Want VS Desire [Click HERE to listen to the episode]
Interview with Dr. Jennifer Finlayson-Fife and Jordan and Ryan of The Stoic Dad Podcast
Jordan Welcome back to another episode of the Stoic Dad podcast. We've had a lot of great reception out there online, a lot of people, a lot of followers. So we're excited about how this has gone. Today we have a very special guest Dr. Jennifer Finlayson-Fife. Actually, this is our very first female guest, we've kind of been sticking with only male guests.
I've listened to some of your podcasts and I love your podcasts. My wife and I are really big into podcasts and so just as we're doing the dishes and as we're going about our day, we listen to podcasts. I've loved a lot of your content out there, so we're excited to have you on the show.
Just to give a quick bio background on Dr. Jennifer. She is a relationship and sexuality educator and a coach. She's a licensed clinical professional counselor in Illinois with a Ph.D. in counseling psychology from Boston College. She wrote her dissertation on LDS women and sexuality. If you don't know what LDS is, LDS represents members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, of which all three of us belong to. She's taught college-level courses on human sexuality. She currently teaches online courses and does live workshops for individuals and couples seeking to develop their capacity for deeper emotional and sexual intimacy. So we're really excited to have you on the podcast, Jennifer.
Jennifer Finlayson-Fife Great. Thanks for having me.
Jordan Just as an intro, help us understand a little bit about where you're from and what initially brought you into this very niche of counseling and psychology.
Jennifer Finlayson-Fife Growing up as a Latter-day Saint I loved my LDS community. I loved the deep sense of belonging and purpose that was a part of my childhood. I grew up in Vermont where there are not many Latter-day Saints and so there was this very cohesive experience of being in this small group. And while I loved it and I saw my spiritual home begin there in a sense of God and a sense of what I did mattered, I was also a perceptive little person and I also could see suffering within marriages and I could see women, especially, growing up in this idea that women should sort of be led by their husbands, and women should stay home, and women should not get a career. And there's just a lot of these ideas that to me felt entrapping for women. And I was also seeing that women and men were not thriving in marriage. And so even though the culture really values marriage, I could see marriages were not necessarily happy. So I think it was just a problem that my heart and soul were drawn to and I was trying to figure out how to reconcile the truth of ideas and about the best ways to behave in the world and how to create good. I was trying to reconcile these ideas that were there for me that seemed incongruent with many of our notions of gender and marriage and so on.
So I studied counseling and women's studies. I wrote my dissertation on LDS women and sexual agency because a lot of my friends were getting married and hated sex and had no connection to this part of themselves, and their marriage was therefore struggling. So I started down that path and developed content and courses for women and for couples. And then then I did a course for men. That took me a little bit because I was like, “Who am I to tell men how to be?” But I just saw the ways that men were struggling in relationship to their sexuality and in partnership. And so I developed a course called The Art of Loving. And it’s really to help men who've grown up in a religious culture or have an ambivalent relationship to sexuality. That is, they like it, but they fear it or they're uncertain how to feel about it, and they have often been less able to create a place of freedom and joy in their marriages or in their lives around sexuality. And so the focus of my work is to help people to integrate their sexuality and create goodness with it. That's really been my work.
Jordan I love that. Another question to follow up on that, for Ryan and I and for you, we understand the LDS culture pretty well, especially within the realm of church leadership. Has there been any type of pushback and or maybe awkwardness with what you do specifically in the greater LDS culture, especially within leadership?
Jennifer Finlayson-Fife Plenty of awkwardness, but no pushback from leadership. Pushback from people in the pews sometimes who are like, "What? We're in the church. How could you be talking about this?" because they have this idea that sexuality is incongruent with spirituality. And so that belief has made me seem at times like a threat. But what's maybe most remarkable and what's happened is the group I'm speaking to has been evolving and changing. So the conversations are very different now than they were 15 years ago when I first started doing some of this. Where before I was much, much more careful and qualifying and trying to teach the spirit of the law, so to speak. But I think because so many people want a way to have their faith and their sexuality, that while it may throw people it also speaks to them. There's something they're trying to solve. And I think because my way of thinking gives them a chance at reconciling two things that really matter to them, they're pretty open to what I'm saying, at least open to considering it.
Jordan That's great. And that was something I thought about as I was listening to one of your podcasts. I think you were talking about your dissertation and some of the data around that, around masturbation, and around some of your experiences prior to marriage. And I just thought, man, that's such a touchy subject to talk about within a lot of Judeo-Christian faiths.
Jennifer Finlayson-Fife Absolutely.
Jordan It's very, very off-limits. I had the opportunity to rub shoulders with Brad Wilcox several years ago and we sat down and talked about a couple of different things. I was working somewhere where he was there often and so we connected. We got on the subject of shame and the pamphlet from when I was a missionary for young men only. I'm not sure you're familiar with that.
Jennifer Finlayson-Fife I know it.
Jordan Yeah. Ryan laughs. All right, well, we all know what that is.
Ryan I'm twiddling my thumbs right now.
Jordan And there was a young man that Brad had interacted with who had prepared to serve as an LDS missionary. And the stake president, who's the ecclesiastical leader over the area, said, "Hey, if you can't stop masturbating, I'm sorry, you can't go on a mission. It's not going to work well." And Brad became somewhat irked by that. And he went over the stake president's head and whoever was above that stake president said, “Hey, we're going to send this guy to be a missionary. This is the best place for him." So I think that you're correct. There's a lot of evolution within, I think, all Christian faiths, but certainly within the LDS faith where we're starting to accept the fact that those two things are not like you said incongruent.
I have a good friend, and this is kind of a silly concept, but he's like, "We have an open-door masturbation policy in our house." Look, we realize that this is a reality, that it happens. I'd much rather that my children come and talk to me and explain to me what's going on.” So we really appreciate the work that you're doing. I think it's something that is sorely needed not just in LDS culture, but, like I said, Judeo Christian culture.
