On Not Becoming Unhinged, Ctd

by Chris Bodenner

A reader writes:

Regardless of my views on the moral or evolutionary arguments, I was struck by the egocentrism and entitlement in your reader's post about his wife's changed sexual responses. I certainly empathize with his frustration, but the reality is that his wife bore the burden of birth control, and the physical consequences of that choice. Now she's faced with the possibility of a lifetime of painful and/or unsatisfying sex. His "getting it elsewhere" would mean she bears that burden on her own, too.

She likely thinks about and wants satisfying sex, too; but she doesn't have the option of exploring less "laborious" pastures.

Non-monogamy increases the stereotypical gender gaps - the female is responsible for the childbearing - and "suffers" all of the ramifications of that - before (risking her health with birth control choices), during (obviously it's all on her), and after birth (not only in changes to her body's physical "beauty" as defined by cultural norms, but in this case - and many - in terms of her sexual responsiveness, as well). Meanwhile, the male continues on his merry way, physically un-impacted by the whole inconvenient biological process of adding to his family - looks intact, health intact, sex drive intact.

Men cannot, physiologically, share all of this "burden" with their partners, but at least in a monogamous relationship they're committed to sharing some of the emotional and relational ramifications. I think it's naive to believe that a "temporary" extra-relational sexual encounter - that was satisfying and fun - would not lead to increased dissatisfaction with the current state of the marriage. I think we can just look to all of the affairs that lead to divorces and new marriages to recognize the enticement of a new and exciting relationship.

And, would most men honestly think it was OK if their wives found sexual satisfaction elsewhere if THEY were the ones whose sex drive/ability had changed (ex. as a result of injury or illness)? And if not, why not? What would they want from their wives in this situation? Perhaps if they reflected on a "shoe on the other foot" scenario, they'd be less likely to bemoan their "entitlement" to good sex.

Monogamy takes work and commitment, and sometimes sacrifice. And, I would suggest that relationships in which each partner knows that the other willingly and lovingly accepts them as they are (that whole sickness and health thing!), and is eager to work within the relationship to create happiness and satisfaction (sexual and otherwise) for both of them  are the most stable and joy-filled over the long run.

Your reader feels like a demon (I truly sympathize with his desires and his guilt), and I'd wager that his wife feels guilty and inadequate for her inability to satisfy her husband. These are two people who are hurting, and it is sad for both of them. I hardly think, though, that non-monogamy would resolve those negative emotions for either of them - perhaps replace them with other negative feelings.

Monogamy should not mean let's stay together and exclusive no matter how miserable we are. The power and grace of monogamy  is realized when both partners are committed to finding ways to overcome that misery WITHIN the relationship - when they actively and creatively work TOGETHER through the inevitable small and big crises that are a part of life.

I don't think your reader's fantasies of non-monogamy in any way help him improve his marriage; and I definitely don't think acting on those fantasies would be helpful, either. I hope - for his sake, his wife's, and his son's - that he and his wife can work together to develop a satisfying sex life within their marriage, and that their relationship becomes stronger and more joyful and fulfilling - not just because of improved sex, but because they experience the shared satisfaction and pride in knowing they defied the odds and made monogamy really work.

Many excellent points.  But I should point out one key detail from the previous reader: he and his wife were already on the edge of divorce before he even considered non-monogamy. So perhaps some sort of open arrangement could salvage the marriage if it gets close to divorce again. (Then again, such an arrangement could make a inevitable divorce that much more painful and spiteful, particularly now that there is a kid in the picture.)