Marriage, Divorce and the New Monogamy

Posted On Sunday, 13 April 2014
Marriage, Divorce and the New Monogamy
I'm nearing the 21st anniversary of my first date with my husband. Twenty-one years! That seems like a very, very long time to be with the same person.

But, that's a generational observation. To my grandparents, who were married 50+ years before they passed on, 21 years was just a warm-up.

Obviously, things have changed.

Divorce is just as common as long-lasting marriages, with an estimated 2.4 million couples divorcing in 2012 (the latest reliable statistics available). In an environment where celebrities often set the standard of what life should look like, divorce is commonplace... even after a measly 72 days if you happen to be a Kardashian.

There's a ton of reasons why more couples separate these days. A hundred years ago, it was unheard of. Couples had to stay together for family strength, financial stability, a pending inheritance. Now, people divorce because they're not happy, they constantly fight, one individual wants financial independence, infidelity, etc., etc.

Which leads me to the question of monogamy: are people truly supposed to stay with one person for an entire lifetime? Or might there be something more to this concept of "the new monogamy"? Would you be OK if your partner suggested that you have multiple partners if it meant it might save your marriage?

Oh boy... this is a can of worms that I'm not sure I want to open up. But here goes!

According to Dr. Judith Lipton, there are two types of monogamy: social and sexual. Social monogamy is basically joining together to "take care of business." That is, a relationship formed to manage a household and reproduce. Like I mentioned earlier, historically marriage – a form of social monogamy -- was a way to manage children, money, land, etc. Now, many people marry for the tax breaks, insurance benefits, and ease in managing joint assets.

Sexual monogamy, on the other hand, is when an individual has only one sexual partner for their entire lifetime. This type of monogamy is a product of culture. In fact, some experts suggest that it is far more "natural" to be attracted to multiple partners.

OK, cool. I get the social type. Yeah, it's nice to be able to rely on one person for support in finances, rearing children, maintaining a home. But with the infidelity statistics off the charts, I'm going to guess that sexual monogamy truly IS a myth.

Humans are sexual beings. Well, a lot of us are. There's a natural attraction that occurs in all types of scenarios, whether it be physical beauty or simply feeling "safe" with that other person. Ever had a guy give you a compliment or even a look that gave your butterflies in your stomach? Doesn't mean that you want to immediately jump his bones, but that feeling and any resulting flirtation is simply a natural response.

The tricky part, of course, is the action you take based on those feelings.

Here's the thing: not every couple is completely sexually compatible, even though they might still be very much in love. Author Tammy Nelson recently wrote an article for Psychotherapy Networker, in which she had this to say: "One major impediment to the view that an affair indicates that something is profoundly wrong in the marriage, however, is that 35 to 55 percent of people having affairs report they were happy in their marriage at the time of their infidelity. They also report good sex and rewarding family lives. So how can we continue viewing affairs as symptoms of dysfunctional marriages when apparently so many of them seem to happen to otherwise 'normal,' even happy couples? The one-size-fits-all view of infidelity never questions the standard model of monogamy, much less helps a couple explore a new model of monogamy that might work better for them and their own particular marriage."

Yes, that's a lot to take in. And probably a little scary for some. This concept of "new monogamy" sounds a tad bit like an open marriage, or even polyamory. But Nelson asserts that in this situation, the focus is still on the marriage and that these couples aren't "trying to include other sexual partners, they're just acknowledging that other attractions happen and an affair, especially if it's above board, doesn't have to mean divorce."

Makes sense, I guess... on paper. In practice, it might be a bit stickier. There's always going to be an issue of trust. How do you know that your partner won't fall in love with that other person and leave you in the dust with three bratty kids and a mortgage payment? Or that he is being completely "safe" when it comes to STDs and such? What if your partner got his lady on the side pregnant?

Free love is great until it comes with consequences.

But you know what? Times are changing. Rules are morphing. Marriage and relationships aren't defined the way they used to be. It doesn't mean it's wrong; it's just different. Maybe couples would be a lot happier if they could just be open and honest instead of trying to abide by the traditional laws of couple-hood. Just because couples in generations before you stayed together for decades, it doesn't mean they were happy about it. And it doesn't mean they weren't also stepping out.

One last thing... I'm a firm believer in the concept that everyone deserves to be happy. I don't waste my time with martyrdom. If a new style of marriage helps save yours? Please, go for it. I'll support you, even if others don't.


Anapol, Deborah. "The New Monogamy." Psychology Today. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Apr. 2014.

Sylvia Anderson

Originally from Minnesota, Sylvia moved to California for the sun, sand and warm temperatures. She graduated from the University of Minnesota with a degree in English and Communications, both of which she has put to good use in her work with RadioMD as Senior Editor.

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