In a recent article in the New York Times magazine, writer Mark Oppenheimer poses that maybe infidelity does keep marriages together. The article is pegged to the Weiner, Spitzer and Schwarzenegger scandals. After watching these cases in the media, Oppenheimer wonders if the American relationship to fidelity is really working.
He bases much of the article on Dan Savage’s views on fidelity. Dan Savage is a well-known sex columnist who writes for the Seattle paper, The Stranger. He has been writing a sex and relationship column since 1991, and Savage posits that we should be striving for, “stability not monogamy.” Savage believes that people should have a more expansive attitude towards monogamy. He has been married to the same man for many years and has a child with him. Savage explains that his marriage has included many extramarital affairs. His view is that the most important part is to be honest about what you want and need, and to express that openly with your partner. He believes that couples can, and basically should, get beyond affairs. He feels that straight marriages should model themselves on long term gay relationships which frequently include extramarital relationships. He states that monogamy is just one aspect of marriage and that the priority should or could be on joy or humor rather than fidelity.
In my job at the Center I have certainly seen that infidelity can improve a couple’s sex life. I have seen women who had waning desire for their husbands skyrocket once they find out about an affair. Esther Perel would say that this is due to the danger, variety or excitement that is an essential component of a good sex life, and that couples in America are generally obsessed with fidelity and safety which can annihilate a couple’s sex life.
Danger and newness can certainly be an aspect of an exciting sex life. People frequently have their best sex in the first six months of a relationship. However, that is not always the case and there are ways to have a lifelong, satisfying sexual relationship within a monogamous relationship. I ultimately feel that self-knowledge is the most important aspect of all this.
The more completely you know yourself, the closer you can get to providing self-knowledge for yourself in a relationship. I certainly believe you need to communicate your hopes, desires and expectations to a partner, particularly because these things may be changing all the time.
There is not just one answer to the fidelity question. It works for some and not for others. As we re-define marriage to be about love and passion and choice, we need to dig a little deeper as individuals and as a culture and figure out exactly what we are really looking for in a partner and what are realistic expectations for a lifelong partnership.