Tuesday, May 19, 2009

If You Love Me You "Should"...

Be Monogamous

On the surface of it, this seems like a common expectation, isn't it? After all, in most marriage ceremonies there is usually a line involving "forsaking all others until death do you part." It makes sense that when an idea is so deeply ingrained culturally that it would play out in the form of "shoulds" in individual relationships.

The only problem with this is that a large amount of unions/partnerships are not monogamous in practice. From Elliot Spitzer, to Bill Clinton, to Matthew Broderick, to John F. Kennedy, to Brad Pitt, we are constantly being reminded that monogamous long-term relationships may in fact not be the norm.

What if there was a way to have an open and honest conversation with your wife/husband/significant other/partner about the realities of monogamy, without the "shoulds?" Wouldn't it be great for two people in a relationship to come together and honestly communicate preferences, wants, and desires, without judgments and without shame? Many couples are in fact doing more of this, and navigating the murky waters of "cheating" vs. "having an agreement."

In order to successfully do this, each person must drop their "shoulds." They must challenge what they've learned about relationships from their families, friends, culture, society, and be willing to have a possibly uncomfortable conversation with the person they care about. Remember, none of us were born into this world declaring, "I should find one person and only have sex with them the rest of my life." This is a learned belief, and one that seems to be in conflict with reality for many relationships.

Instead of judging that, talk about it. The more a couple communicates, the less likely there will be lying or deceit. The more they talk about their feelings, the less likely they will experience feeling betrayed and hurt. And wouldn't that be so much easier ?


Roger said...

*** Maybe I should go back to bed. In trying to fix my first typo, I made a second one! ***

You made some great points. It's hard to argue with them. To play devil's advocate though, I suspect that some might say being shouldless about monogamy is just a way to allow yourself to screw anyone you want. And I understand the response to that would be - sure, what's wrong with that?

I do think as human beings that some of the "shoulds" are boundaries that we place on ourselves, maybe society has helped put them there, so that we stay grounded and don't stray too far from the person we want to be. I also get the argument that society has put all these restrictions on who and what we should be and the freedom that comes with letting that go.

It's a fascinating topic. I'm just trying to see both sides of it without judgment.

I'm really happy to see you posting more and look forward to more relationship "shoulds".

Patrick said...

Damon, this is definitely a subject that is surrounded by "shoulds."

I know most of the happy relationships I am aware of, both straight and gay, have a degree of openness to them.

I believe, especially with two men in a relationship, that it can be a challenge to meet every need that one's partner may have.

To address one of Roger's points - I think yes, you are right - some people might think it's "screw whoever you want."

But open relationships usually aren't WIDE open. They, too, need to have boundaries. (e.g., please don't bang my best friend, sister, cute barista at the Starbucks we both go to, etc.)

The relationships that I've seen in action, the ones that work, share several things.

They are always built on a cornerstone of common respect. The partners always communicate and truly HEAR each other.

More importantly, while discussing what the other needs, these folks always remind their partner that THEY COME FIRST.

Making your partner feel special, and feel loved, is a key element. That strengthens their trust in you and the solidity of the relationship.

John said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
LJK said...

Damon - I am also glad to see you posted this topic because it is certainly one I have strong and passionate feelings about, and a topic I would love to see more comments on from a variety of people.

There is no doubt that humans are not meant to initially find a single person they will be with for the rest of their lives, and that they will only have sex with that person. That's what dating is all about. Most people date, have some long term relationships, make mistakes, learn, and then move on... each time hoping to improve their situation the next time. But for me, my goal is to not have that be the endless cycle in my life. I also agree that honest communication between two partners is absolutely key to a successful and happy relationship. That communication can sometimes include areas of dissatisfaction, whether it’s emotional, sexual, or anything else. This communication must be listened to by your partner and validated as true, if for no other reason, than that they are your feelings which need to be respected.

The issue of monogamy is maybe one of the most discussed and controversial relationship issues which may exist. There are definitely societal “shoulds” which include everything from defining marriage to be between a man and a woman, or that sex within a marriage (or any committed relationship) should be only between the two people in that relationship. These “shoulds” are in fact really definitions which have developed over a long time. Obviously, being a gay male, I couldn’t disagree more with the definition of marriage. However, on the topic of monogamy, I believe that when you find the person you feel is the right person to spend the remainder of your life with (or at least the foreseeable long term future), I definitely think sex should only be between those two people. Some sex is purely physical. Some sex is very emotional. Regardless of which it is, sex will always have some type of lasting emotional impact on the people having it. The reason I feel a relationship “should” be monogamous is because of these emotional aspects of sex. When couples chose to open up a relationship to other sexual partners I feel they are also opening up the relationship to the increased possibility of failure. The more people you have sex with, the more possibility there is that you will bond emotionally with someone to a higher degree than the person you are in a relationship with. The concept of a committed relationship does not mean that you will never have emotional connections with other people in your life. However, sex can take that emotional contact to a much higher level. We have a 50-60% divorce rate in this country (and that doesn’t even include gay/lesbian relationships). Here are the top 6 reasons for divorce: (1) Money related issues, (2) Infidelity, (3) Poor communication, (4) Change in priorities, (5) Lack of commitment to the marriage, (6) Sexual problems. #1 is fairly obvious in its meaning. #3, I think we all agree is important to success in a relationship. #’s 2, 4, 5 and 6 are all related, at least indirectly, to monogamy. #4 could be the change in sexual priority away from your partner. #5 could be the lack of commitment to the relationship (due to your interest in sex with other partners).

