Artwork for podcast Thrive Beyond Pornography (Formerly The Self Mastery Podcast)
Overcoming Pornography through Differentiation - Series 5 of 5
Episode 13027th February 2022 • Thrive Beyond Pornography (Formerly The Self Mastery Podcast) • Zach Spafford
00:00:00 00:26:59

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Differentiation – enmeshment

Meaning frames - Disorganization - Reorganizing with integrity

Self-confrontation – other confrontation

Self-validation – other validation

Self-disclosure - Self-presentation = Intimacy p 102-103

This month has been a real deep dive.  It has included a lot of really meaningful topics and subjects that I have tried to make as understandable as possible.   

We started with looking at our meaning frames and how disorganizing it can be to have them shattered by our partner not living up to the understandings that we have about pornography viewing in our relationships.

Next, we moved on to the process of confronting ourselves and our partner in loving and meaningful ways that can help us reorganize ourselves into more integrated people. 

The following week, we discussed how we are extracting validation from our partners, how we can stop doing that, and how we can become more self-validating through some of the work we discussed in the previous weeks.  

Last week we talked about disclosure and the ways in which we present ourselves to others in order to manage their beliefs and ideas around who we are.  

This is the last episode of the series.  Here we are going to explore enmeshment, differentiation, and the process of becoming a whole person who can also be a good partner without the need for someone to function for us. 

One of the biggest struggles that I think most marriages have is the issue of how much we fold into each other. 

What I’m talking about here is the amount of enmeshment and conformity that occurs when we become a couple. 

What this might look like is, a need to have the same opinion on important issues.  It might look like, one partner over functioning while the other partner under functions, which can be flipped in certain circumstances. 

This also looks like some of the requirements we have that our partner reflect our sense of who we are back to us.  Rather than holding up a mirror to who we are as we discussed in the self-confrontation/other-confrontation episode. 

In the process of creating intimacy that is built out of the validation of others, we often move along nicely together, until one day everything gets stuck or snaps and we find ourselves and our relationship in a moment of crisis. 

It might be a small crisis. It might be a big crisis. 

In the case of a pornography struggle, this is often a pretty big crisis.  

Where we have spouses saying things like darcy did to me, “if you don’t get this under control, this is the end of our relationship.”

In part, this is occurring Because the meaning-framework that we brought to the marriage is insufficient to hold onto the reality of the situation (that one partner is viewing pornography and pornography is destructive so our marriage is in jeopardy and so is my sense of self) in the face of the pain that is occurring through the rejection that the other partner is feeling.  

When we have crises points like this in our lives there are basically 3 ways that we can deal with it. Here we are again leaning heavily on dr David schnarch’s book, passionate marriage. 


The first is to either violate yourself by folding into their demands on you or violating your partner by requiring them to fold into your demands of how things must be.  

In this scenario, I think a lot of women and partners of those viewing pornography feel totally justified.  Part of our culture and part of our moral code demands that pornography never be part of the equation ever or it will destroy.  So making this demand that your partner violate themselves to simply behave the way you need them to behave so you can be enough for them sexually regardless of what that looks like is pretty much ok with in LDS tradition. 

D – this is how I felt when I first found out.  etc. I would also do things that tried to fold into the way I thought Zach wanted me to be.  I tried being sexier, even though I didn’t feel like it just to try and please him. 

Z- the way I would do this was to give Darcy anything she wanted, even when it wasn’t in the best interests of our family or my own personal sense of self.  Like giving up meaningful activities that I enjoyed appeasing her.  

This is really about enmeshment.  It’s the kind of “I can’t live without you and you can’t live without me” kind of way that we deal with our partners that draws them in with a view of becoming one based on a single sense of self.  


The second thing that often happens in relationships when there is an intense sticking point it to distance ourselves from the relationship emotionally or physically or both. 

If you have been in the depths of this kind of situation or know someone who has, you’ve likely experienced this or seen it.  

It shows up in a variety of ways that might be dramatic, 

Or that might not be that dramatic.

But either way our behaviors become about moving away from our partner and even closing off emotionally. 

I don’t think Darcy ever really did this, because she was really invested in me and our relationship. 

But I would do this by withdrawing back into pornography. 

Unlike the enfolding into each other sense that we get from accommodating or being accommodated, this looks more like, “I’m drowning in our us-ness and I need to escape it in order to be me”

Where this might be problematic is, that when I cannot be in relation to another person without taking on their anxieties and struggles, it is also not a refuge to be alone.  

Especially in the midst of a marriage.  


The final way that we can engage with these stuck and difficult moments is to confront yourself and become more differentiated.  

This last process is one of ambiguous trying.  As I’ve read through Passionate Marriage and as I’ve listened to people like Jennifer Finlayson-fife, it has become clear to me that there isn’t a lot of concreteness to this process of becoming differentiated.  

Differentiation as a word means to make distinct from the things around them.  

But I’m not sure this word in itself captures for regular people like me how that is accomplished or what it means in terms of how relationships can be improved by it.  

In part, it is the amalgamation, putting together all of the concepts that we’ve been discussing this month. 

Doing each of these things helps us to determine how we are different from our partner.  But there is a step that we haven’t talked about that is key to this concept. 

While we are different physically and mentally, we often try to conform to each other in order to create a sense of unity. 

But differentiation does not include conformity.  It includes choosing closeness in the face of our differences without letting go of our sense of self.  

One way that this is put in the book is that differentiation is the ability to soothe your own anxiety and resist being infected with other people’s anxiety.  

I take that to mean, that I can manage my own emotions, not require that my partner take care of me, willingly accept the loving critique of my partner, while also being willing to confront the things in myself that I don’t like, as I also overcome my need to be validated by others and become capable of validating myself, in the process of eliminating unnecessary ways of presenting myself to others, especially my spouse, as I disclose to my partner who I really am.  

If that seems like a lot, we took 5 podcast episodes to explain all of it for this one moment.  

No wonder it is hard to become the people we want to be.  We have to get good at so many important and sometimes difficult processes at once.  

Another way that Dr Schnarch describes differentiation in the book is having the ability to maintain a sense of self while in relation to others.  

He also describes it this way, 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. 

For many of us, the closer we get to our partner the less we see ourselves as one person who chooses another.  We are more likely to see ourselves as an indistinct part of a whole.