Why should we be monogamous?
Fidelity in monogamy, the commitment to one sexual partner at a time, has been both advocated and challenged over the years. It has been promoted as the right, moral and only acceptable conduct, — or as a restrictive, unnatural invention of society.
Scientists have studied other living species and compared them to humans on both sides of the argument. Social, biological, medical, historical, and religious reasons were cited extensively in the debates about monogamy.
I would like to maintain that psychologically, fidelity is imperative for intimacy. Infidelity shakes the basic foundation necessary for emotional security and safety in love. Ongoing intimacy is precluded when one or both partners stray.
During the 1970’s the practice of “open marriage” was introduced, where partners, by mutual agreement, engaged in extra marital sexual affairs. This arrangement was then thought by some people, to be the epitome of marital health. Those who supported that view claimed that if the couple was clear about their primary connection, they could easily handle their spouses’ infidelity. Many articles, radio talk show hosts and others enthusiastically endorsed the “new, enlightened” theory. The facts were that none of the couples I personally knew, who participated in this practice, stayed together. It is estimated that 85% of the open marriage couples ended up in divorce. The divorce rate for monogamous couples is 50 percent, for second marriages 65 percent. Many of the open marriage couples suffered greatly then, and thereafter, from the repercussions of their behavior. The notion that open infidelity could be joyfully experienced and keep the primary union unaffected, was found not only to be false, but extremely destructive.
One of the most important aspects of love is trust. Without trust, there is no emotional safety, no security about being loved, and thus no true intimacy. Infidelity violates the essential joy of being uniquely chosen by the partner. Dr. A.H. Maslow, the famed Humanistic Psychologist developed in 1954 a model of the hierarchy of human needs. His model depicts a five-tier pyramid. He stated that our PHYSIOLOGICAL NEEDS ( such as food, shelter and clothing), are at the base of the hierarchy. Then come the needs for SAFETY followed by BELONGING. The ESTEEM NEEDS are then topped by SELF-ACTUALIZATION. Safety and belonging are primary and essential components of people’s sense of well being.
Marriages and other committed relationships are the core units of belonging. We identify our connection to others first through our immediate partners, then our families, community, special circles of friends and affiliations, our town, state, country. Belonging entails a connection to something we trust to be stable, supportive, nurturing and health promoting. In marriage we delight in having been selected by our beloved above all other candidates, to belong to a new entity. A consistent state of belonging provides emotional safety. Fidelity supports this union.
The power of marriage and family bonds in human survival has been repeatedly documented. Jared Diamond, the modern physiologist and Pulitzer Prize writer on human biology and cultures, studied the records of the survivors of the Donner Pass tragedy. He discovered that the longest survivors were the families, rather than the young, single healthy males. This surprising data led him to surmise that belonging to a family added a significant life force not found in the single people involved in this trauma.
Medical studies report that among older males of comparable medical condition, married men are healthier and live longer than their single counterparts. Research found that women who are supported by other close women friends fare better health-wise, than more isolated lonelier women. When we belong, we feel cared about, we care for others and our significance upholds our life force. The human connection is vital in health and well being. Marriage and other primary attachments are significant in keeping a strong will to live and emotional endurance.
Being sexually intimate cements our love and declares the distinctiveness of a specific relationship. It is a declaration that we have elected to be emotionally and physically united with one other preferred individual. There are many references in the Bible, literature, poetry, music, etc. of the merging of two people into one. That unique coupling is far more than sexual. It is the deepest nonverbal expression of trust, attraction, love and desire for oneness. It doesn’t only feel physically pleasurable, but is sensually and emotionally binding. It is the expression of complete acceptance of another through unconditional love. This form of love is the purest validation one can receive, which simulates the complete admiration and awe of a mother toward her newborn baby.
Only through experiencing unconditional love, do we reach a feeling of momentary wholeness. This type of deep union can not be maintained without monogamy. Feeling uniquely and intimately cherished dissipates when it is no longer exclusive.
One does not necessarily have to be committed to have sex, but the truly intimate, spiritual joining of lovers toward wholeness, requires unquestioned monogamy.