I am sitting on a plane from Orlando to Denver, having just presented at a professional conference. And after several days of being on stage, I usually use long flights home to relax and veg out rather than whip out my laptop and write for my blog. But today, I simply can't contain myself. I have thoughts that have me barely able to sit still in my seat. If I wait until I get home, I might get distracted with social commitments, laundry, plants dying of thirst or newspapers piled up at my door and that wouldn't be a good thing.
During the first night at the conference, I had the privilege of having dinner with Ester Perel, author of, Mating in Captivity, and we talked for hours. Late night impromptu exchanges are what make these events worthwhile. So thoroughly engrossed in our conversation, it was midnight before we noticed we were the only two remaining customers in the restaurant.
I was fascinated by Perel's brilliance, her uncanny ability to speak nine languages fluently and to seamlessly flow from one language and one culture to another. Perel's multicultural perspective on infidelity has brought her into the media limelight of late. She tells us that as Americans we have a uniquely parochial view of infidelity. In Europe and other countries, where infidelity is more socially acceptable, marriages don't seem to take the same emotional hit. Furthermore, she adds, the taboo about infidelity prevents Americans from examining the important and varied reasons people stray. Perel encourages Americans to widen our perspective about affairs, be less judgmental, and attempt to understand infidelity from a broader context.
Later in the conference, I attended one of Perel's workshops where she described her work with couples and how she deals with infidelity. Occasionally, an unfaithful spouse contacts her and she does couples therapy with this spouse and his or her affair partner. When she discussed her work with these "couples," I couldn't help but notice a queasy feeling in my stomach, one that wouldn't go away, regardless of how often I told myself, "Just listen, stay open, don't judge. " My stomach had a mind of its own.
When deep breathing and refocusing failed to alleviate my gastronomical discomfort, I had to listen to my inner voice that was saying, "Seeing a married spouse and an affair partner in therapy legitimizes the relationship, condones partnership and violates the marriage." Call me a prude, but I still think monogamy and faithfulness to one's spouse, despite its inherent challenges, is the best choice given the alternatives.
After nearly three decades of working with couples on the brink of divorce, most of whom have dealt with infidelity, I have seen the fallout of betrayal up close and personal, and I'm here to tell you, infidelity isn't for sissies. Even when marriages heal in the aftermath of betrayal- and they do- the toll it takes on both partners, the marriage, and the family is monumental. And while I agree that the emotional response to infidelity might be more intense due to our socialization in America and cultural expectations, after all is said an done, we do, after all, live in America. If we were Italian, we might be less troubled by our spouse's decision to stray. But when last I looked, we don't live in Italy. When not in Rome, don't do as the Romans.
Although I sincerely appreciate Perel's pushing us to question whether our assumptions about monogamy and marriage are antiquated or less-than-useful, I can't help but be barraged by images of the pain-stricken faces of spouses in my office who just discovered that the love in their lives shared their hearts, souls and bodies with other people. I could swear that I could hear the sound of hearts breaking.
Perel also contends that in order to keep eroticism alive in marriage, it is important to "not tell all." She insists that privacy and separateness in marriage is not only not a bad thing, it can be the vehicle for fueling sexual aliveness. Couples who share every thought and feeling, Perel tells us, become more like brother and sister- a surefire passion buster.
While I certainly agree that for some couples, a "tell-all" marriage is boring and lifeless, I see many cases where the opposite is true. For about two thirds of women and at least 10 to 15% of men in my practice, sharing openly and honestly, and talking about the details of daily life is the hottest and most x-rated aphrodisiac going. In fact, with many in my practice, unless there is complete emotional transparency, sex just doesn't happen. Now that's hardly erotic.
So, while I'm sincerely appreciative that Perel's multicultural views of infidelity are inviting Americans to question our more conservative values and urge us to expand the way we view betrayal, I'm thinking of grabbing my passport and traveling to affair-friendlier countries to put a plug in for monogamy. Anyone care to join me?
Michele Weiner-Davis is the Author of the best selling Divorce Busting, Divorce Remedy, and the Sex-Starved Marriage, and creator of the Divorce Busting Center. Follow Michele on Twitter, "Like" her on Facebook, and get her latest videos on YouTube.