In July 2002 I had a ( and I know I am sounding melodramatic here) life-changing and career rattling experience when I attended a two day workshop with Colorado-area Marriage and Family Health Center director and psychotherapist Dr David Schnarch, in Sydney,Australia. (UPDATE: also see a related post HERE)
Schnarch is plugged as the “rightful heir” to sex science pioneers Masters and Johnson. But he’s not their disciple. In the 1950s they introduced the idea that sex was a natural function and should be regarded as such. At one level, that was tremendously liberating, he says. But at another level it was an inherently pathological model in which sexual difficulties (or dysfunction, as they became known post-Masters and Johnson) were treated as abnormal. In fact, says Schnarch, sexual difficulties are a normal part of the healthy development of an emotional relationship between adults.
We were a mixed group that arrived at the Mary McKillop Centre for the workshop. Dr. Schnarch went to some trouble to make us all feel at home (even forsaking his tie, as is the custom in this part of the world).
He warned us it would be “like drinking from a fire hose” and he was right. There was so much practical wisdom in what he was saying that it was hard to take it all in. But we did. People changed over those two days. I did.
At the same time I became more and more excited at the robust promise of Dr. Schnarch’s work. It is increasingly accepted that he is offering a new paradigm in sexual and marital therapy, however I see this paradigm as offering new approaches to all forms of psychotherapy. To be able to approach clients from a genuinely non-pathologizing stance, and to work in such a way that I am speaking to and drawing on the best of them is a goal often promised but rarely, if ever, delivered on till now.
Materials in Dr Schnarch’s Passionate Marriage series highlight how common issues about intimate sexual relationships and common problems with sex and intimacy are really part of a system: Marriage is a natural “people-growing process” and the inevitable sexual boredom, lack of passion, and communication difficulties are the drive wheels and grindstones of adult development. Relationships are shaped by more than unresolved childhood issues, past “wounds,” and family-of-origin problems. Even when these are non-existent, marriage becomes contentious because the growth processes in emotionally committed relationships surface in sexual interactions and other intimate exchanges. These are not situational problems to be solved and avoided. Rather, they are dilemmas to go through because they make us grow capable of the intimate sexual relationships and eroticism we seek. Common sexual and relationship difficulties are midpoints in the evolution of healthy relationships rather than signs of personal inadequacy, incompatibility, or falling out of love.
Passionate Marriage focuses on life-long sexual development rather than merely curing sexual dysfunctions or improving sexual relationships (it does this too). Most people never reach their sexual potential–and those who do are generally well into their 40s, 50s, and 60s. This is a pleasant surprise to many people because it’s common to confuse genital prime with sexual prime. In reality, we are more capable of intensely intimate sexual relationships and blatant eroticism as we mature. Most people are much better in bed as they get older. Sexual potential and cellulite are highly correlated!
Instead of emphasizing listening skills, communication, compromise, or negotiation, Passionate Marriage shows how “your relationship with yourself” controls both intimate connection and sexual desire for your partner. This revolutionary approach offers concrete ways to use your sexuality to build a stronger sense of yourself while getting closer to your partner. Most marital enrichment approaches emphasize other-validated intimacy: expecting empathy, reciprocity, and validation from your partner when you disclose. Passionate Marriage emphasizes self-validated intimacy: validating and accepting your own disclosures, and learning to soothe your own heart. This shift allows you to use emotional gridlock, difficulties being intimate, and problems in your sexual relationship like sexual boredom, and low desire to develop yourself while creating a more intimate, passionate, loving relationship with your partner.
This approach has lots of practical applications. Passionate Marriage decodes the “language” of sex, showing how your interactions in your sexual relationship reveal you, your partner, and your relationship. Discover new psychological “styles” of having sex and dimensions of sexual experience. Learn how eyes-open sex (and orgasms) can bring hot passion and new intimacy to your relationship–and make you grow. What partners learn about maintaining themselves in their intimate sexual relationships has immediate application outside the bedroom too. Although better sex doesn’t automatically make for a better relationship, the personal growth required to enhance the sexual and intimate aspects of relationship is the same growth that improves relationships in other ways, often at the same time.
Rather than focusing on “touch techniques,” the book Passionate Marriage and associated workshops emphasize intimate and emotional connection during sexual interaction. Expect explicit discussion of sexual behavior, practical tips, and details of couples’ going through the “people-growing” crucibles inherent in emotionally committed relationships.
These books are essential resources for all married or committed couples, not just those who think they are in trouble. More over the next few weeks.
Questions? Leave them in the comments. email me via the link on the right or tweet them.
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- Good Health Equal Good Sex, Researchers Say (medhealthwriter.blogspot.com)