Passionate Marriage

Since I began this blog journey nearly three years ago, one of the ideas that has dominated much of my thinking is that of emotional maturity, or the development of one’s sense of self. For me, writing is the pathway to understanding truth, morality, justice, and ethics. Reading is the privilege to observe the different ways people respond and to consider the choices they make in very challenging circumstances. I am intrigued by what drives us to do what we do. It is one thing to talk about what the “most right thing to do is” when you on dry ground. But it is quite another to do what you think is the most right thing to do when the ship is going down and there are not enough lifeboats for everyone.

I am convinced that the our ability to act with integrity is greatly impacted by the level of our emotional maturity, or the development of our sense of self. The more fully one’s sense of self is developed, the more power they have to act with integrity.

Dr. Jennifer Finlayson-Fife and Dr. David Schnarch are two professionals whose works discuss emotional maturity quite frequently.

I am working on compiling some of their thoughts to make them more accessible and easy to find.

The following are some excerpts from Dr. David Schnarch’s book, Passionate Marriage


The endpoint of differentiation is being willing and able to trust yourself.

…differentiation, a cornerstone of passionate marriage–and of this book. By differentiation, I’m referring to standing up for what you believe. Calming yourself down, not letting your anxiety run away with you, and not getting over-reactive. not caving in to pressure to conform from a “partner” who has tremendous emotional significance in your life…

In my own evolution as a therapist and teacher (and a husband), I’ve had to increase my own differentiation.

Passionate Marriage’s backbone theory (differentiation) says that well-differentiated adults don’t need much prodding to change in needed ways. The less differentiated you are, the more likely (and severely) your marriage will bog down and require a crisis…to blast through emotional log-jams.

Holding onto yourself

Chapter One

A sociologist once observed that the prevalence of intimacy themes in mass media…suggest that we’re driven by hunger for intimate union. It may look like this on the surface, but my clinical work helped me to realize that there’s actually something else going on. We’re driven by something that makes us look like we crave intimacy, but in fact we’re after something else: we want someone else to make us feel acceptable and worthwhile. We’ve assigned the label “intimacy” to what we want (validation)…

Emotionally committed relationship

Self-validated intimacy

The notion of uncovering repressed feelings has become synonymous with mental health, as if progressively stripping away facades and unearthing unconscious anxieties will liberate our innate vitality and creativity. In this view, therapy is a method of peeling away the layers of your character like an onion. Often, however, the problem is not a matte of peeling away layers but of developing them–growing ourselves up to be mature and resourceful adults who can solve our current problems…I’m not proposing that we ignore past events that limit our present efforts…but you don’t necessarily have to go back into the past to resolve it. You can work on the past where it’s surfacing in the present.

Taking care of your own feelings is an integral part of maintaining a relationship…it fuels attachment and self-direction.

Integrity is living according to your own values and beliefs in the face of opposition. It is also the ability to change your values, beliefs, and behavior when you well-considered judgment or concerns for others dictates it.

Resolving common marital problems requires personal development rather than skills and techniques.

Differentiation is the process by which we become more uniquely ourselves by maintaining ourselves in relationship with those we love. It’s the process of grinding off our rough edges through the normal abrasions of long-term intimate relationships.

We get marriage for the wrong reasons because we haven’t matured enough for the right reasons to exist yet. Struggling with wrong reasons for getting married can produce right reasons to stay married.

Differentiation isn’t a trait…it’s a process–a lifelong process of taking our own “shape.”

Differentiation is the key to not holding grudges and recovering quickly from arguments, to tolerating intense intimacy and maintaining your priorities in the midst of daily life…Differentiation brings tenderness, generosity, and compassion–all the traits of good marriages.

Chapter Two

Differentiation involves balancing two basic life forces: the drive for individuality and the drive for togetherness. Individuality propels us to follow our own directives, to be on our own, to create a unique identity. Togetherness pushes us to follow the directives of others, to be a part of the group. When these two life forces for individuality and togetherness are expressed in balanced, healthy ways, the result is a meaningful relationship that doesn’t deteriorate into emotional fusion. Giving up your individuality to be together is as defeating in the long run as giving up your relationship to maintain your individuality. Either way, you end up being less of a person with less of a relationship.

Giving up your individuality to be together is as defeating in the long run as giving up your relationship to maintain your individuality.

David Schnarch

Differentiation is your ability to maintain your sense of self when you are emotionally and/or physically close to others–especially as they become increasingly important to you.

Differentiation permits you to maintain your own course when lovers, friends, and family pressure you to agree and conform. Well-differentiated people can agree without feeling alienated and embittered. They can stay connected with people who disagree with them and still “know who they are.” They don’t have to leave the situation to hold onto their sense of self.

Emotional Fusion

People who are emotionally fused are controlled by their connection. They have lost their ability to direct themselves and so get swept up in how people around them are feeling. There’s room for only on opinion, one position. Differentiation is the ability to stay in connection without being consumed by the other person. Our urge for togetherness and our capacity to care always drive us to seek connection, but true interdependence requires emotionally distinct people.

Emotional fusion is the opposite of differentiation.

Differentiation involves the ability to maintain who you are while you’re close to people important to you.

When we have little differentiation, our identity is constructed our of what’s called a reflected sense of self. We need continual contact, validation, and consensus (or disagreement) from others.

Differentiation occurs by maintaining yourself in the presence of important person, not by getting away from them.