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SaraKay Smullens Headshot

Perspective Please! In Support of Anthony Weiner

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There are enormous and complicated conflicts between the underpinnings of a puritanical American and overwhelming sexual urges that can seem impossible to contain and understand. Such conflicts make people so uncomfortable that rather than speak seriously about them, they become fodder for jokes and ridicule.

What better example is there than Anthony Weiner's sad public descent into Internet hell. Weiner's tale, in various forms, is well known in the offices of marital therapists. Most men with his addiction, as well as the wives who do not leave them, are thankful for their privacy.

Weiner's wife, the, brilliant and lovely Huma Abedin, travels a great deal in her work as a key and essential part of Hillary Clinton's team. Due to her responsibilities, she most likely does not endure the agony of day-in-and-day-out wives trying to coax their reticent husbands to their marital beds. As one wife competing with her husband's Internet addiction puts it: "My husband has many mistresses, but he never has to know them and take their ideas, feelings, and desires seriously." Another correctly describes her husband's "electronic candy machine" as a way to "ease tension and avoid the hard work of growing up and having a mature relationship."

Yes, Anthony Weiner lied. And yes, he should have immediately admitted his poor judgment. Of course, it is redundant to remind ourselves that other prominent leaders have also lied -- to protect their families as well as escape their shame. Contrast what Weiner did with the actions of Arnold Schwarzenegger, who fathered a child with a housekeeper his wife viewed as a loyal employee, or John Edwards, who enticed those who believed in him to help him keep knowledge of his mistress and their child from a devoted wife as she battled a devastating form of cancer. These actions point to true character disorders: those who lie and con easily, without conscious guilt.

Men with Weiner's (very common) addiction usually do not have character disorders. They do what they do to alleviate pressure and anxiety. Such men are very competitive and ambitious, but beneath their ambition are developmental challenges never faced. Very intelligent and gifted with the abilities to truly empathize with those who suffer, as well as an aptitude for tireless work, they use their talents to rise in their professions and meet their goals. But down deep, they question their competence and strength (for emotional reasons, not rational ones), and today the Internet offers easy outlets to release their tensions.

When Weiner's addiction was first exposed, he accused a right-wing conspiracy for the mess he brought on himself. Of course, the problem was his. Yet, it was the right wing of our country, whom he had so effectively battled -- a true and effective thorn in their sides -- that was determined to bring him to his knees. They succeeded, and now leaders of his own party are urging his resignation, calling his actions a distraction from solving the very issues that he is so adept at confronting. The majority of Weiner's constituents (56%) continue to see his unusual strengths and his devotion to them, and view his abilities as essential to this work. They (and many others) hoped to see their Jewish representative and his elegant Muslim wife dance together, first at Gracie Mansion and then the White House.

Though time is short, it still could happen: first and foremost Weiner must seek help and let us all know he is doing so. This brave and honest step will encourage the thousands with similar difficulties to do the same. Falling hard, and being forced to no longer run from one's own grave limitations, makes therapy effective. Plus, in a world where immaturity reigns, it is a sure way to grow up.

Next, the staunchly private (and pregnant) Huma Abedin, though never known as Mrs. Anthony Weiner, must (if she is planning to continue to be his wife) come to his side and speak of her love for him and belief in him, and the continuation of his work in office, that she has reportedly spoken of both to him and to her closest friends and confidants.

With this approach, Anthony Weiner's exceedingly poor judgment can be seen in perspective; and his facing it, and willing himself to grow and change through an honest and painful personal confrontation can be seen for what is it -- a brave and encouraging act. And do let's be honest: haven't we all seen worse? Much, much worse.