“Marriage Actually” interview with Dr. T. Sellick…
What do you feel is the main problem (or problems) couples are facing sexually today?
Couples today face some very interesting challenges which can impoverish their love relationship in so many ways, and on a variety of levels. One author (I believe it was Sheldon Vanauken in his fabulous book “A Severe Mercy) suggested that unless couples are extremely mindful and diligent in their marriage, they risk suffering a “creeping separateness,” that distorts and tarnishes the life and friendship of marriage. The sexual part of the relationship very naturally, and reasonably, suffers along with this, so often bruised in this experience of “creeping separateness.”
As well, couples are busy, often frustrated financially, fatigued, and lonely, and so often at a loss as to where to begin in their road back to each other. I often think of Richard Swenson’s book entitled “Margins.” In this he suggests that a margin is the space that’s supposed to exist between our absolute limits, and how we’re actually living out our lives, day-to-day. Most of us, he argues, are quite maxed out in terms of our commitments, busyness, and involvements, leaving very little of this “margin” in our lives. However, it is in this margin, he suggests, that the truly rich and delicate and life-giving parts of our lives and relationships are to thrive.
It is no wonder then, that we are experiencing the various poverties that my clients complain about nearly every day; in parenting, financially, health-wise, emotionally, relationally, including sexually. And this dire angst and poverty in the sexual love relationships has been understood for a very long time. Although the term “sexless marriage” is a relatively new one, it was King Solomon who mused, over 3000 years ago, that one of the most tragic things of all, was “a married woman, who is unhappy.”
Socrates suggested that the unexamined life was not worth living. I think we could similarly suggest that the unexamined marriage is not worth living; (or certainly, is a very difficult experience indeed). But where to begin? My experience is that couples are often earnest in their desire to address this angst, these feelings of separateness, but that they very often don’t know where, or how to begin.
Where we’re at, however, DOES make sense. The theologian Dallas Willard reminds us in his writing that “…your system is perfectly designed to produce the result you are getting.” In other words, we as couples may be discouraged about the results we are getting in our love-lives (in all its’ aspects), but we should not really be surprised. What are we doing to address this poverty?
In her brilliant little book, “Gift from the Sea,” first written in 1955, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, wife to the famous aviator Charles, writes ”…like its parallel in physical passion, the early ecstatic stage of a relationship cannot continue always at the same pitch of intensity. It moves to another phase of growth which one should not dread, but welcome as one welcomes summer after spring. But there is also a dead weight accumulation, a coating of false values, habits and burdens which blights life. It is this smothering coat that needs constantly to be stripped off, in life as well as in relationships.”
I think this is an excellent picture of what often happens in our love lives. The various things (false values, habits and burdens, etc.) which so easily “blight” our lives, and which, somehow, need to be stripped off.
As couples, there are many things we need to do to creatively, and purposefully address this. Our intent with the game was to hand couples a rich tool for their arsenal. Something quite attractive, compelling, practical, fun, and life-giving for their relationship. The focus is on the sexual piece, but we have made a careful effort to try to bring nearly every part of their relating into a more open, naked and honest place.
In the story of Creation, the original intent was that couples would be “naked and not ashamed.” What a thrilling possibility, but as Anne Lindbergh writes, how easily and completely is this nakedness covered, and various kinds of shame thrive to “blight” what should be beautiful.
We have been very intentional in designing our game. Note the subtitle; “A PRIVATE AFFAIR: The Erotic Game of Secrets, Plans and Promises for Couples.”
In seeking to address this “creeping separateness,” and this “dead weight” accumulation which blights our loving, we have created avenues for couples to risk (dare!) disclosing more secret parts of themselves to their lover (and to themselves!)
Secondly we are giving opportunity for couples to consider and scheme new plans and possibilities for their lives together (sexually and otherwise).
And lastly, the game gives opportunity (i.e. through the SUDS sheets – which, by the way, means, “Sock & Underwear Drawer Sheets”) to make promises to each other, and to create reminders that we will indeed remember, and follow up with each other in the days ahead. Without this piece, we end up creating a bit of insight and hopefulness, but then soon forget and lose new discoveries and possibilities.
Would you say that A Private Affair helps with sensuality, sexuality, or intimacy?
We think it opens the door to all of these. King Solomon wrote (circa 1000 B.C.) that “…an honest answer is like a kiss on the lips!” An amazing suggestion really, that “an honest answer” is a thing of transparent, gentle and connecting intimacy, and of life. And something quite juicy! Not just an intellectually sound idea. The game challenges couples to risk intimate disclosures and scheming together which we believe softens hearts, and creates seduction and understanding and closeness. The age-old adage that “one thing leads to another,” works both ways; without care, our relationship falls into disrepair and newer (lower) levels of poverty. With the game we dare to take on the challenge to reverse this, and to have some good, and at times risky fun together. We live out our relationship at times in larger blocks, and at other times in bits and pieces, as we pass in the hallway, or chat briefly in a car journey together. The game can similarly be “played” slowly, lingering over a more romantic meal, or coffee out together, but also, if couples wish, they can dive into things in a very brief conversation, “playing” just a card or two as they drive to the grocery store, or over the phone in a lunch-time call.
