Friday, July 3, 2015

Debauchery: The Latest in Couples Therapy

Even before Arnold Schwarzenegger declared it “the biggest mistake” of his life, couples therapy was not thriving.

This new development might show what is wrong with the field; it might represent a last-ditch way to rip off insurance companies; it might even manifest the intellectual deficiencies of those who are practicing it. Whatever the case today’s couples therapists are flocking to workshops which are showing them how to promote debauchery as a way to save marriages.

Better yet, they pretend that it’s therapeutic.

One might ask, how much fun can debauchery really be if it is considered to be a treatment? Didn’t a recent study show that when couples were told to have sex more often they found that they were enjoying it less?

Anyway, the guru of this movement seems to be one Esther Perel. She is wildly popular. When she gave a TED talk, two million people heard her. According to The New York Times she promotes the idea that adultery is a cure for marital bed death. At the least, this tells us that we are not in the realm of great minds or towering intellects.

The Times reports:

“An affair is an act of betrayal and also an experience of expansion and growth,” Ms. Perel said in an interview. “It is a relational trauma, but it isn’t a crime. The family can often come out of it stronger and more resilient, and often an affair will draw the couple out of a place of deadness.”

Dr. Tammy Nelson from New Haven has a slightly different approach. She recommends that couples make up their own rules for cheating. Some may allow it only on weekends, others on alternative Sundays. Some may only allow it when both partners are present. Some may insist that it all be captured on video.

The Times renders her wisdom:

“I describe monogamy as honest, perpetual dependency of some type,” Dr. Nelson said. “It can be whatever a couple wants, but it has to be fluid and flexible and the couple has to keep renewing it, like a license.”

A license for adultery. That’s the ticket. It will do wonders for your marriage. Why didn’t anyone think of this before?

In truth, people have thought of it before. As I mentioned in my book The Last Psychoanalyst adultery and other forms of debauchery have long been a staple of Western marriages.

For the most part, adultery was permitted because the marriages had been arranged. Since couples married for power and property, not for love, adultery was accepted by both parties. It was not quite as much of a betrayal as it might be for couples who supposedly were in love when they married.

This tells us that adultery as a therapy for marital bed death is not likely to be very effective in the long run.

Going beyond adultery, Dr. Margie Nichols promotes kinky sex:

“Kinky couples plan sex,” she said, “and simmer for days in advance. They emphasize quality of encounter over frequency of encounters. They practice variety and exploration. They don’t judge a partner’s desires. They discuss and negotiate sexual acts, and they make a clear demarcation between ‘normal’ couple zone and ‘sex zone,’ allowing them to be totally immersed in an erotic space.”

Not one of these therapists, people who are supposed to have something resembling an expertise in the game of organs and orifices seems to have noted that exposing people to sexual stimuli all the time might desensitize them to sexual stimuli. No one seems to have noticed that a gender-neutered couple might, in their ideological zeal, have damaged their ability to feel sexual desire. No one seems to have asked whether the combination of sexually liberated women with feminized men might conspire against coupling.

Of course, some therapists are appalled by this new therapy. Take Dr. Sue Johnson from Ottawa, Canada:

Sue Johnson, 58, the developer of Emotionally Focused Therapy and clinical psychologist in Ottawa, specializing in couples, said that if pornography “takes over your life, it is going to wreck your relationship, just like any other addiction.”

As for infidelity, she said, “the idea that an affair is a solution to a lack of engagement and connection with your partner, that’s the craziest solution I’ve ever heard.”

Her words ring true. If you are disengaged and disconnected from your spouse an affair will most likely make you more disengaged and more disconnected… to say nothing of threatened.

Dr. Terri Nelson practices debauchery therapy because she does not think very highly of couples therapy either. She almost redeems herself when she describes it thusly:

“Couples therapy is very feminized,” Dr. Nelson said. “It’s all about teaching men to be more like women. He should pay attention to her feelings, and if she’s upset, there’s something wrong. We ask him to engage with her like she’s his best friend and then we wonder why she doesn’t want to have sex with him.”

No truer words….

But, why does Dr. Nelson think that debauchery is more manly? It is not. Remember Lysistrata. A man who is a master of debauchery, a man who is a great seducer is less likely to excel in more manly pursuits.


Sam L. said...

“Kinky couples plan sex,” she said, “and simmer for days in advance. They emphasize quality of encounter over frequency of encounters." How disappointed they must be if it goes wrong, or badly, or mainly just not as well as they'd hoped. Or one of them had hoped.

priss rules said...

"she promotes the idea that adultery is a cure for marital bed death."

And stealing is the cure for kleptomania.

And burning down the house is the cure for pyromania.

priss rules said...

"They emphasize quality of encounter over frequency of encounters. They practice variety and exploration. They don’t judge a partner’s desires. They discuss and negotiate sexual acts, and they make a clear demarcation between ‘normal’ couple zone and ‘sex zone,’ allowing them to be totally immersed in an erotic space.”

Reads like she's offering a cure for insomnia than marital problems.


Anonymous said...

Couples that regularly share satisfying kinky or traditional sex must be compatible in their sexual and social interests. They resemble repeat customers for the services and affection of the intimate partner. There are apparently fewer women with kinky desires so women who enjoy kinky interactions with men expect to be paid quite well to do so.
Sex workers and social workers are also persons who want to interact with many repeat customers. This can be a way of trying to meet financial and social needs while also avoiding the emotional negotiations associated with traditional friendship or partnerships.

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

"They don't judge each other's desires."

