How Can 21st Century Relationships Stand a Chance?
Are you really surprised Arnold Schwarzenegger was cheating on his wife? Were you surprised Bill Clinton, Tiger Woods, Jude Law, Leann Rimes, David Letterman, Jon Gosselin, Mark Sanford and Hugh Grant were? We shake our once-again disappointed heads over yet another public figure or leader who has proven to be a cheater, liar or hypocrite, but why exactly are we so surprised and disappointed? Of course it can feel like a betrayal when someone you look up to, a mentor, leader or teacher, turns out to have cracks in their morals. I’m not saying that all public figures, celebrities and leaders are cheaters, liars and hypocrites – I’m saying MOST OF US are cheaters, liars and hypocrites.
Hear me out. According to the Associated Press, 90 percent of Americans believe adultery is morally wrong, yet between 25 to 50 percent of married women and 50 to 65 percent of married men admit to having affairs. And since not all of those cheaters are married to each other, the numbers of those engaged in infidelities increases dramatically, affecting 80 percent of marriages. Picture a room of 10 people; between 2 to 8 of those people are or have been cheaters. You might even have to count yourself.
We cry for monogamy in morals, but our actions say something very different.
As hard on everyone as infidelity is, cheating deserves a closer examination. Cheating is defined by the context it is set in and the rules it breaks, not by the action itself. In one context, having a knife plunged into your abdomen in the middle of the night by a strange masked man could be a very bad thing; yet in another context, if you are suffering a burst appendix, you are wildly thankful for that surgeon’s scalpel. By one set of rules, copying out of the textbook in an exam is blatant cheating; in an open-book test, it is accepted and encouraged. It’s not the necessarily act of having sex, intimacies or emotional connections with people other than our partners that is inherently the problem, it’s the secrecy and dishonesty as well as the unexamined rules so many of us strive to live and love by.
We take for granted that monogamy is the gold standard for relationships, and when we can’t manage it, we blame ourselves – or our partner. But we could stop and consider a third option; that perhaps there’s something outdated or ill-fitting for some of us, about the structure, confines and pressures of monogamy itself.
I’m not letting Arnold, Tiger, Bill, Jude – or those fictional 2 to 8 of 10 folks in the room – off the hook for cheating, lying, deception and infidelity. Dishonesty is a tragedy for everyone. But does everyone who has an affair do it for the sole purpose of breaking up a family or betraying the trust of their loved ones? Are all cheaters callous cads, letting wanton selfish desires take precedence over the sacrifice and self-discipline that is often necessary in loving relationship? Are a majority of us simply just rotten, bad people?
With deep respect to his wife and family (and an additional wish that he not have his personal life scrutinized by the public), let’s also look at what Arnold, our token cheater, was going FOR, not just what he managed to mess up. It’s a powerful force; call it freedom, lust, limerance, infatuation, love, difference, otherness, intimacy, desire, or thrilling newness. For as long as there have been partners to cheat on, we humans have risked loved ones, jobs, careers, nations, our lives, endorsements - and political careers – for this force. Often without loving and caring about our original partners any less. It’s powerful, enlivening stuff, for which it seems we’d jeopardize just about anything for a taste, and which is as much a part of our humanity as is our integrity and honesty. It deserves to be dealt with head-on, with a healthy dose of respect.
Has monogamy outstayed its evolutionary welcome? Is the solution for long-term, committed partnerships and marriages to open up? Is the solution to keep doing the sexing-with-others we seem to be doing, but to stop lying about it? For some, certainly, but polyamory (the practice of having honest, consensual, loving, intimate and/or sexual relationships with more than one person) isn’t a panacea. While some choose non-monogamy consciously, others may use it irresponsibly as an excuse to end the relationship or to keep from facing the real issues that need attention. Some monogamous relationships become stronger after infidelity exposes the cracks to be worked on. A few of us who cheat are of the narcissistic or pathologically disordered sort. And some people are stuffed into monogamy that shouldn’t be, whose ideal expression of love and commitment is to many, not just one.
The lifestyle and love-style of non-monogamy may or may not be suited to Arnold and his wife, but the questions and considerations that must go into creating an honest, responsible, consensual open relationship most certainly would have helped them. There’s not a one-size-fits-all answer; but there are some important questions to keep asking.
