'New Monogamy' isn't new or monogamous, but it might save your marriage (Huffington Post)

This article was originally published on Huffington Post.

In the words of Australia's favourite modern-day domestic philosopher, Kath Day-Knight: "Oh no, Kim, monogamy's very old fashioned. You want a veneer of monogamy. That's all people care about these days."

It's kinda strange to think that hundreds of years ago -- you know, before property ownership, patriarchy, religion and capitalism drummed us all into the tired social construct of monogamous bliss -- humans happily roamed the planet in bonobo-inspired communities with multiple sexual partners. The sun continued to rise and set. Food was harvested and eaten. Children were conceived and raised. People fell in and out of love.

Oh, and everyone banged. Loads.

I mean, it's hardly an earth-shattering idea when you think about it -- that not all people are the same, and we might therefore require various relationship constructs at different points in our lives.

Despite some shared values, the notion of a new monogamy isn't exactly the same as polyamory, given its fundamental focus remains on the one primary long-term relationship or marriage. I suppose it's more like an open-partnership, but sounds way less scandalous at family dinner parties.

Now, this wouldn't be a semi-respectable article about monogamy and the flailing state of modern marriage if it didn't include some hardly-researched numbers. So here they bloody are: according to statistics (and there are plenty floating around) close to 30 percent of marriages currently end in divorce, 30-60 percent of surviving marriages aren't strictly monogamous -- and roughly 34 percent of women and 56 percent of men having extramarital affairs insist that they're perfectly happy in their marriages. If these numbers are even slightly close to accurate, surely it's indication enough that we should at least consider re-evaluating our criminalising perceptions of infidelity.

Let's take a minute to break it all the way down.

Born at the height of America's divorce rate in the 1980s -- and battling the seemingly inevitable disillusionment of our parents' marriages -- it makes perfect sense that we're witnessing an emerging preference among millennials for social monogamy as opposed to sexual monogamy. We're curious little shits, and -- despite the all-consuming misery it seems to cause baby boomers -- we're starting to question things.

Though, to our slight discredit, it's not really a new idea. In fact, the term "flexible monogamy" was coined in the 1970s by Dr. Robert Francouer and his wife Anna in their fabulously titled book, Hot and Cool Sex. (Interestingly, the notion of flexibility has also been gaining steam in the world of mental health, having been explored in recent years by therapists and relationship counsellors through Acceptance Commitment Therapy (ACT) in the treatment of anxiety and depression. But that's another article altogether.)

The book presents a compelling argument as to the counter-productivity of approaching monogamy in a one-size-fits-all way; suggesting that we'd be better off engaging in an ongoing open dialogue with our partners. Of course, the book was ahead of its time, and it has taken much of the world over 40 years to grapple with the concept that lifelong fidelity simply isn't realistic for many people.

Held as a poor-man's leverage against the LGBTI community's ongoing fight for marriage equality, Australian politicians are now dropping buzzwords such as "monogamish" (coined by American sex columnist Dan Savage) as way of devaluing same-sex relationships. Bob Day, Senator for South Australia, recently asked in parliament: "If this bill seeks marriage equality, what is it trying to protect equally? What relationships then are not marriages? Why would redefining marriage stop at same-sex relationships? The bill talks about two people, but why not three?"

But new monogamy isn't a gay thing. It's not a queer or trans thing. Monogamish isn't a rash you'll catch while dancing naked down Oxford Street or sitting on a public toilet. It's real, it's common -- and it's already being backed by some pretty incredible minds.

In her article 'The New Monogamy', published in the Psychotherapy Networker journal, author Tammy Nelson tackles the notion that infidelity can no longer be viewed as simply another symptom of dysfunctional marriages.

"The new monogamy is, baldly speaking, the recognition that, for an increasing number of couples, marital attachment involves a more fluid idea of connection to the primary partner than is true of the old monogamy. Within the new notion of monogamy, each partner assumes that the other is, and will remain, the main attachment, but that outside attachments of one kind or another are allowed -- as long as they don't threaten the primary connection.
"The key to these arrangements, and what makes them meaningful within the framework of emotional commitment, is that there can be no secrecy between partners about the arrangements. The fidelity resides in the fact that these couples work out openly and together what will be and not be allowed in their relationships with Party C, and maybe Parties D, E, and F. To couples engaged in the new monogamy, it isn't outside sexual relationships themselves, but the attendant secrets, lies, denial, silences, and hidden rendezvous that make them so destructive to the marriage. Rightly or wrongly, today, many couples consider that honesty and openness cleanse affairs, rendering them essentially harmless."

Look, I know, it's a pretty awkward pill to swallow. Perhaps downright gag-worthy to some. Should the subject of new monogamy be raised at my family Christmas barbecue, it would most likely be met with a long, drunken string of judgmental sighs, eye-rolls and pearl-clutching. Yet, each of my aunties and uncles have been divorced and re-married. Each have struggled on some level with infidelity. Each might've benefited, at one time or another, from a more flexible, realistic -- and, arguably, natural -- approach to love and committed relationships.

I'm not saying it's the right or only way -- but embracing a newer version of monogamy might just be one promising antidote to the fatal seven-year-itch and high divorce rates.

In fact, it might be what saves monogamy altogether.


Samuel Leighton-Dore