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Suggesting an option can be seen as tacit endorsement of it

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

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Q: Why don't you ever suggest that these women (from Monday's column, whose husbands won't have sex with them) have an affair — with their partner's permission, of course? Consensual infidelity would certainly solve these people's problems without destroying the underlying marriage.

A: The underlying marriage in Monday's first letter is already destroyed, don't you think?

I haven't explicitly advised having affairs, for many reasons, but I have clearly and consistently advocated for frank conversations between married couples when one half pulls the plug on sex. What they do with that conversation is their business — separate, try to rekindle, consult a doctor, get therapy, agree to an open marriage, agree to don't-ask-don't-tell (in)fidelity, agree to a celibate marriage? They're all on the table, I believe, between two consenting adults.

One reason I don't spell out any of these options is that naming one implies an endorsement. The whole point of my "hash it out"-type advice is to encourage people to discuss the options they're comfortable discussing, not the ones I'm comfortable suggesting.

Another reason: One of the hardest letters I've read lately was from a husband who had been freed by his wife to have affairs so he could get what he needed — on a don't-ask-don't-tell basis — because she was done with sex. It didn't "solve these people's problems" at all. He was sick of skulking around, creating secrets when all along he just wanted intimacy in his marriage. For him, it was emotionally bankrupting.

There are just some courses of action I find way too personal to advise.

For purposes of comparison, it's not just affairs that I won't advise; I also don't advise people to get married, or divorced. Having or adopting children? Aborting or placing for adoption? I regard these also as courses of action too deeply personal to advise. People know of these options and don't need me to suggest them — so if I did suggest them, it would feel as if I were putting my finger on the scale. I don't want that power. So, unhappy spouses? Please talk.

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Q: My wife and I have a son, 5, whom I am crazy about. From the beginning I was clear I did not want more children. She unilaterally decided we should have one more. She is pregnant with our second, and I feel incredibly betrayed because I know this was intentional on her part.

There is no remedy for me. I don't want to leave my family. I know I'm entitled to not want two children, but even if I do leave on grounds of this betrayal, I'm no less a father of two, and just as responsible financially and otherwise. Every option I consider only makes me the bad guy.

Washington

A: Wow. I'm sorry. Staying and embracing all make you the good guy — and the guy who caves to monstrous bullying. Not ideal.

The option I see working is to make it your goal to be receptive to the baby without connecting that to vindication for your wife. In other words, to separate your feelings for Baby from Wife.

If you can untie those threads on your own, then please do; if you need to consult a (talented) therapist, then please do, soon.

Suggesting an option can be seen as tacit endorsement of it 10/17/11 [Last modified: Monday, October 17, 2011 5:30am]

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