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CONJUGAL BLITZ

DR. DAVID SCHNARCH HAS A BLACK BELT IN THE MARITAL ARTS.

And here we come (as it were) to the crux of the Schnarch approach. These are the theories expounded in Schnarch's 1991 Constructing the Sexual Crucible, which he continues to teach at couples retreats and therapist-training seminars with his wife of nine years, clinical psychologist Ruth Morehouse. What others regard as problems Schnarch simply considers the human condition--which is elegantly played out in the superhuman, heatproof container most of us call marriage. He prefers to think of it as a crucible.

"Besides," he adds, "when I say `marriage,' I'm not referring to the legal institution. I mean an emotionally committed relationship. I would never advocate a system that discriminated against gays and lesbians."

And how, exactly, does this crucible work? "What it takes to improve sex is the very process that makes us grow up enough to love on life's own terms," Schnarch attempts. "It's the function of marriage to find any part of you that's not fully grown and pop it to the surface." And then there is his oft-repeated tenet--that couples ruin perfectly good marriages by depending on each other for every possible need. "You must learn to stand on your own two feet, even when horizontal," he says to anyone who has been in the same room with him longer than five minutes.

Cynthia McReynolds, a clinical psychologist from Palo Alto, began training with Schnarch three years ago. Since then, she has lost patience with her self-esteem-building California cohorts, even those who claim success in the area of dysfunctional sex. "People are always asking sex therapists to help them have an orgasm, or to have intercourse, and to somehow have the mechanics work right," she says. "We can do that, but it's not what they really want. What they really want is the feeling, the sense of `I-thou,' the passion and intimacy."

With Schnarch's help--and a few decades of hard labor--they can have it, McReynolds believes. "He's about to set the world of sex therapy on its head," she says. "Personally, I can't wait."

And in the meantime, Schnarch continues to perfect his crucible theory. In short, he says, whatever big issues are troubling a couple will drive their sex life into the ground as well. What makes things interesting is that sex is the one area that couples may not be willing to let become hopelessly average. If they find the energy to work on sex, the rest of their marriage may profit as well.

"You just can't agree to disagree about sex," he says. "If you come home and tell your wife, `I've decided I never want to have sex with you again,' most partners are not going to say, `Oh. Thank you for sharing.'

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