Dan Savage on Dumb Therapists
Many of us came to polyamory because we believe it's a radically good way to be. But when Tristan Taormino collected interviews for her book Opening Up, she found quite a few couples who had settled on open arrangements out of a form of necessity: to preserve a sexually incompatible marriage. One spouse might have a much higher sex drive than the other, or strong needs for something the other can't provide, or sometimes a medical disability gets in the way.
Some clueless marriage counselors think that if the more sexual partner in such a situation can't remain celibate in the relevant ways for life, the couple has to divorce. But what if the marriage is otherwise companionate and good? Many couples have found that allowing sexual relationships with other people can be a workable solution.
Of course it's risky especially if the couple doesn't communicate freely or doesn't really know what they're doing. That's where a book like Taormino's can be a lifesaver. A good therapist ought to be even better.
Dan Savage blasts marriage counselors who don't recognize this real-world reality in his syndicated advice column, "Savage Love," for May 14, 2009:
Q: Over the past few years, my husband and I have realized that he has needs that I cannot meet. I do not begrudge him these needs, and I would fill them if I could. I want him to be happy and satisfied, not just for him, but for myself as well. We discussed opening our relationship, but our therapist recoiled at the idea.... We can't imagine breaking up, but if we're both unhappy, then I can only assume that we will split eventually. We have been together for over a decade and love each other deeply.... I don't know that I fully trust our therapist, and I would like to hear an informed second opinion.
A: Here's an informed second opinion: Fuck your asshole therapist. And here's a better-informed bonus third opinion:
"It's incredibly unfortunate that some therapists either aren't educated about open relationships or buy into common myths about them," says Tristan Taormino, activist, author, pornographer, and author of Opening Up: A Guide to Creating and Sustaining Open Relationships. Way too many therapists, she says, "pathologize people who want to open their relationships and try to convince them that they have intimacy or commitment issues. The truth is you can be both intimate with and fully committed to more than one partner, or be committed to one partner and have sex with others."
..."The scenario you present is not uncommon," she continues. "If both of you really are committed to giving it a go, I'd advise you to find a new therapist, one who has experience with — and not a prejudice against — non-monogamous clients. The right therapist can help you figure out your limits, set boundaries, and make an agreement about this new type of relationship that works for both of you."
You can also check out the stories, advice, and references at Tristan's website www.openingup.net. Good luck, LD.
Read the whole column.
I know the conventional poly wisdom is to roll your eyes at the suggestion of "Marriage in trouble? Add more people!". For good reason. But (1) that marriage sounded like it wasn't otherwise in trouble, and (2) there are always a few people who break any poly rule you can imagine and still make it work.