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on December 2, 2005
Couples with relationship problems that they cannot fix and do not even really understand may well find this book to be a lifeline, but they should not assume that following the Passionate Marriage approach will make them happy in the end. Dr. Schnarch's thesis (highly simplified) is that married couples often wind up in "emotional gridlock" because, as important differences between them (such as disparate sexual desire) arise in the marriage, they cling to the illusion that their partner can be their everything. In a doomed effort to perpetuate this illusion, they "manage" conflict by doing things that violate their own integrity (e.g. having sex they don't want to have) or by demanding that their partner do things that violate their partner's integrity (e.g. have oral sex when the partner doesn't really like it); the result, ironically, is that they wind up feeling farther apart rather than closer together.

Dr. Schnarch's solution to "emotional gridlock" is to encourage you to maintain your integrity -- i.e. to "hold on to" yourself -- without pushing your spouse away: to be who you really are, and to let your spouse see who you really are, while at the same time letting your spouse know that you love and value your spouse and the relationship. The result is that you feel authentic in the relationship and your partner is given a chance to know and love the "real" you (and vice-versa). Dr. Schnarch calls this process of "holding on to" yourself while simultanesouly "holding on to" your spouse "differentiation." It can be an extremely painful process because it forces you to confront that fact that no one -- including your spouse -- can every fully "complete you," but it is an extremely hopeful process because it opens the door for you and your spouse to really see and love each other other for who you really are.

My one quarrel with Passionate Marriage is that while Dr. Schnarch freely admits that "differentiation" can be an extremely painful process, he implies, misleadingly (and perhaps unintentionally), that it always has a happy ending. The vignettes in his book typically involve emotionally gridlocked couples who are having very little sex and/or crummy sex (among other problems), who go through the painful process of differentiation, and who then start having frequent and/or passionate sex. Although I am sure that is the way it works for many couples, Dr. Schnarch fails to warn the reader loudly enough that frequent and/or great sex is not an inevitable result of differentiation.

For example, a fully differentiated woman married to a man who craves frequent and/or experimental sex might well come to realize (and accept) that, even after changing as much as she can to satsify her husband, she still desires sex only once every two months and/or simply does not enjoy certain types of sex. Her husband then has only two choices: accept the painful reality that he will never have the sex he craves, or get that sex from someone else (with all the negative consequences for the marriage which may result). True, the wife may now be compassionate and understanding about her husband's sexual disappointment and frustration (rather than feeling pressured, resentful, inadequate, etc.), and the husband may cease blaming his wife and being angry at her for low sexual desire/arousal problems that she simply cannot help, but the fact remains that their sex life will never be anything like what the husband wishes it would be.

I do not at all mean this as a criticism of differentiation, which is a natural part of human development that cannot be avoided in healthy long-term committed relationships. I also don't mean it as a criticism of Dr. Schnarch, since I am sure that all authors of self-help books highlight positive outcomes in order to sell their approach (not to mention copies of their book) to skeptics. I do, however, mean it as a serious criticism of Passionate Marriage, because I think the book undermines its own goals by making promises it can't keep. Over and over again, the book promises that the pain of differentiation is worth it because you "may" or "can" wind up having great -- even "electric" -- sex; although this is certainly true, it is also true that many couples who go through the process will not wind up having great, let alone electric, sex.