I love this notion that human beings don't judge, discriminate, compare, evaluate, analyze, etc. We are judging machines, from the ground up. We judge each other, and then we complain because other people are judging us.

This whole non-judgmental crusade is insane. It's the most insane form of wishful thinking. This whole "I don't judge people" declaration is a canard... delivered right before they judge people for judging other people. The Empire of Nice.

More postmodern nonsense. More exempting ourselves from the realities of being human. More subjective opinions passing for objective truth. The Kingdom of Me.

The great opportunity is to be responsible for our judgments, choices, feelings, curiosities. Own them. They're ours alone.

Enough of this self-congratulatory bullshit. That's what it is... a bunch of people fawning over each other to show who's superior at "not judging" other people, as if such a notion were possible. The Land of Willful Disbelief.

Question: How the hell did you get into a room with these people instead of doing something else? You made a value judgment of what was worth your time, even though the friend you love so much wanted to do something else. That's how you ended up here! And next week you'll complain because someone didn't want to go with you to something you wanted yo do.

Welcome to life. We used to call this "the human condition," until we thought we had everything figured out because we "know" so much.

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

“An affair is an act of betrayal and also an experience of expansion and growth,” Ms. Perel said in an interview. “It is a relational trauma, but it isn’t a crime."

Who the hell said it was a crime, princess? Do you live in a medieval preservation village speaking an extinct language, while covered in animal hides? Thank you for that welcome contribution, Captain Obvious. At least I now know I'm not going before the Inquisition. Been playing a bit too much Dungeons & Dragons, Ms. Perel? Do you wear a cape?

Of course it's an opportunity for "expansion and growth," but that's a choice, not a given. I know people who have taken such an "act of betrayal" and worked it into an identity, a life, and a future. It's not a happy one, but it is an option. They've taken that experience and turned themselves into a great big victim. They are "done to." They suffer. They'll tell you about it all night, if you let them. It's a "relational trauma" that becomes a lifestyle.

Ares Olympus said...

Longer quote: [Ms. Perel's] newest provocation is the idea that trauma-based language around affairs is limiting. “An affair is an act of betrayal and also an experience of expansion and growth,”

IAC, it sounds like Perel is agreeing with you, encouraging people to step back from the blame game (the drama triangle of victim, perpetrator and rescuer), in a perpetual cycle of side-stepping maturity. She's trying to encourage people to see the opportunity and choice as you say, rather than identifying as a victim or worse a perpetual victim as you've seen.

Maybe the phrase "relational trauma" concerns you, but before that in the quote she says "that trauma-based language around affairs is limiting", so it sounds contradictory. Trauma may not be the right word if trauma exists in the reaction rather than the trigger.

What can we do with infidelity?

I remember at a social party in college we had a game where they'd ask hypothetical questions to people, and one was "What would you do if you caught your spouse cheating on you?" And a firey woman I liked at the time said confidently "I'd scratch his eyes out!" which surprised me by the intensity of her hatred of that possibility. And when it was my turn to answer I said "I'd ask her why?" and the same woman I liked reacted, groaning and saying "You'd make her feel guilty!" as if it was a crime to want an explanation for a betrayal, while really it perhaps risked the opposite. I'd be looking for my responsibility in her action, which isn't very healthy, but it would be a path to understanding and forgiveness. So I'd be trying to "detraumatize" the experience by seeing myself as a cause rather than a victim.

I remember Bill Clinton, on being asked Why, and at least he didn't blame anyone, which is something.
"I think I did something for the worst possible reason -- just because I could. I think that's the most, just about the most morally indefensible reason that anybody could have for doing anything.

While what did Newt say?
And what I can tell you is that when I did things that were wrong, I wasn’t trapped in situation ethics, I was doing things that were wrong, and yet, I was doing them.

On the betrayed side, I remember Hillary got in trouble telling the world she wasn't just "Standing by her man" like the country singer.
Hillary Clinton: You know, I'm not sitting here – some little woman standing by my man like Tammy Wynette. I'm sitting here because I love him, and I respect him, and I honor what he's been through and what we've been through together. And you know, if that's not enough for people, then heck, don't vote for him.

Pundits can pretend she was acting machiavellian in her decision to stay in a marriage with a confessed cheater, but however she rationalizes her decision as deeper than blind loyalty (or blind ambition), I rather agree with it. If Bill said he did it because he was in love with another woman, that's good reason to let him go, but saying he did it merely because he could meant it had nothing to do with her, and it was his problem to face, and it could be weighed compared to positives of a long marriage.

Finally I admit I like the idea that "the sin isn't just what you do, but what you do to cover up what you do." So I'd rather have a spouse who isn't so ashamed of her behavior that she has to pretend things that are not true to protect her ego. That's the path to evil for me.

Anonymous said...

View Esther here:

Anonymous said...

View the execrable Tammy Nelson here:

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

Ares Olympus @July 4, 2015 at 1:38 AM:

"IAC, it sounds like Perel is agreeing with you"

Just frustrated, Ares. Just frustrated. It happens every now and then.

What I find objectionable in this subjective age of empathy and self-absorption is the idea that someone has to say it isn't a crime. That's the ridiculous part. People are so uneducated and hyper-sensitive that they probably do believe it's a crime. After all, we've criminalized everything else, why not adultery?

But the only truly quasi-criminal thing to believe in today is to question homosexual "marriage." Good grief. More thought police. We live in a thought police state, brought to you through the Glowing Box, and sponsored by all the people who think they're open and tolerant. Whatever.