The Crucible, Revisited
Today is our last look at David Schnarch's amazing book, Passionate Marriage. To recap, his position is that our job, in relationship, is to stand on our own two feet, to work on those aspects of our self that are getting in our way, and to self-soothe in the face of opposition. As we've indicated forever, my job is figuring me out, resolving my issues and standing forth in my ways of living and being. And I want to be with a partner who is doing exactly that. I will not be in relationship with anyone who wants me to put his or her needs or wants or desires ahead of my own. Period.
A quote, for this week, from Schnarch:
"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…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." Pg. 234
Back when I was in Seminary, one of my friends was the archetypical "seeker of the perfect partner." When we first got together, she had just divorced her first husband. He was a psychiatrist, and her description of the process they engaged in was, "I married him because he stood up to me, didn't just cave in. We argued all the time, trying to get the advantage. I finally left him when I realized that we were never going to be able to resolve anything." The marriage had lasted less than 6 months.
I remember asking her what it was about her that she thought she needed to be at war with her partner. She went on and on about how she thought that conflict and arguing were signs of real life - of passion. The verbal pushing and shoving matches, to her, indicated the depth of her relationship. She was "engaged." The problem, of course, was that was all there was - the shoving, and the exhaustion. I remember suggesting therapy; so she could get over herself and so she could explore her desperate need to win. She just laughed and went on a man hunt.
That summer, she went off to a church job that put her in contact with a series of men. She wrote to me weekly, describing in glowing terms the "male of the week," each of whom she was serially bonking. She said that she had learned her lesson all by herself - no therapy necessary, and what she wanted was a man who was sweet and kind and who would listen to her and respect her need to be in charge. Unfortunately, none of the men seemed to be "into" such obedient behaviour. Male after male passed through her thighs; none of them had the right stuff.
Finally, all that was left was the janitor.
I went to Michigan to pick her up and haul her sore and sorry butt back to Toronto. Imagine my amusement, when I arrived. I found a note saying she was with "Biff" or whatever his name was. In his van. And damned if there wasn't a bumper sticker reading, "If this van's rockin' don't come knockin." And it was.
Biff turned out to be just perfect. Over dinner I learned his favourite expression was, "Yes, dear, whatever you say, dear." He clucked and cooed and practically cut her meat for her. She was going to be in charge, and she was revelling in it. So, she married him.
Three years later, she showed up, unannounced, on my doorstep. She was leaving him, she said, amidst tears. Why? "He never has an opinion. He leaves everything to me. The sex is boring. He won't stand up to me." When I pointed out that these were the very things she had told me, 3 years earlier, were his strengths, she opined that I had mis-heard her.
The next guy was a shell-shocked war veteran who couldn't feel, and she was determined to teach him. The last guy I heard of was 30 years older than her and had just had a triple bypass. I joked that she was with him because she'd realized that, so far, all she'd missed out on with a man was being a widow. She did get therapy in the middle of all of this; from a guy she called "Donny." (Shades of Annie Hall.) He told her she was fine - it was the men.
Haven't heard from her since 87. She hated it that I continued to suggest that she get her own stuff together, and figure out why she had such control issues. She thought she had nothing to learn.
"Yes, we all marry "for better and for worse," but the assumption is that spouses will do everything possible to overcome their limitations - not simply demand their partner put up with them!"
So, assuming you have a partner and you're stuck, and you're willing to look at yourself and your stuff, what will be required? Well, first of all, you need to get off your partner's case, take a step back, and spend a while in self-exploration. This involves admitting that the cause of your distress is you, not your partner.
Now, your partner is likely not going to make this process easy. Unless they have, by some miracle, agreed to do their work precisely when you decided to do yours, their goal will be to get you hooked back into their messes - by doing the old stuff, cajoling, blaming, picking fights. They do this because, as you change the rules through self-exploration, they feel threatened, as the focus goes off them and the relationship to you.
Do it anyway.
One last Schnarchian quote: (from a case study)
"At breakfast the next morning, Joan expressed her feelings without focusing on Bill's reaction. "I'm no longer willing to accept how rarely we talk," she said, "and I'm no longer willing to push you to do it. But don't assume I'm accepting things the way they are because I won't be nagging or criticizing you anymore. For myself, I don't want to be pathetically grateful just because my partner talks to me…And for you, I don't want you feeling pressured all the time by a screeching wife. I'll interpret what you do from here on as indicating your decision about how you really want to live. I make my decision about my life accordingly."" Pg 122
The key, as we endlessly repeat, is changing one's self-view, and from that place, changing the way we interact. Without exception, the life you lead, you live, is the result of your skill at self-knowing.
Buy Schnarch's book. Find a competent therapist. Stay with it. (Or start…)
This is, after all, the only life you have, and likely the only one you'll get.