Is it Impossible to be Monogamous?

Lesli Doares  is a marriage therapist, relationship coach and author of “Blueprint for a Lasting Marriage.” A few years back she was kind enough to read, review and critique our book, “Journey to Trust:  Rebuilding Trust After an Affair.”  She recently wrote an article that appeared in Your Tango and we wanted to return the favor by sharing the article with all of you.


Why Is It So Hard To Be Monogamous?

by Lesli Doares

Is it impossible to be monogamous… or do we just not want to?

It seems that no matter where you turn these days, there’s lots of talk about infidelity, sexting, the obsoleteness of marriage, and the impossibility of being monogamous. Call me old fashioned, or just plain obtuse, but is remaining physically and emotionally faithful to your partner really that difficult? Are humans that beholden to their impulses… or just that unwilling to deny themselves pleasure?

These aren’t just idle questions. I see the devastation that results from affairs with heartbreaking frequency, so I really want to know. Vicki Larson, writer for Huffington Post and author of OMG Chronicles, recently posted about this very topic. She broached the subject with provocative questions posed in The State of Affairs: Explorations in Infidelity and Commitment. One addressed whether infidelity is an individual’s problem or a societal problem. The question was raised whether it wasn’t the failing of a particular individual, but one of monogamy as a whole.

The article implies that because monogamy doesn’t work for some, there is reason to question its relevance for all. On some level, that strikes me as similar to abolishing speed limits because a good part of the population exceeds them. Those limits still serve as a brake on the potential danger of driving too fast — an outcome for which we all should be grateful.

Monogamy, unlike speed limits, is not something imposed from the outside. It’s something a couple should be agreeing to. If, like relationship expert Dan Savage, you can convince your partner of the benefits of an open relationship, great. If not, then you are making a decision; infidelity is like having your cake and eating it too. You know your partner is expecting you to be faithful, and you just don’t want to be denied your options. I’m not sure the problem is so much monogamy as it is honesty.

The authors also liken infidelity to obesity. They acknowledge a personal responsibility but also point to CDC funded efforts to prevent it. They conclude that since obesity is seen as being somewhat outside of an individual’s control, infidelity should be as well. The analogy is a stretch for me. Both may indeed impact others, but still are a function of personal choice. A real difference is that people do need to eat to survive, but healthy food may not be available or affordable. Yes, you may “need” sex but if you already have a partner and are unfaithful, you’re just wanting to experience a different one.

A recent study out of Texas points to the impact of self-control on infidelity. It found men had stronger sexual impulses, but that both genders were similar in exerting self-control. If self-control is not used, sexual impulses were more likely to be acted upon. Big surprise! Using self-control is called being a grown-up. Somehow most of us keep from driving off in someone else’s car or eating off a plate at a neighboring table in a restaurant, no matter how tempted by what’s in front of us.

I see two main problems for giving in to sexual impulses. First, if you’re indulging your lust, how do you protect your partner from an STD? This is how one of my clients discovered their partner’s affair and, believe me, the fallout from the double betrayal was not pretty. If your infidelity is a truly impulsive act, you will neither know the other’s sexual history and most likely don’t have protection on hand.

The second has to do with the possibility of developing an emotional attachment to the new partner. Think Brad Pitt, Jennifer Anniston and Angelina Jolie. This is what most people fear, and hope to avoid with expectations of monogamy. One of the most common responses to discovering an affair is the belief that you aren’t as attractive or as good in bed as the new person. It really messes with your self-worth and feelings of security. Another is the inability to get the picture of your partner in sexual situations with another person out of your head.

Monogamy as a concept came about for a lot of reasons, many dealing with women and children as property of the husband. It was extremely important for establishing paternity and inheritance. It has stuck around because it provides a sense of personal security and structure for society.

I know I am a woman of a certain age (luckily, not yet invisible) but I really am confused by the whole monogamy dilemma. I look at men around me — at the gym, at the store, on T.V., wherever — and I acknowledge what they look like and if I find them attractive. But I never think about what it would be like to have sex with them. Maybe it’s because I am content in my marriage. Maybe it’s because I have no imagination. Maybe it’s because having sex with relative strangers never did much for me in my long-ago single days. Not being able to get out of my own head, I am open to additional input and perspectives.