What is it about A Private Affair that makes it different from other games such as An Enchanted Evening, etc.
I’m not familiar with that game, but when we first began to craft “A Private Affair” we spent quite a bit of time looking at what was currently on the market, and we just didn’t see anything quite like what we had in mind. The vast majority of the games felt so contrived, and often patronizing in their simplicity, and in the predictable and cliche way in which they invited couples toward greater intimacy. As well, we feel that the questions, inquiries, suggestions, and comments in APA are a bit more more sophisticated, subtle, and more thoughtfully penetrating than most of what we have seen available in the “games for couples” market. While we have suggested the main few ways our game can be played, it will be obvious to couples that they will be able to make up their own way to work the cards, one that most appeals, and that fits with their style, schedules, etc. APA offers good flexibility for couples, and a way for them to risk more as they go along if they wish. Many of the questions are quite thought-provoking and invite fairly deep consideration, so that the game will not easily “wear out.” Other games we reviewed often had much more simple, and seemingly trite topics for couples to explore, which we felt really wouldn’t have real compelling or staying power, nor would they take couples into the deeper places together.
What is the goal of the game?
To give couples opportunity to experience intimate and rewarding conversation; to encourage couples to risk disclosing personal dreams, hopes, desires, struggles, preferences, fantasies, etc; to give couples a place to consider and plan and scheme together (being much more intentional together), and to provide a way for them to be reminded about (and not to forget) how they would really like to live and to love each other in the days to come. The Swiss therapist and author, Paul Tournier once wrote an excellent little book entitled “To Understand Each Other” (1967). His thesis, and encouragement was that we love best, most easily and happily and effectively, when we understand each other well. The “revealing” that this game invites, is an opportunity for increasing understanding, and with this, an opportunity to better offer kindnesses and love to each other. A game format for this, with the “luck of the draw” (who get’s which card and topic when, etc.) helps couples “break the ice” very quickly on a very wide variety of subjects, rather than waiting and hoping that someday, somehow, we might get into some of these things together. Our game testing to date suggests that the cards seem to be very inviting and interesting, both for couples who are newly in love, and those who have been married for decades! We think that well-crafted questions should have this kind of facility and usefulness, and relevance and intrigue.
There are several types of cards. Can you tell me why you chose the format that you did? For example, what do the quote cards accomplish?
The cards are divided into four colours; Scarlet, Olive, Cobalt Blue and Mocha. The Scarlet Cards are the “invitations to share secrets, and to make disclosures. The Olive Cards are the “requests or wishes, and erotic vignettes.” The Cobalt Blue Cards are the “expert opinions and definitions.” The Mocha Card are the “fantasies and quotes.” As the game is played, the players will of course draw randomly from these four groups and these six or seven different areas of discussion; a sharing which we have found to make for quite a rich and diverse conversation! The Scarlet Cards invite the risk-sharing in ways that we find does not easily happen otherwise. These, as the colour implies, are some of the hotter cards, and the ones that challenge us toward this greater “nakedness without shame.” The Olive Green cards allow us to make up and/or to disclose dreams we may have, but perhaps have been reluctant to ever voice! The Erotic Vignettes are an invitation to develop very brief and erotic stories around three elements that are provided on that particular card. These are quite fun, and sometimes a tad steamy. Just simple, happy and risky thoughts shared with your lover. The Cobalt Blue cards give us a private view into our partner’s thinking; their ideas and opinions on a variety of very personal and more general topics. A “penny for your thoughts” in a way, but into some very intimate places. The Mocha cards similarly provide an avenue into our partner’s imagining, as they explore various fantasies, and as they share their opinion on the thoughts (quotes) that others have had about a variety of love, sexual and other topics. This is in the spirit of “what do YOU think about what they say?”
How long should a couple expect to play this game?
As we’ve suggested, the game can be played in a number of different ways; over a lingering, romantic meal, without any rush; or in a 5-minute session for one of the “quickie” variations; or even a card at a time, being passed to each other in a perhaps very public place! Or over the phone or in email or text messaging.
What if one partner wants to play and the other does not? Do you have a suggestion for this type of scenario?
This is so common for all of us; that one will be more enthusiastic than the other, at a particular moment or time or place, and that the other might be more closed, unsure, or reluctant. The ideal is not that we are both, somehow, exactly on “the same page” so to speak, but rather, that we are willing, together, to TRY some new things, and to make an effort that demonstrates some kindness, support, openness, etc. The game does not need for either in the couple to be in a certain and particular frame of mind, but rather, that we both make some effort to “pick up the thread” so to speak, of this life-long “conversation” that we are having, called “love.” Our experience has been that the game quickly draws us into this conversation, often within just one or two cards. We are great believers in the idea that long-term marital love can, should and must be extravagant, dynamic, challenging, forward and outward in its life, and a much more completing, life-giving and sustaining experience than it so often is, for so many. So we offer this game with enthusiasm, and with confidence that it will be a really positive thing for many couples.