Ryan And Jennifer, you have a course that you created for parents to present sexually helpfully with their children, and a lot of Jordan's questions he's provided you know are covering this a little bit.
Jennifer Finlayson-Fife Yeah, that's right. I talk about sexual integrity, which is how do you integrate your sexual capacity. Part of joy is the sensuality of the body. But we fear sensuality because we're afraid it will take us down. You know, like you eat too much or you are too sexual. And it's true, it can because out of moderation pleasure can be destructive. But to thrive in life, you have to integrate pleasure. And that is you accept your capacity for pleasure but you integrate it with your morality. And the more able we are to do that, the more and more freedom and joy we feel in our lives. So what I'm helping parents do is to think about how do you offer an understanding to your children of the goodness of the body, the goodness of their sensual and sexual capacity, while offering them a framework of morality in which that's going to bless their lives and their relationships. So rather than shaming or permissiveness, it's how do you offer the framework to integrate sexuality?
Jordan Yeah, that's great. And that kind of leads us into one of the first questions. You said the word moderation. So within the stoic philosophy, we look heavily at desires and desires are okay, obviously. But we look at moderation in everything. Moderation in what you eat. Moderation and how you sleep. And we try to kill desires, especially incentives. Ryan and I are always philosophizing on the concept of how do we destroy incentives and make the incentive be the good in and of itself. How do we desire things that are...
Ryan This is so massive in a marriage to the way you're presenting this question. I'll let you finish your question, but everyone listening, think about that in your marriage. To do good because you are good versus do I get a cookie?
Jordan Men want a cookie especially. I feel like women are much more adept. They're born with this maternal spirit in them. And I think they serve so much more effectively than men, whereas men are like, "Well, I did the dishes and I cleaned the garage, where's my reward?"
Jennifer Finlayson-Fife It's also women's Achilles heel, though. So what I mean is, while we're kind of wired to self-sacrifice, because that's how the baby stays alive, if women use self-sacrifice to not forge a self, well, then they become unable to be in a marriage, unable to be intimate. So just to be clear, we may have our proclivities, but out of moderation, either one of those works against us because there's strength and liability in each of those dispositions.
Jordan Wow. I like that. That's one of the quotes I think right there. Keep them coming Jennifer. Love them. So let me ask this question, it's kind of abstract, but how do we desire sexuality at a level that is healthy? Because like you said, it is such a powerful passion. It's such a powerful force of nature that we feel. Ryan's more of a cynic philosophically and I'm more stoic. And so he's looking for pain creation all the time versus pain relief for pleasure creation. But how do we create a level that's appropriate, an appropriate level of sexuality without getting carried away? How is that done? What are the tools or what are the mechanics?
Jennifer Finlayson-Fife It's making me very curious about cynicism. I know cynicism as a kind of thinking from the Greek era or the Roman era or whatever. But I don't know enough to know what that means. But anyway, we'll talk about that later.
Jordan Ryan just likes to put himself through as much pain as possible because that purifies him in his philosophical view.
Ryan Because if I desire nothing, I need nothing. And if I need nothing, I can serve because I never have to think about myself. Right. And so in a part of Jordan's question, when you're in a marriage and you feel like you need, it's hard for you to empathize and to think about your partner. And so if you're consciously desiring this thing and you're not getting it, you're going to feel resentment.
Jennifer Finlayson-Fife In Buddhism, at least how we think about Buddhism, desire is the root of all suffering. So we want things but we have limited control over getting them. And this is especially true in marriage because you may desire your partner, but you can't control getting them to desire you back. This is a source of a lot of suffering if you're the higher desire person. But I don't think of it this way. And then just another qualifier before I give my thoughts about my answer to your question is that this idea of how do we not get carried away, well, I think the question is, carried away with what? What are we trying to avoid? Because sometimes we think we shouldn't have too much passion, we shouldn't have too many sexual feelings. We should just mute it and tamp it down. And I don't think that's true. In fact, I think sometimes the most transformative and transcendent sex is deeply carnal. Okay, now I know to the LDS ears that's like, "What?!" Because we've linked carnal and selfish inaccurately.
But carried away in what sense? If you're getting carried away in selfishness, in self-service, and indulgence, that's the problem. So now let's back up a moment here. So going back to desire versus desire-less, I don't think the right understanding of Buddhism is that desire-lessness is the goal. I think it's the distinction between lower desires and higher desires. What are desires that expand us and grow us and make us into better people versus desires that are more ego-serving?
Jennifer Finlayson-Fife And a lot of times women have learned, "Oh, I should have no desires." And so they actually take refuge in the desire-less position at their expense, at the expense of their marriages, at the expense of their ability to feel happy in their lives. And that's not the goal, because there's a way of actually protecting the ego through desire-lessness. And that's not strong.
So now I'm going to back up one more time just to kind of make sure you understand where I'm coming from. A lot of us believe the body is the enemy to spirituality. The feeling of sensuality and the physical world is antithetical to the spiritual. And in LDS theology, that's just not true, even though we teach it culturally like it is. So what is the antidote? What's antithetical? What's natural man? What is antithetical to spiritual development is the ego. That is, the part of us that wants to serve ourselves and make ourselves feel good. I don't want to desire you because maybe you'll reject me and that will puncture my ego. So I'm just not going to desire you. I'm not going to invest, I'm not going to try. I'm not going to reach towards you. Or we can desire out of ego. Love me. It's not I love you, it's Do you love me? I desire you. Do you desire me? And so our ego is driving a lot of what we're doing in our marriages and in our lives. And that does undermine our ability to move into a deeper ability to love and know. someone. If we can sacrifice ego, meaning lose yourself to find yourself is to sacrifice your ego, to find your strength and your wisdom, to find your ability to love. The right hand is not following all the time what the left hand doeth. And so you're moving into a deeper freedom because you already are at peace with yourself. I can tolerate the potential of rejection. I can tolerate what is true about me or about us over what feels good. Then you are actually freed up to desire, not for how it serves my ego, but in a marriage, I desire you not to fill up something empty in me, but out of the fullness in me.
