It’s a challenging concept, isn’t it?
According to a thoughtful piece in the Huffington Post by Lisa Haisha, “Clearly the concept of marriage has changed greatly over the years. And with today’s rate of divorce between 40 and 50 percent, coupled with the prevalence of adultery in many marriages, perhaps it’s time for the concept of marriage to continue to evolve. According to Associated Press, Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 41 percent of spouses admit to infidelity, either physical or emotional. This leads me to ask, “Are we really supposed to be with just one person our whole life? And if not, must we get re-married five times? Are there alternative ways to perceive and participate in a marriage that will guarantee its success?”
It’s our American culture that teaches us that a husband has to be the best friend, lover, partner-in-crime, transcendent hero and champion. It doesn’t work like that everywhere else.
A couple of things before we dive in. First of all, that 41% statistic was cherry picked to make the author’s case for reconsidering the nature of marriage. I have no idea where she got it. Because I actually looked at the study and the number was only HALF that. In a sample size of 918 people 23% of men and 19% of women cheated. And this was a group of people that averaged 31 years old and 50% weren’t married. So in a high-risk group of not-yet-adults, many of whom hadn’t yet pledged their lives to each other, four-fifths of people hadn’t committed infidelity. I hope you can see how framing makes a big difference when you’re looking at statistics.
For more accurate numbers, let’s look at this article on Psychology Today, which asserts that in a given year, there’s a less than 6% chance your partner will cheat, and over the course of a LIFETIME, a 25% chance that your relationship will suffer infidelity. It’s not a small number by any means, but it’s significantly less than the 40-50% range that people routinely throw around to justify why men are pigs and marriage is a bad idea.
Anyway, the author provides evidence that marriage means different things in different cultures. This is true – and the same conclusion Elizabeth Gilbert came to when she wrote her follow up to “Eat, Pray, Love”, called “Committed”. In it, she goes to Vietnam and asks women in a little fishing village two questions, “How did you know he was ‘the one’?” and “What makes him a good husband?” The only answers she got were laughter. It’s our American culture that teaches us that a husband has to be the best friend, lover, partner-in-crime, transcendent hero and champion. It doesn’t work like that everywhere else. That doesn’t mean I want the U.S. to necessarily be more like other cultures, but it’s an interesting look at how different people can view the exact same institution differently.
The author draws an open-ended but reasonable conclusion from all of this data, “Since marriage has evolved so much over the ages, and different cultures have different views of it even today, perhaps it’s time for the age-old institution to evolve yet again. Maybe the tenets of a successful marriage should not be whether the couple stays monogamous for decades, but rather whether the couple openly communicates about what their unique marriage will look like, what will be deemed acceptable and what will not, and then honoring that joint decision.”
If a couple knows themselves, has good communication, and agrees on their boundaries, any arrangement can work.
Sounds about right to me. I’m a live and let live kind of guy. I have friends who are polyamorous. I’ve met a few swingers along the way. I know of a guy who cuckolds other men by sleeping with their wives in front of them. I’m aware of another couple where the husband is impotent and silently condones the wife having sexual experiences when she’s on business trips. Whatever works, you know?
Personally, I think it’s risky behavior to open up your marriage to the unknown of sleeping with others, but that’s your prerogative. I think if a couple knows themselves, has good communication, and agrees on their boundaries, any arrangement can work.
And if it doesn’t, well, you’ve got nobody but yourself to blame. That’s why marriage, by definition, is about monogamy – even if monogamy itself is not a natural state.
Your thoughts, as always, are appreciated below.