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Saturday, November 12, 2011
I’m traveling (again) this week and have finally gotten around to reading Dr. David Schnarch’s book “Passionate Marriage.” I have seen his theories referred too often by others and received endorsements of his work from two family members who are family therapists whose opinions I respect.

So I decided to dive into the book this week. I’ll withhold my final opinion until I have finished the book. It’s pretty heavy stuff and definitely challenges some of the most common intimacy paradigms. Suffice it to say that there are lots of things I agree with and a few things I do not. Most of what I have a problem with so far has to do with the fact that Dr. Schnarch clearly does not share my Christian world view, which brings about some understandable conflicts.

Naked Without Shame

One of the things I find most interesting about the book is that it supports one of my fundamental Surrendered Marriage principles: learning to be “naked without shame,” though he couches it in different terms. This idea comes from the way the Bible describes marriage in the Garden of Eden before sin came along, bringing shame and fear that destroy intimacy (intimacy with God and intimacy in marriage). Genesis 2:25 says of that first marriage “they were naked and they were without shame.” That’s how it’s supposed to be.

Of course Schnarch does not come at this from a biblical perspective but rather a clinical one. Still, he reaches a similar conclusion. And his insights offer some interesting perspectives on the dynamics of enduring relationships. He explains that there is a natural track for marriages that tends to lead to a kind of gridlock. Over time most marriages will naturally settle into a kind of comfort zone where neither spouse wants to face the “risks” that deeper intimacy can bring. Neither wants to “rock the boat.” It’s better to keep things safe and surface-level. The status quo settles in and the gridlock that ensues brings with it boredom, loneliness and disenchantment. Schnarch states:
As you become more dependent on (your spouse’s) validation and acceptance, you become less willing to risk disagreement and rejection… The very fact that you love your partner makes it harder and harder to maintain yourself with him or her.
I’m attempting to simplify here for the sake of clarity, but basically fear and shame (what Schnarch describes as an unwillingness to face yourself) put a cap on real intimacy. Eventually you’ll grow weary of the kind of pretense that maintaining a safe and surface-level relationship requires. Going back to our Eden analogy, the fig leaves you put on to cover over your nakedness (driven by the fear that shame produces) and just aren’t all that comfortable or lasting.

Striving to keep everything stable by shrinking back from who you really are and how you really feel (what Schnarch calls your solid self and what I call who God really made you to be) is not sustainable for the long haul. This lack of genuine intimacy will cause you and your spouse to drift apart over time. Often the growing frustration will eventually surface around some particular issue (sex, in-laws, finances, children…) and an explosion will take place.

Deepen Intimacy Through Differences?

At this point, one of four scenarios can take place over the conflict, three of which are negative. First, you may push your spouse to compromise who they are and accommodate you by backing down. Second, you may compromise who you are by accommodating your spouse. Third, you may separate emotionally and/or physically.

The fourth and final scenario, the most difficult to accomplish, is for you to both be willing to confront and present your true selves, to come together naked and unashamed as it were. This is what genuine intimacy requires.

You see, the kind of surrender that we are called to in marriage is not the same as compromise or backing down. Surrender is not giving in so that you can get something in return or even giving up in order to keep the peace.

Finding intimacy in a Surrendered Marriage requires you to maintain your personal integrity while allowing your spouse to do the same. I haven’t gotten to Dr. Schnarch’s prescriptions for gridlock, but I do agree with him that being able maintain your sense of self while staying in close proximity to your spouse is an important component. This is ability to stay close through your differences does indeed breed deeper intimacy.

Biblical Surrender

While the two of you are standing close together, naked and unashamed, without fear or pretense, is a good time to consider what biblical surrender looks like.

I keep coming back to the same definition for intimacy in surrendered marriage: bringing the fullness of yourself (spirit, soul and body) to your marriage in a way that benefits your spouse and your marriage. Rather than looking for what you can get, we are to look for what we can give. But you can’t give what you don’t have, and you can’t fake it for long, so you may need to grow and change.

Rather than selfishly asserting your rights, consider what the right thing to do is in God’s eyes. Pray together and ask for wisdom. Get God’s perspective on the problem or difference. Ask for insight into what is really going on, because in many conflicts, the real issue is something other than the thing that surfaces first. Ask God to show you where you need to grow or change, and ask Him to help you, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to accomplish that.

These probably aren’t things that Schnarch is going to suggest, though I’m looking forward to seeing what he does offer as solutions to the marital gridlock problem. I’ll come back with some additional thoughts after I’ve finished the book.

Are there issues in your marriage where you’ve made compromise the norm? Are you willing to get naked with your spouse in a way that maintains your personal integrity and theirs? Are you able to seek selfless solutions that benefit your spouse and your marriage, even if it means you have to grow and change?

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Here are a few of my past posts on being naked without shame in your marriage:


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