Ryan To create something.
Jennifer Finlayson-Fife Exactly. My husband makes a distinction between wanting and desiring. Wanting is like emptiness. I have a want for food, a want for validation. I'm trying to fill it up through you in the name of love. Rather, desire is out of wholeness, out of creating something, out of an investment in another person. I value you. I cherish you. That's the kind of desire that feels good to another person. I'm known and chosen. And I would never want my husband to be desire-less relative to me. I would feel bad. It would feel self-ego protective to him, in my view.
Ryan I love the way you presented that. It is absolutely beautiful. And as a man or men, we tend to use our wives. We can use our wives because we need a release. And so this is when I say the absence of want, maybe not desire. I want to delete want because my partner might not be ready.
Jennifer Finlayson-Fife Well, not to mention that wanting is always bad in my view. So it is not even about whether or not they're ready. It's that what I'm offering is not about love, even though it feels like it. So a lot of high desire people confuse, "Do you love me?” with “I love you." Do you see what I'm saying? And so they're like, "Look, I'm ready to love and desire you. What's your problem?" When the lower desire person feels like it sure doesn't feel like love. It feels like you're sucking the life out of them. So it's never a good thing. A partner is never a solution to your reflected sense of self. And to be fair, women do this as much as men do this, even if they do it in more gender-specific ways. I'm marrying you for economic stability. I'm marrying you to make me feel safe or protected or whole. But I don't necessarily want to choose you, to invest in your happiness, to create something shared with you. The role base is a very easy place to take cover.
Ryan So that goes into my other question. In this case, the man, because you're in a position where you don't have want, a man should learn to suffer infinitely so that he can serve his wife and children infinitely because he never has to think selfishly. But to suffer, I think is the absence of want like you just suggested. I can sit in discomfort. I'm willing to sit in discomfort. Its purpose is so that I can serve my wife and children in line with my values because I'm not manipulated by my wants. And my desire is to create with my wife and to create with my children. But my question is, what if one half is lacking there? And that's where there's a moment for you to serve. And if you don't have wants you can serve your partner. But maybe how do you position yourself to get in that position? As a partner, what are actions you take daily to find that sense of desire versus that sense of want, that sense to create with your partner versus that I need?
Jordan What are the practical tools?
Jennifer Finlayson-Fife So to your point, which I really love, is that the thing that always makes us stronger is meaningful suffering—stepping into what matters here and being willing to do the hard thing. And for me, if I'm working on a chapter of the book and I'm just stuck I'm like, "Now is a good time to look at Instagram," or whatever because I want relief. Relief from that discomfort, from that anxiety. And I just do it intuitively. But every time I step away, I now have to get back to where I was. I've got to go back to that difficult place. So it serves me better just to embrace the difficulty. And so every time I think, "Embrace the suck, embrace the difficult," it helps to know it's a meaningful struggle. I'm sacrificing my comfort for something better.
Ryan So in a relationship then, let's call it the suffering muscle. This meaningful suffering muscle in a relationship. If I came to you as a man and you recognize that I lacked that, what would you say?
Jennifer Finlayson-Fife Okay, well, this is what I would say. I would say to you, "Listen, you're not very trustworthy to your spouse, you're not very desirable to her. You want her to desire you, but you know you're not desirable. You may not know it yet, but you're cells know that you're in an indulgent position. And you're trying to get her to solve something, which is a way of using her, not loving her.” So what I start with is the truth. I really do try to help people to see how they are instinctively using someone. Because human beings, when we're lower in development, we use each other. And so I help people to see. Because what happens is people with conscience say, "Oh my gosh, I don't want to do that. I don't want to be that person." And what happens is, as they wake up, their higher desires emerge. When we're blind, our lower desires and our wants are running the show. But so some people think I'm mean just for the fun of it or whatever. But I'm trying to wake people up in these conversations. I'm trying to wake them up not because I want them to hurt, but because I want them to see. As Einstein says, you can't solve a problem at the level at which the problem was created. You have to raise your intelligence and see the actual problem. And when you do that, you see yourself in it and you increase your agency.
Ryan This is so powerful because then your inability to suffer is what separates you from your conscience.
Jennifer Finlayson-Fife Exactly.
Ryan Your inability to suffer with meaning. You can't see the higher values. You have to come out of the fog of wars, that is what I call it with the men that I train.
I'm all in. Buy all her courses.
Jordan We're signing up. We're going to the next retreat. We're in.
Jennifer Finlayson-Fife It's when you start putting validation as more important than truth.
Ryan So that's the question. That suffering, when I can't see my values, what are my steps?
Jordan Yeah, well, like, what are the practical tools there?
Jennifer Finlayson-Fife So I help people to wake up. That's what my courses do. The first half of the men's course is difficult. The people tease me, like, "You got me to buy this course for better sex. And then the first four sessions are just about me being disgusted with myself.” Not in an unproductive way, but waking up to, "No wonder she doesn't like this."
Ryan Calling him out.
Jennifer Finlayson-Fife Yeah, exactly. Calling you to be stronger by seeing more truthfully. Then your higher desires emerge. I've seen it happen with so many good people where they're like, "I don't want to be like that. I have to be a better man." And they're doing it for their wife. They're doing it for their kids. But they're doing it for themselves too. Their own conscience is saying, "I can't be this. I don't like this in me. I don't respect it, much less she doesn't respect it." So then your higher desire becomes more present. I want to be more fair. I want to be kinder. I want to be more invested in my children's lives. I don't want to make my kids reinforce my ego. I want to be there to facilitate their development, their growth. So that starts to get clearer out of the ashes of your punctured ego.
