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A Higher View | Dr Michael Sytsma #627

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On the Regular Version …

Dr Michael Sytsma joins me again as we dive into the idea of how there is something much deeper going on during sex. There is a higher view to take.

Learn more about Dr Sytsma here –

On the Xtended Version …

I continue the conversation with Michael about Dr Schnarch’s idea of eyes-open-sex.

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Corey Allan: Well, I've got Dr. Michael Sitzma back with me again. If you remember with the Passionately Marriage podcast, he was on with Shanti Feldhahn with Secrets of Sex and Marriage is the book that they collaborated together with. And offhandedly, Michael, I'm assuming you remember this, but offhandedly after we finished the recording, you just made a comment of, hey, I would love to talk snarsh and some of the higher level, because that's what the last chapter of the book is.

Michael Sytsma: Right.

Corey Allan: And so, That wet my whistle enough to say, all right, you're getting back on here as quick as possible. And so let's try, we're gonna do kind of a, a look at the higher level processes and there's something deeper going on and wherever that may go. So Michael, it's so good to see you again.

Michael Sytsma: Thanks, it's an honor. And this kind of topic is, you rarely get to talk about those deeper level kind of thinking, so I appreciate the invite. Have

Corey Allan: Absolutely.

Michael Sytsma: no idea where we'll go with this, but this could be fun.

Corey Allan: I don't either. And the nice thing is, as I'm recording this from my RV, I'm not driving it. So if we crash, it's not like a literal crash.

Michael Sytsma: Ha ha!

Corey Allan: So I love the concept of what you've what you've created in the work that you do of, you know, ultimately, we're trying to help couples just feel better connected, get in more congruence with their values, their structure, their their way of living, but there's also something deeper going on. And I'm curious, how do you look at that? Let's start there.

Michael Sytsma: Um, you know, I think a number of things come together for me. I'm going to give a little background and then, um, that may make sense and why, but, uh, my training and, um, my own personal identity as a Wesleyan pastor, and that comes out of, um, uh, a holiness type of a background that emphasizes the discipleship of the believer. You know, it had some real negatives and getting into some of the legalism, but,

Corey Allan: Mm-hmm.

Michael Sytsma: um, the positives are. the emphasis on your own personal growth and development and your own relationship with God and your own holiness. And then I ran across, actually it was in some pastoral work that I was getting some training in and I ran across David Starks and I listened to him talk through his approach. And this would have been in probably the early mid 90s. And I sat there waiting through his language and some of the graphic nature of his stories as a pastor, that was a little tough, but realizing there's a concept here that has been captured that I think I haven't heard before that seems to line right up with discipleship. And

Corey Allan: Mm-hmm.

Michael Sytsma: so I, today I I do exactly what you're saying. I work on helping couples to develop intimacy and to grow. But the, the peak behind the curtain, you know, to flash back to Wizard of Oz here, the, the peak behind the curtain is I'm using that and I'm using sex as an object lesson, as the training ground, as to use his language, the crucible, to bring

Corey Allan: Mm-hmm.

Michael Sytsma: forth those personal growth moments. So what I look forward to is the time that. This happened recently, a husband came in and he sat down and he looked up at me and he said, I quit. And I said, okay, help me to understand what you mean. He said, I quit. He said, I hear what you're inviting me to do as a husband. I get that I'm all in. I cannot do it. I have tried. I'm not capable of being that kind of a person. I quit.

Corey Allan: OK.

Michael Sytsma: And he expected me, of course, to to rally the troops and to be hopeful. And I looked at him and I says, finally, I'm glad. And he's like, you don't think I should be married? Oh, no, no, no. I think you need to stay married, but that you're quitting of your own power, that you're saying I'm not capable of this, that you're going through a surrender moment, this

Corey Allan: Mm-hmm.

Michael Sytsma: is what real growth is about. And you're gonna have to decide, do I continue to live in a marriage that I demand my way all the time? Or do you surrender it and figure out a marriage where We are fighting for one another, where we're caring

Corey Allan: Mm-hmm.

