An interview with Dr David Schnarch – The Sex Therapist
Sep 28, 2007
In his book Passionate Marriage, sex therapist Dr David Schnarch asserts that the greatest sexual pleasure in life is possible in one’s middle and later years, when a mature sense of self has been achieved and genuine intimacy is possible with another person. Dr Schnarch shows how the details of your sexual style — from kissing to daring erotic behaviors — are a window into you, your partner, and your relationship.
Q. What is this book about?
A. Passionate Marriage focuses on helping people reach their sexual potential and have the best sex and intimacy of their lives — within a long-term relationship — even after passion and desire have waned. It doesn’t focus on dysfunction, but instead on growth and helping people really make contact with their partner during sex. Good sex isn’t about just elevating your heart rate — it’s about elevating your heart.
Q. How does your approach work and how is it different from traditional approaches?
A. I help couples use the inevitable problems with sex and intimacy to grow — so they can have sex with their hearts and minds, and not just with their genitals (there is no nudity or sexual contact in our therapy or workshops). All couples eventually hit emotional “gridlock”: when partners are at each other’s throats, arguing about everything and no one can give an inch or say they’re sorry.
Gridlock is a natural stage in the evolution of both people and their relationships; it isn’t caused by lack of communication and communication won’t solve it. It can be the pathway to the hottest, most intimate sex you’ve ever had.
Passionate Marriage talks to people’s strengths rather than to their weaknesses (i.e.: “childhood wounds” and “fears of abandonment”). It focuses on people’s resiliency rather than their pain. Marriage operates at much greater intensity and pressure than we expect–so great, in fact, couples mistakenly assume it’s time for divorce when it’s really time to get to work. Unlike other methods, this approach may be used even when only one partner is willing to participate. By empowering the best aspects of a relationship rather than the lowest common denominator, this method helps couples on the brink of divorce, when empathy and listening skills offer too little and too late.
The solution isn’t going back to the passion of early relationships because that’s sex between strangers; it’s about going forward to new passion and intimacy as adults. If we use relationships properly they make us grow into adults, capable of intense intimacy, eroticism, and passion-having sex with our hearts and minds, and not just with our genitals.
Q. In Passionate Marriage you talk a lot about differentiation. What is this?
A. Differentiation is a natural process in committed relationships that involves developing more of a self while growing closer to your partner. Men often sacrifice their relationship to hold onto their sense of self. Women often sacrifice their sense of self to stabilize their relationship. Differentiation is about having it both ways: having a stronger sense of self and a stronger relationship.
Q. What is intimacy? How is your view of intimacy unique?
A. Intimacy is about letting yourself really be known, including parts that you or your partner don’t like. But it’s not just about letting “warts” be known. It often involves showing strengths you’ve been hiding, too. Most approaches focus on getting your partner’s validation and acceptance when you disclose. But you can’t count on this, and if you try, it inherently limits self-disclosure because you won’t say things your partner won’t validate. Resolving gridlock requires intimacy based on validating yourself.
Q. We’ve all been taught that compromise and negotiation is the heart of marriage. But you say that it’s the road to boring sex. Why?
A. The key is holding onto yourself so you can have more of yourself and more with your partner. When you feel proud of yourself, it increases your sexual interest and your interest in your partner.
Q. In Passionate Marriage you discuss at length what you call “tools for connection.” What are these “tools” and why are they important to couples?
A. Amazing as it seems, many couples are not in emotional contact while they are having physical contact. They may both reach orgasm but they are emotionally isolated. I have developed a number of “tools for connection.” New ways to establish deep emotional connection in and out of bed. I encourage couples to forget about technique, and “follow the connection” during sex to know what to do next. We also suggest hugging ’til relaxed, eyes open sex, and even eyes open orgasm.