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|The New Monogamy - Page 6|
The second aspect of affairs is the outside relationship, which can be with a good friend at work or an old college drinking buddy, an ex-lover or ex-spouse one occasionally meets for lunch, a one-night stand, or a full-fledged mistress. In our culture, intimacy, privacy, secrecy, and loyalty are often reserved (in theory) entirely for the spouse. Within this conceptual model of "togetherness," sharing personal information with a close friend of the opposite sex may be considered a threat to the marriage. Sharing intimate thoughts and secrets with such friends can be considered a kind of theft from the primary relationship—"that's our business," the offended partner might think—and it can sometimes cross the line from friendship to romantic and sexual attraction. Even a stimulating intellectual, social, and political connection can be considered dangerous—political campaigns, for example, are rife with affairs that draw upon the adrenaline-fueled excitement and camaraderie of the contest. Even if never acted on physically, this outside "friendship" can feel like a betrayal to the spouse when the partner obviously finds it so much more vital, exciting, and intimate than the dull domesticity of home.
Brad and Janet had been married for 14 years, with two children, 10 and 12. Brad was a computer programmer who worked nights and Janet was a socially isolated, stay-at-home mom. Brad had exposure to many professional relationships, many of which were with women. Janet routinely read his e-mail, listened in on his phone calls, and checked his pockets, before it finally sank in that her husband did have only friendly professional contact with these women. At that point, they figured out ways to bring the women into the relationship on a social level, including them in dinner parties and other social events. Janet began to realize that Brad's friends could be her pipeline to a richer social life. Furthermore, with communication skills they learned in therapy, she was able to tell him when she felt uncomfortable about his women friends' calling him at the house or spending too much time on the phone with him. He was able to empathize with her feelings and, thereafter, included her or got off the phone.
The third and most fraught aspect of affairs is, of course, sexual infidelity. Again, infidelity occurs on a continuum and is sometimes as much in the eye of the beholder as in the actual behavior. Some, particularly those of strong religious beliefs, consider that "coveting" one neighbor's wife or "lusting" after another, not to mention using porn, are as much breaches of fidelity as checking into a cheap motel with a secret lover. By contrast, one spouse may allow the other free reign on Internet sexual relationships as long as there's no actual meeting or "touching." Sex with prostitutes or even a purely sexual quickie with someone may be acceptable, as long as the sex is compartmentalized in a distant emotional universe far, far away from the Planet Earth of the "real" relationship.
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