And so then what I tell people, here's the practical, is write up a vision statement. An "I statement." I did this when I was younger. I wanted to be someone that I respected. I put it in the first person present. I don't even know why I did that. I'm sure I heard that idea somewhere. But I wrote, "I am a self-confident person who is comfortable in her own skin, who is kind to other people, who is a hard worker, who does difficult things, who takes good care of her body." And I just wrote out a detailed description of the person that I desired to be. At times I thought, "Well, I'm not really her. I'm lying to myself. I'm pretending I'm something I'm not." But if I could speak to my younger self, I would say, "No. You were articulating your higher self right there. And you owe it to yourself to become her." That's your higher desires. And then what happens is how people feel about you is not as important as what is true about you. So that is to say, if I'm out of line and I'm not being fair and kind or whatever, which is my higher desire, I want to hear what your experience is because you might see me accurately and I want to know it. But that's different than, “I need you to tell me I'm a good person for me to be in a relationship with you.”
Jordan It's like companionship inventory, right? That's what you're looking for. Well, I think for me specifically the question that I had was more like, what's a tool of introspection that you can use? How do we how do we create that cognitive distance daily?
Ryan The selfishness. I forgot already. I forgot already my values. They're gone. I don't even know who I am anymore. How do I anchor myself? How do I anchor myself in those values? What's the one thing I do every day?
Jennifer Finlayson-Fife Okay, let me start somewhere else because you need to make sure that what you're actually writing out has some traction in it. Something connected to something real in you. One of the things I do in both the men's course, the Art of Loving, and the couple's course, Strengthening Your Relationship, is I'm helping people to see the crap they do when they're under pressure and when they're not getting the validation they want. When we don't get what we want, our lesser selves come rushing to the rescue.
Ryan We forget who we are.
Jennifer Finlayson-Fife We do and we do stupid mean things and we do self-serving things. So I want people to go and think about what they already know they do and then ask their spouse what they have yet to understand about themselves. And to really get a clear picture. What would it be like to be my child? What would it be like to be my partner? But here's the activity, at the end of the day, think about a moment where you were regressed, where you know you were off, even if you don't know exactly in what way, and even if your regressive mind is saying it was 100% justified, you have nothing to apologize for. But to push yourself on this question, which is, "What was I doing that was unfair and indecent? What am I pretending not to know about my role in that difficult moment?” Because we're so good at lying to ourselves. Now it helps to go and do something physical while you're asking yourself these self-confronting questions because it helps you to get out of your regressive mind.
Ryan Go do some push-ups.
Jennifer Finlayson-Fife Exactly. I'll be on a walk and ask myself, "What is my role? No, I don't have a role, I'm certain. Absolutely." And then, maybe a quarter mile in I'm like, "Okay, well, maybe that was a little unfair." By the time I get home, hopefully, on a good day, I'm like, "I wasn't being decent about this. And even though my spouse may have a role or my teenager may have a role in this, I'm going to stay focused on my role because it's the only part I have control over. What was I doing to contribute to this difficulty?" And I'm going to deal with my role, whether that's go in and say, "I know I was being unfair in this way and I'm going to spare you all the ways I know that you were being unfair. Let's just talk about how I was being unfair." But you deal with how you're being unfair.
Jordan That's a great tool. I think that's a very simple tool too. It's like, okay, look, let's just start here. Men, you heard everything that she said. That's the first step in understanding some of the stuff.
Jennifer Finlayson-Fife Yes. I'll just say one more thing too, that is, you don't go back and apologize because you want to prove to your wife you're a good guy. That keeps you stuck. You go back and you do differently because you want to be a better guy, because you want to be somebody that's decent and trustworthy. And if you're not there yet, you need to maybe keep pushing yourself, because unless it's anchored into your morality, you will always feel controlled by the people you love. You'll feel like you've got to earn their sense of self and it will make it difficult to truly love them because your sense of self is running around in them.
Jordan A stoic would say that you have to do this because of the value of the intrinsic versus the external. People value heavily the external, whereas in Greek philosophy, eudaimonia, peace, joy, all that comes from the intrinsic. Nothing's going to work out if you do things based on the external, but the intrinsic is the only true incentive.
Ryan This is so massive. And so when I talk about lack of want, as you put it, it creates a situation where it's all intrinsic. And so there is an opportunity then because let's say your partner is having a rough go, and they correct you on something. If you lack want you can say, "Hey conscience, where are you?" And then it goes, "You're good." And in this case, because men are usually people-pleasing with their wife, they do everything their wife wants, and then they resent it because they don't know if they're right or wrong, they can't connect to their conscience. And why am I not getting my cookie? I'm doing everything she's asking. But they're not living in line with their values. So when you say trust and if you're in line with your values, if your wife disagrees with you, but you disagree with your wife, your values do, then you get to empathize. Because you're not thinking self-serving. You can empathize. Am I hearing this correctly?
Jennifer Finlayson-Fife Yeah, it's absolutely true. And, you know, I have to say, as a woman, I can be persuasive and convincing and emotional. I'm good at working my husband over if I cry. But what I have been most appreciative of about my husband in this marriage is that while he cares about me being happy and he does care what I think and feel, he won't betray his honest self for me to like him or feel good about him. And so often it's where you know there is that backstop, that it's in him. It limits that this is not going to be a validation-based marriage. It's a truth-based marriage, and that makes it more trustworthy. That makes me respect him more and trust him more, that my approval is not going to run the marriage because that's giving me more control than any person should have.
Ryan With this confidence level, you're connected to your conscience and you have your values and it's a truth versus validation relationship on your side. But let's say, I've been doing this for two weeks now. Why can't she see? It's been a month now. It's been a year now. Don't I deserve something?
