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|The New Monogamy - Page 5|
I see many couples in my office who look quite conventional and conservative, even staid, who report that they regularly meet with "play partners," or couples they've met online, for sex dates. Several with children who've just entered school seem to seek a break from the routine of work and domestic chores and want to rekindle a youthful sense of adventure, sexual excitement, and desirability. They want to remain monogamous, however, and have no intention of leaving their marriages. According to the terms of their monogamy agreement, they meet with the other couples purely for fun and sport; all sexual contact among all four (or more) happens together in the same room and only on weekends; and there's to be no individual outside contact between the partners of the different couples. The couples discuss their feelings about their sexual play both before and after the events.
In my office, we discuss these encounters—the emotions, personalities involved, complexities, and problems that arise—as we do any other marital issue. These new monogamists are just as committed to each other as traditional couples, though they may feel more connected to each other because of the mutual trust that they insist develops when partners allow each other to have sexual experiences with someone else and they themselves either watch or participate. In my experience, when rules are clear beforehand, complaints of jealousy or feelings of betrayal are rare. Often the couples naturally grow beyond and leave behind the outside relationships. One couple, for example, stopped their "play" when they became pregnant with their third child.
The Three Parts of an Affair
Having made a stab at defining monogamy, new and old, let's look at infidelity. What does that loaded word really mean? Basically, like Gaul, all affairs can be divided into three parts: 1. the dishonesty; 2. the outside relationship; and 3. the sexual infidelity. All three exist on a continuum, with different levels and degrees.
Dishonesty can mean anything from hiding a full-fledged affair to not mentioning that one's attracted to, and having fantasies about the cute checkout boy at the grocery. Some dishonest behaviors are more egregious and destructive than others. Bob and Tanya, for example, had been married for 15 years when Tanya found Bob's letters to his lover Adele on his laptop when he left it open one night. The adoring and quite explicit letters made abundantly clear that he'd been sleeping with Adele for several years. But when Tanya confronted Bob, he adamantly denied the obvious evidence. "I don't know what you're talking about," he said flatly. "Those e-mails must be from other people—I never wrote them." She dragged him to therapy, but it was still weeks before he finally admitted what was screamingly obvious—he was indeed having an affair, which had been going on for years. The marriage broke up not, in my opinion, because of the affair, but because Bob's betrayal had been so deep, so obtuse, so unyielding, that Tanya felt (probably correctly) that she could never trust him again.
By contrast, Tim and Elaine came into therapy after he'd told her that his assistant, Missy, was coming on to him at work. That might have been no more than embarrassing except that Tim confessed to Elaine that he was attracted to Missy and was daydreaming about asking her out. In fact, Missy beat him to the punch and asked him to come to her apartment for drinks one night. He'd gone and, although he wouldn't admit to intercourse, it was clear that they'd had some sort of sexual experience. Afterward, he felt bad, told Elaine about it—without explicit details—and now they were in therapy to talk about his distress and their relationship. He wanted Missy—but he didn't want to want her—he wanted his wife, and he couldn't have both. This couple worked out their dilemma (Missy had to go) and Elaine never stopped trusting Tim because his honesty had given her a sense of confidence in him and their relationship.