Michael Sytsma: for one another, where, and that is a radical internal shift. That's a moment of personal discipleship, where we see somebody come to the point of them having to realize, I am putting pressure on you to be who I want you to be. The real problem here is

Corey Allan: Yeah.

Michael Sytsma: me. Am I going to be a discipled individual? Or am I going to continue to keep putting pressure on and fighting for what I want? And to me, that's the core of it. Am I going to follow my language internally is am I going to follow Christ in this moment? Am I going to live the way he would have me to live? Or am I going to follow what I want? Which is probably

Corey Allan: Mm-hmm.

Michael Sytsma: good, but my way about it is definitely not working. So I love this because it's about the individual growth. And then, you know, that took me into reading Friedman and Bowen and, you know, far beyond that to learn about the personal, my language again, the personal discipleship that comes

Corey Allan: Yeah, and

Michael Sytsma: from these systemic relationships.

Corey Allan: I use the same terminology. I just use it as personal responsibility, agency, some of those concepts that we do too much as a disservice in a lot of ways of trying to keep it a collaboration when one partner's not collaborating or both

Michael Sytsma: Right.

Corey Allan: aren't collaborating. And if that's the case, it's a recipe for disaster if I teach you how to. Um, just talk to each other or be assertive or whatever when we're still demanding our way deep down.

Michael Sytsma: Right, that process doesn't work. And in Secrets of Sex and Marriage, there are three concepts that I worked on developing that were rather controversial. That took a lot of editing. That took our external editors really pushing back on. And one of those was when I was pointing out that people tend to set themselves up as being a victim unintentionally.

Corey Allan: Right, right.

Michael Sytsma: That I cannot be okay if you aren't different. And that never works. How can we

Corey Allan: Mm-hmm.

Michael Sytsma: not resent the other? If I need you to be different than who you are, if I need you to treat me differently for me to be okay, and I just put myself into a one down victim, powerless mentality and the whole system's going to crash or limp along very unhealthfully.

Corey Allan: So I wanna ask a question here because I think your pastorate background, I mean, I came from the ministry too. I started six years in youth and family ministry and

Michael Sytsma: Uh-huh.

Corey Allan: then transitioned into this. And you made the comment of, I think people will take the victim mentality sometimes unintentionally, right? I think I

Michael Sytsma: Well,

Corey Allan: might

Michael Sytsma: they

Corey Allan: have

Michael Sytsma: set

Corey Allan: more

Michael Sytsma: themselves

Corey Allan: of a cynical

Michael Sytsma: up that way.

Corey Allan: view. Well, I think I might have more of a cynical view and add more of it. No, no, it's intentional. Oh

Michael Sytsma: You'd think that we like that powerless position.

Corey Allan: I think that there's a payoff that's potentially from it, so therefore I choose it.

Michael Sytsma: Yeah, that I could agree with.

Corey Allan: Okay.

Michael Sytsma: But they said, as I'm sure it is for you, they said in my office, and they blamed their spouse

Corey Allan: Mm-hmm.

Michael Sytsma: for the condition that they're in. I'm like,

Corey Allan: Mm-hmm.

Michael Sytsma: then get out of it. But they have to, no, they don't

Corey Allan: Right.

Michael Sytsma: have to change for you to be different. Now the cost may be way too high.

Corey Allan: Absolutely.

Michael Sytsma: There's a whole lot that goes into it. But chapter nine in Secrets of Sex and Marriage, we talk about grace, we talk about grieving, we talk about acceptance.

Corey Allan: Mm-hmm.

Michael Sytsma: And I pull some of this from Jacobson to talk shop. I pull this from Jacobson and Christianson's integrated

Corey Allan: Mm-hmm.

Michael Sytsma: marital model of acceptance and change is the book that they wrote for couples, or that's the manual, Reconcilable Differences is the book they wrote for couples. And the whole point of it is, if I want to see change in my marriage, I have to accept what is, that I have to accept that you are who you are before we can begin. And there's a surrender process that allows for profound change.

