Why Monogamy Still Matters

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The basis for trust within any marriage is the promise of exclusivity; one person wholly devoted to another. It is this fundamental belief that has helped sell scores of Hollywood romantic movies – there is one person out there for each of us. While this may seem a Disney notion, it nonetheless remains the fuel igniting many of our saccharine hopes and dreams.

Yet there are efforts ongoing to change that, to look at marital fidelity and sexual exclusivity in a new light – calling into question the entire notion of monogamy. The reason, we’re told, are high divorce rates and rampant stories of adultery.  With statistics reported to be over 50% for each, there are calls to redefine what marriage and monogamy should look like in our culture. The story goes that marriage is a rigid social construct and we are all hapless victims oppressed by the winds of a nagging puritanical hurricane. They suggest the rules need changing, that we are no longer wired for the ancient concept of life-long matrimony as our grandparents may have been. Cohabitation was the first blow to this venerable dogma; ensuing strikes are coming by way of relationship slights-of-hand such as marital leases and so-called non-monogamy relationships.

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A recent example of this appeared in the article, Is Infidelity a Societal Problem?  In light of, among other things, an unending stream of cheating scandals, the author asks,

“So why is it just an individual’s problem? If so many are getting some on the side, isn’t infidelity a societal problem? What if instead of being branded with a Scarlet A, those who stray are told at the therapist’s office that the problem isn’t really just his or hers; the problem is monogamy, which clearly isn’t working for a good percentage of couples.”

She then proceeds to liken the ‘epidemic’ to the obesity crisis,

“So, obesity — which affects about as many people as infidelity does in direct ways and many more in indirect ways through higher health costs and taxpayer dollars to fund prevention programs — is seen as something that can be fixed in ways outside just an individual’s control… Infidelity, however, is not. Why? Especially since monogamy appears to “promote unhealthy behaviors” — aka affairs and sex avoidance. And since infidelity is among the top reasons for divorce, there’s a societal cost involved, too.”

This mode of thinking is not only flawed it’s dangerous. By every measure, government prevention programs designed to curb obesity have been miserable failures. Is there anyone left in the western hemisphere that can sincerely claim ignorance to the side effects of a unhealthy lifestyle of poor diet and lax physical activity? Yet obesity continues to climb across all socioeconomic classes, why? Much like smoking or credit card debt, when given the opportunity most of us choose pleasure over duty, reclining lazily in the lap of self-indulgence. This characteristic is an ailment of the human condition which no prevention program or cultural elixir can remedy.

Furthermore, while framing monogamy in such terms – cheating is a byproduct of forced social conditioning  – may help ease our guilt-ridden consciences, it points to a misunderstanding of human relationships. This assertion fails to comprehend or worse ignores the importance of trust and how tightly woven trust is into the fabric of all relationships. If we were to do away with the promise of exclusivity within romantic relationships and marriage, where then does trust between a couple find footing? The moment we eliminate sexual purity between spouses the foundation of marriage will collapse. When exclusivity is erased all that remains are the crumbs of detachment and skepticism. How could a wife sincerely believe her husband’s claims of love and affection while he is sleeping with other women?

The author’s solution is no less problematic,

“What if we changed the discussion? What if non-monogamy was the norm, and those who truly wanted to deviate from that — be monogamous with a partner — would be free to make that choice? Monogamy wouldn’t be assumed, and wouldn’t we all feel a lot better if people were actively and consciously choosing to be monogamous? Infidelity would be a thing of the past.”

This is human morality graded on a curve; employing the same strategy in our sexual lives that so many criticize in the school system. Of course infidelity would be ‘a thing of the past’, because we’d eliminate the denominator entirely and reduce the definition of romantic relationship to that of carnal desire and convenience. Such an understanding of marriage would earn Anthony Wiener husband of the year award. Lastly, I find it interesting the author feels that making monogamy ‘optional’ would strengthen marriage and relationships. Employing a rationale that says if we’re given a hall-pass to cheat, but don’t, this somehow implies we sincerely want to be with the other person – since it would be monogamy by choice instead of through decree or vow.

But that happens already – it’s called dating.

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This is the confusion that ensues when we try breaking free from the cords of individual responsibility; when we attempt to journey through life without an ethical compass; it leaves us wandering hither and yon in a no-man’s-land of moral chaos devising some preposterous means of escape. There is absolutely no correlation between the prevalence of a behavior and an individual’s accountability for that behavior. Just because a larger percentage of the population is cheating this doesn’t absolve the individual cheater. The slipperiness of such a slope could be disastrous.

Take for instance the real epidemic of child pornography (statistics from the FBI over a 10-year period).

  • 2026% increase in cases opened (113 to 2402)
  • 856% increase in information & indictments (99 to 946)
  • 2325% increase in arrests, locates & summons (68 to 1649)
  • 1312% increase in convictions & pretrial diversions (68 to 994)

Based upon the data – a surge of incidents, high societal impact, and the need for prevention programs – wouldn’t the author’s rationale for making infidelity a social problem apply just as equally and, as such, absolve the perpetrator of individual guilt?

An adulterer is no less accountable for her infidelity, because more people are cheating, than a pedophile is because child pornography is on the rise. Moreover, we must not fall into the trap of fabricating a moral escape hatch by comparing ourselves to the lowest common denominator. Part of the human experience is overcoming our coarse impulses not becoming enslaved to them. Marriage, the pinnacle of human relationships, is built upon a foundation of trust and it’s for that reason monogamy has and forever remains a cornerstone to its success.

