I’ve been reading a book called Passionate Marriage: Keeping Love and Intimacy Alive in Committed Relationships, by Dr David Schnarch.* It’s filled with useful information, stories and a positive message about how relationships can deepen increasingly over time into deeper passion, honesty and joy. I haven’t been feeling stagnant in my marriage, but rather the opposite: fearful of change!
I’m choosing to allow myself to be stretched, trusting in this painful process of growth. Schnarch speaks of marriage as a “people-growing machine.” Partly what he’s talking about is how long-term committed relationships encourage differentiation, the process of becoming more whole within ourselves, more able to tend to and hold ourselves in our fears and anxieties, more healthily independent. An independence which – ironically – facilitates us coming into greater intimacy with another.
I want more connection, more intimacy, and I know that confronting myself (allowing myself to be stretched) is an aspect of being able to deepen in relationship. But Scharch also speaks of a solid self – “your unique ‘flavour’ that remains fairly constant across changing circumstances.” It’s another integral aspect of intimacy – we all need to know who we are, in our deepest, grounded selves, in order to truly enter into relationship.
According to Schnarch, “Solid self refers to your internal identity – the person you know yourself to be. It’s the reference point around which you violate your integrity through self-presentation and diminish your self-worth. Solid self is composed of things you believe and hold dear, your most cherished lasting values, and the deepest truths about yourself. It’s who you are and what you do ‘when push comes to shove.’ Self-validated intimacy hinges on your ability to present your solid self when your partner isn’t accepting or validating you.” (p. 117)
Schnarch also talks of “detaching self-esteem from our bodies and lifestyle and developing an anatomy-independent identity and self-acceptance,” which in Western culture is a truly radical idea! Truly believing in my worth, and acting out that belief, regardless of whether I’m feeling fat or ugly or vulnerable! Yep, that’s radical! And such a good place to head…
So I asked myself:
Who am I, in my deepest core?
What do I love and honour in myself?
What do I fight for?
Who am I when ‘push comes to shove’?
This is my list thus far:
* I have great physical energy. I love to move my body. I love to run. I love to dance. I love to play. I love to be sexually intimate.
* I love my children. It may not always look like the mothering ‘ideal’, but I love them dearly and I am finding my unique ways of expressing this.
* I am creative. Even though my process is slow and perhaps at times too finicky. Increasingly I can see that I really am creating healing and beauty – every day, in many ways – in a potent collaboration with Life!
*My default perspective, in terms of broad life brushstrokes, is towards the positive. Smaller stuff can get me feeling negative but I really trust the whole trajectory of my life.
* I have a strong sense of fairness and rights. This has led to so many fights, which is not always the best way to go about things (!) but I really value how this part has protected me. This fairness extends to acknowledging that others are entitled to their points of view and their desires, and entitled to a genuine hearing, even when they clash with mine and cause me pain.
* I have followed the knowing of my body in this life: easing into sex in a slow, shared innocence; giving birth in the peace and safety of my own home; fumbling my way to a spirituality that connects with my physical self. I protect my body and have followed the intuitions that have kept me in physical-spiritual integrity.
* I have a desire to clear negative emotional content from my relationships, in order to remain in deep authenticity. I trust the power of honesty. I trust the power of naming the unspoken. It is often painful, and I’m not always good at it, but it unceasingly leads to healthier connections.
* I feel other people very strongly. This can be both helpful and painful, but on the whole, I am glad to receive an instant energetic impression of someone – it’s helped to keep me safe and to understand others better.
* I offer my family a big chunk of myself: my lifeforce, my creativity, my effort, my time, my energy, my love.
* I am independent. I have always valued being able to catch public transport to wherever, to walk the streets in the dark, to leave the door unlocked, to be alone. My journey is towards deeper connections with others, but I count this independence as a solid place from which to start.
* I desire to grow, to keep changing for the better, to bring healing to myself and, in doing so, the world.
* And because this desire to grow is so deeply held, I consistently choose to “go through” my pain, rather than attempt to get around it, in the knowledge and trust that these are the places where I will find ‘gold,’ the wisdom that will deepen my character into greater authenticity.
It’s been an interesting process, sitting with this list for the past week. I moved from feeling excited about these qualities (“Hey, check me out! This is good stuff!!) to anxious that others would disagree and perceive me as hypocritical (“What about that time when I kept a secret from that person? And I didn’t do a good job at all of clearing the negative energy with that other person!”).
I noticed that I could really value aspects of myself, and be groaning about how I’d not acted from that positive place in situations when I was feeling scared and wounded. I’ve been really confronted this week with my inconsistency and smallness.
A part of me could caveat almost every line, but it’s been powerful to witness the fullness and strength of this solid self – no apologies. And, likewise, to absorb the information inherent in the caveats: that I sometimes/often sell my solid self out.
It’s been such a rich process that I thought I’d invite you to make your own list.
Who are you in your solid self – no apologies?
Who are you as you tread the rich path of becoming?
What do it look like to be you, two feet on the ground, holding onto yourself, and expressing your unique self and values?
I honour your authenticity. And I honour my own.
*Dr David Schnarch. Passionate Marriage: Keeping Love and Intimacy Alive in Committed Relationships. Melbourne: Scribe, 2012.