What Is Monogamy and Is It Realistic?

couple kissing at sunset
Photo by Andrey Yurlov/Shutterstock

Monogamy. Mating for life. Is it possible to mate for life and be happy? Yes, but like all things worthwhile you got to work for enduring pleasure and say no to alluring distractions. Not everyone’s cut out for abstaining and restraining.

Let’s be real. Monogamy, having a romantic relationship with one partner at a time, ain’t natural unless you’re a beaver, a gray wolf, or a Macaroni Penguin. And I don’t know about you, but I’m not impressed: they’re hardwired for fidelity and we’re not.

We’re built to roam.

If we weren’t, why would we need Biblical injunctions commanding us to be faithful—Or else! Steamy stories of marital infidelity are as ancient as the Bible, as vibrant and painful as the tales of the Greek gods, and as tragic as the demise of Tiger Woods and Bill Clinton. Hard to imagine anyone who hasn’t wrestled with the question: to cheat or not to cheat, to betray or to remain faithful?

In fact, 52% of respondents to a survey conducted on our website answered affirmatively to the question, “Have you ever had an affair?” In other words, infidelity is so ubiquitous that, statistically speaking, a couple has a better chance of having an affair than the Casino has at winning Blackjack!

We also asked this: Have you ever thought about cheating on your spouse? 92% answered, “Yes.” Don’t you wonder if the 8% were lying?

No surprise that God said something like “Cheat and you’re dead.” He or She designed us to salivate over forbidden fruit and then told us,” Don’t eat what isn’t yours.”

Not fair, or maybe there’s something so valuable in committing to one person for life that it pales in comparison to the fleeting pleasure of an affair.

(Twenty years ago, I co-authored a book on marital affairs, where we took a deep dive into the heart of a marital affair, its causes, and how to repair a marriage after infidelity. I mention that because a marital affair is so much more than sex. It can also be a temporary salve for loneliness and boredom.)

But right now, I’m going to assume that those of you who are reading this article don’t want to have a marital affair—that you’d like to affair-proof your marriage.

So how do you keep a monogamous relationship healthy and thriving? 

  • Communicate well. Speak your truth with kindness and listen with an open heart and mind. Be curious about your partner. When you’re not, your partner might be drawn to someone who is. When you share your dreams, desires, hopes, and fears, you grow together. Nothing is more satisfying than seeing and being seen.
  • Indulge in dates. Go out together. Act like it’s your first date. Back then, you desired each other. Now it may take a bit more effort to ignite the flame. But if you choose it, you can. A wonderful relationship is earned through small acts of kindness, attention to the other, and expressing your desire and love.
  • Fuel the flames of passion and tend them well. People who have affairs often blame it on their boring and predictable sex life. So be creative. Have an affair with your partner. Think about what turns your partner on and do it. Sexy talk is a good beginning. Have an open and honest discussion about your sexual desires and interests whether it be new toys, new positions, moves, and other fun stuff. This is how to set sexual fires aflame.
  • Work together toward life goals and dreams. When you slowly drift away from one another and neglect your shared goals and aspirations then affairs become an antidote to the pain of being disconnected. Invest, invest, invest. Neglect your relationship and you’ll lose it. Take responsibility for the quality of your connection and you won’t want to wander.
  • Resist temptations. There are always temptations in life and with each one we make decisions—to partake or to decline. Think of the love you have for your partner and the layers of consequences that come with an affair. Is it worth it? What are you doing to improve your relationship? Understand…no matter how careful you are, you are going to eventually get caught! Always remember the promise of fidelity you have made—every decision has a consequence.
  • If possible, travel often—take new adventures. Traveling together (on long trips or even a day trip) will give you the chance to break the routine, experience new things together, and welcome new insights into your relationship. A secret ingredient to a happy, monogamous relationship is staying busy together. Have fun with your lover every chance you get.
  • Keep a circle of close friends. Be sure that you have your own friends who can give you positive support. Sometimes, all you need is an objective opinion from someone you trust other than your partner. This may give you the chance to see things from your partner’s point of view and realize that they have opinions too.
  • Patience is key. Do not lose your temper over the trivial things that can be negotiated and remedied. Remember that your partner needs what you need: understanding, compassion, love, affection, respect, attention, playfulness, and open communication. When your partner is happy, they in turn will make you happy, and you will find less reasons to find fault, argue, feel unhappy, and cheat.
  • Delight your loved one with surprises. Create happy moments by surprising your loved one for no reason. Whether it’s buying flowers or shopping for something you know your partner enjoys, never stop trying to please and delight. If your partner is the one doing the surprising, be sure to let them know how appreciative you are—never ridicule or demean and be sure to respond in kind. Remember to recognize and compliment your partner often.
  • Set healthy boundaries. Boundaries are important because they set relationship expectations: They reflect how you want others to treat you and how you will treat them. In romantic relationships, boundaries are based on beliefs and shared values about how you want to live, what you need to be romantically intimate, and what you believe leads to a fulfilling life.
  • Be sure there is a balance of power. Relationships often fail because both parties cannot maintain a healthy balance of power. Do not let one person call all the shots, because the other will certainly feel less of a person and become increasingly unhappy.

When we decide we want to travel through life in a monogamist relationship, we are agreeing to share power and life choices with our partner in distinctive and trusting ways. In doing so, we put our hearts, minds, bodies, and lifestyle in their hands as well as our own. If you choose to have a monogamous relationship, the key factors for its success are honesty and integrity.

Michael Tobin, PhD. has been a family and couples’ therapist for over 40 years. His new book, Riding the Edge: A Love Song to Deborah (River Grove Books, July 20, 2021), chronicles the personal journey he took with his wife-to-be on their path to becoming one…over 40 years ago. For more information visit www.drmichaeltobin.com.

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