negotiated infidelityGuest post by Sarah P.

Last week, while reading an article, a term that I was not familiar with piqued my interest. The article referenced a relational model for pair-bonded couples that was termed negotiated infidelity.

What is negotiated infidelity?

Negotiated infidelity is a term that describes an arrangement between a couple where both people within the couple agree to have sex with people outside the relationship. However, the people in the couple ‘negotiate’ the rules of engagement with others. These rules are to be strictly followed when having sexual encounters outside of the relationship. They set parameters around what kind of intimacy is permitted to be experienced with people outside the couple.

An Australian woman named Holly Hill wrote a book called SugarBabe describing her relationship with her partner Dino. Holly claimed that because they negotiated the terms in which each partner had an affair, their relationship was stronger and more honest.

I was interested in Holly’s viewpoint since it was so different from my own. I watched a short documentary where she and her partner Dino showed viewers how the specific intimate ‘negotiations’ within their relationship worked for both of them.

Early in the short film, Holly did not flinch as Dino brought home a woman to have sex with—in fact, she spent time preparing all of them dinner before the woman arrived. When Dino left for their bedroom to carry on his intimate liaison with another, Holly sat alone and painted her toenails. She smiled at the camera and said, “When you love someone, what makes them happy makes you happy. It makes him happy to have sexual variety, so why shouldn’t I be happy too?”

I was surprised because Holly did not seem to have an ounce of discomfort, even though she knew Dino was, at that very moment, in their bed having sex with another woman.

The next night, it was Holly’s turn and the film documented this encounter as well. Holly brought home a very tall, buff man with a full head of blond hair. Her ‘date’ was a lot more attractive than Dino and it became apparent in Dino’s body language that he was not very comfortable.

However, Dino had to adhere to the agreement he had with Holly and so he was expected to be respectful to her affair partner. Dino plastered an uncomfortable smile on his face as he shook the hand of Holly’s affair partner. Dino watched as Holly and the man walked hand and hand into the bedroom and shut the door.

Dino made himself comfortable on the living room couch and smiled at the camera. Now slightly more composed, he remarked that he did not have an issue with this arrangement at all. Then Dino explained that he was comfortable with the arrangement because of the ‘rules’ to which both he and Holly adhere during sexual encounters. He said, “We don’t get jealous because we don’t allow intimacy with our dates. We are not allowed to kiss anyone else. We do not spoon with others. We don’t have sleepovers. Since we save intimacy only for our relationship, it works.”

(Maybe I am mistaken here, but isn’t a sexual relationship as intimate as it gets?)

Toward the end of this documentary about Holly and her partner Dino, it became clear that she initiated the negotiated infidelity between them. She went on to explain that due to relationships in the past, specifically where she had been the betrayed party, she believed that people are not capable of maintaining monogamy over the long term.

Holly reassured the viewers that this was her idea, not Dino’s, and that it was her belief that it was normal for men to be unfaithful. She reasoned that because numerous boyfriends had cheated on her in the past, infidelity must be normal. She maintained that because of the negotiated infidelity within her relationship, she felt ‘in control’ of the situation.

Thus she came to the conclusion that because men are not capable of remaining monogamous, that she could have control over the infidelity by dictating the terms of when and how it occurs. Holly said that she felt very empowered within this context.

sexual intimacyCan a relationship that includes negotiated infidelity last?

After doing some more reading, I realized that the film I had watched was from 2010. So, I went looking for more recent information on Holly and Dino.  As of 2012, the press was again interviewing Holly.

Just two years after the film had been made; she had completely recanted her original viewpoint on negotiated infidelity. By that time, Holly and Dino’s relationship had been over for several months. Holly noted that both of them ended their relationship specifically because of their agreement to be unfaithful to each other. In the end, both found it to be a heartbreaking experience and they both sought out monogamy with their new partners.

Are men wired to be unfaithful?

Even though there is a popular viewpoint that says men are designed by nature to spread their seed, I do not believe this is true. Here’s why: millions of years ago when the brain of our species was developing, our limbic system, found deep within our brain, became hard-wired for connection. We are hard-wired to connect with others, but also hard-wired to pair off as a couple.

After we are paired off and perform intimate acts together, our brain releases chemicals like oxytocin and vasopressin to reinforce that pair bond to our mate.

But, we also know that humans, as a species, seek novelty. I believe that drive to seek out new experiences partially contributes to people having affairs. But, it is the individual who chooses to direct their novelty seeking toward finding a sexual partner outside of their relationship. Even though we like new experiences, there are thousands of new experiences to be had that do not involve being sexually unfaithful.

Recent studies have shown that almost as many women as men are being unfaithful to their marriages. Many psychologists are discovering that infidelity correlates more to a personality style than a gender. Others studies have found that narcissism and infidelity strongly correlate. If this is correct, then the conclusion could be drawn that infidelity is not a ‘gender thing’ that is isolated to the male species.

What about infidelity patterns in the past?

I believe that infidelity patterns were different in the past because of social structure, opportunity, laws, and expectation. In the past, if a woman had sexual relations either before marriage or outside of marriage, she could look forward to being disowned, being shunned, wearing a scarlet A on her chest, or being stoned with very heavy rocks. All in all, I believe that most women would have been deterred at the thought of such penalties for infidelity.

Then there were the expectations that women were to guard their virginity and that nice girls did not enjoy sex.  But now, we women are equal under the law, we support ourselves financially, having sexual relations prior to marriage is taken for granted, and we own our sexuality.

