Lately, there’s been a lot of talk about the fact that monogamy is an outdated, unrealistic and suffocating institution. “After all,” we’re told, “human beings simply aren’t wired to have only one sexual partner. It’s unnatural, unworkable, unrealistic.”
Additionally, even though it’s natural to be attracted to other people, when these feelings arise, people tend to feel guilty, or worse yet, that there’s something wrong with them, their partners or their marriage.
This too, we’re told, is the unfortunate side-effect of believing that monogamy is the gold standard for relationships.
We’re also asked to consider that our life expectancy is now much longer than it was in the past. Having sex with only one partner over many decades is likely to become boring and predictable, lacking the passion, sizzle, and intrigue that only a new relationship can deliver. “Novelty and variety are the juiciest turn-on’s,” they say.
Plus, lest we forget, life is short. We need to feel passion. We need to feel alive. A new person can break the monotony of routine and bring us back to life.
“No wonder infidelity is rampant. Time to rethink monogamy,” they opine.
But I say, “Not so fast!”
I’ve been a marriage therapist in the trenches with on-the-brink couples for over three decades. I am a regular witness to the fallout of rampant infidelity.
And I’m here to tell you that infidelity rocks the very foundation upon which a marriage is built. Betrayed spouses experience PTSD–like symptoms; They can’t eat, sleep, think or function.
“In cultures where infidelity is more accepted,” we’re told, “this extreme reaction doesn’t occur. That’s another reason we should adopt less parochial views about affairs.”
Here’s what I say to that.
We don’t live in those countries; We live here. When people decide to have affairs to feel more alive, their partners end up feeling like a part of them has died.
And while I agree that feeling attracted to people other than your mate is completely normal, it doesn’t mean you have to act on it.
We have many feelings over the course of our lifetime that we choose not to act on for a variety of reasons. We may not be in control of what we feel, but we certainly are in control of what we do with our feelings.
I think it’s fine if two people in a relationship wish to expand the definition of the marriage to include other sexual partners. But the catch here is that, in my experience, it’s rarely the case that both people are equally enthusiastic about this plan.
Typically, if the notion of establishing an open marriage comes up, one person wants it, and the other vehemently does not. Then what?
Another observation. In contrast to the current thinking that suggests that novelty and variety are at the root of passion and eroticism (and hence a valid reason to rethink infidelity), many of the couples in my practice appear to need to feel safe and secure before they can let themselves go sexually.
It’s not newness and uncertainty they’re after, it’s the comfort of familiarity, the transparency of genuine communication. Those are the real aphrodisiacs.
And to the question of whether passion fades over time, perhaps it does. That is, of course, unless couples are intentional about keeping passion alive. Long-lasting, sexy marriages are not about hormones. They’re about skills. People need skills to navigate love’s dry spells.
Furthermore, in relationships where there are children involved, I always find it curious that whenever the topic of having multiple sexual partners in marriage is broached, there’s never a mention of how feelings of jealousy or simply working out the kinks might destabilize the marriage and how, in turn, this might impact the couple’s children. Erotic exploration has its costs.
I agree that monogamy isn’t easy. Nothing in life worth having ever is. And considering the alternatives, I still think monogamy, with all of its imperfections, is the best thing we’ve got.
Michele Weiner-Davis, TEDx speaker, Marriage therapist, Author of Healing From Infidelity, The Sex-Starved Marriage, Divorce Busting and five other books, Founder of DivorceBusting.com and HealingFromInfidelity.com