Passionate Marriage

My clinical supervisor recommended I pick up one of David Schnarch’s books, so when I found Passionate Marriage in an Ashland bookstore, I decided I’d give it a try.

Main points:

  • I couldn’t finish it. I found his tone pretentious, and lines that insinuated the AIDS epidemic to be a good thing for its encouragement of monogamy to be in poor taste. 
  • His infused sex and marital therapy model is based on the construct of differentiation, as utilized in Bowen’s family systems theory. Basically: the more that each partner in a relationship is differentiated (able to truly speak their minds and be themselves in a relationship, and able to self-soothe and self-regulate) the likelier it is that a couple’s erotic and sex life will be truly intimate and passionate. I buy some of this, for sure. He also argues an interesting point: the more important a partner becomes in one’s life, one’s level of differentiation must also increase. Otherwise, a relationship will inevitably become “emotionally fused” which leads to a whole host of issues.
  • He argues that intimacy is NOT “good communication”, reciprocal disclosure, and other-validation. Rather, he argues intimacy comes from and includes conflict, unilateral disclosure, and self-validation. Expanding from the concept of differentiation, he argues that we are not actually intimate with our partners if we are constantly relying on them for validation and to always be in agreement; true intimacy comes when we are brave enough to be ourselves even when our partners do not agree with us. We experience intimacy when we can stand to be truly seen and to truly see our partners. 
  • The whole middle section is when I lost my momentum with the book. He describes three or four methods in which couples can begin to experiment with methods to increase intimacy in erotic and sexual situations. I got bored, honestly.
  • There was no discussion of nonmonogamy, and implicit in his description of “emotionally intimate” relationships is the assumption that those relationships are also monogamous.

Pick it up if you’re interested. I give it a 3/5 for for some thought-provoking insights, and for the recognition that I think some of the book that I didn’t like could be quite compelling to others. Maybe I’ll pick it up again in a few years.

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