In this society, it is usually assumed that one is either single or in some form of monogamous relationship. At best, it is sometimes considered acceptable to play the field if one is not in a committed relationship. If one is in a committed relationship, it is with one person only, and any sexual and/or romantic involvement outside the relationship is cheating. Both of these situations, playing the field and cheating are still often subject to the classic double standard of being more acceptable for men and women.
Long before written history, primitive clans and tribes were living within small, highly inter-dependent social structures. Many of these groups had some type of ceremony marking the forming of a union or marriage between two opposite sex partners. It appears that since we began living in structured social groups, humans have adhered to the belief that formal unions of two people work best for maintaining a healthy, functioning society.
Within different societies, independent unions of two people were considered the best way to secure food and shelter, defend against outside aggressors, and raise offspring. As societies evolved, the marriage bond took on increased significance within each culture. One of the most universal aspects of the marriage union to be perpetuated cross-culturally was monogamy. Yet despite this proclivity towards marriage, and insistence that the marriage partners remain monogamous, human beings have been engaging in non-monogamous activities throughout history.
We know that “extramarital affairs” have been going on since the advent of the socially sanctioned union. Our historical concern about affairs is evident in the inclusion of extramarital affairs as one of the sins mentioned in the Ten Commandants. The fact that affairs are wrong, even considered to be a sin has been ingrained into us through our social, cultural and religious upbringing. Yet despite the social and religious disapproval of them, they have been an ever present phenomenon for us to deal with.
So why are so many people having affairs despite such powerful social and religious doctrines against them The fact is that there have been as many reasons given for affairs as there are people engaging in them. Some of these include dissatisfaction with the marital relationship, emotional emptiness, need for sexual variety, inability to resist new sexual opportunity, anger at a partner, no longer being “in love”, alcohol or drug addiction, growing apart, desire to get a partner jealous. Some people have even said that human beings simply can’t maintain monogamous sexual relationships over long periods of time because it “isn’t natural”.
If this is true, if there is a biological reason preventing us from accomplishing our goal of remaining in a monogamous relationship, than we are condemning ourselves to continued personal and social failure by continuing to pursue these types of relationships. On the other hand, despite the fact that affairs have been a problem for married couples throughout history, and that there appears to be an increasing number of affairs at this time, we probably know that human nature is not to blame.
At least not in the traditional sense. Maybe our liking towards affairs is more a symptom of our inability to find satisfaction in our long-term relationships because of the expectations we place on them in the first place, then any biological drive towards multiple sexual partners. Possibly our inability to remain “in love” with our partners as we grow and mature and our life circumstances change is what drives us to look for another intimate relationship.
The loss of that high level of passion and desire that existed in the beginning of the relationship may result in boredom or develop into a feeling of apathy towards the partner. Combined with all of the other stresses and complexities of long term relationships, such as financial problems, raising children, job changes, death of family members, change in status, etc. , the loss of passion may lead to a desire to rediscover it in a new relationship.
So it may not be the desire to experience the new or forbidden sexual relationship, but rather the need to re-experience the intense level of passion and the feeling of being in love which leads to affairs. Therefore, extramarital affairs may be the result of an inability to maintain a satisfying emotional relationship with a partner over a long period of time, and not due to a need for sexual variety. Possibly our need for intense emotional experiences leads to a desire to rediscover the feelings that come at the start of a new love relationship.
Whether it is our expectation that passion remain or our inability to maintain passion easily in long term relationships, the loss of it appears to be a major factor in the initiation of affairs. Once initiated, the high level of passion experienced in affairs appears to be a powerful component in the maintaining them. If the interpersonal relationship was satisfying for both partners, and passion was still an integral part of the relationship, the need to experience diversified or new sexual partners may not exist.
Some people feel that their diminished “feelings” for their partner led them to become involved in the extramarital relationship. Specifically, many people in marriages unappreciated ignored, sexually frustrated and no longer desirable to their partners. They almost invariably say that they are no longer “in love” with their partners and lack the level of intimacy that they once had. In almost all marriages the member of an affair says that they feel “more alive”, “more sexually appealing” and “more appreciated” by their lovers than by their spouses.
Extramarital affairs based solely on desire for a new sexual partner is a very small percentage of the total number of affairs. ( ) Majority of extramarital affairs are based emotional needs not being met within the marital relationship, and not sexually motivated reasons. Therefore, it appears that the allure of extramarital affairs is not new sexual experiences, nor are they due to any biological inability to remain monogamous, but rather what drives many individuals is a lack of emotional fulfillment within the existing relationship.
The indication is that the desire for a new sexual experience is not the initial motive for looking outside the marriage, but rather comes after the breakdown of the emotional relationship. Only then, after there has been an eroding of the interpersonal relationship, including a loss of passion, lack of intimacy, and loss of emotional and sexual satisfaction, the dissatisfied partner looks for a new lover to fulfill their needs. This does not mean that the sexual passion experienced within an affair is not part of the driving force that maintains affairs.
It is possible that the patterns of behavior that lead to affairs may be very different than the patterns that maintain them. There are several factors that may be responsible for the maintenance of extramarital affairs that were never considered before. These factors may be responsible for the high level of arousal experienced by people involved in affairs, the obsessive pre-occupation that many individuals in affairs report experiencing, and the inability to end an affair even when confronted with negative or devastating personal and social consequences.
The extramarital affair is a far more complex relationship than the media often portrays it. Unlike Hollywood’s portrayal of affairs, real “triangles” involve a great deal of guilt, confusion, anxiety, and pain. In the end all members of the triangle are affected, for better or worse. Whether the marriage survives or the lovers form a new couple, everyone involved in the “triangle” will have been dramatically and permanently affected by the extramarital experience. Monogamy has become such a popular topic in society today.
There are so many books that are being published about monogamy so married couples can somehow deal with it. “The Monogamy Myth”, which was published as a handbook for recovering from affairs, provides a step-by-step process for dealing with suspicion and confrontation. This book also mentions the pain of knowing, rebuilding self-esteem, rebuilding trust based on honesty, getting help, facing marriage/divorce dilemma, and living with the decision. The Monogamy Myth is the belief that monogamy is the norm in our society and that it is supported by society as a whole.
The reality is that monogamy is not the norm, not by todays standards, anyway. Most of us expect monogamy to be a normal part of marriage (or any committed relationship). This was certainly my assumption through my childhood. I grew up with no first-hand knowledge of affairs and no idea that it would be a subject of my concern. Monogamy is still something most people say they believe in and want for themselves. I still believe in monogamy and think its attainable. But achieving it calls for making some drastic changes in everyones thinking.