The analysis of the introduction through chapter two can be read here.
Chapter 3- The Pitfalls of Modern Intimacy: Talk Is Not the Only Avenue to Closeness
Of the three chapters outlined in this post, Chapter 3 is the one in which I find the most valuable insights. By valuable, I mean I agreed. It basically expands on what its title implies; that talking is not the only way to cultivate marital intimacy.
Given the topic of the book, it’s obvious that Perel is making the case that sexual communication is a valid avenue to close connection. And that for some people, most notably men, it is the primary route to emotional connection within marriage. I agree with her that we both talk to much and prioritize talking too much:
Interestingly, while our need for intimacy has become paramount, the way we conceive of it has narrowed. We no longer plow land together; today we talk. We have come to glorify verbal communication. I speak; therefore I am [els: I laughed]. We naively believe that the essence of who we are is most accurately conveyed through words. Many of my own patients whole heartedly embrace this assumption when they complain, “We’re not close. We never talk.” p. 41
In an insightful turn, she notes that despite their happy union, her own parents (Perel is 61), would struggle to find the relevance in questions about emotional intimacy. She continues to explore what she describes as the “feminization of intimacy” being as harmful to women as it is men. She’s staunchly feminist in outlook but it doesn’t make this any less true:
If one consequence of the supremacy of talk is that it leaves men at a disadvantage, another is that it leaves women trapped in a repressed sexuality. It denies the expressive capacity of the female body, and this idea troubles me.
In so much as my dear fellow Christians have almost completely obliterated any notion of sexual pleasure in marriage as something women need and desire as well as (if not quite as much as) men, it troubles me, too. When a secular, feminist psychotherapist hits on a truism that the church has denied (more accurately abandoned), something is amiss. The freedom of a wife to express amorousness towards her husband is important, because not every woman is wired to bridge the gap to intimacy through verbal chatter.
Chapter 4- Democracy vs. Hot Sex: Desire and Egalitarianism Don’t Play by the Same Rules
This chapter is most accurately summed up as “Americans are politically correct prudes who don’t appreciate that some women enjoy being a submissive in the bedroom as a counterbalance to relief from the dominant roles women now occupy in almost every other sphere of public life.”
It’s basically a passionate defense of S &M and the role it can play in some relationships as the only escape from reality the parties might employ. Apparently, her American clients and colleagues see such behavior in the intimate realm as demeaning to the women involved. She disagrees, as do I, but that’s not to say I agree completely with her conclusions either.
She tried to balance it with male and female and examples, but I stand by my aforementioned summation of the chapter. Although re-assessing realities one feels a need to escape is probably the first order of business, I don’t have the mental space to wrestle with what another married couple does in their boudoir.
Chapter 5: Can Do! The Protestant Work Ethic Takes on the Degradation of Desire.
This chapter takes on the Western idea of fixing whatever is broken by reducing it to the sum of its parts. The idea that something as existential as passion burning out can be fixed by scheduling, lingerie, more talking or even a prescription, is an idea that Perel finds counterintuitive at best:
But this can-do attitude encourages us to assume that dwindling desire is an operational problem that can be fixed. From magazine articles to self-help books, we are encouraged to view a lack of sex in our relationships as a scheduling issue that demands better prioritizing or time management, or as a consequence of poor communication. If the problem is testosterone deficiency, we can get a prescription- an excellent technical solution. For the sexual malaise that can’t be so easily medicalized, remedies abound: books, videos, and sexual accoutrements are there not only to assist you with the basics, but to bring you to unimagined levels of ecstasy. p.72
Perel isn’t intensely averse to some of these remedies, particularly if there is a clear medical reason for the dilemma. In general however, she sees our American predilection to stripping the problem into parts rather that acknowledging the complexity of desire and the unpredictability of eroticism in ways that will help couples reconnect.
Later in the chapter, after much questioning of the sexual performance industry, Perel returns to her original thesis of the importance of a level of separateness. Using one couple and a single male patient as her examples, she takes pains to invite the readers to understand how much of these issues are rooted in the mentality each marriage partner brings with them into the sexual relationship.
In general, I think she’s on to something, although our over sexualized culture places its own pressures onto couples to meet arbitrary standards set by the nebulous “they” as well as movies and other forms of entertainment media.
I also think that while she places far too much emphasis on eroticism as a gauge of relational health, she’s right that the ability keep that part of a marriage alive over time requires a level of surrender that many people find hard to achieve. More than ever, we are almost always on guard. The ability to drop those walls and *go there* with your spouse makes all the difference.
Until next time…