Schnarch: Passionate Marrriage Chapter 1

Wow. I can see why Schnarch comes so highly recommended, or at least so recommended to me. In the first chapter he verified a few positions that I thought were suspect and then challenged a few that I had held close to as well as opened some doors that hit upon some themes I’ve been hitting recently though not in the same exact way.

Passionate Marriage is fundamentally a spiritual book by nature. Many of the revelations can easily be applied (and are sometimes meant to be applied) beyond the realms of marriage and sex. And for those of us that can think in those terms, marriage and sex are meant to be spiritual exercises. As Rod said in a recent article, sex is as much an act of worship as driving to a building on Sunday morning. For most of us, this is revolutionary thinking that is difficult to wrap our minds around.

My urge to write about this probably is similar to the more academic and sophisticated approach that 2amsomewhere has taken when he has discussed the book. While he does not take on many spiritual themes, he does incorporate the emotional and rational emotive aspects of Schnarch’s writing into his marriage. Or at least what’s left of his marriage. I do think that not having a personal theology is akin to 2am having only 2 legs on a 3 legged stool that also includes his substantial intellect and his emotions. I think spiritual work could really enhance the personal work he has already done.

Rod was wondering about why Arwyn and I have different church group affiliations. Having only read one chapter, I can already see that Arwyn and I may actually be differentiating in a spiritual way that is congruent with what Schnarch talks about. Neither of us is really asking the other to conform to the other’s way of practicing Christianity, but we do have similar enough core beliefs.

In the religious sense, we are actually getting along better than when we were attending the same church, either the Methodist or Saddleback East groups. We often will discuss the sermon she heard or the Sunday school lesson I heard or taught when we get back together on Sunday afternoons. When I attended her CGM church, I had its flaws and shortcomings in my face and felt my integrity constantly under attack. While at the mainstream church, Arwyn felt her own integrity under assault. What we have now is a spiritual harmony born out of our differences but bound by similar convictions. I’ve come to accept that God wants her where she is, and God hasn’t told me to move on, yet. We can move independently without each other feeling under attack or under each other’s constant judgment. There’s actually more unity and community here than there has been previously.

And this is a terribly odd thing that defies conventional wisdom, thought and belief. But this is exactly the sort of challenge that Schnarch goes about doing in his book. He challenges the biological imperative of sex, in that it actually inhibits intimacy and kills sexual desire. For someone who wrote about sexual anorexia (which Schnarch challenged as a notion stright away) and who has a fondness for the food analogy of sexual desire, this was a big deal. He challenges the ideal of emotional enmeshment, comparing it to a procrustean bed where we each try to fit the other into a comfortable size and shape to fit ourselves. He challenges the idea of psychodynamic work, where a therapist spend years uncovering past unresolved and unconscious issues that may be replaying in adulthood. He prefers dealing with the issues as they appear in present circumstances and moving beyond them instead of forever revisiting and revising our history. He challenges the idea of better communication being the key, as it is simply a fiction we promote because we like the idea we can talk ourselves out of any tough situation.

He strips away a lot of dead wood, here, as well as hacks away at some very sacred cows.

His is not a formula/skill based approach. It is a growth approach, which is where the spiritual component really has the potential to kick in. Our character is shaped by our trials. Schnarch doesn’t explicitly quote scripture but anyone familiar with it would recognize that which is written in the book of James about the relationship between trials and character.

Schnarch repudiates a one-size-fits all approach, which is where this clicked for me. It’s my main beef with Christianity the way it is practiced today. Jesus Christ used a crucible approach to teach His disciples about the kingdom of God and about how to exercise their faith. It was relationship-based, practical, and based on who those disciples were while they were with Him. Today, the one-size-fits-all prescription is so entrenched that each group feels threatened by any follower that does not explicitly toe the doctrinal line perfectly. Heresy, apostasy and blasphemy are not threats to a body that is healthy, growing and thriving. It is only a threat to a sick, weak and withering institution.

But getting back to Schnarch, he’s on to some good things here. At least that’s what I’m thinking so far. However, one troubling aspect is that while his work is based on some impressive qualitative experience, he has not presented any quantitative findings in his research so far. Maybe I’ll see some in later chapters, but for me this is a pretty glaring weakness. I appreciate his insight, but I want to see more tangible results, which is the behaviorist in me. We need to be able to see something measurable in order to be convinced that the intervention is the key to the progress being made and not just some sort of placebo effect.

I’m looking forward to reading and sharing more.