Jennifer Finlayson-Fife And not realizing you're still in the old model.
Ryan It catches you off guard.
Jennifer Finlayson-Fife Yes, it does. You're still in the old model. I have three ideas about that. One is, when am I going to get my cookie? Which is, I'm still in the same stupid model. I thought I was so far ahead but I'm still doing the same thing. That's one idea.
The other is that you actually aren't changing as much as you think. And she knows it. So you think I am so much better and it's not true, you just want to tell yourself it's true. So there's that possibility that you're not as developed as you think, which is different than that means you deserve no love until you've got it all worked out. It doesn't mean that. But you may be thinking, Why doesn't she trust me? And you still haven't really cleaned yourself up as much as you think. That's number two as a possibility.
And number three is you really have and you really are stronger. But your partner is a chooser also. What I actually see in marriages is when one person actually takes a step up, and sometimes it has been the woman taking the step up first and sometimes it's been the man taking a step up first, it is putting pressure on the other person to grow. And a lot of times that person, the one who's secondarily growing, wants to stay in the "too little too late frame" because it justifies them not confronting their own anxieties and their own development. So they may be pulling down falsely because they're afraid of growing into it. They want to hijack with the idea that, I don't trust you yet. And eventually, at some point, I will. But really, it's about not growing themselves. So it can be a little tricky, even for me as a third party trying to figure out if is it because he, in this case, has grown and she's afraid of that, or is it that he's trying to put lipstick on a pig and this isn't as good as he thinks. And so it's trying to figure out which is which in that.
Ryan Do you know what the indicator would be? Is there something that you're looking for to be able to distinguish the two?
Jennifer Finlayson-Fife Here's an idea at least that comes to mind, is if it's really more solid in you, you're not in a struggle with your partner. You are more settled within yourself and allowing them to have an actual choice. That is, she doesn't have to choose me. She doesn't have to deal with her sexuality. She doesn't have to grow up. She really gets to choose. Now, I may make a decision to not stay in a marriage in which she doesn't really want a marriage, where she doesn't want a true partnership of souls. But she gets to have a choice. And when we're in there trying to get them to make the right choice, we're still too involved in the ego.
Ryan It's so beautiful. I love this so much because I think as a man, if you truly want to serve your wife, you make a choice. You either are all out because you're in line with your values, like divorce on the table. I'm aligned with this choice. We're out. But if you decide to stay, then you're all in.
Jennifer Finlayson-Fife Yeah, exactly.
Ryan All in. And that is good. There has to be a choice made and once that choice is made, you have to go all in.
Jennifer Finlayson-Fife Yeah, I do agree with that. So a lot of people straddle a position. The higher desire person doesn't realize that they're putting anxiety and ambivalence into the marriage in the name of waiting patiently. And so they don't actually really see it. Even if I'm the higher desire, I haven't actually chosen one way or the other. And we don't like choosing one way or the other because it demands a self-definition and we want to get away from that, we want validation. I'll choose you but you go first, you choose me first. The second thing I'd say about it is "all in" is not being a doormat. It is not, you can treat me like crap and I'll never go anywhere because I'm all in. "All in" is I am invested. This is how I think about marriage. I made a promise to God about the kind of human I would be vis a vis you. That's the commitment. So it's not that I'm committed to you no matter how you treat me, no matter what you do. Because it may no longer be good to stay in some situations. But the commitment is I will bring my most truthful, honest self, my most courageous self, to this friendship, this partnership. Therefore, if you're all in, you speak truthfully.
I work with people who patronize their wives by not speaking the truth. Now the wives are complicit in it. I'm just speaking from the men's perspective because women do this to their husbands. They protect the egos of their husband. They don't tell them the truth all the time but rather inflate a pseudo-masculine strength. But are you willing to not patronize and to see your spouse as an equal who is able to handle herself and handle what's truthful? That doesn't mean you're mean. It doesn't mean you're insensitive. But you're willing to name the struggle in the marriage because you want it to thrive. You're able to talk honestly about your experience because you want it to be strong.
Ryan So from the perspective of a man in this way, I really love something you just said about the strength of the woman who's protecting her man. Because you are such a weak man that your wife is scared to bring things up.
Jennifer Finlayson-Fife Yes, exactly.
Ryan We think so selflessly so quickly.
Jennifer Finlayson-Fife Exactly. “I've done these 17 things and you still don't appreciate me.” So either they make it really costly to speak honestly or they kind of spiral into, "I just suck."
Ryan You're a genius. She understands us. She's a genius. It takes the winds out of your sails and you just mope around and so your wife thinks that she hurt you when she's just being truthful.
Jennifer Finlayson-Fife Right. Women want their husbands to be strong, so they will often be complicit in not revealing their liabilities. But then what the paradox is, is you actually relate to him like he's weak. And if you see a man as weak, you will not desire him, you may coddle him, you may capitulate to his sexual desires, but you will not desire him, because that's a maternal instinct. And the maternal instinct is not a sexual one.
Jordan That actually answers one of the questions. You hear that right? The majority of the guys who are listening, we constantly talk about the most desirable man is the man who makes and keeps commitments to himself. Just to be vulnerable, I came back from this, seven or six years ago, at the brink of divorce. And I was probably one of those men who was looking for a mommy like so many men are. And my wife portrayed a lot of that maternal energy on me and not necessarily that more sensual and healthy spousal energy. But I got some advice from my father-in-law, who's luckily still my father-in-law, and he basically said, to sum all this up, "You got to change for yourself and not for her because if you change for her, she'll notice." And she did notice. I was working in Florida and she was living in South Carolina. And I was coming home on the weekends. And I remember coming home to save the marriage. And I just kept punching a dead horse. I kept just strangling this dead horse because I'm like, "Oh, I'm serving you, and look at everything that I'm doing." And so luckily I was able to make those changes to realize and value the intrinsic nature of things. Look at virtue in and of itself as the goal regardless of the result. Like you said, even if divorce were to happen, then...
