A while ago I wrote a post, “Respect the Husband,” about the seemingly obvious but often overlooked importance of acknowledging your mate’s separateness as a unique individual. A friend recently told me the title put her off at first, conjuring up unhappy 1950s connotations à la “I promise to obey . . . .” She went on to talk about issues of respect in her marriage. Last night I had a lengthy conversation with another friend about her struggles to connect with her husband on a deeper level.
Tonight, on my weekly “night off,” I found myself as I often do, knocking around our local bookstore. I was in line at the information desk when a bold “Sex” sign beckoned to me from behind the worker’s head. I wandered over, hoping to find an intelligent book that offered more than “365 positions” or “25 tips.” The last time I did this was several years ago, and the only book that didn’t fit the above bill was the Kama Sutra. I brought it home, but (perhaps prematurely) abandoned it after getting to the chapter that categorized women of different regions in India by the sexual acts they purportedly specialized in, you know, back in the day.
What I’ve been looking for in between all those racy titles I’m not exactly sure, but I think in general just something that reflects my experience these last few years since marrying my husband. Namely, how transformative experiencing deep love and intimacy can be for a person—not just on an individual level, but also in feeling connected to all of humanity. A bit heavy, no? And perhaps a little unrealistic to expect to find sandwiched between Fabulous Foreplay and Squirms, Screams and Squirts.
But where else would I look for this imaginary book? In the spirituality section? Ha! I’m no religious scholar, but I’ve read a book or two on religion and spirituality, and sex appears nowhere. (I’m sure there are books that discuss both topics under the same cover that I haven’t read, but I’m thinking they represent the great minority, since even a search on the omniscient Amazon.com produces what looks like a whole bunch of nothing.) How is this possible? Even my most beloved A New Earth and The Power of Now remain notably silent on the topic of sex. I can understand why Tolle only devotes a page and a half to parenting; as far as I know he is not a parent himself. But sex? It is a major part of life! I’m hoping he’s including it in the next iteration.
A religion survey class in college broached the topic of sex only once—during the chapter on Hinduism. At the time, I thought all those statues celebrating the lingam and yoni were literally laughable. Now, though, I find myself marveling at our Western culture’s absolute lack of celebration of the sexual. Where do we think we come from? Even the most devout Christian only claims immaculate conception for one of us. The rest of us were cooked up the old-fashioned way. It seems to me, having been present and conscious for the magical beginning of three of our world’s precious inhabitants, that these events deserve a bit of fanfare. Maybe not an annual day down at the local Hallmark store. That might be a little weird. But I can see a statue or two.
So tonight, back at the bookstore, I was happily surprised to see the elegant cover of David Schnarch’s Passionate Marriage peeping out from the bottom shelf. With the recent conversations with my friends still bumping around in my head, I sat down to give it a once over. How happy was I to discover a small passage that generally summed up what I was trying to say in my previous post. Schnarch is describing a framework for looking at different people’s level of intimacy. Out of six described levels, the fourth level reminds me of myself in my first marriage:
“The other person is a non-person—an extension of one’s own needs. Moving from the first to the fourth level, people demonstrate greater differentiation, culminating in the partner emerging as a real person—although not a truly separate one. Psychologically, at the fourth level there are finally two people—or more accurately, one and a half. There is still a tendency for partners to function like emotional Siamese twins. Until the partner is more than just an extension of one’s ego, there isn’t a genuine basis for caring about him or her.”
The fifth level feels more like where Bobby and I are when all is as it should be:
“At this level of differentiation, the partner stops being one’s mirror, a reflection on oneself, or an extension of oneself. He or she emerges as a bona fide separate person, and occupies an unrivaled place in one’s life. His/her happiness and satisfaction become as important as one’s own. Compassion, consideration, mutuality, and integrity steer the interactions, made possible by one’s ability to calm one’s anxiety and self-soothe one’s conflicts and hurts. Partners realize and appreciate each other’s deepest core personality and potentials—pushing themselves to disclose their most private and personal truths. It isn’t easy or comfortable, yet nothing is deliberately held back. . . . Acceptance is based on true knowledge of each other—it’s not a mutual validation pact predicated on fantasies and projections. Partners share a profound and irreplaceable love.”
Wow. I couldn’t have said it any better. It never occurred to me that being able to “calm one’s anxiety” and “self-soothe one’s conflicts and hurts” are related to how deeply a person can bond with their mate, but it does make perfect sense. If we can’t heal our own wounds, we hope our mates can do it for us. When they let us down, we experience it as a personal betrayal.
I would say I do some of each. At times I get upset over one thing or another and then feel all bent out of shape when Bobby doesn’t do just the right thing to fix me (for example, behave properly on Valentine’s Day). But there are also times when I manage to patch myself back up. Often a trickling of awareness will find its way into my thinking mind (awareness that I’m being a tad bit irrational perhaps?), and that will be just the salve I need. “I think I’m in a horrible mood or something,” I’ll say. Or maybe “I guess I’m trying to start a fight,” ending with a sheepish, “Sorry about that.”
If it’s actually something he’s doing that’s not the greatest, on a good day I can take a deep breath to calm myself, and then tell him directly and unemotionally what the issue is and what he should be doing instead. Of course, if you manage to pull that off you have to control yourself even further. Any expectation that he will immediately right his wrongs will surely lead to frustration at the very least (or possibly enough fury to send you to the moon). The best advice is what the childcare workers at my son’s daycare used to say to the warring toddlers: “Walk away. Just walk away.”
But wait, there’s more: a sixth level! The bad news is that according to Schnarch, few people reach this level. (Let’s raise a glass to the hope that we’re all among the few.) The good news, though, is that someone’s finally talking about sex and spirituality. Here goes:
“Here partners come to grips with the barriers of existential separateness and experience oneness with each other and humanity. Their sexual encounters heighten self-awareness and interconnection. Normal boundaries between self and other dissolve. Partners see themselves in each other (and vice versa) during eyes-open sex, but this doesn’t stem from emotional fusion or reflected sense of self. It comes from appreciating the essence in each of us that connects all of us (and encourages social and environmental consciousness). Sex becomes a form of spiritual communion celebrating the mysteries of life.”
Sounds like a fabulous way to save the world. Kinda makes you want to erect a statue, doesn’t it?
© Amy Daniewicz and Beneath the Trees