"Why you might want to rethink monogamy in 2018"
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It just ran an article by a relationship researcher who says that a marriage's survival can depend on the couple discussing and agreeing on — early — what is fidelity and what is cheating. Is play flirting okay? Having lunch with a friend of the opposite sex? Kissing? And full consensual non-monogamy gets favorable treatment as a possible marriage strengthener.
By Lucia O'Sullivan (Professor of Psychology, University of New Brunswick)
Despite all this, studies show that most people have in fact engaged in some type of infidelity in the past or have experienced a partner’s infidelity.
The question arises then: Is it time to ditch, or rethink, monogamy as a standard?
"Proponents of polyamory march at the 2017 Toronto Pride Parade." (Shutterstock)
...Interviews with newlyweds in the United States indicate that many people expect they and their partner will remain monogamous, despite admitting to having [themselves] experienced a range of extramarital thoughts and behaviours already, such as flirting with another or feeling aroused in the presence of another. ... Studies show that infidelity remains, year after year, the primary cause of relationship break-ups and divorce.
Now, if you factor in the distress, distrust and discord that infidelity causes to those relationships it does not destroy, you begin to understand the weight of its consequences.
...These questions are more poignant in light of research indicating that intimate relationships are becoming less rewarding over time even as our expectations of what they should deliver steadily increase.
In most Western countries, belief in the importance of monogamy is strong, yet relatively few individuals actually discuss with their partner what monogamy must entail.
...A series of studies by psychologist Ashley Thompson makes clear that we are notably inconsistent in the monogamy standards that we hold for ourselves versus those we hold for our partners. For example, we are far more lenient and tolerant in explaining our own versus our partner’s behaviour.
Those who endorse alternative approaches — such as “consensual non-monogamy” which allows for romantic or sexual relationships beyond the primary relationship, with the partner’s consent — argue that monogamous relationships are far less stable because people use jealousy, monitoring and suspicion as tools to hold their partners to this difficult standard.
Individuals in supposedly monogamous relationships are also less likely to practise safe sex when they cheat (putting their primary partner’s health at risk) than are those in consensually non-monogamous relationships.
...To discuss dealbreakers in one’s relationship, it is essential for a couple to define what constitutes a betrayal, violation of trust or act of dishonesty. If a couple can plan ahead of time for the possibility than one or both partners might have an intimate moment with another person at some point, this can reinforce the flexibility, tolerance and forgiveness required to adjust if that happens.
It all depends on the circumstances, of course, but accepting that another person might offer something that we or our partners need can leave couples better-positioned to move forward and adjust or negotiate if necessary, without an entire and irreversible relationship disintegration.
This is key: If we can admit to ourselves that a fleeting attraction, or more meaningful connection, with another partner might not irreparably harm our primary relationship — and indeed might supplement it — then our relationships might survive longer and better.
This is unlikely to be easy for most of us. ... But insisting upon a fairly unreasonable standard (lifelong exclusivity or else!) can in fact harbour the possibility of secrecy and betrayal.
The emphasis in relationships needs always to be on openness, caring and mutual consent.
This is not to say that you or your partner will ultimately connect intimately with another person in any way despite adopting a new viewpoint about exclusivity. It also does not mean you have to agree that “anything goes,” that your relationship becomes an open relationship in the broadest sense of that term, or that anyone at all can enter your private sphere.
It is wise to negotiate some guidelines with your partner — about who or what type of person might be invited to look in on that sphere, for a moment or longer, and what might be acceptable ways to connect with another person (e.g. lunch is okay, touch is out), should the need or want arise.
If you also discuss how best to talk about it, this approach can go far in keeping your relationship truthful, transparent and trusting — making the need for a dealbreaker that much less relevant altogether.
The whole article (January 1, 2018). The author has had lots to say on this over the years.
The article has been reprinted by Canada's National Post under the same title (Jan. 2); by the UK's lowbrow Daily Mail as Is monogamy bad for your mental health? Psychologist warns you should re-think fidelity for the sake of your relationship (Jan. 2); the UK's serious Independent as Why Monogamy May Not Be the Best Option for Your Relationship (Jan. 9); HuffPost Canada as Ditch The Fairy Tale Of Monogamy As The Standard For All Relationships (Jan. 3); Salon as Why you might want to rethink monogamy in 2018 (Jan. 6), and elsewhere.
O'Sullivan's advice to couples has been poly-movement doctrine from the beginning, and it may be the most important thing that we offer the wider public.