For thousands of years marriage has implied monogamy. In fact, marriage developed because monogamy was crucial to confirm paternity and establish lineage rights. In all but a few polygamous or polyandrous societies, non monogamy is not tolerated and often punished harshly. But how does the idea of sexual faithfulness to one person play into modern and/or non-traditional and non-religious marriages?
Non monogamy is, by definition, not being romantically exclusive to one partner. It may also be referred to as an open relationship. Non monogamy includes all sorts of arrangements from allowing kissing, flirting or non-sexual dating, to one night stands, to full-blown outside relationships, to polyandry (a relationship between more than two partners). Non-monogamy groups claim their arrangement makes everyone happier, reflects more realistic expectations about marriage, and can prevent divorce. Pro-monogamy groups argue that relaxed standards of fidelity are exactly what are causing divorce and only lead to broken hearts. Both sides have statistics and studies to back their cases.
Radio journalist Ira Glass explores this explosive topic in one of the early radio broadcasts of This American Life. I recently listened to an archived recording of this episode (available online at http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/95/monogamy) and encourage you to listen to it, no matter where your opinion on the matter falls.
The episode begins with a discussion of current events. Ira Glass aired this episode in 1998 during the tumult of the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal. The scandal not only brought up conversations about infidelity, he says, it also started a debate about the nature of marriage. A few months prior to the White House revelation, Colorado Governor Roy Romer announced that he had been carrying on a 16-year extramarital affair that his wife and family knew about. Romer found himself in the awkward position of philosophizing about the nature of marriage, love, and realistic expectations. Can marriage survive non monogamy? Should marriage survive non monogamy?
The episode goes on to interview a couple about their attempt to deal with a powerful crush that the wife developed on a mutual friend. Later, provocateur, sex expert and writer Dan Savage shares how non monogamous couples make their relationships work (or don’t) and how they may not be so different from traditional marriages. Ira closes with an essay from writer Ian Brown on his marriage, impending fatherhood, and the complicated issues of desire and faithfulness.
While Power of Two endorses monogamy, it aligns with non-monogamy advocates on this point: you must have open, honest conversations about sex and fidelity with your spouse. Whatever your personal decision, you must discuss boundaries and establish clear rules around sexual relations. These conversations are essential for a healthy marriage and will help maintain trust, intimacy and love. Po2 offers lots of fun activities and tips to help approach the topic and have rich conversations. Try them out now or sign up for an account (free for the first 3 days, and only $18/month after) to message our coach, Dr. Abigail, with your specific concerns.
What do you think about the episode? Marriage and faithfulness? Leave a comment below.