A recent article, “Married with Infidelities,” by Mark Oppenheimer was published in the New York Times a couple weeks ago. And yet, many people are still talking about it! Don’t know if you’ve had a chance to read it, but it seems to have triggered significant feelings about monogamous relationships, here’s the link: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/03/magazine/infidelity-will-keep-us-together.html. The author interviews Dan Savage, a pop writer whose column is entitled “Savage Love”. Savage began his column years ago helping folks learn how to cope with their sexual proclivities, and now attempts to help people with their love lives.
The article makes the point that we often assume that monogamous relationships must remain so and suggests that couples who are open about infidelities they may have happier marriages. I think if he is talking about saving peoples individual sex lives, this might make sense. But it doesn’t sound like a remedy to help one’s, or the couple's love life. Savage suggests that there are couples, or one part of a couple, who need more than one partner or periodic extra-relationship sexual experiences. This is called an open marriage. It’s been around for quite a while, perhaps saving many marriages.
Though there are some folks who want to be able to desire and be desired by their partner with whom they have a commitment and many years invested in each other. Some are skeptical about this being a real possibility in a long-term relationship. Long-term monogamous relationships can get stale and perhaps boring and can begin to feel restrictive and limiting to one or both partners. These feelings can translate into thoughts about remedies. An obvious and easy one is to have a fling or two, but the problem may remain. Trying to avoid those feelings of limitation is a missed opportunity to create something new and satisfying.
An interesting point that arises from the article is the emerging need in our society for a “quick fix”. There are tons of claims to have the right formula for being thin, wealthy, more attractive, you name it, someone can tell you how to do it. Treating individuals and couples with issues around intimacy and sex is not necessarily formulaic; each person has a different set of histories and life experiences. And we know that people’s sex lives are directly related to their love lives and vice versa. Therapy helps people understand themselves and their uniqueness so they can make difficult life-choices that work for them.
Psychoanalytically and attachment informed couple’s therapy helps people experience uncomfortable feelings and more importantly expands their ability to make use of them. Being bored in a relationship can mean a whole host of things about each person and the couple that may be remedied by using each other in the service of extinguishing boredom without involving an extra-relationship fling. All relationships and individuals in relationship change over time. Desire can wax and wane in long-term relationships as can love. Finding the ability to be vulnerable with each other and recognize each other’s (and one’s own) needs and limitations actually produces growth. Each part of the couple can find within themselves some part that meets the needs of the other and themselves without having to substitute.
The suggested solution for couples to avoid feeling bored in a long-term monogamous relationship by having affairs “above board” is one way to avoid feeling the loss that inevitably comes with choosing one thing over another. Another way of dealing with that loss is to face it head on, be honest about it with themselves and the one’s they’ve committed to and find ways to deepen and enjoy their experience of being human, with all its limitations and flaws.