Corey Allan: Oh, totally. Yeah. When I recognize, I mean, that's one of my favorite phrases from Snarsh is in marriage, I have to recognize there's an emotional terrorist and then

Michael Sytsma: Yes.

Corey Allan: there's also my spouse to deal with too.

Michael Sytsma: All right.

Corey Allan: And I mean, it's such a great capturing of what's really going on because

Michael Sytsma: Uh-huh.

Corey Allan: absolutely I do that because I even use like you're talking about the discipleship model. I put that in the context of character and wisdom development.

Michael Sytsma: Mm-hmm.

Corey Allan: I'm in a relationship that will demand of me, if I want more out of it, it demands of me my character refined.

Michael Sytsma: Right, right, that I have to surrender things that I'm not sure I'm willing to surrender,

Corey Allan: Mm-hmm

Michael Sytsma: or not.

Corey Allan: or face the things I don't know if I want to face in me and and see the things that I'm blind to and I mean that's the threat I've been on lately in my personal life is I Think I'm blind to some things Pam help point these suckers out to me What am I missing in me because I this keeps happening. So it's got to be something in me

Michael Sytsma: So a little bit of reveal here, I'm setting in a therapist meeting yesterday. And all of my therapists that work for me, we're talking about an issue that we're trying to make a decision on. And one of the therapists said, well, you know, those days that you're kind of grumpy and internally I'm aware I'm horribly offended. I am never grumpy. I'm

Corey Allan: Thanks for watching!

Michael Sytsma: such an even-keeled stable person.

Corey Allan: Ha ha!

Michael Sytsma: And what I said to her is my wife would love you right now.

Corey Allan: Mm-hmm.

Michael Sytsma: To point out that I'm not as stable and even killed as I like to think that I am, that everybody

Corey Allan: Mm-hmm.

Michael Sytsma: else around me knows there are days that I'm just grumpy.

Corey Allan: Mm-hmm.

Michael Sytsma: And those, when we can receive that from our spouse, that's really rich. The moment I look

Corey Allan: Yes.

Michael Sytsma: at her and say, you cannot see me as grumpy. You have to view me differently or I'm grumpy because of you. I'm

Corey Allan: Mm-hmm.

Michael Sytsma: back into that victim kind of a role that

Corey Allan: Right,

Michael Sytsma: doesn't work.

Corey Allan: right, so pick that up, because you said there were three, so there's a victim. I think I know where you're going, but what are the other two of the stances we can take?

Michael Sytsma: Um, trying to remember where I was at the time.

Corey Allan: Yeah, I interrupted you fully. I mean, I'm assuming we're talking about the one down versus now we can go one up. And you know, there's a lot

Michael Sytsma: Yeah,

Corey Allan: of framework that we can use.

Michael Sytsma: I can try to override who you are. You know, I can demand from you and I can push and I can, and I can try to to gain power over this to make it

Corey Allan: Mm-hmm.

Michael Sytsma: my way. Or I can do some surrender and some grief work.

Corey Allan: Right.

Michael Sytsma: You may never be who I want you to be, you know, in an end. My area of specialty in working with sexual intimacy. that means my husband may never be the kind of person who treats me sexually the way I would like to be treated. I have so many wives that come in here and talk about how they wish their husband was this kind of a lover.

Corey Allan: Right.

Michael Sytsma: And many times I look at him and say, yeah, you picked wrong. He's

Corey Allan: Hahaha

Michael Sytsma: just, he's no, one of my iconic examples of that is, A wife who came up and said, you know, I just have this fantasy of my husband coming in and picking me up, carrying me upstairs, throwing me on the bed, tearing my clothes off and just ravishing my body. She said

Corey Allan: Mm-hmm.

Michael Sytsma: that would just, you know, and she said, I married this pastor student who is so gentle and so soft, so empathic, so caring. The thought of treating me that way is so offensive to him.

Corey Allan: Mm-hmm.

