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In Secrets of a Passionate
Marriage, David Schnarch talks about how couples can cope with sexual
problems. He talks spontaneously,
although the program of 2 tapes is well structured. He explains that he does not think it is helpful to pathologize
sexual problems, and he aims to go beyond many of the conventional techniques
of sexual therapy. He is a clear
speaker, using straightforward language, and he presents some plausible
ideas. He enjoys making his points in
slightly controversial ways, and this helps to maintain the listener's
interest. For example, he presents the
example of a couple eating together in a restaurant and not talking. He argues that the conventional view, that they
have a breakdown of communication, is wrong.
He says that they do not need to talk to each other precisely because
they have learned to communicate so well, without even speaking. But the kicker is that what they are
communicating is that they do not want to hear what the other person has to
say. Another examples comes when he
asks whether it is possible for two people to be sexually incompatible, and
answers that all couples are sexually incompatible. He goes on to explain that it is possible to overcome these
obstacles, but that this requires working on the intimacy in the
Schnarch argues that couples are
capable, even late in life, to achieve incredible sexual intimacy after years
of bad sex. He does not think this is a
matter of returning to the early sexual excitement of the early days of the
relationship, and indeed suggests that many relationships never had such a
stage. Furthermore, it is not a matter
of learning to express one's feelings in ways that do not upset one's partner. One of the most refreshing elements in his
approach is his insistence that achieving greater intimacy will require that
couples face differences and accept them.
It is important for individuals to be able to tolerate discomfort, sooth
themselves through this process, because it can be difficult and
upsetting. However, he argues that
people are in fact quite resilient and can cope with emotional discomfort, and
this can be productive. Conflict is not
only natural, but it is inevitable, so rather than avoid it, a couple need to make the most of it. Through mutual understanding, they can come
to greater intimacy with more passion, and their marriage can grow. Indeed, he uses the odd turn of phrase that
marriages are "people growing machines," which suggests that
individuals as individuals can grow through the marriage.
Of course, it is not going to be
possible to solve major problems in a marriage, or even sexual problems, with a
two and a half hour audiobook. Schnarch
addresses very general issues, and so does not get to the sorts of specific
details that happen between two people.
While his focus is on sex, he mainly addresses the general emotional and
relational issues involved in them, rather than more particular questions about
how to cope with premature ejaculation, problems with erections, low libido, or
unhappiness about one's partner's body.
However, what he says should be enough for listeners to decide whether
they like his approach, and then if so, they can go on to read his books, such
as Passionate Marriage, Resurrecting Sex, and Constructing the
Sexual Crucible. He is a persuasive
speaker with a dry sense of humor, so the audiobook is enjoyable. Occasionally he seems to get bogged down in
his own terminology, but those moments are rare. There is no guarantee that his approach will be successful, and
he does not present any evidence that it is more successful than others, but it
does seem to be build on plenty of real-life experience of helping clients work
through problems, and it makes a good deal of sense.
© 2005 Christian Perring. All
Christian Perring, Ph.D., is
Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College, Long Island, and editor
of Metapsychology Online Review. His main research is on
philosophical issues in medicine, psychiatry and psychology.