Jennifer Finlayson-Fife You're getting divorced for the right reasons then. It's coming out of virtue.
Jordan And so to the men listening, you have to look at this and say to yourself, "Where do I fall in this and how do I use these tools? How can I self-reflect? How can I employ some introspection here to see where I fall in this?" My guess is that a lot of us fall into this without even knowing that we're there because we believe our own lies so heavily that it's like, "No that's not me. That's not me." I would argue that that's maybe a vast majority of marriages.
Ryan I know this is Jennifer's podcast, but my thought on that is every man is that way because you have a threshold of so much you can handle before the emotions take over. But my theory is that you don't have to shame yourself when you hit that failure. That's just a recognition of, "Oh, my suffering muscles are a little weak."
Jordan Jennifer, you said in the LDS culture and Christian culture, it's like we think of "us" and the "wicked." There's them and there's us. It's like, No, no, no, no, no, no. We are both. We're the righteous and the wicked, there is no separation.
Jennifer Finlayson-Fife But looking at that in ourselves is less fun. A mentor of mine, Dr. David Schnarch, would often say marriage is a people-growing machine. Or, it's a divine institution because it exposes your limitations and your dependency on validation. Most of us get married for the wrong reasons. We get married to lock in somebody that has to love us no matter how immature we are. When you fall in love, that's what you're falling in love with usually is this fantasy that this person finally gets me, gets how great I am, and is going to love me the way I've always deserved to be loved. And then you find out they're actually different than you and they want different things, and they're not just there to applaud you at every step. They're like, "Wait, I think that's actually kind of selfish what you're saying." And the marriage now feels problematic. Well, it's because it's revealing your limitations to yourself. And happy marriages are really about how you deal with that exposure. If you get cruel and you try to pout your way into shutting your spouse up, or whatever it is you do, you dam the marriage, you limit its ability to grow and grow you up. But if you use the suffering in it to grow, you have the reward, the intrinsic reward of freedom and joy and love.
Ryan This is so cool. The way you presented that is so beautiful. I talked to the guys on my team. It's like you get in an argument with your wife, you should be like, "Oh, I didn't know we were going to get in the squat rack. Perfect. I didn't realize it was time for squats, right? It's growth time. It's a workout right now." Okay, this brings up another question. You have values and you just talked about how you realize your spouse has different values because sometimes you're young, especially in the Christian world. And you haven't found your values. And so you have totally different values. How do you deal with that?
Jennifer Finlayson-Fife You stay in an honest conversation until you work it out. And sometimes that's a period of years. For example, I grew up relatively poor. My husband grew up relatively wealthy. We had two different orientations. I had to earn everything I owned from age 12 on. He didn't. There was just more there for him. But my husband was much more conservative, "We don't need all that. Let's not shop there. And let's not go to Whole Foods. Let's go to this dumpy grocery store." Where I grew up cleaning people's houses. And so like for me I was like, "No, I don't want to live like that anymore. I'm sick of living like that." So we both had legitimate reasons for standing where we stood, but we couldn't agree to disagree. We had to either spend or save any given dollar. And how are we going to work this out? The way I wanted to work it out was, let me win if you're a good husband. No good husband makes his wife suffer. My initial impulse was to pressure him to take care of me in a sense. And then I started to wake up to the fact I'm not being fair to this person who legitimately feels more at ease when we have more in savings, who legitimately doesn't want to feel pressured to live outside of what he values. And it wasn't that my value was wrong and his was right, but how do we care for each other in this? Don't take advantage of his desire for me to be happy. And so it meant some self-confronting and recognizing that I couldn't take advantage of him. He didn't want to take advantage of me either. So over time, we just evolved into something where we were living in a smaller place than I would choose, but a bigger place than he would choose. We were saving more and giving away more than I would choose and spending more than he would choose. So both were true, but working out in a way to see the wisdom in both positions. So it pushes you to define what is the best in your values and the lesser part in your values. What's the best in my partner's values and the lesser part in there? How do we be true to the higher desires in each other? Because it will make you both stronger if you can confront your own ego-reinforcing stuff for what is best in your partner.
Ryan So this is a very powerful statement you made for a couple who's kind of going at it together. And this is a generalization, ladies, I don't know the data on this, but I feel like sometimes ladies are braver to say, "I need this, I need this. I need this," and men are too, but in a different way. I'm talking about fiscally like you were just talking and men are like, I want sex.
Jennifer Finlayson-Fife So first of all, I think women are kind of taught the idea that men will provide for them. A man will alleviate, he'll care take me. So they're not dumb. They're like, okay, well guess what? I want this.
Ryan I love how you used the word want. And so my question is when your partner is more willing to critique you based on their values and not your values or whatever this is, and it just keeps going, how do you respond?
Jennifer Finlayson-Fife One of the dangers, Ryan, in this idea of higher suffering in a marriage is to be careful that it doesn't go in the wrong direction of, "What I want doesn't matter. What I desire doesn't matter." That's what a lot of women do. They kind of fall into this selfless ideal and soon enough they're disappearing in the marriage. And that does not make a marriage stronger. So your higher self has to show up. Your higher desires must be on the table or the marriage will run itself into the ground. So that doesn't mean if your spouse is critiquing your values on her values, that doesn't mean you need to just be toe to toe fighting on your values. But you do need to be honest and say, "I don't want you to be unhappy, but it really matters to me." Let me just take it back to my example between me and my husband, because these are things he said: "I hate to not give you things you want. I want you to be happy. But it's also really painful for me if I feel like we're living too close to the edge. It's very hard for me." So he's bringing his honest self into that marriage for me to deal with, and for me to be a good partner and to live into my true self I need that information. I mean, thank goodness he hasn't withheld his better self from me in that sense because it would allow me to go off the rails in this false caretaking and make me weaker than I need to be. That would not be good for the marriage to be defined by my values alone. It would be terrible. So I'm better for him bringing his honest self, not in an ego-defensive way, not in an “I'm going to prevail” way. But more like, "This is a line that I can't cross and be true to myself."
