First, I want to thank you for voting in the poll the other day. The overwhelming majority of voters asked for continued everyday posts, which is cool with me as long you understand that some days you may just get a quote or poem or link. It made me happy to know that at least a handful of people read these every day, and look forward to them.
Second, I think I'm going to move away from trying to make every post a piece of "advice". Sometimes it's just a meditation, or something to think about. I may find myself more inspired by broadening my idea of what I can write about.
So anyway, for today, I want to talk about this article (click the picture above or here to go to the link on CNN's website). It is excellent, in my opinion.
You all know I do a lot of marriage/couples counseling. And I would estimate that at least half of the couples I see come to me as a direct result of infidelity. They want to rebuild and repair after the betrayal of one partner stepping out of the Relationship, whether for sex or emotional connection.
The complication is that rarely is the infidelity just about sex or emotional connection. Usually it's about needs, whether clear or convoluted, whether expressed or unexpressed, that aren't being met in the primary relationship.
(This does NOT mean it's the fault of the person who got cheated on, just that these things can be more complicated and nuanced than "Oh, s/he is such a jerk for cheating".)
This has gotten me thinking over the years: How does this happen? What's the thing? What is the appeal of cheating? The cheater nearly always feels ashamed and guilty when they are caught because they really don't want to harm their partner. They usually don't want to leave, even. Often they have children together and a shared life that is important to them both. And yet, they do it anyway.
So how can people keep from having affairs and causing so much pain to their partners when things get boring or difficult or when sex drives aren't in alignment and one person has needs the other can't or won't meet?
I mean, you could say "Well just don't cheat! Be faithful! Suck it up. You agreed to for better or worse."
You could say that, but I certainly won't. I don't believe it is that simple. People are so much more complex than this one-size-fits-all Relationship Rule: Must Be Monogamous.
So over the past few years, I have begun to realize and accept that monogamy isn't for everyone. That in fact, if monogamy as a hard & fast absolute rule was eliminated from the relationship equation, I'd probably see far fewer couples in therapy for infidelity.
The thing is, it's a lot of work to keep a relationship exciting and fulfilling over a lifespan. And people's sex drives fluctuate. People's needs and wants and desires change. But that doesn't always have to signal disaster. It doesn't always have to mean somebody is going to have to sacrifice or go without or that the relationship should end.
What if people could just say "I'm feeling unfulfilled but I don't want to end our relationship. What can we do?" or "I don't want to keep turning you down for sex and disappointing you, but I don't really feel very sexual these days. Would you be open to finding someone else to have sex with, while staying committed in our marriage?" or "It would really turn me on if we went to a swingers party together and just checked out the lifestyle. We could use some excitement to keep things interesting."
To be clear, monogamy works great for some people. I don't want to insult the hard work of the people who have decided on it and stuck with it and found it satisfying. And some people enjoy the dutiful nature of monogamy, like making sacrifices is the thing that makes the marriage feel like a real commitment. Some people are very traditional, and would never feel comfortable even thinking about doing things differently.
I just want to suggest that it's not the best life for everyone to only have one partner for, say, 10,20,30 years. And I like to give people the option to consider that maybe you don't have to divorce your person in order to have a more exciting, rich, or rewarding sex or emotional life.
My main guiding principles as a couples' counselor are these:
- There is no such thing as "normal" or "typical" when it comes to how you do relationship.
- The more you try to live up to some ideal standard, the more disappointed you're likely to feel.
- Every single relationship has its own culture, its own rules, norms, standards of behavior.
- Every relationship should be open to re-negotiation of the agreements you've made with each other, up to an including whether to be monogamous.
- If you're both having your needs met, and you're being honest and open with each other, whatever you decide to do/not do in the context of the relationship is okay and "normal" for you.
The article says pretty much everything else I'd want to say, so I won't belabor many of the points. Just read it, and consider with an open mind whether you'd be interested in some form of consensual nonmonagamy. Think about whether you'd feel safe broaching the topic with your primary partner. Read more about it. Talk about it.