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Monogamy for Love & Monogamy for Sex

Synopsis: Two real-life, sex and love faithfulness dilemmas starts this mini-love-lesson; followed by the question ‘why monogamy’; ends with concepts and information about how monogamy dilemmas get resolved; and more.

Faithfulness in One and Not the Other

“I keep having this struggle,” Lacey said with an anguished look.

She continued, “I sincerely love my husband and I certainly don’t want to do anything to mess up our really good marriage.  However, every so often I have to have sex with somebody new and different.  My sex life with my husband is good and I know he deeply loves me, and not only that, but he always turns me on.  I wouldn’t change any of that for the world.  But then I get really attracted to other guys and sometimes gals, and I end up in bed with them.

“Sometimes I go back to the same person if we develop a real friendship, but usually the sex part slowly fades out and then we’re just friends, even good friends.  I don’t want my husband to find out because he would be really hurt and I never want to hurt him.  I’m still in love with him and think I always will be.  Outside of sex, he definitely is the one and only for me.  I mean as a life partner he is definitely the one I want to spend my whole life with.

“I struggle and keep trying to become sexually faithful and sometimes I manage it for maybe six months.  In my work I get to go and come as I please, and make my own schedule, and meet a lot of interesting people.  Some of those I bed and have a really erotic, passionate, exciting and very different experiences with.  It’s different from what happens with my husband.  With him it’s more about love with sex.  With the others it’s just about sex but it is usually great sex.  I guess my heart is monogamous but my body is not.  What’s wrong with me?  What am I to do?  This has been going on this way for years.”

It was rather the opposite for Lowell.  He came into counseling saying, “I’m in love with two women and I can’t break it off with either one.  Both of them say I’ve got to choose one of them and let go of the other.  I’ve tried that with each of them, more than once, and it never lasts.  One way or another we just get back into the same three-way thing.  It’s not a sex thing.  Sex with both of them is good.  A few times all three of us tried sex together but neither of them wanted to keep doing that.  I am really in love with both of them.  I am told I can’t really love two women at the same time so it must not be real, but I think it is.

“After all, I love my two parents, and my two children by a former marriage, and both my brother and my sister, so why can’t I love two women at the same time?  They both have tried breaking up with me but then they both have come back, and we start up again.  What am I to do?  I hate to see both of them hurt.  I tried breaking up with both of them at the same time so I wouldn’t hurt them anymore, but that didn’t work for any of us either.  Is there something wrong with me because I can’t choose?  I so don’t want to keep hurting them”.

Why Monogamy?

For ages in many cultures marriage was about the four P’s: procreation, progeny, privilege and property.  Custom ruled at first, and later religion, and then the law.  At certain times in history, love in marriage was even considered embarrassingly wrong and sinful.  In many places and times, monogamy was something married women had to do but not husbands.  That was to ensure progeny or that the man’s official offspring was actually the man’s offspring and not some other man’s.

Love had nothing to do with it.  It was with the rise of the democracies that monogamous love, sex and marriage began to get intertwined and eventually melded together in the minds of many.  Since then more and more, the idea of having a special, monogamous, life partner for love and sex and maybe for offspring has been becoming the desirable way to do things.

Around the world and throughout history that has and is, by no means, the only way.  Nor has monogamy proven to be all that successful a way.  There are those that argue that especially ‘sexual monogamy’ is anti-natural, and attempting it causes more personal and societal harm than health.  There also is evidence that the ‘monogamy of the heart’ tends to work better than the monogamy of the genitals.  In this day and age, many, perhaps most, people have to deal with the issues of monogamy or non-monogamy of sex and/or of love.

The Two Monogamies, Apart and Together

Of course, the two monogamies  do get very mixed up together and are seen as inseparable in a fair number of people’s minds.  Making love is not just having sex but is doing both love and sex simultaneously and, therefore, is one thing as many see it.  It is hard, or nearly impossible, for some to separate the two.  Therefore, to them monogamy means both marital loving and having sex with just each other.  However, it seems for a great many people, they may be monogamous in their spouse-type love but not in their sexuality.

For a large group of others, they come to have romantic or spousal love for more than one person but they remain sexually monogamous with their official spouse.  They have ‘affairs of the heart’ but not of the body.  In those social spheres, countries and cultures where love and sex is supposed to be only with a spouse, this presents many heart wrenching conflicts and dilemmas.  Those dilemmas frequently destroy relationships and even lives.

These dilemmas and their destructive outcomes don’t happen all that much or all that severely everywhere.  Monogamy related dilemmas, to a fair extent, have been resolve in a number of social spheres, cultures and countries.  Historically, polygamy, polyandry and other ‘poly’ approaches have prevailed and worked rather well for at least a sizable percentage of people.

