Charlie: Perhaps no aspect of marriage is more provocative, challenging, and misunderstood than monogamy. More than an agreement for sexual exclusivity, monogamy is actually a shared commitment to consecrate marriage by containing our most intimate experiences within the relationship. The primary effect of this commitment is not a limiting of experience but a deepening of it.
When we invest sexual exclusivity in our relationship it gives us a chance to know and discover each other and ourselves in increasingly subtle and delightful ways. It brings a quality of ever changing mystery into our lives. In a mutual, shared process like this, boredom and indifference cannot survive. A couple can experience excitement, passion, and surprise together even after sixty years.
When sexual energies are not focused in this way, even the intensity of a new romance can quickly fade to disinterest and flatness. When we feel a persistent desire to become sexual with someone else, the real question is not “What’s wrong with my marriage, or my partner?” but “What kind of attention have we stopped bringing to each other?” and “What is the emptiness within me that I am hoping to fill with the excitement of a new infatuation?” When we transfer the energy and attention that a new romance unleashes to a commitment to a deeper level of truthfulness and intimacy in our marriage, the desire to be with another loses its grip on us.
Marital commitment is not easy to keep. Regardless of how much love we share with our partner, the desire for physical intimacy with others may continue to arise. If we don’t view our resistance to temptation and our sacrifice, as the sacred offering that it is, we’re likely to experience feelings of deprivation that can create resentment and self-pity, which might actually lead to sexual infidelity.
In the early years of our marriage I struggled, at times unsuccessfully, with my commitment to monogamy. So I know how tough it can be to maintain. Fortunately, Linda and I were able to heal the broken trust that resulted from my actions and repair the damage before things deteriorated too much. I doubt that we could have done this had I chosen to lie rather than acknowledge the truth to Linda. Working through these experiences helped us both rediscover our commitment to monogamy as a gift to each other rather than a hardship we were forced to endure. Desire and attraction to others still arise for me occasionally, but I have learned to manage them and avoid acting on my impulses.
In time, the commitment to monogamy becomes the practice through which we develop and strengthen many of the qualities that strong marriages require. When we take it on, we are agreeing to much more than sexual exclusivity. We are affirming that we will do whatever is within our power to maintain the highest possible degree of authenticity and integrity in our relationship. The rewards of a continuously evolving, ever-growing partnership become more compelling than temporary pleasure, which is tempting but much less satisfying.
Ultimately the question of monogamy is not a moral one. It’s essentially a matter of enlightened self-interest. Keeping the agreement to monogamy provides a container within which we are able to experience greater depth and fulfillment in our marriage and greater levels of self-awareness and self-development.