Freud once said that the goal of psychoanalysis is not to make the client happy, but rather to replace the client's neurotic misery with ordinary unhappiness. For many couples, that will be the result of differentiation: the hurt, distance, and anger that has plagued their marriage and/or sex life will be replaced by the ordinary unhappiness of living with a real spouse with real limitations. Those limitations may include sexual limitations. Differentiation might well enable you and your spouse to have the best marriage, and the best sex, the two of you are capable of having together (which is no small thing!), but the sex you wind up having may be nowhere near as frequent, passionate, or "electric" as the sex shared by the successful couples described in Passionate Marriage.
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on January 17, 2000
No better, stronger, and truer book on the real-life, grow-or-close-down processes of marriage and long-term commited relationships than this one (and David Schnarch's more technical "Constructing the Sexual Crucible", written for therapists). When you are ready, or almost ready, to take an honest and self-confronting look at yourself and at life itself --- including those areas where you really don't think you need to look because you've got it all figured out --- when you are ready to quit blaming your partner for every heartbreak, limitation, and shortcoming your life has delivered --- when you are ready to face yourself down so that you can become the better self part of you longs to be --- than this book is your map.
Almost incidentally, you may find that your marriage --- perhaps predictable, perhaps torment-filled, perhaps sexually flat --- may become full of surprises, ravenously and heated sexual, and spiritually, intellectually, emotionally fulfilling. In crisis two years ago, I searched this site for books on marriage and happened onto this one. My much-loved husband of 22 years and I were at a terrible, terrifying marital crossroads neither of us could make sense of. I read readers reviews. I ordered perhaps half a dozen books which seemed promising. This was one.
I can remember the crazy deep panic, trying to find something to latch on to, something that would take me deeper, or make sense. I ordered several books that night, and tore into them eagerly. Right from the start it was clear the Passionate Marriage was the key through the locked door, the map through the strange territory, and I didn't need to "wait for him" (my spouse) to change or get better --- I could start examining myself immediately and that, in itself, would create change --- for me. And, because my husband and I were then "fused", in Schnarch's language, any action either of us took changed the whole "elegant system of marriage... which is an engine for personal development." (More Schnarch-talk.)
The map, of course, is not the territory. But with this guide and a LOT of hard work on his part and mine, over time --- we made our way through the once-verdant, than desolate country our entrenched patterns of loving each other had unwittingly created.
The mechanics of marriage play out differently in each case, but there is enough common in the process of being married ITSELF that Schnarch's reasurrance makes sense. What is that reassurance? That you are not going crazy, that the seeming craziness is marriage working as it should, that, instead of treating the normal if searinmgly painful processes of marriage as pathology we should look at them as developmental, for growth. Once you start to get it, even though it's like nothing you've heard before, you --- or we --- go "Ah-HAH!" pretty quickly. Best of all, it elucidates how to start coming from the strong side of yourself, rather than the weak (the wounded child, poor-victimized-me stuff that is so pernicious a part of our self-help culture, including psychology as usually and wrongly practiced.)
PM, as it is affectionately known in our house, is the one approach I have ever found that truly tells it like it is --- "it" meaning the dynamics of grown-up, real-world, long-time committed relationship love and passion. My husband and I continue to go deeper and deeper as a result of the reshifting of many of our most basic and cherish assumptions, which Schnarch's truly groundbreaking work forced us --- painfully --- to do. Painfully --- but with what joy and wonder do I regard the results!
My husband and I, through the ideas in PM (note: IDEAS, not "how-to"s) have not only weathered our crisis but learned how to go through crisis and take meaning and strength from the anxiety, to love on life's own terms as two adults, not as two babies in grown-up bodies suckling on the same infantile "fusion fantasies" that love will save everything and solve everything and that you have to feel "safe" in order to love.
Through the brave work of Schnarch and our own equally brave work in slowly trying (individually) to live what he articulates, my dear partner and I found a way of understanding that has plainly transformed us and the way we are for and with each other. We came so close to losing each other, and the preciousness of what we have instead continues to floor us. The PM approach is not something you pick up a few tips from and set aside... it is life-changing, and will flow into every relationship you have if you are brave enough to really take it in --- maybe most of all, or at least first of all, your relationship with yourself.
I have recommended PM to everyone I love --- now I recommend it to any other reader who is truly prepared to grow up, develop, self-confront, and learn how to love and be loved with their whole heart.
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VINE VOICEon April 12, 2001
Most books on improving a marriage focus on communication techniques or the basics/exotics of sex ed. David Schnarch has created something quite different. This book focuses on using conflict within the couple to create the growth necessary for partners to relate to each other. The book balances a well written presentation of psychological theory with anectdotal examples of how it manifests in couples.