Tammy Nelson, author of Getting the Sex You Want, states that nearly 80 percent of partners are complicit in their partner’s infidelity, whether they explicitly knew about it or not. Maybe they don’t expect their partner to betray their trust or have explicit knowledge of the affair, but on some level, they know. We don’t get pneumonia out of thin air – we have to first ignore our sniffles, our sore throat, our cough that won’t go away, our fatigue and the pain in our chests. Likewise, most of the time, we do know when our relationships are faltering, dulling, and closing to intimacy. We ignore the worsening symptoms and are ill equipped to do much to restore connection, passion, honesty and life to our relationships. Most of us have little or no means to deal pragmatically, intelligently, carefully, consciously – and even joyfully! – with the massive contradictions that make up any relationship.
It was only until relatively recently that marriage became about chosen love, soul mates, joint happiness and mutual sexual fulfillment. For most of its history, marriage was a political or survival strategy. You got your love, happiness and great sex where you could, if you could. Never before has marriage – or long-term partnership – looked like we want it to look now. Never before have we lived as long as we do now: the average span of “until-death-do-us-part” used to be about 10 years, and now our unions could last upwards of 60. Never before have we expected daily domesticity, child-rearing, financial decision-making, social and familial compatibility to merge seamlessly with erotic, sexual, intellectual, intimate, religious and spiritual fulfillment. Never before have we placed such pressures on one person to satisfy all of our needs, a burden too big for most of us to hold.
We are hard-wired biologically to be attracted to multiple people, as long as we have a pulse and hormones flow in our endocrine systems, and this doesn’t always magically go away when couple up with just one. Often the closer, more comfortable, familiar and cozy the long-term relationship gets, the less the sexual spark, attraction and erotic fire. Desire, longing and arousal are fueled by newness, otherness, and even a bit of the unknown. It’s hard to find newness in a partner you know completely and it can become harder and harder to want something you already have.
Ever a realist, I’m not excusing infidelity. Ever a free-thinker, I’m not saying open relationships are always the answer. And ever a romantic, I’m not convinced that enough love, enough effort, enough faith – or the vows of marriage – can inoculate us from the very real contradictions of all relationships, let alone those facing the specific pressures of the 21st Century. We grow and change, and our world grows and changes, at alarmingly fast rates. The question becomes how can our relationships grow and change with us? Like buildings in earthquake zones, the structures of our relationships desperately need to be retro-fit for flexibility, pliancy and pragmatism – and right quick.
What sits before us all, and what I wish had shown up on Arnold's agenda, is that now more than ever we have the opportunity to embrace the paradoxes of partnership – and they are many. The alternative to asking the hard questions of ourselves and our lovers is to bury our heads in the sand, and wonder, outraged, when cheating, lying or infidelity – or the general decline of our relationship – rears its head and makes a statistic out of us.
Albeit not for the faint of heart, there is absolutely a path for the survival and thrival of loving, committed, honest, fulfilling and sustainable relationships. What it takes is indeed humanly possible: a commitment to loving, openly and honestly; to having freedom and commitment under one roof; to the care and feeding of the partnership; to have better-than-the-average-bear levels of self-awareness and communication; and to seeking a third option when there appears to be none. Rather than defaulting to sexual exclusivity, it takes choosing powerfully either monogamy or non-monogamy. It takes welcoming the enigma of relationships in the 21st Century. There’s no one right way to do it, except to choose YOUR way with open eyes and heart. What will your right way be?
LiYana Silver, CHC, RYT, MaNLP: When the inner nudge (or whallop upside your head) tells you it's time to reignite, redefine and redesign your relationship for the 21st Century, here's some bold, fresh guidance to make it doable. For women and their partners who want to step out of painful patterns and relationship ruts and step into partnerships that are strong, sexy, sweet, sane and built to withstand the pressures of the 21st Century ... welcome.
Bringing over 10 years of expertise, LiYana helps alchemize the seemingly complex and insurmountable stumbling blocks of human relating into the bricks and mortar of juicy, pliable, strong-like-bull partnerships. With some dollops of hope, sizzle, respect and delight on top. LiYana maintains a private practice as a Relationship Coach, speaks nationally, lectures in corporations and colleges, has appeared on dozens of radio and TV shows, maintains her webiste and business, Love 3.0 (cuz 1.0 and 2.0 aren't working so well!) and writes for various blogs and magazines.
Does your relationship stand a chance? Find out: http://www.love3point0.com.