Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Eros Shrugged

Tom Allen responds with a good comment, from which I have pulled the following excerpt:

Please note that I'm not calling Scnarch's approach into question; I'm calling your application therof into question.

I'm not hammering on you, BTW, and I admit that I may be missing something in all this. It just seems to me that in setting a goal or target for yourself - without informing your wife of the target or the consequences for not meeting them - then the two of you are not (and I return to the same expression) playing the same game. While you may call this "pushing your partner to violate her integrity by accomodating you", I'd say that your partner certainly needs to be presented with the option in the first place so she could evaluate it and determine:

a) whether she was actually violating her integrity, or

b) whether the consequences might not be worth an examination and reevaluation of her own goals and targets.

And again, I just want to reiterate that a relationship implies some degree of mutual accomdation; but let's not confuse healthy accomdation with unhealthy fusion. A healthy individual should (IMO) be constantly questioning his own integrity with regard to accomodation and fusion. "Am I giving in to avoid a fight?" or "Am I doing something I hate so I can get laid later on?" or "Am I doing this because I know it makes her happy and it's not really a big deal to me?" are examples of this. Elsewise, the Schnarch philosophy could be misconstrued to be an emotional "Ayn Rand-ianism".

One side note... you're always welcome to disagree with my points in this space. It's good that you've brought these things up because they make me go back to primary sources to see if I may be distorting things.

I'll address your comment from two angles. The first is a recap of personal experience, and the second will use quotations from Passionate Marriage to support my current approach.

Although I have not made my wife aware of the deadline that I set for myself back in August, I believe that there is an understanding that our marriage might be at stake. I'll pull together several snapshots from the past that support this.

The following quoted passage is taken from my account of a conversation I had with my wife in mid-July this year regarding the sexual distancing behavior she was exhibiting.
I told her that I believed she needed to get some help to begin that journey of discovery because I didn't think she could fully enjoy sex until she had the knowledge of what she wanted and was willing to let go.

She started crying. I asked her why she was crying. She said she didn't know. We had been down this road before, and I refused to let myself be baffled by it this time. I paused, and I said to her that I knew I was going to sound insensitive about this, but I was at a point where I couldn't take "I don't know" for an answer.

She said it would be be hard and embarrassing to go to therapy. I told her that many years ago, I agreed to seek counseling when she thought I had sexual compulsion issues, and I spent many an hour talking about sexual issues in front of a therapist.

I reminded her that several years ago, she staked the future of our marriage on whether I wanted to have children, and I went through a lot of counseling to come to terms with the fears I had about parenthood. I told her I felt that this issue needed to be addressed if we wanted to preserve this marriage. I said that I looked at the statistics for marriages with low sexual activity and mismatched drives, and they were grim.

By early August, we were into marriage counseling, and the third session was a rocky one, because I felt as if the therapist was allowing my wife to turn the tables and put the blame wholly on me. My wife sensed that I was close to the brink and sent me a couple IMs to me at work the next day. I didn't respond to the first one. The second one said:
wife: since we can't seem to talk right now face to face, i would like to remind you that approx 3 weeks when you spoke with me you said you would be patient. that we would work through this together. i am not getting the impression that you want to be patient. i have done everything so far that you have asked me, joint therapy and i am doing individual, and i am making an effort to read the 5 love languange book. I wouldn't typically say this during work but then at least i know you are listening. i am trying, please don't give up on us, i haven't.

During the fifth counseling session, she said that she had at times considered divorce.
My wife relented and said quietly that she had considered divorce several times over the past year. She said she wanted me to feel safe to turn to someone to talk about these things.

The admission that she, too, had thought of divorce, was big.

I asked her what kept her from threatening it or following through with it, and she said she didn't like the thought of having to raise the kids alone. I told her that even if we did split up that I would retain an active role as a father. She said that even with that, in reality she would have to do 90 % of the effort.

All of the events above occurred prior to my entry into the Schnarchian growth cycle.
Then in October, when I gave her the letter on what I had learned about our finances, her first reaction was to ask me if I wanted a divorce.
Shortly after getting out of bed, she asked me what I had been doing in the middle of the night. I told her that I was writing something that attempted to express my feelings to her. I didn't want to dodge the topic any more, so I told her that she could read the text herself right away if she wanted to. She asked me whether it was going to ruin her day or make her cry. I told her that I didn't think it would.

She also asked me whether I was asking for a divorce. The thought of divorce must have been on her mind, given that the best friend who set us up on a date over 14 years ago was separating with her husband of 12 years starting this weekend. I told her "no", and handed the papers over to her.

Now let's move on to passages from Schnarch that I believe support my approach. The first comes from Chapter 12, when he discusses the nature of the growth cycle. Boldface emphasis is mine.
Basically, constructing your crucible involves extracting your unresolved personal issues embedded in your gridlocked situation and confronting them as an act of integrity. You do this unilaterally, without counting on your partner to do likewise, and without getting lost in what he is or isn't doing. Sometimes this involves owning up to your projections, even when your partner doesn't reciprocate. You focus on yourself instead of "working on your relationship" or trying to change your partner. You stop trying to make your partner listen, validate, or accept you; you listen to yourself. It's not easy, but this act of integrity is possible when you let the best in you run the show. (Schnarch, p. 334)

The second quotation comes from Chapter 13, where Schnarch talks about what induces the growth cycle, a process he calls reaching critical mass. One of the hallmarks of critical mass is a independence upon ultimatums.
Ultimatums are rare. People avoiding self-confrontation push their marriages into crises all the time. Yelling and screaming to intimidate others is one way to hide fear of losing control of the situation. There is no need to issue threats and ultimatums if you are serious -- and it's a foolish strategy if you're not: ultimatums are only binding on the person who issues them. If you don't follow through on your ultimatum when your partner does not comply, you violate your integrity -- and your partner knows you are not serious. People who issue frequent ultimatums have little integrity. Those who want to keep their integrity and their marriage intact settle down when they arrive at critical mass. (Schnarch, p. 371)

The process of self-confrontation is supposed to help you become aware of how you contribute to the negative dynamics of the relationship and decide what a "solid yet permeable self" looks like in your situation.

I have decided that if the state of our relationship at the deadline requires too much permeability from me, then I will need to withdraw from the relationship in a way that is both respectful to my wife as a separate human being and mindful of the well being of my children. That might be the only thing that can push my wife toward her own growth cycle, given that my invitations to have a dialogue, or at least learn more about me, have been met with some lip service and little action.
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