The root of marital conflict is not failure to communicate. Rather, it is accurate communication between incompletely individuated people. Individuation means the ability to connect with another, even in conflict, without losing one's own sense of self. When individuation is lacking, members of a couple must find ways to keep their distance from their partners in order not to lose their sense of self. This distancing is the root of marital (or other committed couple) discord.
Schnarch uses the forum of the couple to challenge each individual to develop a stronger, less contingent sense of self. The very institution that produces anxiety--the relationship--becomes the mechanism of repair! He postulates that couples only form between individuals who are similarly individuated. As one member of the couple develops, it challenges the other. The two partners "leapfrog" in their development, continually challenging the other.
I've been married for 15 1/2 years. We spent the last three years (we're slow learners) working with a therapist who subcribes to Schnarch's ideas. After many, many wasted dollars with other therapists (we learned all the nice communication techniques, with no improvement in our couplehood), we've finally begun to develop a sense of intimacy in our relationship. This stuff WORKS!
For those who'd like a more theoretical background on the material, Schnarch's THE SEXUAL CRUCIBLE is an incredible reference work. It contains the theoretical material found here, but instead of anectdotes about people living the material, it pulls in reams academic material to refute other theories and buttress Schnarch's.
Five stars for breaking new ground. Five stars for making key psychological theories accessible. Five stars for importance. If you're in a relationship, and you think it could be better--get this book! It can be!
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on August 10, 1998
Schnarch, David, Ph.D., Passionate Marriage: Sex,Love and Intimacy in Emotionally Committed Relationships. W.W. Norton & Company, New York, 1997.
The great comic and tongue-and-cheek philosopher, Groucho Marx once said, ""Whoever named it necking was a poor judge of anatomy." After reading David Schnarch's new Book, "Passionate Marriage," it is clear to see that Schnarch would agree with Groucho. According to Schnarch, the route to mature sexual fulfillment, has little to do with specific body parts or the condition of those parts, but has everything to do with the minds of and the level of differentiation (emotional maturity) of the participants.
Utilizing Bowenian theory as its undergirding, David Schnarch has graced us with his second book on integrating sexual and marital therapy. His first book, "Constructing The Sexual Crucible" (1991 Norton Press), is a comprehensive, albeit challenging treatise that traces our ! history of conceptionalizing and treating sexual dysfunction and explicates his new paradigm of sexual and emotional intimacy.
"Passionate Marriage" is written in a style that is geared toward the highest common denominator. Schnarch offers us a window into real change that is not promised easily. This is not an approach that guarantees the reader a key to quick and simple intimacy. There are no clear "how tos" that will fix the dashed hopes of frustrated lovers and marital partners, or their therapists. Instead, Schnarch's second offering of his sexual crucible paradigm is a substantially more digestible approach to helping couples raise their level of differentiation so that they can face themselves and their partner while simultaneously lowering their own anxiety. It is a book that requires serious contemplation and considerable risk in order to reap its potential rewards -- a lot like marriage itself. Colorful case examples and vignettes illus! trate the application of his ideas.
The book is divided i! nto three sections. The first, "The Basics", lays the groundwork for the sexual crucible model and brings the reader up to speed on Schnarch's non-pathologizing view of sexual and emotional development. Part two, "Tools for Connection," provides the reader with ways to implement his new paradigm and makes for the most exciting reading in the book. This is the section of the book that most readers will be drawn back to because in Schnarch's examples they will invariably find themselves and their marriage. It is also the section which offers the most in terms of challenges, ideas and change opportunities.
The final section, "Observations on the Process", makes the greatest sense after the reader has not only read section two, but has made earnest attempts at exploring and internalizing its many suggestions. Here again, Schnarch proves himself to be a very different contributor to the field of marital and sexual therapy. His chapter on &quo! t;Two-Choice Dilemmas and Normal Marital Sadism," is a therapist's delight. It gives one that "Ah-hah!" sense of knowing exactly what he means, both by our experience in our offices, and in our own marriages. His final chapter, "Sex, Love, and Death," may be his most courageous. Here Schnarch brings us to painful yet freeing costs of loving deeply. The links between sex, intimacy, spirituality and death are so powerful (and inherently frightening) that we most often avoid their connections. The deal we make in life to have fulfilling intimacy includes all the pain of life. It's inescapable.
Carl Whitaker has told us that therapy is in the person of the therapist -- that canned models, theories and techniques are useless to the therapist who is at a poor level of emotional development. Likewise, Murray Bowen and Ed Friedman have told us that as therapists, we cannot take someone beyond where we are ourselves. David Schnarch has given us a book! that is a considerable risk for our field and indeed our c! ulture. He presents us with unique ideas which open him to considerable challenge. In taking this risk, he practices what he preaches and demonstrates his own ability to hold on to and validate himself.
My usual shtick about popular self-help/personal growth books is, "if they actually worked there would only be a few of them." With that said, I think "Passionate Marriage" is a book that every marriage and family therapist should read..., that is, if they are brave enough and willing to change their therapy and most of all, their own marriage.
Anthony G. Butto, DSW Bucknell University Lewisburg, Pa. 17837 and The Courtyard Counseling Center Selinsgrove, Pa. 17870
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on November 1, 1997
Schnarch, David. Passionate Marriage. New York: Norton, 1997, 432p.