9 Responses to “Schnarch: Passionate Marrriage Chapter 1”

  1. 2amsomewhere Says:

    I’m pleased that you’ve decided to start reading PM. It is a long read, and his prose can be as tough as mine to read at times, but I think you will find it to be very rewarding.

    I will warn you that PM is not heavy on empirical evidence, so be forewarned that if your judgment on the book is weighted heavily on numbers, you will come away disappointed. Indeed, when PM was published, at least one person publicly challenged his thesis. His rebuttal, which can be found on the same page, leaves a lot to be desired. He doesn’t say anything about his own statistics and instead claims that the numbers published for other approaches aren’t that great.

    I think it’s probably harder to make a case for a therapeutic approach as a practicing therapist. The resources needed to do large scale experiments to back up the claim simply aren’t there. Instead, he tries to make his case through specific cases he’s worked on. I suspect that the survey that his website was promoting recently is a first step at getting some reliable numbers.

    If you find that certain aspects of the book don’t go into enough detail, I recommend that you track down a copy of his earlier work Constructing the Sexual Crucible at the library. It’s more of a scholarly work and it uses a lot more rigor to make his points.

    I have a copy of his cassette on Normal Marital Sadism, which recounts a lot of the content in Chapter 11, but offers some stuff that is definitely geared toward professionals. At one point, he talks about how he makes an effort to learn about the different religious traditions because he uses that in dealing with clients who raise religious questions. Indeed there is a whole chapter devoted to spirituality in Crucible.

    You’re right, I don’t deal much with spirituality on my blog, and perhaps it’s something I might write about in the future. The personal and professional crises in my life have been taking place against a much more subtle crisis in the spiritual dimension. I’ve hinted at this struggle a bit in comments here and there, most notably over at Fade To Numb. I’ve had some interesting conversations off the blog record with readers as well. For now, it’s something I just haven’t had the energy to dig deeper into.


  2. FTN Says:

    With how much everyone talks about this book, I’m wondering why it is that I’ve never read it.

    I’m thinking I need to buy the thing, and see if I could convince Autumn to read through it with me. She’s more into reading in the past couple of years, although a topic like this would take some work. Whattya think, Digger… Would this offend a wife if it was given as a gift? Maybe put it together with the late Pope’s “Theology of the Body” that Desmond is always harping about. 🙂

  3. Rod E. Smith, MSMFT Says:

    A couple ought to read two different copies — you will argue about who liked or underlined what if you don’t. By the way, although I have met David Schnarch and have spent a few days with him in a presentation (as a role-play client) I get no kick-back from sales and nor am I in regular contact with him.

    Rod Smith

  4. Digger Jones Says:

    I, and the author, second Rod’s advice, FTN. If you go that route, you’ll each need your own copies. And as someone who has tried the “underline-and-annotate” trick to get a spouse interested in a book, I can attest to its failure to generate enthusiasm from a partner.

    And giving this as a gift would go over like a lead duck. Again, I tried that with the “Relationship Rescue” workbook. It’s still in the closet somewhere unused and suitable for re-gifting. Hmmm…perhaps *I* could send it to Autumn!

    Actually, Rod, Schnarch’s book was on my Amazon wish list before I read your recommendation, a fact that caused considerable embarrassment last year. I sent the list to my entire family forgetting it was there only to have the title and cover appear right at the top, front and center totally eclipsing the gardening books, cooking books and assorted books by C.S. Lewis! Boy, was *I* redfaced!

    Thank goodness for a family of distant stoics!

    But having a personal copy of the book does relate to something you had written in one of your earlier columns about couples not trying to change each other. While I accuse my wife of doing that all the time, I’ve really been every bit (or morseo!) guilty of trying to get her to fit me by buying books, leaving them about, underlining and highlighting and writing notes in them. Whether I’m stretching her out or chopping her legs off to make her fit, it’s not gong to go over well, is it?

    I need to quit leaving those “helpful” books lying around as well as stop leaving my cell phone at work! Note to self:
    – pick up the books and put them out of the way
    – make peace with cellular technology


  5. Rod E. Smith, MSMFT Says:

    Apart from all else you are learning, D, you are a very good writer. Rod

  6. Rod E. Smith, MSMFT Says:

    …. so Digger, where is your response to the next chapters?

  7. diggerjones Says:

    Slow going Rod! But I find that I’m weaving Schnarch’s stuff in more of what I write. This is probably why my writing looks better!Ha!

    stand by for more…

  8. Return to Schnarch « Reality & Redemption Says:

    […] 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 […]

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