What’s your opinion of monogamy? Is it a personal choice or a problem for society? Leave your answer in the comments below.

You can visit Leslie at www.afearlessmarriage.com for more relationship and marriage advice.

 

 

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5 Responses to Is it Impossible to be Monogamous?

  1. Gizfield September 30, 2013 at 7:35 am #

    I honestly think that “screwing around ” is highly overrated. And thats basically what you are doing if you have a series of relationships lasting for a short time. I think they call it “serial monogamy”. I’m not proud if it, but in my early days, I had a lot of “boyfriends”. When I was 18, I met my roommate, Mary. She was a great girl but she would have sex with anybody she liked. I’d only been with my one guy I had been in love with, even though we had broken up. I decided I was missing out, and started sleeping around as well. Not as much as her, fortunately, but more than I should. Maybe it’s a good thing cause I quickly realized that it is NOT FUN. I just felt scuzzy and cheap. Cause I was, lol. I think people’s view of having lots of sex partners as being a desirable thing to do is a product of advertising, peer pressure, etc. cause it’s definition not “fun” in my opinion. The guys I met back then were in their 20s, I was about 19 myself. I can imagine how much creepier it would be more that I’m 54, and they would be in their 50s or 60s. May I just say Eeeew, lol.

  2. Gizfield September 30, 2013 at 7:37 am #

    I would love to know what happened to Mary. I haven’t seen out heard from her since the early 1980s.

  3. Saw the Light September 30, 2013 at 4:04 pm #

    Even sleeping with my one and only boyfriend made me feel scuzzy and cheap. Of course, not enough to stop…although I did try. Some authors I’ve read suggest that sex outside marriage leads to a lack of respect. I do think our society or perhaps just the modern world has adopted a view that tells individuals to “do what feels good.” But I have checked out some of the dating websites like match.com, and I think a lot of the guys there are looking to “hookup” and I have to agree with you, Gizfield, eeeeew. It’s just too complicated.

  4. CBB October 1, 2013 at 3:21 pm #

    I believe everybody is entitled to look for the right partner. And you should not by shoes without trying them on first. I just think that it’s not because someone “needs” a pair on the side that you can expect the partner to be happy with it. You can not play around and at the same time have someone waiting and supporting you for better and for worse…. Either you want the freedom but than you don’t have that strong bond or you want the bond and you need to take the other person into account. I wonder what my H would have done if things were the other way around, I don’t think he realizes how humiliating and painful this betrayal is even though it was only a EA. For him it “was just a friend”. And they never meant it the way I was interpreting things. If that were true, if this was a normal behavior why go to all the trouble of hiding and erasing (didn’t do a good job though) the tracks. I agree it’s growing up : choosing means taking the whole deal (+ and -) and if after a while it seems like you made a mistake you make another choice. Maybe some people are able to combine more partners but I still think it’s rare and than it should be open and the choice of both partners….I think this whole “mission impossible” is just some selfish thinking, I still want to hear the first CS who wouldn’t have mind being on the other side of the equation…

  5. Travis October 30, 2013 at 1:36 pm #

    Take it from a man who has put himself out there…and regrets it. Our hookup culture has diminished what a sexual relationship should blossom into. I am currently with someone who has a “checkered” past if you will. Multiple sex partners, all of which she dated, but the relationships were always short-lived. Through open and honest communication, we have, and will continue to talk about, our sexuality and the ramifications of being promiscuous. We both agreed that we would eliminate about 95% of the partners from our history, prior to meeting one another. Why? Because sex without emotion devalues intimacy. It’s as simple as that. Does it feel good…sure, sometimes even great or amazing. The physical high you get from an orgasm will never undo the emotional damage you inflict upon yourself by bouncing from one partner to the next. It’s like a heroine addict seeking his next fix. You feel great for a little while, and then you start hating yourself. I am glad I found my girlfriend. Her past bothers her, and because of that, it doesn’t bother me as much as it could have. I didn’t want tot think I was the only person out there with “numbers” regret. As I’ve aged, I’ve realized a fact about sexuality. The fantasies we experience in our mind rarely measure up to the experience of acting on them. Not denying that sexual attraction happens, but I am determined to be a faithful and loving partner. I’ve found my best friend, and regardless of the wounds we carried into our union, we are slowly helping each other to become the best people possible.

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