Some cultures or sub-cultures developed a system where a person has a main life partner who is dearly loved but there are also other lovers and even in some places ‘sub-spouses’, or people who also are loved and in which sex relationships occur in an ongoing manner without there being much conflict about it.  Of course, in the monogamy-emphasizing societies, people are not raised to think or operate that way, and so most live either in faithful love and sexual monogamy or in deceit, deception, angst, ongoing conflict and guilt.  A small percentage go ‘outside the cultural box’ and make alternate life styles like polyamour and swinging succeed.

How Do Monogamy Versus Non-Monogamy Conflicts Get Resolved?

For a great many people in the monogamy stressing cultures, resolution comes at great cost.  Heart ache, agony, anxiety, depression, anger and a host of other bad feelings occur, along with breakups, divorces and fractured families.  The final resolution also frequently comes with very emotionally wounded survivors of all that.  For others they go through the same agonies but come out stronger and wiser.  Sometimes those people are much more able to discern how to create and grow real love while avoiding the traps of false love.  Still others just repeat the same, unsuccessful pattern again and again.  For those who go to a good counselor or therapist, there can be repair and improvement along with quicker resolution.

Let’s look at what Lacey and Lowell managed to do for the resolution of their monogamy dilemmas.  Lacey got interested in going back to college which she had never finished.  In doing so, she got really interested in a new career, got fascinated with advanced learning, finished her degree, went on for a Masters and entered her new field.  As she accomplished these achievements she did have sex with several men and a woman but her interest in doing so faded.

Her interest in living honestly and doing love with self-disclosure grew, and with it, a desire to risk her husband knowing a more complete truth about her.  Still, she did not want to hurt him so she remained quiet about her sexual involvement with others.  Then on a trip to Sweden where they met a number of people who practiced what might be called ‘open marriage’ he got a little drunk and let it be known that he knew about her affairs or at least some of them.

He also told her he had known for some time that she had to have others occasionally, and if that is what it took for her to be happy, and their marriage to continue being good, he decided long ago to accept it.  He did wish that she had trusted him enough to open up and tell him about the affairs ages ago.  He then confessed that he had a few involvements with other women of his own but had not wanted to hurt her or risk disrupting their marriage by telling her about them, because those involvements were quite unimportant.  In reaction to that knowledge, Lacey experienced a great, tumultuous, bundle of mixed feelings.

Relief mixed with jealousy, irony mingled with anger, confusion was contradicted by a long desired, beginning sense of closure.  Most surprising was a greater sense of intimate closeness with her husband.  All these feelings went up and down, and around and around like a merry-go-round in her heart and gut.  That was followed by long, emotion-filled talks, lots of hugging, crying, laughter and tenderness, finally ending with a fine sense of mutual serenity.

They both made the agreement with one another that if they got a strong desire to have sex with anybody else, they would talk with each other first and figure it out, sort of on a case-by-case basis.  Most importantly they would not hide anything from each other anymore.  Then together they got very involved as volunteers teaching English to disadvantaged immigrants.  The whole thing about sex with others became a sort of ‘been there done that’ and ‘might do it again, but probably not’ resolved dilemma.

Lowell came to a very different solution.  In counseling, he came to view his problem as one of ‘giving his power away’ to both women.  Like a good ‘male hero’ is supposed to do, he was automatically thinking he had to do what his two ‘damsels in distress’ wanted him to do to alleviate their pain.  He came to the point of view that ‘the difficulty’ actually belonged to ‘those who owned the hurt’.  He could be empathetic, sympathetic and even more loving to them both, but it would be acting against himself to quit either relationship.

Since the women had the pain, they owned the pain and, therefore, owned the responsibility of doing something about their own hurt and dissatisfaction.  He saw that with this approach, one or perhaps both of them eventually might go away, or they might just go on in this three-way relationship for, heaven only knows, how long.  However, as he now thought he didn’t have to sacrifice himself and what he wanted, to solve what was essentially their problem, not his; his resolution was to do nothing different.

Kindly and tenderly he talked all this over with each of them.  Both women got extremely upset, furious, threatening, crying and emotionally thrashed about hysterically, at first.  Then when that didn’t change anything, they both calmed down and they all went on as before since they both were getting some good things from the relationships.  Eventually one of the women became involved with another man, and that led to some very sad goodbyes.  Lowell and the remaining lady then went on lovingly together.

Lacey and Lowell found resolutions, perhaps different than you might want to find if you were in their place.  What I have seen in dealing with a great many of these kinds of situations, is that each individual, or couple, or threesome, with heartfelt love and careful work can find their own, unique, healthy solution.  Those solutions vary greatly but they are solutions.  Being open to multiple outcome possibilities helps tremendously.  Avoiding ‘my way, or no way’ approaches, being pressured into cookie-cutter solutions, making anybody the enemy, doing guilt trips, blaming and judgmental-ism, getting lost in feeling negative, or inadequate, inferior or at fault, clears the way for constructive and sometimes surprisingly creative solutions.

As always – Go and Grow with Love!

Dr. J. Richard Cookerly

Love Success Question: Which is more important to you, monogamous love or monogamous sex, or perhaps non-monogamy for either or both?

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