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.