Michael Sytsma: that he couldn't be consistent with him. He is such a tender, caring lover. And there are times I don't want him to be that way. And she said, I have to accept that my husband is more Christ to me than sometimes I want him to be. And I'm not always okay with that. And I think that's the moment right there where she's realizing who she's demanding. Now she could continue to scream and yell and rant and. and rave to try to make him and demean him and make him be. And it's never going to work. Or what happens when they choose radical transparency? And she says, this is part of my heart's desire, but I know it's inconsistent with you. And he says, you know, I could try to be that, but it's never going to feel right because it never comes from an authentic part of me.

Corey Allan: Mm-hmm.

Michael Sytsma: And I have to accept that I'm never going to touch a fantasy in you.

Corey Allan: Mm-hmm.

Michael Sytsma: I'm just not that I would love

Corey Allan: Mm-hmm.

Michael Sytsma: to be able to touch in you. And when the two of them get radically transparent and accept who I'm not and who you're not and who we will never be. Now we have the opportunity to cast a vision for who we can be together. This is really beautiful and rich. But

Corey Allan: Yeah,

Michael Sytsma: that's

Corey Allan: because

Michael Sytsma: that

Corey Allan: that's

Michael Sytsma: that requires that differentiation.

Corey Allan: And that, yeah, that's that simultaneous, we're both going to recognize the deficits and the strengths.

Michael Sytsma: Exactly.

Corey Allan: And it's not either intent of one or intentional of the other. You know, it's, I'm not, I mean, obviously we can weaponize those things and that's what we do when they stay covert, right? Because that's

Michael Sytsma: Right.

Corey Allan: the thing, the thing I've loved most about the whole differentiation model from Schnarch and why it resonated so quickly with me and was biblical. in my mindset

Michael Sytsma: Mm-hmm.

Corey Allan: too, when I first

Michael Sytsma: Right.

Corey Allan: was introduced, like, yes, this is our relationship with Christ and God too. This is a, I have to be my own person as I am shaped into Him. It's an evolving, right? It's not just a obeying, right?

Michael Sytsma: Mm-hmm.

Corey Allan: It's a whole lot more that's deeper. The thing I loved about the whole framework is he never... talked about this like it would solve things. A lot of the theories I would come across always had that undercurrent of, here's your solution to make that problem go away. When it's like, no, you will not make it go away. And if you wanna leave that relationship and try another one, you just brought yourself to another set of problems. So let's just talk about what really is, and that's so freeing to me.

Michael Sytsma: But that's a grieving process that clients really struggle with, that I struggle with.

Corey Allan: Mm-hmm.

Michael Sytsma: I'm a professor in five different schools right now, teaching graduate courses. And I love those moments where a student says, but how do you as a therapist fix this problem? And I sat back and I go, you don't.

Corey Allan: Mm-hmm. Ha

Michael Sytsma: The

Corey Allan: ha.

Michael Sytsma: task is not making this better by changing what they're asking for. that we make this better by helping them to accept that it's not going to get better. That

Corey Allan: Mm-hmm.

Michael Sytsma: grief is what's going to allow them to find something that's rich and good. And if you join their narrative that this has to be the way I want it to be in order for it to be rich and good, that you've set them up for failure the rest of their life.

Corey Allan: Right.

Michael Sytsma: And you've bought into believing that you need to be the hero who solves their marriage issue. And I'm sorry, you're not that good.

Corey Allan: And incidentally, neither are they.

Michael Sytsma: Right.

Corey Allan: Ha ha ha!

Michael Sytsma: Many times I'll say, God has the ability to fix this and he doesn't. Why are you insisting on being the person to fix it? You know,

Corey Allan: No,

Michael Sytsma: there's

Corey Allan: no.

Michael Sytsma: something broken in your view of it. But we take that same approach with our spouses. You have to be different and I need to fix you or you need to go get fixed. Versus, wow, what's going on here? The couple last night and she says, you know, I just feel so unsafe with you. And of course his first response is to demand that she feel safe with him

Corey Allan: Mm-hmm.

