I wouldn't typically turn to ex-congressman Anthony Weiner for advice on anything having to do with relationships, particularly in light of last year’s scandal involving his Internet hook-ups with multiple women that consisted of, basically, sending photos of his various body parts. But, unlike Mark Sanford, the other political comeback story of the week, at least Weiner had been able keep his marriage together with his wife, Huma Abedin. That’s worth paying attention to.

All the news that’s flirt to print 

A New York Times Sunday Magazine article published April 10, takes a look at how Weiner makes sense of his sexual dalliances and their messy consequences. He talks with the reporter about working through these issues with his therapist: 

"It’s none of the easy stuff. She didn’t tell me: ‘You have a sex addiction! You were abused as a child!’ None of that stuff, which in a lot of ways, I’d kind of prefer.” He laughed. “It’s an easy explanation that people intuitively get.”

Kudos to Weiner’s shrink for recognizing that extra-marital relationships are not necessarily based on deep-rooted emotional problems requiring years of psychoanalysis to fix.  Most people who have affairs don’t have deep pathology; they’re just normal people that make a series of bad choices.  Yeah, maybe Weiner is messed up in some deep way-- courting multiple women though pornographic tweets, is, admittedly, a bit off the “normal” spectrum-- but his inner demons weren’t enough, in his therapist’s eyes, to excuse his unfaithful behavior.

Next, the journalist invites Weiner to address the very important question of what “need” the affair met for him:

He talked a bit about how he didn’t like being alone, had a hard time being “still,” didn’t like “being in empty spaces.” And then he said: “It’s clear it wasn’t because I didn’t love Huma. It wasn’t because there’s anything about my relationship with Huma that was missing that I was looking for elsewhere. Even that would be pat, kind of understandable on some level.”

Note how Weiner discusses some of the external events that lead to his peccadillos, but doesn’t really talk about the psychological needs that his Twitter visits fulfilled—like, for example, the need to feel special, the need to feel attractive, or the need to feel powerful. Weiner, like many others who have had extramarital relationships, struggles to make sense of why he had an affair. I have heard from countless clients who, despite their actions, assert a strong love for their spouse, and a desire to maintain the marriage. In the betrayed spouse’s mind there is the very loud chorus of “If you loved me you wouldn’t have done those things.” But the compulsion to enter into an affair, like a craving for a drug, blinds people to the potential negative consequences, and permits them to block out the good angel on their shoulder. But there’s another feature of Weiner’s affair that he brings up in the interview: the easy accessibility of making his erotic fantasies come true:

Then he went back to the idea that Twitter and its ilk provided such easy access to the feedback loop. “You know, like spin the wheel! Find someone to say something to you! And if it wasn’t 2011 and it didn’t exist, it’s not like I would have gone out cruising bars or something like that. It was just something that technology made possible and it became possible for me to do stupid things. I mean, the thing I did, and the damage that I did, not only hadn’t it been done before, but it wasn’t possible to do it before.”

Can Twitter be to blame?

To the cynic, Weiner’s holding Twitter partly responsible for his transgressions might seem like the ultimate politician’s ploy of blaming his problems on everyone and everything else. I also am a cynic, but in this case, I think the ex-congressman is spot on. Because of the easy accessibility of everything from IMs to Facebook to texts, electronic communications can be quick, easy, and (at least for a while) hidden from the eyes of others.

Can Weiner and Huma keep the marriage alive after the devastation of his infidelity? It is possible. As far as the public record goes, Weiner is off to good start by trying to understand and take responsibility for his behavior. If he is elected the mayor of New York, maybe he can even find a way to shut down Twitter! 

About the Author

Scott Haltzman, M.D.

Scott Haltzman, M.D., a psychiatrist and relationship researcher, authored four books during his tenure with the Brown University faculty.

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