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|The New Monogamy - Page 2|
What's So Great about Monogamy?
A bigger obstacle to our ability to help couples in the wake of an affair is that, too often, we couples therapists—the keepers of the flame of marriage, so to speak—assume we actually understand what monogamy means in a given relationship. For many decades, the old idea—an exclusive sexual and romantic connection with one person throughout the life of the marriage—has comprised our default definition of it, even though we often fudge a bit about the acceptability of outside opposite-gender friendships, work flirtations, and porn use (as long as it doesn't cross some undefined line into "addiction"), and condone a certain amount of open grazing in fantasy life.
But if the stories we hear from couples coming into our offices these days are any indication, we're in for a sea change. Whether we like it or not, many couples are far less encumbered with the legal, moral, and social strictures and expectations around marriage that held sway for our parents or even for us, if we were married 20 to 30 or more years ago. With divorce rates hovering at 50 percent, couples today are extremely aware of the impermanence of marriage in our culture and the many centrifugal forces in society pulling it apart. Once past the first, dewy, romantic days as newlyweds, many couples seem to expect that infidelity, however defined, is likelier than not. But far from becoming jaded and cynical about their own marriages, they want to protect their relationship—in ways that may surprise or even shock some of us. Instead of wanting to trade in the old partner for the new person, they reject the assumption that, somehow, the second time around, love will be "real," and they'll never again be tempted to stray.
Today's couples are far likelier to think about negotiating ahead of time what they mean by "fidelity" and how they define and live monogamy in their own relationship.
It isn't that there's an epidemic of mate-swapping libertines out of Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, the iconographic '60s take on the theme. In fact, most couples practicing what I call the "new monogamy" still want and desire a committed monogamous marriage, with the same long-term loving attachment, affection, mutual trust, and security that traditional monogamy has always promised—if not always delivered. It's just that their notions about what constitutes emotional and sexual "commitment," "fidelity," and "monogamy" itself are more expansive and varied than what we've long considered the norm.
So what do we mean by this many-splendored "new monogamy," and how does it compare with the old? The new monogamy is, baldly speaking, the recognition that, for an increasing number of couples, marital attachment involves a more fluid idea of connection to the primary partner than is true of the "old monogamy." Within the new notion of monogamy, each partner assumes that the other is, and will remain, the main attachment, but that outside attachments of one kind or another are allowed—as long as they don't threaten the primary connection.