I like to revisit David Schnarch’s thinking, as it always feels refreshing. He turns some well-received, and indeed practised, ideas in couples and sex therapy around and upside-down in parts, and makes a considered point of not labouring (psychologically speaking) in past childhood wounds when it comes to sorting a relationship out. He speaks to our ‘best’ parts – our adult self in the here and now, rather than the wounded child, and his language is appropriately punchy as a result. (‘You are not abandoned! You may have been back then, but not now!) His seminal book Passionate Marriage (no pun intended) is littered with take-home aphorisms – such as ‘compromise is the tyranny of the lowest common denominator’.
He poo-poos communication as the Holy Grail of ’emotional gridlock’ in a relationship (he makes clear that ‘marriage’ means any long term relationship), convincing me that ‘communication has no virtue if you don’t like the message’. He works on the basis that most adults are good ‘mind mappers’ and this means that your partner probably does know what you want, even if you aren’t asking for it. So the interesting question is to ask why is he/she witholding, rather than concentrating on pursuing methods to enable you to state your needs more effectively.
Schnarch speaks at length about the thorny issue of ‘differentiation’ , which includes the task of becoming an ‘adult’ in relationship, accepting all your vulnerable and resilient parts, and being able to validate yourself rather than seek it from your partner. He sees most problems in couples stemming from their similarities rather than differences, explicitly swerving Mars/Venus stuff. ‘Differentiation’ also means being prepared to be yourself when it may be your partner won’t like it – and that being ok. I like his optimism and unshakeable belief that relationships (of any type) are inherently ‘people making machines’. He works on the basis that intimacy and committed relationships are supposed to be tough, as they are the birthplace of adulthood, and is thus convinced that we have the potential for far better sex in our 40s, 50s and 60s and beyond than ever before.
He takes no shit from his clients – there’s nowhere to hide in his consulting room.