I’m assuming you’ve all heard by now that Michael Novak has been subsumed into the Blorg. Not to toot my own horn or anything (which I am totally about to do), but that’s partially a result of the time I had Michael and his brother Ben over for dinner and served them wine in mason jars. It was hipsteriffic.
Anyway, he wrote this great post yesterday about the disconnect between the way marital sexuality is talked about by the Church, and the way it’s experienced by the married laypeople. The whole thing is great, but this part in particular resonated with me:
(6) The individual psyche is so unique to each person that advice that works for one couple may not begin to bring another to happiness. Love of body and soul is such an art, requires so much care and attention as almost to constitute an asceticism, a constant, softly practiced self-discipline. In so much putting up with the other – and oneself – there is great joy just in making some progress.
Here it is best for the two not to spend too much time looking into each other’s eyes – although that can be quite marvelous, and also at times quite upsetting. Better is looking outward together, toward the goal up ahead, and to keep moving toward that goal, through many setbacks.
I have found this to be incredibly true. My experience with almost all marital self-help books, whether they’re about laundry or sex, has been overwhelmingly negative. Ditto for most advice I’ve been given by priests, therapists, and even friends. What works for others just does not work for the Ogre and I, and I’m beginning to suspect that the fault lies not in the advice, but in the implementation of it.
Usually when I decide to follow marital advice and “fix” some part of our marriage, I get tunnel vision and focus only on doing this thing just like the book (or person) says I’m supposed to. I don’t take into account my temperament, my flaws and strengths, nor do I think much about my living, breathing husband. It’s basically I’m trying to fix a crack in the wall with a battering ram — and I’m always shocked and devastated when instead of fixing the crack, I knock the whole damn wall down.
I swore off self-help books about a year ago, and I’ve spent the last year trying to actually pay attention to my husband. It’s harder than it sounds, because a lot of the things he wants and needs irritate the crap out of me. They don’t match up to what I think he should want or need. Plus, trying to meet these needs is usually super inconvenient. It requires getting out of my own way, elbowing myself out of the center of my universe and allowing my husband that place instead. It’s really hard, and I’m terrible at it. But Michael is right that there is, indeed, great joy in it. When I’m able to think of my husband and respond to his needs without resentment — the way he has done for me all these years — I have such peace. There is a kind of easiness between us, a lightness instead of tension, and it permeates our whole family.
It’s amazing to me, knowing this, that I still struggle to do it so often. I really think that Plato should have gone with a different metaphor in the Phaedrus, because the passions are less like wild winged horses and more like feral children. They don’t even know what they want, but they’ll totally take you down to get it. Or maybe that’s just me.