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updated 11/29/2007 9:58:39 AM ET 2007-11-29T14:58:39

Q. I am not getting enough sex. My wife of seven years and I have talked about this both in and out of the bedroom. I suggested marriage counseling but she said, “To save time and to save our marriage, I give you permission to get your sex with other women, discreet women, with whom we are not acquainted or social. All I ask is that you be safe at all times, don't knock anyone up and don’t bring it into our home at all.” Dr. Gail, I was speechless and had to go for a drive to the coast and back. What does this mean? How am I supposed to feel? What should I do?

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A. Your wife’s solution to your problem is very retro and problematic for you both. There was a time, decades ago, when some women chose to look the other way and let someone else “take care of” their man’s sexual needs because they preferred not to. This is no longer that time.

It sounds as though your wife has largely opted out of this relationship. She apparently is neither interested in romance and passion with you, nor in trying to figure out where it went and how to get it back. Yet she doesn’t want to lose the life or partnership you have together. So she tells you to seek sex elsewhere as long as she is not involved. To her, this might seem like a viable solution — you get more sex, she doesn’t have to bother with it — but clearly it isn’t a solution for you.

Her warnings about how you should proceed discreetly are unrealistic. She is playing with fire, and running the risk that you might find someone else and leave her.

It sounds, however, that she would prefer to risk losing you than to work out your marital issues. This is a slap in the face to any man who wants his marriage to succeed. Of course you are hurt and angry. Though some men might applaud this fantasy — you have your wife’s permission to have sex with other women, wink wink — your wife is hardly giving you a gift. She is rejecting you sexually.

As an aside, some women find it thrilling to think about their partner having sex with somebody else. It is similar to having a fantasy about a threesome. You could ask your wife if this is her way of trying this fantasy on for size, though from your description this sounds unlikely. The solution in this case is to bring more excitement to the sex life you two already have. I suggest you call a spade a spade. Tell your wife how her suggestion makes you feel. Don’t pretend that her solution works for you if it truly doesn’t.

You say your wife is not keen on counseling. It sounds as though she has one foot out the door. If she is unwilling to work on solving this sexual problem — instead sending you off to have sex with other women — it’s unlikely you will be able to return home and fake having a meaningful marriage with her anyway. This is not the kind of partnership that will last over the long haul unless you two get counseling help and really turn things around.

Dr. Gail’s Bottom Line: Someone who truly wants a marriage to work does not grant his or her spouse permission to seek sex elsewhere.

Dr. Gail Saltz is a psychiatrist with New York Presbyterian Hospital and a regular contributor to TODAY. Her latest book is “Anatomy of a Secret Life: The Psychology of Living a Lie.” She is also the author of “Amazing You! Getting Smart About Your Private Parts,” which helps parents deal with preschoolers’ questions about sex and reproduction. Her first book, “Becoming Real: Overcoming the Stories We Tell Ourselves That Hold Us Back,” was published in 2004 by Riverhead Books. It is now available in a paperback version. For more information, you can visit her Web site, www.drgailsaltz.com.

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