Passionate Marriage David Schnarch introduces us to a form of sex therapy that goes beyond the sensate focus approach on which modern sexual therapy has been based in order to get to the heart of how couples become present with each other. Some couples have the tendency to focus on the mechanics of sex: achieving an erection in males and lubrication in females, and the follow through to orgasm. Schnarch says this misses the entire point of sex which is the emotional and intimate connection that provides contact and facilitates growth in relationship.

Through the establishment of self validation and personal integrity through differentiation* Schnarch encourages individuals in committed relationships to maintain a sense of self that sets the boundaries, desires, and goals for their interaction. This done he encourages them to bring their sperate selves together in a way that enables them to maintain their individual integrity while giving and accepting attention and affection and making contact with each other that allows them to use their sexual togetherness to relate to each other.

Specific tools recommended by Schnarch to promote intimacy include: hugging till relaxed, eyes open foreplay; mental dimensions of sexual experience, eyes open orgasm, making contact during sex, as well as "doing and being done."

Of hugging till relaxed he says a great deal can be learned about how two people hug each other. He notes that some of his clients absolutely could not stand to continue a hug for more than a few seconds before coming to therapy. Schnarch looks at reasons why some people might be uncomfortable with this type of touching in order to uncover the emotional and mental dramas that prevent intimacy. Similarly he notes how some couples have never considered the possibility of being in the moment, with the light on and with their eyes open during foreplay, intercourse, and orgasm. He notes that state that the majority of those questioned have not experienced orgasm while looking at their partners and many consider it unthinkable to do so and that he has even been challenged by other sex therapist who think "eyes open orgasm" is of little value.

Of "doing and being done" he states:

"Doing is consistently described as: (a) moving into your partner, (b) tasting his or her essence, (c) ravishing him/her with fervor and generosity, (d) sending him or her to the edge, and (e) experiencing your own eroticism in the process. Doing someone is pleasurable in itself, but your partner reciprocates by receiving." (264)

He adds that: "Being done involves surrender, union, and the power of receiving" (266)

Schnarch believes sexuality is an opportunity for self enrichment and discovery through connection with other. Sometimes it is thwarted because of childhood traumas that hide in the psyche and sabotage individual's ability to be present, in the moment, during intimate or sexual exchanges. Often control issue dramas or elaborate defense mechanisms prevent connections.

Schnarch also states that couples always have the same level of differentiation, and that it is not true, as some maintain when entering therapy, that one is more differentiated than the other. Because of this, when one member of the couple grows the other is forced to. Schnarch draws two circles in a diagram to explain how this works. The inner circle he calls the "comfort circle," the outer one, "the growth circle."

