Swing Your Partner, Fix Your Therapist

Dear Dr. Frank,

My husband and I have a very solid, equal relationship. I love him and want our marriage to work. However, my husband enjoys "swinging." I do not condone this behavior but I have succumbed to his request because I want our relationship to work. Is there anything I can do that might dissuade him from this behavior?. I have told him that I abhor it, but he claims he needs it to keep "spice" in our relationship. He claims that without it we can't have a relationship and I feel the opposite.

I'm confused and distressed. Except for this one thing, we have the potential for a lasting relationship. Can he really love me and continue with this behavior?

--Swung Out

Dear Swung Out,

No. He can certainly want to swing, but it is not loving for him to actually do it and expose you to the degradation and viruses of such an adolescent activity.

Swinging is an interesting fantasy. It does not lead to particularly good sex and it certainly doesn't make sex special. Instead, it is a way of depersonalizing sex and de-romanticizing it by making partners interchangeable. The people who do it over their mates's objections are not ready for monogamy. In fact they do it to protect themselves from the commitment of monogamy.

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If you both like it, be my guests. But if you don't like it and still go along with it, you will be angry with him for his infidelity and for coercing you into situations that be-little you so completely.

Don't blame him for "forcing" you into it, just don't do it anymore. And don't try staying married to a man who isn't grown up enough for monogamy. A swinging marriage is unstable and unhealthy.

And don't take his swinging personally. People who can't have sexual fantasies without having to act them out aren't lacking in love, just imagination.

Dear Dr. Frank,

I'm a college student--a psychology major, in fact--and have been in extensive therapy in the past for alcoholism, both mine and my mother's. Now I'm seeing a student-therapist for my compulsive overeating. My therapist wants to bring up the past. I understand that she needs to know my background, but I've worked through most of that stuff in earlier treatment.

It seems condescending for her to presume that she will ever know what's really going on with me. I'm not an idiot because I eat too much. I've met psychotherapists that are twice my size.

Something disturbing happened on the way out of my last session with her. She asked me to let her know if there's anything we can do to make our sessions better. I said, "You're doing great." She said, "I don't need your affirmations [smile], but thank you."

I felt discounted as a human being. It really made me feel that she didn't think very much of me. In truth, there are times that it's painfully obvious that she is still a student.

I've worked far too hard for the self-respect and integrity I have to play the sick little victim today. Do therapist and client have to have a parent-child relationship? I would be willing to bet that this woman has just as many problems as I do.

Perhaps it's ego on my part. Maybe I need a behavioral approach to my eating problem instead of a psychoanalytic one. Or I might be in denial . . . I don't know. But I do know that I'm scared. Tell me, Dr. Frank, whose problem is this, mine or hers?

--Psycho Psychology Student

Dear Psyche,

When a professional patient and an amateur therapist get together, both are afraid of being exposed. Of course she needs your affirmation, and of course you need hers. The therapy will go better when you both can acknowledge that. You're the pro here, so you may have to bring it up first.

Therapy is scary, especially when you are ashamed of your problems. I know that you're conflicted. You're not sure you want her to know "what's really going on" with you, past and present. And you are afraid of a parent-child dependency. Your therapist shotfid treat you like a grown-up, rather than like a child. You must warn her not to shame you about your compulsions or about your fears of dependency. Of course you feel foolish for eating or drinking destructively when the solution to these problems seems obvious, but isn't.

But it's your therapy, not hers. You're supposed to be figuring out what you're doing wrong, how you can do things differently. Instead you're worrying about your therapist's skills. You know what you must do and have decided you're not going to do it until she makes you more comfortable. Resistance to change is fertile ground for therapy, and may be helpful for the therapist too. I've learned most of what I know from patients like yourself who are so generous they want to fix me before they change themselves.

Research shows that the success of therapy has little to do with the expertise of the therapist, but a great deal to do with her values and the respect she shows her clients. Therapy also goes better when the client shows respect for the therapist. So tell her how she makes you feel.

Your therapist is scared and is humbling through the best she can, as we all are and as you will be, too, when you are in her chair. You don't have to be perfect to be a good therapist or a good client, but in either role it helps to be honest and vulnerable. Your therapist is lucky. You must he fun to treat, and she'll learn a lot. But I hope you won't neglect yourself too much while you try to fix her.

Dear Dr. Frank,

I don't know whether everyone in Philadelphia is crazy, or just the ones I'm kin to. I haven't been very successful, but I've seen the inside of a lot of institutions and I am still better off than many guys my age. All my older relatives keep telling me what I could do to make a success of my life. But they have no idea how difficult the economy and the world is for young men compared with the booming economy and world of opportunity they grew up in. It is hard being a member of the first generation in our history that can expect to be downwardly mobile.

You'd think the older generations, who are squandering our future, would think to apologize instead of patting themselves on the back and telling their grandchildren "Go get a job."

--Failing in Philly

Dear Phil,

I give advice for fun and profit. I too wonder why people sound so crazy when they are giving advice to the people they care about. I happen to have a few ideas on the subject:

Most people don't have the vaguest idea what is the secret of their success in marriage, child raising, art, sports, or economics. They may spend the rest of their lives trying to take personal responsibility for acts of chance.

Many people have little patience for problems that are complex or unsolvable, so they get nervous and offer a drastic solution that will cut the Gordian knot rather than go through the tedious task of unraveling it. Complain more than once about a minor but complex relationship problem and your dearest friends are likely to tell you, "Break it off," "Quit the job" "Divorce her" "Put him up for adoption"

Some anxious friends will tell you what they think you want to hear, seemingly encouraging you to do whatever damn fool thing you feel like doing. They are just trying to let you know that they will still tolerate you even if you act on your emotions and make dumb, self-indulgent life choices.

The people in your life who offer only sympathy, without hard, "you-have-met-the-enemy-and-its-you" advice, aren't really listening; they're just waiting their turn to complain.

The people who care most about you will give you hard advice, telling you what you are doing wrong. Trust them. Their intentions are honorable.

I loved your letter.

My loving advice: Go get a job.

ILLUSTRATION: Two partners in one bed

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