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by David Schnarch
Sounds True, 2003
Review by Christian Perring, Ph.D. on Aug 31st 2005

Secrets of a Passionate Marriage

In Secrets of a Passionate Marriage, David Schnarch talks about how couples can cope with sexual problems.  He talks spontaneously, although the program of 2 tapes is well structured.  He explains that he does not think it is helpful to pathologize sexual problems, and he aims to go beyond many of the conventional techniques of sexual therapy.  He is a clear speaker, using straightforward language, and he presents some plausible ideas.  He enjoys making his points in slightly controversial ways, and this helps to maintain the listener's interest.  For example, he presents the example of a couple eating together in a restaurant and not talking.  He argues that the conventional view, that they have a breakdown of communication, is wrong.  He says that they do not need to talk to each other precisely because they have learned to communicate so well, without even speaking.  But the kicker is that what they are communicating is that they do not want to hear what the other person has to say.  Another examples comes when he asks whether it is possible for two people to be sexually incompatible, and answers that all couples are sexually incompatible.  He goes on to explain that it is possible to overcome these obstacles, but that this requires working on the intimacy in the relationship. 

Schnarch argues that couples are capable, even late in life, to achieve incredible sexual intimacy after years of bad sex.  He does not think this is a matter of returning to the early sexual excitement of the early days of the relationship, and indeed suggests that many relationships never had such a stage.  Furthermore, it is not a matter of learning to express one's feelings in ways that do not upset one's partner.  One of the most refreshing elements in his approach is his insistence that achieving greater intimacy will require that couples face differences and accept them.  It is important for individuals to be able to tolerate discomfort, sooth themselves through this process, because it can be difficult and upsetting.  However, he argues that people are in fact quite resilient and can cope with emotional discomfort, and this can be productive.  Conflict is not only natural, but it is inevitable, so rather than avoid it, a couple need to make the most of it.  Through mutual understanding, they can come to greater intimacy with more passion, and their marriage can grow.  Indeed, he uses the odd turn of phrase that marriages are "people growing machines," which suggests that individuals as individuals can grow through the marriage.

Of course, it is not going to be possible to solve major problems in a marriage, or even sexual problems, with a two and a half hour audiobook.  Schnarch addresses very general issues, and so does not get to the sorts of specific details that happen between two people.  While his focus is on sex, he mainly addresses the general emotional and relational issues involved in them, rather than more particular questions about how to cope with premature ejaculation, problems with erections, low libido, or unhappiness about one's partner's body.  However, what he says should be enough for listeners to decide whether they like his approach, and then if so, they can go on to read his books, such as Passionate Marriage, Resurrecting Sex, and Constructing the Sexual Crucible.  He is a persuasive speaker with a dry sense of humor, so the audiobook is enjoyable.  Occasionally he seems to get bogged down in his own terminology, but those moments are rare.  There is no guarantee that his approach will be successful, and he does not present any evidence that it is more successful than others, but it does seem to be build on plenty of real-life experience of helping clients work through problems, and it makes a good deal of sense. 



·        Sounds True Publishers

·        Passionate Marriage website



© 2005 Christian Perring. All rights reserved.


Christian Perring, Ph.D., is Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College, Long Island, and editor of Metapsychology Online Review.  His main research is on philosophical issues in medicine, psychiatry and psychology.