Again I want to repeat my agreement in 100% open and honest communication with your partner. However, in my opinion, if that communication includes the opening of a relationship to other sexual partners, then I think there are underlying issues to be discussed which have brought one or both partners to that point. When you say “…navigating the murky waters of "cheating" vs. "having an agreement", I feel that any agreement made of being non-monogamous (even with boundaries) is like playing Russian-Roulette with your relationship. In closing, I want to repeat that these are only MY OPINIONS, and I understand quite clearly that it’s not the opinion of everyone. I am only stating that this is how I believe my relationship needs to be in order to succeed long term.

sjp said...

Damon..I had to comment on this topic. I don't see how you can take "should" out of this subject. My feelings are that when you are in a relationship you "should" be monogamous. My husband and I have been married for 43 yrs and the reason we are still together after all these years is that we are monogamous. When you say that people were not meant to have sex with only one person always, that is what I agreed with in your statement, but that is what dating is all about. When you finally meet the one person that you want or hope to spend the rest of your life with then you should stay true to that person. I think that when you have an open relationship then you are asking for trouble. I agree with LJK, when you open up a relationship to other sexual partners then you are setting it up for failure. Human nature says that you will or could end up being more emotionally involved with that other person than your partner, thus causing the other relationship to fail. If you feel that you need to have sex with others then you "Should" not be in the relationship in the first place. What makes a relationship successful at least for my husband and I is that we talk to each other about what makes us happy or unhappy and work on it together. It is not always easy to talk openly with your partner but it is a must to be successful. We have friends that we do things with here and there but one thing we have always avoided is getting to close to any one couple. It could lead to infidelity...not that it is a given but you do hear about it happening. I feel that if you start spending to much time with someone other than your partner, you are showing your chosen partner that they are not the most important person in your life and causes the hard feelings that will ultimately lead to you losing that person. That is why I think you have to be monogamous both sexually and emotionally to be happy in a relationship that you hope will last the rest of your life. Bottom line is I do feel that communication with your partner is key and a must but I have to agree with LJK again. When you communticate that you want to open the relationship up to another partner then you are opening up yourself to failure of the relationship you had chosen to be in. I do not feel that you can take the "shoulds" out of the relationship.

SK said...

I think the underlying thing to question here is the people's purpose for getting into a relationship with someone and the urge to not only date others in the meantime but also sleep with them. What I think is more important to discuss is how downplayed commitment to a partner and sex is in today's society, or so it appears. It's not like you hear about everyday couples who really love and honour each other on the so-called 'news.'

Each person makes his own decisions on how to go about his life. However, I believe that sex involves much more than the mere physical pleasure. It's used to create more life in this world, more light. You would hope there are strong emotions involved between the couples who choose to sleep together. What if one gets pregnant? What if a disease spreads? These aren't things to just brush off. Not only that, but when two people are in a relationship, their energies are connected in a stronger way as well, in ways we cannot really perceive with our five senses. And when you sleep with someone, it bonds you even more. Do you want to be giving and sharing such essence of you with every person out there that merely gets you aroused? And then if you are already in a relationship with someone you consider truly special and loves and honours you, why bring the energy from all these other people to your lives, too?

A friend of mine recently told me that she slept with every guy she's dated so far, and she felt good knowing that she was able to find out from that what they liked or didn't and now when she's with someone she 'thinks' is right for her she'll know better how to please him sexually. Is it something to celebrate that this young woman uses that of all things to help her self-esteem? What happened to loving people for who they are - really connecting with another soul to soul? Animals may give in to every desire they have, but humans have minds and souls and a greater purpose for being in this world. The ego tries to always get you to do things to keep you at a certain level, but you can rise above it. We are capable of so much more. A couple in a committed relationship can grow and learn things together, bring out the best in each other (if it's a healthy relationship), and share a journey moving forward.

People can say they're happy getting to sleep with anyone they want whenever and wherever, but deep down I do not believe that is the case. Where does it get them in the end?

poohgp said...

Marriage is the ultimate commitment, and monogamy comes with that commitment. No one said it was easy, but few things that are truly worthwhile are.