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9 responses to Why Monogamy Still Matters

  1. Thanks for referencing my article. I think you miss a few key points.

    I am not saying that our efforts to curb obesity are working. Still, society at large seems to think we need to ban soda and fats, etc. to help the obese do what they could be doing for themselves. I am not suggesting that people are not responsible for their own cheating, but why do we see those who can’t control what they consume as worthy of our attention (and tax money) and not those who struggle with monogamy? I see similarities in both “epidemics,” as both impact a lot of people and have personal and societal costs.

    We are cherry-picking bad habits and personal accountability; why?

    Also, you assume monogamy has always been present in marriage. It has not. Many cultures have and continue to practice polygamy or levels of sexual openness (see the Mosuo of China, as one example). Many marriages of the past openly had mistresses. Many studies indicate humans are not biologically monogamous, so that means it’s a man-made construct. Anything man-made can (and often is) tweaked to adjust to changing mores and realities.

    If we are truly concerned about infidelity and how it often ruins marriages, making non-monogamy the norm and having people opt in — willingly and consciously — to monogamous relationships would solve a lot of problems. And those who wanted to stay non-monogamous could be free to arrange the kind of consensual non-monogamous relationships that would make them happy with no shame or judgment. There would be a lot less lying and secrecy.

    It seems pretty clear that we should be having a societal discussion about monogamy and whether it really is helping society, couples and children.

    I’m not so sure it is.

    Thanks for listening.

  2. Kyle Bradford – Author

    Vicki, appreciate the feedback.

    Here’s something I wasn’t able to get into the piece. While several have put forth this notion of non-monogamy as an alternative to the current cultural expectations, I don’t believe anyone has ‘played that movie through to the end’. Here’s what I mean.

    If you look at cultures where polygamy was/is the norm (as you referenced), what has been the status of women in those cultures? China is possibly the worst country for women. Additionally, lets play make-believe and say that non-monogamy becomes culturally acceptable, whom do you think it will benefit the most – men or women? Plus, who will be more apt to ‘opt-in’ to the expectation of monogamy? So you will have a culture where women, especially women with children, are looking for the security that monogamy brings while the same population of men have different expectations. It’s a disaster waiting to happen.

    The problem with non-monogamy is that the movie doesn’t end well for anyone and most certainly not for women – and children. If men, many men not all, are given license to pursue non-monogamy then you will find men doing that, and when/if they find someone who they deem better than what they currently have they will leave for that other person. Which is likely to happen because now you’re giving them free rein to look around. And, non-monogamy also means an entire restructure of the family court system. If a husband pursues another relationship, then wants a divorce how is he guilty of any wrongdoing? No alimony, and the woman is left stranded. Look at the the scourge of absent fathers already, do you feel they are all hermits? If you make non-monogamy the norm then you will further exacerbate this issue.

    The benefits of non-monogamy are one sided, say want you want about the current cultural norm, but it’s the best thing going.

  3. Lori

    I would argue that by getting married you are opting in to monogamy. My ex didn’t cheat because he wanted more sex, he cheated because he couldn’t communicate to me that something was wrong. We got married without having some crucial conversations and making assumptions and this pervaded through the marriage. I know of quite a few men who have cheated and their behavior isn’t that they want to be sexually promiscuous, it’s that long term relationships are hard. Just like eating well and exercising are hard.

  4. Lori

    Thank you for pointing out that almost exclusively non-monogamous cultures are non-monogamous around the male. Mistresses were “accepted” but really, what was the other option? Get thrown out of the house?

  5. True, in some societies, non-monogamy didn’t work for women. Marriage didn’t either, when they were either controlled by their father or their husband, and if both died, their sons (yes, true). Some research suggests women would be better off with non-monogamy, well if they wanted kids (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2410256/End-monogamy-Women-improve-quality-offspring-multiple-partners.html). That’s why many women cheat around the time they are fertile.

    Given that monogamy doesn’t seem to stop a good percent of us from having affairs, why do you think it’s working (especially since studies indicate those who cheat tend to not practice safe sex — hello STD!)

    They way you are presenting monogamy is that it is a way to force men to do something they’re not naturally inclined to do — the ol’ ball and chain. Why is that better than free choice?

  6. Kyle Bradford – Author

    It isn’t monogamy that is the issue, I always find that we want to blame the institution instead of blaming the person in it. It’s like saying it was a ‘bad contract’ instead of admitting we were the ones who created it. Being faithful to one person is a choice. It is a choice based upon an individual’s character and moral grounding and their understanding of love, honor, and commitment.

    The reason people have affairs and choose to break a solemn promise to love, honor, and cherish is their vain attempts at satisfaction of their own unhealthy desires , and again we have the notion of choice. No one is ‘forced’ into infidelity. It’s the society we live in that is ever trying to push the envelope of what is acceptable and not. A simple look at language is a good place to start. 50 years ago it as called adultery. But since that has such harsh, and frankly religious tones, the word has been changed to the lighter terminology of infidelity. It makes us feel better.

    It isn’t just men that monogamy forces us into, it is women as well. By definition we are selfish narcissistic creatures who, given free rein, will run rampant. Think of your children. Do we not parent our kids in a way that creates guardrails because we know they will get into trouble without them? Adults are no different, the situation is what changes.

  7. Kyle Bradford – Author

    ” it’s that long term relationships are hard. Just like eating well and exercising are hard.” — great analogy Lori.

    Thanks for that!

  8. Jane

    Wow! Kyle, I love your writing anyway, but this one blew me away! SO spot on with all my sentiments exactly. Lori, you added some great points as well. Having heard the old ‘caveman days’ argument used to justify a spouse’s cheating more times than I care to admit, it is refreshing to hear a man say all that you did to defend faithfulness and monogamy. Gives me hope that perhaps all is not lost.

  9. Kyle Bradford – Author

    Thanks Jane, not all men think with their ‘you know what’. In fact more don’t than do, but if we actually wrote about thing, there would be less people to blame. Thanks for your kind words!

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