Tuesday, July 17, 2007


Ask Dr. Helen: Love and Politics

What does Dr. Helen think of same-sex marriage? Does her Insta-husband agree? If the answer were “yes” and they disagreed strongly on that and other key political issues, does she think it would do damage to their relationship? Fasten your seatbelts: this week, PJM’s advice columnist wades into some controversial waters.

The first question for today’s column is sure to spark some debate.

Given your blogging on men’s rights issues, I’m curious what is your opinion of same-sex marriage? The “Insta-husband” has blogged in favor, but I would disagree for this reason. Marriage does more than validate a romantic relationship between two individuals. It also legitimizes the relationship between men and their children. While men and women certainly disagree over the relative importance of each, allowing marriage between same-sex couples declares that society finds the latter reason irrelevant. It effectively makes fatherhood fungible. What’s your opinion on the issue?

First, let me start by saying that I am for gay marriage. As a right-leaning
libertarian, I believe that people should be able to enter into whatever relationship they wish with other competent adults without state intervention. If men want to marry other men and women want to marry other women, have at it. Marriage is more than about children, although that is important. It is about companionship and spending your life, possibly your finances, and your time with a significant other and that may include another person of the same sex. How does that jibe with my support of men’s rights? Some men are gay, some gay men have children; they should also have equal rights under the law. I don’t think that allowing gay marriage says
that fatherhood is not important, it simply expands the role of fatherhood to include gay men with children.

That said, what I am against is militant gay groups who refuse to allow room for other views—they use politics to shut down, shut up, or get people who say anything against gays fired or worse. You would think that a group who has been discriminated against would understand what that is like and restrain themselves from taking revenge on others who hold different beliefs on issues of homosexuality. I can accept that other readers have different views than myself on the role of fatherhood and gay marriage and that they have a right to express their views. Please do so in the comment section if you have something to add.

The next question is from Kate, who emails from her Blackberry:

I have a formerly close friend who appears to have many of the symptoms of Borderline Personality Disorder. Her behavior was controlled enough for several years and she was a reasonably fun person to be around. Due to a tragedy in her family last July, her ability to restrain her temper and other compulsions seems to have gone rapidly out of control. It is difficult to maintain a friendship with someone who either thinks that butter won’t melt in your mouth or that you are her worst enemy on an alternating basis. I feel drained and used up. Her husband is at his wits end and desperately trying to hold things together. My husband and I like and respect him a great deal. I have tried to be supportive but lately it has been easier to remain out of it. He spends his time trying to placate her no matter how unreasonable her demands. My gut tells me that this is the worst thing he could do.

We have turned down social invitations that would involve this couple in order to avoid having to deal with the hysterics and blame game this woman constantly engages in. She has also spent them deeply into a debt that they may never recover from. If I confront her about her unreasonable behavior, the hate will be a white hot laser beam. If I say nothing I feel that I am tacitly endorsing her unreasonable view of the world and her place in it.

First question; what do you think about these symptoms and Borderline
Personality Disorder? Is it real, is it psychiatric or is just a case of
spoiled “child-like” narcissism run amok? Second, what if anything can I
do? Am I better of just breaking off the friendship with both of them
totally until this situation resolves itself assuming it ever will? Thanks
for any helpful hints. Kate

Dear Kate,

Your gut is correct, trying to placate this unreasonable behavior will only
bring more of the same. You do not say if your friend was actually diagnosed
with Borderline Personality or if this is a diagnosis you sense from her
behavior. Borderline Personality is a real diagnosis that is made based on a
constellation of personality traits such as a pattern of unstable and
intense interpersonal relationships characterized by alternating between
extremes of idealization and devaluation, affective instability due to a
marked reactivity of mood, inappropriate, intense anger or difficulty
controlling anger and transient, stress-related paranoid ideation or severe
dissociative symptoms. A mental health professional generally makes this
diagnosis if criteria are met according to the DSM-IV.

You must remember that you are a friend, not a therapist to this woman or to
her husband. It is not your job to treat her condition or confront her about
her spending unless she is taking money from you, in which case, do not lend
it to her. If you treasure this couple’s friendship and feel that it is
worth the time, you can set some boundaries with her. Do not placate her but
rather tell her what behavior you are willing to accept. For example, if she
flies into a rage, tell her that you cannot be around her when she is this
angry. Do not tell her how to feel, this will only enrage her—tell her that
when she is calm, you can discuss her concerns like adults, otherwise, get
out of the situation. As far as her husband, only he can change his
behavior; giving in to her will increase the frequency of her outbursts but
again, you are not his therapist. If you feel that he is receptive, you
might try telling him about helpful books for this condition such as that Walking on
Eggshells, that discusses how to cope with Borderline Personality
in someone you love. You can see more about Borderline Personality as well
as view comments by those dealing with this disorder by reading a post I did on the topic here. Thanks for your question.

Finally, the last question I have to share is one I stole from Norman Geras’s blog. Norm’s blog does a weekly profile on bloggers and profiled me here. I found the following question on the profile to be the most interesting:

Do you think you could ever be married to, or in a long-term relationship with, someone with radically different political views from your own?

My answer: I would hope so. I value qualities of bravery, courage and strength. As long as I felt the person had these qualities, their political beliefs are not that important. I would hope that they would have the flexibility to be tolerant of my beliefs, however.

Honestly, one thing I have noticed in terms of dealing with others who have
different political beliefs is that the more someone espouses how “tolerant
and liberal they are,” the less they seem to be able to tolerate views of
those who have different views from themselves, particularly in interpersonal relationships.

What do you think, could you be married or in a long term relationship with
someone with different political views? Tell us why or why not.

Drop a line in the comments and share your thoughts on any of the questions
above. Or if you have a question you would like answered, please leave it
below or email me at askdrhelen@hotmail.com. Your questions may be edited for length and clarity. Please note that your first name only or no name at all will be used to identify your question—if you want me to use your name, tell me, otherwise you will be referred to by your first name or as “a reader” etc.

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