Ryan And this could be portrayed by men sometimes as a wife that is naggy or whatever. And this is what I'm trying to get at to appreciate the bravery that it takes, to appreciate the strength that it takes to defend one's values in your wife. To say thank you for sharing that with me. I need some time to go over this because I'm a selfish bastard. But if the first thing that comes to your mind is “Thank you,” if you can get that, it's so massive.
Jennifer Finlayson-Fife Right. And so I'm going to use that information to clean up my own internal compass. Why do I have a partner who's nagging me? Am I not taking responsibility? Is that part of it? Is it that I've let her be the owner of this issue and therefore she's got to always be putting the fire under me? And I'm complicit in making her my parent. It's not sexy and I'm not taking up my own responsibility that I actually value. Or do I not value this? And I need to stop putting her in a maternal position that I don't like and she doesn't like.
Jordan I've been married for 16 years. I would say the first ten years of my marriage, I thought that was the norm. Right? Because I watched maybe my parents be that way. I think a lot of us, our generation, watched our parents be that way.
Jennifer Finlayson-Fife Right so you're complicit in devaluing your own authority in the best sense in the marriage. I don't mean authority over your wife, I mean your half of the marriage. So a lot of times in parenting, husbands can often be passive and uninvolved and they're waiting for their wives to tell them what to do and what's needed. And there's part of that because they're doing different roles. But that's different than, "Am I involved enough to have my own judgment and thoughts about this?" Because if you are, then it's legitimate to say, "Okay, I appreciate that you think that's the right way, but this is why I think about it differently." Not to protect your ego, but if you actually are thinking about it differently and you think just yielding to your wife's view is not being true to your best judgment, then you should speak up. Again, to get more truth on the table, not to manage your punctured sense of self when she's pestering you about how you parent.
Jordan And I think you use the term "being known in a marriage." Maybe elaborate on what that concept means of “being known in a marriage.”
Jennifer Finlayson-Fife You're revealing yourself. You're revealing your honesty in the marriage. What we usually do is we are much less interested in intimacy and we're much more interested in validation. So the way we talk to our spouse is to convince them or to mask who we are so that we don't face invalidation. But that's ego-driven rather than intimacy driven. Intimacy-driven is, "I'm willing to tell you what I think, let you know what I really feel or believe about this. I may be wrong, and I'm not saying I've got it all figured out, but this is how I honestly think." That's great kindness. There's a book called Crucial Conversations, and they talk about how in organizations we have a difficult time getting invalidating data onto the table and therefore undermine the strength of the organization. This is very true in marriage also. You don't want to speak and reveal yourself at the risk of it creating an upset in your partner. But there is a real distinction to be made between the desire to prevail or punish your spouse for thinking differently than you versus revealing yourself in the marriage. And that's very, very important for the marriage to be strong.
Jordan I love that. I love that. If it's okay, I'd like to shift gears a little bit to get to a couple more questions. I know that we don't have all the time in the world, and your time is valuable, and appreciate you being here.
I have three daughters. I have a 13-year-old who is almost 14 years old. In fact, tonight is her very first dance ever, her eighth-grade dance, a very big event in her life. And then I have a nine-year-old, an almost ten-year-old, and a three-year-old. And I think we tend to view our daughters much differently, obviously, than we view our wives. And so I think conquering this question will help men be more sympathetic to their wives in viewing them like our daughters. And you kind of spoke to this point on another podcast, but seeing that the Judeo-Christian tradition tends to lean towards women's virtue as a thing that's seemingly owned by the husband or the father or the ecclesiastical leader. And I'm really curious because I want to help my daughters specifically understand this concept. But how do we as modern fathers, help our daughters understand their virtue is their own and they ought to be virtuous because it is in and of itself good, not because they have to be clean for the man or for the ecclesiastical leader or the father? How can we address that?
Jennifer Finlayson-Fife Yeah, a couple of thoughts is you got to be clear about that already in your own mind. Whether that's in your marriage or with respect to your daughter, because when we're thinking from this lower level need-based idea about marriage, well, then we do think, "Your virtue does belong to me. Your virginity belongs to me." I'm going to keep myself virginal so that a future man will accept me. That's so much the thinking that a lot of people have is that I'm going to not threaten his ego through my sexuality. And so when we think like that, we're going to communicate those ideas whether or not we know it. So the first place to start is to think about, "Do I really see it this way?" Because if I do, my daughter's going to feel it. It's going to affect the way I think about modesty or the way I think about her sexuality. It will just reveal itself. Your daughter will track that you feel that way.
You want the messaging to be that your sexuality is such an amazing gift and such a central part of you belonging to yourself, your own body, and your wisdom. And it's important to be at peace with that part of being a female and to protect it because it's so core to your sense of self. And not to ever use it to get approval from others. And not to ever be lesser within yourself to get a man or a guy to like you. Because when you do that, you're toast. The relationship is toast. Because if you ever prioritize somebody liking you over you liking you, it's not going to go well. So then the question is, "What do you desire around this part of yourself?" This is in my kids' course, starting to talk to kids in adolescence about a self-defining frame, this higher desire frame. What do I want with this? Here are the rules of the family. Here are the rules of my faith. All these external ideas. But this isn't about just keeping everybody happy with me. I need to make me happy with me. So what do I desire around my sexuality?