Michael Sytsma: and to tell her all the reasons she should feel safe with him. And I point out this is why she doesn't feel safe. Now what if you shifted into, oh, I would never want my wife to feel unsafe with me. Something is going wrong here.

Corey Allan: Okay.

Michael Sytsma: And what if you got curious? How do you experience me as being unsafe? And you leaned in and you really hurt her heart. And maybe

Corey Allan: Mm-hmm.

Michael Sytsma: she totally misunderstands you. I think she largely does. I think this is a good guy, but maybe she totally understands you, but she has got that message and look at

Corey Allan: Mm-hmm.

Michael Sytsma: her and say, well, this is because of your daddy. That's not safe. That didn't help. That reinforces her internal belief versus doing the, to use the language, the differentiation work of how do I be different in this moment?

Corey Allan: Mm-hmm.

Michael Sytsma: How do I show her a different script? Because demanding and ridiculing and invalidating, that is making, that is unsafety.

Corey Allan: Right. Keep going, sorry.

Michael Sytsma: Yeah, just to say versus me stepping back, taking personal ownership. I can change the script. I can help her to feel safe in this moment. And that counters what she's saying. She will feel that versus me telling her to.

Corey Allan: Right, right. And that's, and that also, and this is the thing I love about the crucible is by doing that, you in essence also push it on her to have to face what is it within her she needs to deal with too, because it's going on concurrently. Cause I've had at a, at a getaway that we do for those that listen every year, there was a question that came up one year of my husband likes this sort of avenue for help. I like this sort of avenue for help. How do we come to an understanding so that we both feel safe together and dealing with these issues? And I kind of paused for a moment to make sure I, because I wanted to get this across very cleanly and succinctly because I can be abrupt and shock value-y sometimes.

Michael Sytsma: Uh huh.

Corey Allan: So I need to, you know,

Michael Sytsma: Praterb

Corey Allan: catch

Michael Sytsma: the system.

Corey Allan: that. Right. And so I'm sitting there thinking it through and I was like, okay, so first off. If one of your primary goals in your life, as you speak to me as a woman right now, is safety, marriage is a horrible choice. Because you expose yourself to all kinds of disappointment for hurts, frustrations, and weaknesses of you, not even to mention your partner. It's if you can kind of and that settles people because that's the one thing you kind of keep alluding to and I would assume you see the same thing That when you can help a person And we can when we can get a better picture of what's going on And where I am I settle down

Michael Sytsma: And you know, people, it's a tough balance. People often think that I need to be in a safe environment. My spouse needs to be safe. And there's an aspect

Corey Allan: Mm-hmm.

Michael Sytsma: of that,

Corey Allan: Sure.

Michael Sytsma: which is true. There are some

Corey Allan: Sure.

Michael Sytsma: people that just are not safe. There are some environments that are not safe.

Corey Allan: Absolutely.

Michael Sytsma: But people fail to remember or to realize that safety comes first from within.

Corey Allan: Mm-hmm.

Michael Sytsma: I use the example, and this is an old example pre-COVID, but... when H1N1 came to the United States, swine flu, and H1N1 as a flu killed little kids. So this was a terrifying disease to come in. At the time, my wife was working as a school nurse where our kids were going to elementary school. And the CDC brought in all of the elementary school nurses and said, you are our frontline. you will know when this disease hits the United States before anybody else, because it's going to show up in your clinics. So they train the nurses and how to spot it. And they trained them in what to do all the stuff that in a post COVID world, we know to do mask them and, you know, six foot apart and sterilize the environment around them. And, um, and then they set them loose. And it was a few months later that my wife comes home and says, up, it's in my school. I said, it is. She said, yeah, this kindergarten girl today, she said, I am 95% sure once they test her that it's going to be H1N1. So what'd you do? She says, well, you know, she's a kindergartener and she misses her mommy and now she's sick and she really misses her mommy and she's crying. And so I'm holding her in my lap and I'm wiping her running nose. And, and so here's my wife holding this disease-ridden child and potentially bringing this disease home. But what she knew is not only had she gone through the training, she'd been one of the volunteers to check the vaccine. So they would inject the vaccine. They'd wait a couple of weeks. They checked the titers in her blood. They'd give the more of the vaccine. They're trying to figure, they knew the vaccine worked. They were trying to figure out how much to give, but the upshot of it was by the end of the study, they knew that all of these volunteers were vaccinated. So she could sit there and hold this viral ridden child. and not worry about bringing the disease home. And I like to ask people, was the disease any less deadly in her lap? The disease was no less deadly. What

Corey Allan: Mm-hmm.

