls “Grounded Responding” in your relationship is the mature response that allows you to show up for your partner without taking responsibility for their issues.
The last point of balance in a relationship is what I have been promoting for years: Meaningful Endurance. This is the critical growth step for any relationship that lasts. It requires both the courage to step up and face the issues in your partnership and the capacity to stay with them. Many people are so terrified of heartache that they run away from relationships that are totally workable. Growing up in a relationship means being able to tolerate emotional discomfort and the uncertainty of growing together. Being willing to endure the hardships that any relationships present because you understand it as a means to your own personal development is sexy.
I can’t recommend this book highly enough. Schnarch has taken his extensive studied credentials and made his most important lessons accessible to almost anyone who is committed to growing old with their lover. Don’t miss the conversation that I had with David recently about his book- quite the relationship Jedi.