Some things need clarification. One is the of the impact of infidelity on marriage; which is brought to the forefront by a recent article in the New York Times Magazine, the cover of which reads “ Infidelity Keeps Us Together.”
The article by Mark Oppenheimer considers the proposition by sex columnist Dan Savage that the solution to a deadened monogamous bond may be infidelity.
From years of working with couples, I suggest that this is not so simple. Whereas most would agree that monogamy alone does not make a marriage, the leap to infidelity as solution to a struggling or even lifeless relationship is a big one – one that misses all the partner possibilities for working within their relationship.
It’s Not Just About Sex
While the author of the article examines Savage’s point in an open-minded way, the perspective is a narrow one. Central to the thesis is that sexual satisfaction, specifically meeting the specific sexual request of a partner is crucial to the stability of the relationship.
Savage suggests that if partners expect to be monogamous, they must be up for anything. They must be G.G.G., good, giving and game with game meaning going along with a partner’s need or going along with letting him/her meet their need outside the marriage.
Both the expectation and the solution obscure the mutuality and multiplicity of dimensions in a couple’s relationship.
In terms of mutuality: You can’t have it all!! Couples in this culture who marry generally choose to give up the option of meeting their needs with others for the permanent connection and exclusivity of being someone’s one and only- and couples do keep marrying and fighting for the right to marry.
Is it always a perfect match or perfect bliss, of course not? Half stay married and the other half divorce – but for those who make it work, a viable perspective is to take into account their mutuality, the needs of the ‘WE’ they choose to be. From this perspective G.G.G. i.e. Good, giving and game has merit but being ‘game’ might more likely mean choosing to pass on something sexual only you want for the sake of finding mutual pleasure. People actually report “pleasure” in making the one they love feel safe and satisfied as well as wanting the same for themselves.
In terms of multiplicity- Most people want to enjoy, sustain or improve their relationship on many levels with sex being only one important part of that mix. 13.5 Million Self-help books were purchased last year because partners want to communicate, feel connection, respect, celebration, intimacy as well as sexual desire.
The number of affairs by men and women is rarely simple proof of the failure to meet a sexual need. Relationship experts might agree that a couple’s sexual intimacy can become unsatisfactory, avoided, even deadened but the underlying cause may or may not be sexual.
Infidelity is often difficult for even the partners to understand. Often overdetermined, it may reflect the desperate need for a confidant, a wish to be treated with respect and interest, a distraction from unexpressed grief or loss, a reaction to a partner’s addiction, a step toward leaving, a solution for staying. In many cases it reflects the pain of something being wrong.
Maybe Men are not Programmed to Be Monogamous?
According to the Mark Oppenheimer, while Savage does not condone promiscuity and does not believe that monogamy is wrong for most couples, he does believe that a major problem has been the imposing of monogamy on men when history and different cultures reveal that this has never been a natural choice for them.
Infidelity Need Not Be the End of a Marriage
I agree with Dan Savage that infidelity need not be the end of a marriage. Where we differ is that I don’t see it as a solution.
Both Dan Savage in his view of the relationship of infidelity and marriage and Mark Oppenheimer’s thorough consideration of it invite us to personally re-consider the needs, options and possibilities we hold in the bond we share with our partners.
Photo by firemedic58, available under a Creative Commons attribution license.
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Last reviewed: 14 Jul 2011