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|The New Monogamy - Page 4|
Often a sudden collision between each partner's implicit contract precipitates a marital crisis. For example, Ryan and Tina were in therapy with me for an affair that Tina was having with a neighbor. Ryan was devastated by Tina's affair, even though he himself admitted to six or seven of his own sexual "dalliances" with women throughout the years of their marriage. His wife had known about his affairs and put up with them, assuming that "that's what men do." What shocked Ryan was, first, that Tina was having an affair—the implicit rule was that he could, but she couldn't. Even more shocking was that her affair was no dalliance. "Tina fell in love with this guy," Ryan wailed. "I never loved the women I slept with; they were just for sex. I never thought anything like this would ever happen!"
In Ryan's mind, his implicit monogamy agreement was that his affairs were acceptable as long as there was no emotional connection. That she should have an affair and, worst betrayal of all, actually fall in love, had no place in what he thought was their agreement. In these cases, the most useful focus of therapy is on the discovery and disclosure of the unspoken, implicit rules that cover each spouse's behavior and attitudes toward fidelity. If a husband believes that it's OK for him to chat online with other women, perhaps using a webcam to have sexual experiences with them over the Internet, is it also OK for his wife to do the same? If the wife has a strong emotional connection to a male friend and texts and e-mails him all day long, sharing her most intimate feelings and desires, is it alright for her husband to have the same type of relationship with a woman friend?
In the therapy with Ryan and Tina, we worked on exposing the implicit expectations that both had of the relationship and what monogamy meant to them. We dug into what each of their parents had believed about relationships and marriage. It was interesting that Tina's mother had had an affair when Tina was young, which no one ever talked about—Tina found out only when an aunt let it slip one night at the dinner table. Ryan's father went to strip clubs regularly, and no one in his family thought it was unusual—it was the kind of thing men did. Now Ryan had a new understanding of how his mother might have felt about this behavior when Tina expressed her distaste and disappointment at hearing that her father-in-law spent evenings watching pole-dancers. Ryan looked at her strangely and said, "But isn't it a compliment to women to know that we like to look at them?" Tina burst into tears. She said to him, "No, it's a compliment if you want to listen to us. That's why I started my affair. He listened to me; you never do."
New monogamists try to eliminate the gap that so often exists between explicit and implicit rules in the "old monogamy." From the viewpoint of the new monogamy, the trick is to establish and continually revisit rules to provide clear guidelines for maintaining a monogamous relationship—while keeping them loose enough to encourage growth and exploration for both partners. Some couples keep renegotiating their rules about monogamy, either directly or more subtly, as they age and pass through different developmental stages of their marriage. Accordingly, these rules can change, when they have children, when the children go off to school or leave home, during menopause, at retirement, or when the spouses' roles change—a wife's taking up a career once the kids are out of the nest, for example.