I was teaching the adolescent girls in my congregation a few years ago, and I taught them, the rules, and the law of chastity for those who are Latter-day Saints, and I asked them to journal, "What do you want with your sexuality? What if you were to live relative to your sexuality in a way that you would feel good about that would create the life that you desire?" Well, so many of the women, at least the ones who spoke up and wanted to share, were talking about how they desired commitment. They desired a faithful partner. And there are a lot of psychobiological reasons for this. Right? Women are vulnerable if they are sexual with another person. They are vulnerable to disease. They're vulnerable to pregnancy. There are a lot of reasons why women are scrutinizing in their sexuality. But teaching young women to be true to that in themselves, not to earn anything from someone else, but to earn something with themselves. Because teaching them to be true to the best in themselves is the secret to their strength that will allow them to not overuse this self-sacrificing muscle that's often already strong within many women.
Jordan Yeah, I love that. And I think you gave the practical tool right there. How do we actually educate? Because that's the thing I was going to ask is how you help them value the right desires. Because I also think that there's a lot of external influence from the congregation, ecclesiastical leaders, or women's leaders within the church or within society to go one way or the other.
Another question I would have then is beyond those tools, how do you try to formulate this correctly here? Because my daughter is in a place right now where she's 13. She's turning 14. She's interested in boys. How do we as men, do we limit access to some of this stuff that's just out there? There's influence everywhere you go, whether it's on television or it's social media, which we don't let her have, per se., and at school. To what lengths do you go to limit that type of influence? Because of your fear that that may induce them into acting on things that they are not to.
Jennifer Finlayson-Fife Well, let me give you the larger principle. The thing that's so hard about being a parent of an adolescent is they're pushing on the question of freedom, and they need to be. And you're trying to figure out how much freedom is optimal. Because in order for them to become adults, they have to be able to work wisely with freedom. And so they're in this process of trying to push on the limits, referencing you less and their peers more and saying, like the title of the book, Get Out of My Life But First Can You Drive Me and Sheryl to the Mall? That is, they're dependent but want independence. They want you to get lost but they need you.
Jordan You must have been talking to my 13-year-old.
Jennifer Finlayson-Fife Exactly. So that fundamental tension is there and good parents tolerate that tension. It's not a fun time, but they're like, "Okay, there is going to be this kind of push and pull between us. So how much freedom can my daughter handle? Because she needs to be able to handle more autonomy but not give her so much that she's at risk or at risk to herself." The other thing is, that in our modern society, women have a lot more freedom, as we should. But women and girls are vulnerable to sexual predators. And so I teach in my kids' course about how to equip your daughter with the kind of signals and understanding of what's going to put her at risk. There's a way for her to assess risks. Is she alone with someone? Does she have a way to keep herself safe? Give her the tools to protect herself. But the more we offer women a kind of protection, not because they're weak, but because they are vulnerable, which are two different things, the better that women do. I had five brothers and I knew that they would protect me and that they cared about my well-being. And that did give me a kind of comfort of knowing that I had backup.
Ryan That is really interesting that you bring that up because you have boys and girls, and so how do you share this message of your vulnerable versus your weak without putting them in a position where they feel weak and scared and anxious?
Jennifer Finlayson-Fife So weak masculine wants to possess. Weak masculine says I want you to slide underneath me to make me feel strong. But it's dependent and it's saying, “You need to be small so I feel big.” And this idea that “you are weak” is keeping them dependent, keeping them referencing me. That's weak masculine and weak feminine. And it's pushing for weak in the feminine as a false goodness. Protect, though, is different because the feminine is the life force. It's growth. It's beauty, it's art, it's expansion. And so the masculine looks outward to protect the feminine so the feminine can flourish and even cast a shadow over the masculine.
And that's what good sexuality is too, it facilitates that feminine flourishing because she knows you've got my back. I know you care about me. Why would I not flourish here? But if a woman thinks she's got to make him feel strong and she's got to act small, well, women in my dissertation research would often act more sexually naive than they were to manage the ego of the man they're with. They're not going to flower. They're not going to bring all their sexual capacity to that marriage because they think they've got to manage him. And it's not safe to do it because to really surrender to your pleasure, you got to trust that the man can handle it and wants you to do that, meaning that he wants to facilitate that in you. And so you want to teach that kind of feminine. We need it societally. It is equal to the masculine. But to thrive, we got to protect it so it can flourish but not own it and not condescend to it.
Jordan Wow. It's a slap in the face in a good way, I think. And I hope a lot of men hear this. I've got to level up. I've got to make some changes. Jennifer, It's been so awesome to have you on the podcast.
Jennifer Finlayson-Fife My pleasure.
Jordan It's been a cool back and forth and that's why we love having guests on because it's much less of an interview and much more of a hangout session, which has been fun. Tell people where they can find you on social media and talk a little bit about your courses.
Jennifer Finlayson-Fife So you can find me on Instagram @FinlaysonFife, just one word. My website is Finlayson-Fife.com and on there you can see my courses. I have a podcast called Room for Two where I'm actually working with couples on issues. I'm coaching couples anonymously, but you can listen in on their stories and hear my input on what's interfering with their ability to create a dynamic, open-hearted, passionate marriage. The courses, I'll just focus on maybe two of them, but they're all there and you can learn more about them. Strengthening Your Relationship is an excellent starting place because it definitely is helping you to understand what your role is in a marriage that may be too validation based and not truthful enough, therefore, limiting its ability to be passionate. So it's a good place to start because you just get that deep dive into, “Oh crap, I'm a part of the problem and this is how.” But it's designed to help you see what to do differently and how you can handle these areas of conflict or difference in more productive ways.
The other course that many of the themes that we've been talking about is The Art of Loving, which is my men's course. I developed it with LDS men in mind, but it's very applicable to any faith-based person, but really, to be honest, any human being, around how to basically face in yourself the areas that you have related to sexuality and a partnership in more of this using way or trying to get a self through your partnership as opposed to stepping into your strength and using sexuality to love more deeply, to give, to create strength, not just your sexualit