TIME Magazine posed this important question to content creators and thought leaders for yesterday’s Question Everything issue. It’s an important conversation the world needs to have, but particularly amongst couples therapists. We have a unique opportunity to guide couples in communication and decision-making about their relationship. I wanted to join this conversation by sharing my thoughts and responses to each article from TIME Magazine in my blogs this week.
Monogamy works great when both partners abide by the monogamy agreement (assuming there is an explicit agreement). The problem is many couples abide by an implicit monogamy agreement and they may not agree on what’s required in that agreement. I love Candace’s example of an honest cheater, because it really is the dishonesty that seems to bother most monogamists who have been cheated on. Her example is a little extreme, but it’s a tongue-in-cheek example of the type of open communication that couples should use when negotiating their monogamy agreement. What is off-limits and why, what is going too far, what do we do when someone has gone too far? If our cultural beliefs around monogamy and cheating suddenly switched to include this type of honest communication, then cheaters would become almost obsolete, as Candace fears.
Toni makes the argument that monogamy is unnatural and by insisting that monogamy be the ideal relationship model, we as a society are encouraging dishonesty. I can’t say that Toni is wrong. I think monogamy is possible and satisfying with open, honest communication about expectations (see response to Candace Bushnell above).
David makes the argument that based on our biology as humans, monogamy isn’t natural – we were created to spread our genetic material far and wide. But socially, monogamy (in the form of bonded pairs) makes sense because it provides “biparental care” and therefore our offspring are more likely to survive to adulthood and to bear their own children. This is a wonderful explanation for why monogamous marriage is the leading relationship model but sex outside marriage is a growing concern for many – we are struggling to deny our biological drive. David’s argument that the biparental care is the best model for raising children may not be accurate, however. Many polyamorous families have more than 2 adults in relationship with each other with little to no harm to the children (Is Polyamory Bad for the Children?). I theorize that the more mature adults available to care for and model healthy relationships for kids, the more likely those kids will be able to develop healthy, satisfying relationships as adults.
Nathan recently filed a federal lawsuit to strike down his home state’s bigamy lawsuit. His family is a perfect example of how multiple parents in a family can provide more love, care, discipline, education, and models for healthy relationships. Nathan highlights a few reasons why restricting legal marriage to two adults is problematic including potential abuse of wives and abuse of the welfare system. Nathan is absolutely right when he says, “People tend to confuse legality with morality.” No matter what relationship model you choose, to have a healthy, happy marriage you need communication and mutual respect.