Michael Sytsma: was the difference? Well, the difference was her immunity. And so the challenge to couples is, you feel unsafe in this marriage, you feel unsafe with your spouse. Rather than demand that they be different, what does it take to change your immunity? What does it take to grow something up in you? to where

Corey Allan: Mm-hmm.

Michael Sytsma: when your wife is moody, you go, ah, she's kind of moody, I love her. This is not who she wants to be. And I'm gonna just step beside all of these barbs. I'm not gonna let them sink in. And now you become safe in an unsafe environment.

Corey Allan: Mm-hmm.

Michael Sytsma: We love those movies where, you know, this small, statured individual walks into this dangerous setting. totally confident because they know what they're capable of. They know this environment is not a threat to them. They can

Corey Allan: Mm-hmm.

Michael Sytsma: take out 12 guys without even thinking. They are safe not because the environment is safe, but because they've learned to manage themselves in a way that keeps them safe. And marriage is the crucible that allows us to learn that or not. We can stay

Corey Allan: Mm-hmm.

Michael Sytsma: the victim or we

Corey Allan: Mm-hmm.

Michael Sytsma: can shift who we are and be safe in this environment.

Corey Allan: Right, because

Michael Sytsma: Within

Corey Allan: that's

Michael Sytsma: reason,

Corey Allan: just,

Michael Sytsma: of course.

Corey Allan: absolutely. And all of these are, I mean, I think we're talking about the bell curve here of the majority. There's all these, the exceptions on both ends of the equation here where

Michael Sytsma: Right. We never tell somebody

Corey Allan: there are.

Michael Sytsma: to be, we don't, we don't encourage somebody to

Corey Allan: Right.

Michael Sytsma: be immune to Ebola. We tell them, get away from

Corey Allan: Right,

Michael Sytsma: it. Yeah. And there are some clients

Corey Allan: right,

Michael Sytsma: that I think, no, you're Ebola.

Corey Allan: right.

Michael Sytsma: Your

Corey Allan: Yes,

Michael Sytsma: spouse just

Corey Allan: it's

Michael Sytsma: needs

Corey Allan: probably

Michael Sytsma: to run.

Corey Allan: best to truly open your eyes and recognize what you're up against

Michael Sytsma: Right.

Corey Allan: and take the steps accordingly. And then in time, you'll figure it out. Is this the right move or not? I mean, cause that's that element of, again, if we can look through the lens at relationships of what's this exposing in me, this is one of my wife's big phrases she uses, is what's being exposed in me here? What?

Michael Sytsma: Perfect.

Corey Allan: What is it that's the struggle that's mine in this? I'm overreacting, am I over demanding? Am I too tired? And if she will do that work, man, it freaks me out because I know it's gonna require me to have to really face things in me.

Michael Sytsma: Exactly, because you can no longer hang it on her, because it doesn't work. You know, I use timeouts a lot as a breaking of the instinctive cycle. And I tell them the moment a timeout is called, go walk the dog. And what needs to be in your mind is, what am I being selfish about? And

Corey Allan: That's

Michael Sytsma: because

Corey Allan: good.

Michael Sytsma: you're going to immediately go into how your spouse needs to be different and why they set you off. And the challenge is, If you're upset, it's because you're not getting something, you're demanding something that, it may be good, but you're going about it the wrong way. It may be that what you're demanding isn't good, but do you even know what you're demanding right now? And it's that same thing. How do I put the focus on me in this moment?