Monogamy on the Rocks
Monogamy has long been a staple of stable societies, especially those based on Judeo-Christian values. A recent opinion article* by notes the following…
“Monogamy is difficult to maintain…studies show that most people have in fact engaged in some type of infidelity in the past or have experienced a partner’s infidelity.”
…leading to the inevitable rhetorical questions:
“Is it time to ditch, or rethink, monogamy as a standard?…Is monogamy reasonable? Can we ever reconcile the improbability of spending a lifetime (also known as many years) with a partner without ever being drawn to another?”
With the lifetime risk of divorce hovering around 40%-45%, a married person is still statistically more likely to not divorce. What about the risk of infidelity? The University of Washington found that the lifetime risk of infidelity dramatically increased from 1991 to 2006 for both men (at 28%, a 40% increase) and women (at 15%, a +300% increase). Yet infidelity is not a problem in approximately three-quarters of all marriages. So, no, we should not rethink monogamy. We should defend and strengthen it.
The opinion article boils down to the irrational claim: monogamy is really hard, so we might as well not even bother trying. Is it any surprise then that the recent cultural rejection of monogamy corresponds to an increase of infidelity? Not at all. The logical result of such defeatism is a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Monogamy is losing out because it has been abandoned, not because it doesn’t work.
The Hope of Monogamy
In the article Lucia writes:
“Those who endorse alternative approaches…argue that monogamous relationships are far less stable because people use jealousy, monitoring and suspicion as tools to hold their partners to this difficult standard.”
If my wife or I had said “Chances are one of us is going to cheat on the other eventually, let’s talk about what we are going to do when that happens”, then we never would have gotten married. I cannot comprehend married couples who think this way or those that use prenuptial agreements. It is setting up defeat before you even have a chance to succeed.
If you are full of jealousy and suspicious of your spouse, then there is a good chance that you made a terrible decision on who to marry and/or the problem is with you. A marriage should be based on absolute trust. I trust my wife absolutely and completely. We do not keep secrets from one another: she has a right to know every little detail about my life, for it is her life as well. It is complete vulnerability.
This is not weird, but the intended purpose of marriage from the beginning. Every participant in marriage should make themselves worthy of this level of trust. Every. Single. One.
Our expectation of complete, lifelong monogamy frees us to worry about other things, like increasing the size of our family. The documented decline in marital satisfaction after having children highlights the importance of a proper marital foundation. When you have kids, you don’t have as much time to nurture the marital relationship, so it must be strong already.
It does something else too:
A newborn's relationship to parent is all rights and no duties; a parent's to newborn is all duties and no rights. Just the most obvious illustration that "rights" are not a fixed, or equal, quantity.
— Unwoke Duffy (Monogamy Enforcer) 📟 (@TheIllegit) January 21, 2018
There is no room for selfishness and the demand of individual rights in a marriage. Children help eliminate selfishness. Having kids also teaches you about duty. Duty is critical to maintaining monogamy. Love is important, yes, but duty, loyalty, and trust hold it all together when times, inevitably, get tough.
It’s been said that if a woman respects, supports, and cares for her husband, he will respond with undying loyalty. Many accept this, but for some reason do not accept that a woman could be equally loyal. This is nonsense. In a proper monogamous marriage, both husband and wife have to make the decision to be forever loyal to one another. We made our pledges to each other and we are sticking to them. We keep them alive by putting them into practice day after day after day.
Humanity was not designed to wander through this world alone. It was meant to be shared through marriage and family. The rewards of monogamy far outstrip concerns over romantic attachments or sexual satisfaction.
When Monogamy Falters
Could one of us betray the other’s trust? Of course. By having absolute trust in each other, we also maximize our risk, our vulnerability. We can potentially devastate the other. And more than likely a partner will hurt the other at many points.
There is no specific form that this might take and it doesn’t need to be cheating. Maybe it is a fight over finances, or a fight over sex, or a fight over the children, or a fight over… anything. In the case of monogamy, adultery is considered the greatest sin. And it should be, as it is a foundational betrayal. What then?
If my wife betrayed me and came back, would I take her back? Yes, yes I would. Without question. My duty and loyalty to my wife have no strings attached, no conditions. Would I be devastated? Of course I would be. But that’s the chance I take: to be utterly destroyed. But I would have it no other way.
There can be no other way. I’ve always been struck by the Biblical story of Hosea. God instructed Hosea to marry a whore. And as whores do, she cheated on him. Hosea not only took his wife back, but paid her debt to get her back. His love for his wife had to be unconditional. Why? Because God’s love for us is equally unconditional and we’ve cheated on him so many, many times. This is a hard, hard lesson, and many (most?) will not accept it.
How do we get there?
Blogger Boxer writes of two unmarried individuals:
“This is an epistemic dilemma, of sorts. Do you have faith in the knowledge that women are all hoez, and accept this, only to find your life meaningless (my position), or do you abstain from women, holding out hope that you’ll find a unicorn, only to become embittered (your position) when one doesn’t arrive. Life is full of these funny contradictions, and I don’t have an answer.”
For many of those who are forced celibates, divorced, or promiscuous, monogamy is often treated as a false goal. I agree with Boxer here: empty sex outside the bounds of biblical marriage is meaningless and unwanted celibacy violates God’s plan for humanity, leading to feelings of despair. Divorce is just as or more devastating.
Where I disagree with Boxer is the nature of women. Most individuals who marry remain married until death and the vast majority of women do not cheat on their husbands. This does not mean that all women make good mates. And neither do all men.
Finding a proper wife is difficult and takes a lot of work. The solution is not to rush into marriage. One must follow as many key guidelines as possible and remain celibate until you can choose (and marry) a proper partner. This is, quite clearly, extremely difficult in today’s culture and in many geographic locations.
Ultimately, though, marriage is a decision involving two individuals. It can’t be forced. Nothing can change that. It must utterly break the heart of God that so many cannot experience what is obviously his plan for most. What we can do is defend and promote monogamy.
I’m no marriage expert. I hope that my experiences help others, but I don’t know if that’s possible. At the very least I will continue to fight for monogamy with all that I can.
* H/T: honeycomb
 Women are leading the increase in infidelity on both a percentage increase basis and an absolute basis. However, men are still almost twice as likely to cheat as women.
 Sidenote: Many, many marriages end without any infidelity.
 Prenuptial agreements are an acknowledgment that one or both parties do not take the marriage completely seriously. I would suggest that anyone who feels the needs for one should not get married.
 This trust should be earned to some degree and can be damaged by mistakes, but ultimately trust requires both parties to fully buy in to it. It’s not the fault of monogamy that people choose the wrong spouse or are themselves terrible spouses.
 It’s amusing when another man hits on my wife, even a bit flattering. But because I trust her (but not the man), I do not fear. This extends to close friendships with members of the opposite sex.
 I was taught as a child that people don’t want children because they are selfish and that having children forces you to take the focus off of yourself and put it onto others. I never completely understood that…until I had kids of my own. This is exactly the message of love that Jesus taught. To love God and others above yourself. So too in marriage.
 If you want to make it through having children, it also helps to have a marital foundation with a strong sense of duty.
 I’m not advocating a sexless marriage, for that would be against biblical standards and God’s design for marriage. Yet these concerns, like any other marital conflict, cannot be selfishly primary in any relationship. See “When Monogamy Falters”.
 And actively harmful to self and society. It’s wrong to sleep with another man’s wife.
 Let’s be clear: Some marriages should result in separation or divorce. This article is not directly addressing abusive relationships or bad relationships. My only point is to show what should be. It takes two willing partners to implement these things.