Dec 31 / Simcha

Holding on to Yourself in Relationship (D. Schnarch)

schnarchThe clinical abilities of psychologist and sex therapist David Schnarch attract clients and students from across the globe. He has written several landmark books on intimacy, sexuality, and relationships.  Unlike other master therapists who speak of long-term relationship in terms of rebuilding “attachment,” Schnarch speaks of differentiation.

According to Schnarch, focusing on attachment reduces marriage to a quest for safety, security, and compensation for childhood disappointments. “We’ve eliminated from marriage those things that fuel our essential drives for autonomy and freedom. It becomes a trap that actually prevents us from growing up. Instead of infantilizing us, marriage can — and must — become the cradle of adult development.”

The path to this goal, according to Schnarch is differentiation: the dynamic process through which one can live in close proximity to a partner and still maintain a separate sense of self.   The following is a selection from his writing, reviewing his “Crucible 4 Points of Balance.

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One of the most important things in life is becoming a solid individual. And another important thing is to have meaningful relationships. Two of the most powerful human drives are our urge to control our own lives (autonomy), and our urge for relationship with others (attachment). One of the biggest tasks of adulthood is being able to balance these two urges, and one of the most common problems is having too much of one, and not enough of the other.

People often feel claustrophobic or controlled in committed relationships, or feel like they can’t be their true selves in their relationships; they may feel like their sense of self is starting to disappear, and they don’t know who they are any more. Others are constantly worried about “abandonment,” or “safety and security,” and constantly press their partner for “commitment,” and “unconditional love.”

The ability to balance our needs for autonomy and attachment is called differentiation. Differentiation is a scientific process that occurs in all species. For humans, it is about becoming more of a unique and solid individual through relationships with others.

“The Crucible 4 Points of Balance “ translate differentiation into practical terms.  These are the core organizing principles for helping couples become more grounded, adaptive, creative and mature (better “differentiated”).
1.  Solid Flexible Self

  • You have an internalized set of core values by which you run your life.
  • You have a sense of your own self worth that perseveres through hard times.
  • You can maintain your own viewpoints and sense of direction when others pressure you to conform.
  • You draw your sense of personal stability, values, and direction from within yourself; this makes it easier for you to acknowledge that at times you may be wrong.
  • You don’t always have to be right, and you don’t crash when you’re wrong;  you can allow other people to be right at times.
  • You learn from your mistakes.

2.  Quiet Mind & Calm Heart

You are able to manage/soothe your own emotional inner world by:

  • Controlling your anxiety so it doesn’t run away with you;
  • Handling your feelings and emotions;
  • Soothing your emotional bruises;
  • Monitoring your body.

3.  Grounded Responding

This involves making modulated responses to people, events, and situations. You do not over-react to tense or anxiety-filled situations (by saying hurtful things, yelling at your children, falling apart over small issues, having a short temper), nor do you under-react or avoid unpleasant or conflictual situations that need attention.
4.  Meaningful Endurance

Tolerating discomfort or pain for the goal of growth is  a crucial ingredient for success in marriage, parenting, families, and careers. Endurance is not blind perseverance, stubborness or refusal to face facts.  Rather, it involves:

  • Sticking with things so you can accomplish your goals;
  • Making yourself do what needs to be done, even when you don’t want to do it;
  • Absorbing hardship and disappointment, bouncing back after defeat;
  • Withstanding stress.

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See also:  Reclaim Adulthood, Reclaim Passion  (D. Schnarch)