He states that often individuals fight for years to prevent moving into the growth circle because of the turmoil that comes into relationships when that path is taken, however he also notes that if they refuse to grow the relationship will fail. He encourages couples to enter the growth circle without the battle of wills that often mark the boundaries of war that overpower relationships. He states that doing so on a regular basis when problems are small, enables couples to deal with relationship and individual issues before they get too large and frightening to face. He further notes that doing so expands their ability to accept and embrace change so that when real life threatening changes come along, couples are prepared to face them.

Schnarch speaks of marriage as "The Sexual Crucible," a container in which the individuals in a committed relationship can change within the bonds of matrimony. He gives advice on how couples can "hold on" to themselves during arguments, instead of reacting and escalating them.

One key to holding onto yourself is to stop disproving that there is "something wrong with you" or claiming that you're good enough the way you are. Stop inviting your partner to "prove" you need to change. People don't change when they feel under attack --- and defending yourself invites attack. The issue isn't whether you're good enough the way you are. It's a question of who you want to be. (337)

When a couple has an argument, Schnarch recommends: "stop focusing on what your partner is (or isn't) doing. Focus on yourself"(338). He uses the metaphor of climbing a mountain to make his point. He ask how sensible it would be to approach the mountain and expect the mountain to come down to us? Instead it is us who must change, work, transverse the spire in order to get to the top. It is the individual who has to do the work to reach the summit of the mountain or self fulfillment in relationship.

Schnarch states: "Becoming is never safe or secure, especially if we're dependent on a reflected sense of self. We don't get to stop when we're scared or uncomfortable, because we grow by going into the unknown" (400).

Schnarch's book is no light read. It is not the kind of popular, "best seller" you will find in the check out isle of the supermarket that gives three easy steps to nirvana. It is a serious work for those who are seriously ready to examine, willing to possibly dismantle, begin to rebuild, and greatly improve their relationships.

*NOTE: Webster's Dictionary lists one of the meanings of differentiate as: "5: to express the specific distinguishing qualities of:". Schnarch uses the term the way it is used by Psychologists, Murry Bowen, to establish a balance between the ability of self to come together with others or to seperate, or individuate from others.

