Polyamory in the News!
. . . by Alan M.

May 15, 2009

Dan Savage on Dumb Therapists

Savage Love

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.

—Life Decisions

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.


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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, if your relationship is *broken*, adding more people won't help & it'll probably make things worse. If you don't communicate with, aren't happy with, don't like, wish you were with someone else other than, your current partner, adding more people will only emphasize the problems in your relationship.

But if the problem with your relationship is that there aren't enough people in it, adding more people is the solution ;-)

Seriously though, this relationship sounds otherwise healthy, and mismatched sex drives *can sometimes* be solved by the person with the higher drive getting a new partner. And a good therapist can help the couple work through the pitfalls and growing pains of what to do when he falls in love, etc.

But if the problem is "I want more sex from you", then adding a new partner won't help because this *is* a relationship problem.

And a good therapist can help a couple tell the difference.

May 15, 2009 5:04 PM  
Blogger Nyn said...

I recoil at hearing the psychotherapy community is behind the curve on this, but as a student currently going through a psychotherapy program, I am seeing it first-hand. Few of my peers have expressed open-mindedness toward pornography, let alone polyamory. There is so much information we must cover as it is, but of course for a marriage counseling certification, one would hope the required courses include an instructor who touches on this.

The religious roots of monogamy are deep, and every therapist is still a person underneath. They are just like the rest of us - influenced by culture. If they don't get enlightened in college and through personal experience, they are going to frown on anything outside the marriage norm. Therapists see a lot of people who are very good at lying to themselves, their loved ones, and their therapist also. Keep that in mind. The clients who say they want to open their marriage may have sordid histories that would make any person question their decision-making processes. That doesn't mean it's okay for the therapist to dictate what is correct for the couple or not - their job should be to help the couple examine their feelings about any decision they make.

As polyamory becomes more mainstream, more and more therapists will be more open. I for one will be.

May 15, 2009 10:34 PM  
Blogger Alan M. said...

Two papers to give therapists to read:

What Psychology Professionals Should Know About Polyamory, by Geri D. Weitzmann.

Working with Polyamorous Clients in the Clinical Setting, by Joy Davidson.

May 17, 2009 9:05 AM  
Blogger Anita Wagner said...

Hooray for you, Nyn!

We can all look forward to an educational booklet about to be published by the Institute for 21st Century Relationships and made available to clients and therapists. It's a tool therapists can use to update their information on responsible polyamory as an emerging trend in intimate relating.

I don't always agree with DS, and often not with his style, but this story certainly illustrates what happens to many people who are considering opening a relationship and consult a therapist about it. Happens all the time. Too much.

May 18, 2009 11:29 AM  
Blogger liminalD said...

I write for the student newspaper at my university and they have a sex column called 'Sex With Aunty,' in which a practicing therapist writes about the many weird and wonderful aspects of humans' diverse sex lives, from foot fetishes to butt-plugs and female ejaculation. I usually really enjoy the column.

But when Aunty wrote an article saying that she used to 'cheat' but that she'd never slept with anyone other than the perrson she was seeing at the time, I felt I had to write her an email suggesting that she could have made her position a little clearer and that she should probably acknowledge that what constitutes 'cheating' for one person may be quite different for another, and that couples need to talk these things through in the early stages of a relationship to make sure they're both on the same page.

Aunty's response was somewhat hostile, I have to say, she gave no indication that she'd paid attention to anything I'd suggested, and finished by saying that she might re-adress the issue in a later column. I was going to push it, but I dropped it, I really didn't see the point of getting into an argument about it.

Well two weeks later she certainly did re-address the issue, making sweeping, blanket statements that if your partner expresses any desire to have a sexual or romantic relationship with anyone other than yourself you should kick them to the curb, because they 'clearly' don't respect you, they're unable to put aside the 'immature' aspect of their sexuality and grow with you toward a deeper love, they're still on the lookout for someone better than you and you're just gonna end up dumped.

Aunty was pretty adamant that lifelong monogamy is the only 'real' or acceptable pattern for a relationship, and was clearly pretty passionate about this position. I contemplated writing back but I really don't think anything I say will change her mind on this, I'm not sure if it's just her training or whether she's been hurt in the past and hasn't managed to get over it. I have to say that I'm pretty disappointed that a registered counsellor would see things in such black and white terms.


May 20, 2009 1:29 AM  

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