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|Case Study - Page 5|
By Jean Malpas
Jeff Levy's elegant work beautifully honors his client's "multiple and complex identities." Skillfully holding multiple perspectives, he attunes to Rob's dilemmas (while holding Mia and their children in mind) and supports him in the exploration of his life's incongruities without imposing his moral views or rushing to premature relational solutions. By supporting his client's journey (as complex as it might be) as his primary goal, Levy avoids the traps of biased clinical approaches, such as reparative therapy or a "gay-affirmative" divorce prescription. Instead he creates a safe context in which Rob's choices can slowly emerge out of what once appeared to be an irresolvable paradox.
I also appreciate Levy's attempt to engage the couple in conjoint work. In many contentious situations, therapeutic alliances with respective individual therapists can unintentionally reinforce the budding polarization of spouses. In this case, the risk was further increasing the split between the gay and straight worlds Rob and Mia were trying to negotiate. Although Mia's refusal indicates that the window of opportunity for such an invitation had probably closed, I wonder whether Levy suggested that the couple consult someone else, to find a more neutral space in which they could both feel comfortable and secure discussing their viewpoints and feelings. I wonder what would have happened if Mia and Rob could have negotiated the changing boundaries of their marriage. Could Mia have accepted a "mixed-orientation marriage" if she'd felt more in control of the therapeutic process? Would Rob still have chosen to leave Mia if he and his wife could have experimented with the freedom and security that a "closed-loop relationship" can potentially provide? As Levy mentioned, many couples with complex sexual bonds choose to stay together.
When working with open marriages (whether with a "mixed orientation" or not), I find it particularly important to explore the terms of the relational arrangement. In the long run, couples need to feel secure enough to open up their boundaries and to find a positive meaning in their actions. To achieve this, it's important to determine what each partner needs to feel safe enough to let the other have separate sexual experiences.
Some of the questions to explore in the process of helping couples determine their sexual boundaries are: How can letting a partner stay in the relationship yet act on desires for outside sex be perceived as an act of love and generosity? Can it be viewed as a testimony to the security of their bond, rather than an indictment of their intimacy? What are the rules about sharing details or maintaining secrecy regarding outside activities? What constitutes loyalty when one is in an open relationship? Can the outside sexual experiences be used as stimuli for the couple's ongoing sex life?
These are some of the many questions that continue to challenge our social constructions of love and couplehood, whether in heterosexual, gay, or mixed couples.