In the wake of the ever popular extramarital affair site Ashley Madison getting hacked, experts are reexamining the challenges of monogamy. While it may still seem like the dominant trend, it is rapidly changing with burgeoning generations’ new interpretations of being “together.”
The fact that a site which specializes in helping people have affairs is the second most popular dating site in the world speaks volumes about how well the traditional form of marriage and coupling is working. Thirty-seven million people are obviously missing something in their relationship, and thus are going elsewhere to find it. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean their marriage or relationship is completely broken.
Therapist Esther Perel who wrote a book on the subject of affairs and marriage called Mating in Captivity, says most people she works with are happy in their marriages even though they cheat. She told Slate, “They are longtime monogamists who one day cross a line into a place they never thought they would go. They remain monogamous in their beliefs, but they experience a chasm between their behavior and their beliefs.” Essentially, they love their spouse, but go elsewhere to satisfy a need that’s not being met, and that’s not always to do with sex.
“Very often we don’t go elsewhere because we are looking for another person. We go elsewhere because we are looking for another self. It isn’t so much that we want to leave the person we are with as we want to leave the person we have become.”
Relationship expert Tracey Cox has a similar notion. She talks about how people in relationships often have or develop varying proclivities in everything from food, to sleep patterns, to political beliefs, so it makes sense that intimacy needs might be different too. She told the Daily Mail, “Why can’t we also accept that while one type of person will remain happily faithful for 40 years, others find it both impossible and unappealing?”
While having differing tastes certainly plays a part in the urge to seek new relationships outside our designated partners, it also has a lot to do with how much pressure we put on the marriage. Dr. Perel says we put so much emphasis on being happy and completely fulfilled by the one person with whom we choose to spend our lives, that it puts an unnecessary strain on that relationship over time. When you think about it, having one person be your best friend, mother/father to your child and passionate lover is a tall order.
“The tight, companionable, totally merged nature of the modern marriage is one of the factors pushing people in happy marriages to have affairs,” Dr. Perel continues. Then, we get so focused on the idea that if someone has an affair, or if a couple decides to have an open marriage, that there’s something inherently wrong with the relationship. Commitment and loyalty can live beyond the traditional idea of monogamy as long as all parties involved are totally on board.
We live in a world that accepts so many different forms of marriage now: from long-distance marriage, to marriage for the sake of companionship, to trial marriages (yes, you can actually get a temporary marriage license). As such, we should be more willing to expand our definition of the oldest form of marriage.