So, within this context it makes perfect sense that the statistics involving gender and infidelity are converging.

As for negotiated infidelity, I do not believe this is an arrangement that will work for most couples. It is really just a cleaner term for an open relationship and open relationships don’t work for most people.

Negotiated infidelity seems to be an arrangement that was born out of today’s rampant promiscuity and could perhaps be viewed as an alternative to swinging. However, negotiated infidelity will not work for most couples and it does not provide a viable system through which to carry on healthy and loving long-term relationships.

Readers: What do you think of negotiated infidelity? Do you think people are wired to be unfaithful?

 

    8 replies to "Negotiated Infidelity – Is It A Viable Alternative For Married Couples?"

    • Gizfield

      I think it’s stupid. If you want to sleep around, stay single. And no, I dont think infidelity is inevitable. I know too many people who have been together for decades that are extremely happy being married. All I can say about this “negotiated infidelity” is eeeew.

    • Strengthrequired

      Definitely not for me, I think if a couple believe that this type of arrangement will work for them, I can only see their future as being not so long, just like the above mentioned could. I think it spells disaster for a couple to try this. If they believe having another person to sleep with apart from their spouse or partner, then they shouldn’t be together to begin with. Just my thoughts anyway.

    • tryinghard

      Sarah P

      I think I heard this woman interviewed a couple years ago on the radio. I thought it was crap then. There are a lot of those out there that espouse the open marriage concept which has historically been debunked. Doesn’t work. I don’t care what you call it. It’s NOT for me.

      Could you write more explaining/clarifying the personality traits of those who choose infidelity as a means of novelty, You site “Many psychologists are discovering that infidelity correlates more to a personality style than a gender. Others studies have found that narcissism and infidelity strongly correlate.” I totally see the narcissistic argument. I also agree that it is gender neutral. However it has been more socially acceptable and even praised when it’s the man.

      I think by laying out the personality traits we will learn who will remain cheaters (ie “once a cheater always a cheater”?) and who will truly change and make a conscious choice to not cheat. And after all infidelity and cheating is a conscious choice made over and over again, unless of course it was a drunken one night stand! If there are some deep personality traits that cannot be overcome, such as narcissism, short of having a lobotomy, the BS will at least know what they are dealing with.

      I truly believe this is what is at the root of most of the BS angst. We can forgive sometimes, but in the back of our minds forever is, will they do it again. Maybe if we know what the personality types are that will most likely do it again we are at least forewarned and forearmed.

      As usual, great article Sarah!

      • Sarah P.

        Hello All!

        My kiddos have been on an extended spring break and so I have been off-line for a while. Now I am back!

        Tryinghard, that is a great idea for an article– that is writing about the personality type that is prone to infidelity and the key traits of that type. I will slate that article as the next thing to write. Love the idea!!

    • gracefortoday

      As the outcome for this couple showed, it was a pitiful attempt on her part to control what is essentially beyond our control: the faithfulness of our partners. For me, I would rather trust and be burned then turn us both into whores. Being promiscuous when you are single is morally bankrupt enough. Doing so when you are married is beyond belief.

      While men may be wired for more sex, I don’t believe this means that it has to be with multiple people. As humans, we are created MOSTLY for connection. We want to love and be loved. We want to belong. We want to feel understood. We want emotional safety. You simply will not find that in a series of flings. I have read a few articles on this topic when another blogger talked about this topic. In every instance I read, one of the married partners began to develop an emotional attachment to the AP and it caused considerable damage (if not outright spelled the end of the marriage). It was interesting to me that the feelings of betrayal ran JUST as deep for these people. It mattered not one bit they initially gave their okay.

    • Mandy

      It simply isn’t true that all men are unfaithful. Even among those who have cheated, many do so only once, learn a painful lesson, and recommit to fidelity. Yes, of course there are serial cheaters, both male and female, but they are not the majority. Couples who try open marriages almost always fail in the long run, because it causes them to move farther apart rather than closer together.

    • Sarah P.

      Hi All,
      Obviously I am against open marriages and glad to see everyone agrees. The reason I wrote that article was to show a progression. That is, the woman believed she could control infidelity by negotiating it. At first when she tried it, she appeared to be happy about it. But, then a year later it was the thing that destroyed their relationship. It was great to see that destruction of their relationship due to sleeping with others happen so quickly and see that their agreement was not feasible.

      Just one more person that we can point to (the lady in the article) and use as an example of someone who tried it a failed spectacularly! It’s one more argument in favor of the pro-fidelity camp. (But I am preaching to the choir here!) 🙂

    • Sal Hepatica

      I am convinced that my Ex- wanted this “Negotiated Infidelity” herself albeit without the “negotiated” part. After the flirting began in 2004, she took to traveling by herself more and more. Unfortunately, she wasn’t the type to negotiate anything. That is, she enjoyed secrecy. At first, her keeping things to herself seemed her strong sense of independence and boundaries; at the end, I clearly saw it as sick. She was incapable of intimacy. I looked at her family. She got it from them. It was a group value my wife was following. So, “negotiated infidelity” is for those who don’t have enough money to get a divorce or for those whom divorce would financially harm. If you want a good sex life, fall romantically in love with someone who pleases you in all sorts of ways.

      I am not in favor of “fidelity.” What is that? Some rule? I am in favor of honesty and truth and privacy. Keep secrets from the outside world, but share them with your love. That is what intimacy is. Fidelity is meaningless if there’s no love and you are isolated in a squirrel hole of silence, incompatibility, and frustrated desires of all kinds.

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