Richard Peek
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on July 24, 2000
Ok, to be truthful, I don't particularly like the author (found him to be egotistical) and I didn't like his writing style (found it to be wordy and sometimes hard to find his point)--However! There is an amazing amount of helpful information in this book. It was reccommeded to us by our marriage counselor and we found it is much more about intimacy within marriage than about sex, though there are one or two explicit passages. My husband is really bored by "self-help" books and he thought this was the most helpful of the three that were recommeded to us. He said that he went into it expecting the book to talk about my shortcomings and instead found it discribed him just as much. And in a manner that doesn't make you feel bad about yourself--a big plus. Inspires you to grow and change to heal your relationship, holds your hand when you're resistant to changing, helps you decide to change anyway.
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on December 31, 2000
I wrote a review of this book in Dec. 1999 which is still on here- So why am I commenting again? Because I have recommended this book to 8 friends in the past year and they have found it invaluable. Some were married, some were just out of a relationship and some single. In all cases they came back to me saying how much it helped them. You see, while this book's title includes Marriage, it is really about you and how you relate to your partner. Sure, there are some racy parts! lol... but it is really about how to discover yourself and how you can and will be able to participate in a relationship in a healthy way. Not everyone has agreed with every point made by Dr. Schnarch (even me), but he has made us all think and sparked personal growth to a degree far beyond the normal "self-help" book. Read it! I don't think you will be disappointed. Oh, and buy a spare - it's a great spontaneous present... especially because you won't want to lend yours. :-)
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on April 16, 1999
If you know that you and your relationship ought to be better than they are but just feel stuck - read this book. As a couple therapist and partner in a 20 year relationship I have had a growing sense that something is missing from how we normally view conflict and crisis in relationships. This book fills the gap. David Schnarch sees our intimate relationships as a "crucible" for personal growth. And, wonder of wonders, he actually explains what growth looks like. Using the concept of "differentiation" he explains how you can have your cake and eat it too - being your own person whilst maintaining close intimacy. Many of the examples and exercises are focused on sexual issues which is great because that is so often a cause of tension in our relationships. However the message he has to offer applies whatever the issues are you face. The path he maps out is at the same time wonderfully hopeful and immensely challenging. He offers no easy answers but provides solid guidance for making a difficult but endlessly rewarding journey. The book has given me food for thought for months already, and probably for years to come. Highly recommended.
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on September 7, 2003
This guy has done a lot of personal clinical research and come up with some ideas that really make sense. It is definitely new material that I have never heard explained before (and oftentimes diametrically opposed to the typical "counseling" that's going on out there). Namely, one of his principle premises is that you can't separate marriage counseling from sexual therapy. Well, that should have been pretty obvious about 2 centuries ago, but it goes to show you why we should all be a little skeptical of the typical "counselor" out there. As Schnarch points out, "Why would you want to go to a marriage counselor who has no better marriage than your own?" Good question. I was looking for something new to help us find an extraordinary marriage and I, personally, think this book has some excellent explanations and ideas to do just that. Some of the couples' problems really do look pretty hopeless in the beginning, and I can see that it must be very rewarding for Schnarch to see where he can help couples go within a few months' time. It also gives quite a bit of hope to all of us that if these guys can do it, so can we. But it takes some courage and some motivation and some understanding to simply read this book and then go try this stuff on your own; however, I have been stepping out of my comfort zone and feel a lot better about myself and my marriage as a result. This book is even helpful if your partner refuses to get involved; although certainly not as helpful to actually change things, at least you have some understanding of why things are the way they are, and maybe how you can help your spouse move forward as well. Warning: the 1st 100 pages or so were a bit slow as the author obviously felt it was absolutely necessary that the reader understand his initial premise concerning what he calls "differentiation." By the time I finished all those pages, however, I knew I really understood it so I guess his repetition of the concept served its purpose. Stick with it--the later chapters are really helpful, at least for us. 2nd warning: there is a lot of sexually explicit sex in this which was rather shocking to me at first (but might serve to interest a disinterested spouse for a few pages!!), but by the time I got to the end, I understood that this is the way he conducts his sessions and so this is the way he shares it with the reader. I concluded this is probably the way most people talk about sex, but I never talk about sex with people other than my spouse and we use far less slang than Schnarch shares in his interviews. All in all, the content is any discomfort the slang might cause.
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on March 23, 2000
Passionate Marriage is the best book i've come across on intimate relationships. Schnarch's focus on the need to differentiate is crucial to the idea of being able to relate as whole, sane adults without losing ourselves to the 'other' in relationships. This is such a difficult concept for so many people who have been brought up on the idea that love and/or marriage are about 'becoming one' with each other, and who have become merged or fused, to use Schnarch's terms.
This exploration of selfhood, how to hold on to oneself in the presence of not only our intimate partner but in the face of our own feelings - of abandonment, rejection, loss, fear, anger, groundlessness, to mention a few - holding onto who we are without being washed away in a flood of emotional fusion, this is quite a trick to be able to learn and practice.
The thread of this concept is woven right thru the book, into chapters on increasing sexual and non-sexual intimacy, chapters on how intimate connections are established, maintained and lost, and an excellent chapter dedicated to learning how to achieve intimate connection thru hugging. The invitation to eyes open intimacy during sexual contact - or even kissing!- is an excellent experiment.
I recommend this book to anyone, friends, clients, colleagues, whether they are in a relationship or not. I figure that if you are ever intending to get into a relationship again, it will help. I guess you could say i think its a fantastic book, for therapists and laypeople alike.
One last thing - there is a lot of explicit sexual descriptions. If you are hyper-sensitive to that, I believe the key concepts are worth being shocked for... what the heck, you can always close your eyes for those bits if you need to!
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