I recently finished Paulo Coelho’s newest book titled “Adultery”. The subject is exactly as the title states and involves a woman’s journey from marriage to the temptations of an extra-marital affair and the ultimate resolution/consequences . I won’t give too many details as I don’t wish to spoil it for you, but I will say that thought the middle of the book got a little bit far-fetched, the overall story, thought processes and moral dilemma presented were solid and realistic. (Do note that “realistic “ is often not necessarily a happy ending.)
As you know, during my recent trip to my Seattle, I had the opportunity to discuss this (and many other) subjects with an old high school friend of mine, and contrast my lifestyle to hers. As a regular reader of my blog, she followed up with me and was interested in elaborating her views while asking me to write about mine. Since I really enjoy answering questions and providing feedback I ‘ll all to happy to oblige, especially because this is a subject that comes up a lot.
My friend is the portrait of what many people see as the ideal relationship / marriage. She has been with her high school sweetheart for some seventeen years now and still very happy in her marriage. I haven’t seen or spoken to this man since high school, but he was good-natured and devoted to her then, so I have a feeling he is much the same now (judging especially from the photos and what-not I see on Facebook.) They have a house, two adorable children, and if they don’t have a white picket fence, I’m going to suggest she get one. Her marriage is one of two I can think of that have the chance to be that rare, older (not even “elderly” really) adorable couple celebrating their fiftieth anniversary.
At some point during our conversations in Seattle, my friend(s) and I got to talking about relationships and those that sometimes decide to include a third party (or more) in their sex life. I’ve been involved in situations like that in the past (both as inviter and invitee) and I mentioned I’ve observed it bringing a new element into the bedroom and sometimes reviving a situation that may have become routine or mundane. Later, my friend commented that she believed that if that happens with your partner, they may not be the right person for you. She said: “I believe that when you are with the right person, sex should only get better and I don’t think that you need to add additional parties to make this happen.” Further in the conversation she elaborated that every couple has problems, and the key was to attack those problems when they are small. She gave an example of a friend of hers who is married but hasn’t had sex with her husband in (literally) years. She hit the nail on the head when she said the solution was communication, and should’ve happened a long time ago. The years (or even months barring medical conditions…) without sex are abnormal and destructive to the marriage. I agreed that it was a total communication breakdown at it’s core, but where her and I may differ is that I actually believe that such communication is MORE important even than basic monogamy.
Allow me to explain: I often wish / fantasize about having the sort of situation that my friend has. I won’t say everyone does, as times are changing and the “ideal” relationship can differ very much depending on the individual. But many people (including me) still dream of finding “the one” on some level and living happily ever after. However, finding that person is difficult and as my friend pointed out, even the “perfect” marriage goes through dry spells and requires effort on both parties to continue to be a giving situation for both. So, when things go wrong you encounter one of two scenarios:
1. This is a problem we need to work out, but we’ll get past it and get stronger.
2. One or both of us is no longer the right person for this relationship. Either we weren’t from the beginning, or things have changed and instead of growing together, we have grown apart.
There’s nothing “wrong” with either of these situations. Sometimes things simply are what they are and no amount of good faith effort will fix them. But let’s focus on situation one, because once you’re in situation two, it’s just a matter of admitting and accepting it (which unfortunately can take a number of years anyway… and I can blog about that in the future…)
When a problem grows into an otherwise great, loving relationship, the vast majority of the time is the lack of honest communication. When almost any issue is addressed straightforwardly, constructively and honestly, the majority of the time it can be resolved. If they cannot, there’s a good chance you fall into situation two above. VERY often I hear a primary issue of long-time couples is a stale or near nonexistent sex life. I can tell you now that even as a 35 year old bachelor I don’t have the obsessive drive I had in my mid twenties, but I’m talking a couple of days off as opposed to weeks, months or years. Why does this happen? Routine? Insecurity? Too busy? All of the above? It happens because one or both parties is no longer excited about the prospect, it’s not longer turning them on. Then, the situation becomes one-sided and turns into “work” instead of “play” for one or both parties. Situations like this are what lead to people finding alternatives: Porn (individually.. and I’m not saying this is necessarily bad as it can excite one of both partners..) Toys (again, CAN be a good thing, all about how they are used…) and eventually other people (my friend doesn’t agree, but this can also end up a positive situation.)
The solution again is wide open communication. But what get in the way is that people are afraid to tell their partners what they want. After years, they worry about damaging their ego, being judged for something different they are craving, or coming across too needy or unreasonable for being wanted. But I believe there’s nothing wrong with wanting something else or having expectations of your spouse on a sexual level. If this is an ideal “forever” pairing, a partnership, both have to try to give the other what they need. So many people are brought up on the outdated belief that love and sex have to be exclusive (and if that’s your preference more power to you), but it’s scientifically proven that this is simply not the case. But instead of talking to their partner and being wide open about their deepest, darkest desires, they bottle it up, feel ashamed and tell themselves they are “wrong” for wanting these things. Then they try to pretend they are okay with the routine they have, but lying to yourself like that never ends well, and the all too common feeling of feeling “trapped” sets in.
One day, they come across somebody who is flirty and seems interested in them superficially. Normally they probably wouldn’t even give the possibility a second thought, but two things come into play: 1. Human nature magnifies the feeling of wanting something when you feel you can’t have it (the initial desire has to be there first though.) and 2. Compared to their spouse, this person is not connected to their “real life” and is for all intents an purposes, a toy. There is no marriage, no children and no responsibility to be an ideal spouse in this situation. The opportunity arises to be fun, flirty, desired and greedy. They get to demand what they want and if the person doesn’t like it, they are more or less discardable without issue. The freedom is a huge turn-on, especially for somebody that has gotten into the habit of having to repress themselves. I hate to bring Disney into this conversation, but this is the chance for them to “Let it go.” Sometimes it’s a fling and nothing comes of it, others they are found out, or can’t handle the guilt and the world comes crashing down. But it’s only a temporary solution either way, eventually the problem marriage still exists, or it’s been destroyed.
So, how do you avoid a situation like this? I keep mentioning communication, but on a whole different level. I’m talking about a soul-bearing, demon revealing, perverse, fucked up, this might hurt your feeling but you need to know this, holy shit this is scary but only you are worthy of this level of communication. This is supposed to be your life partner, so you have to be willing to tell your deepest, darkest secrets and show them all the sides they signed up for before you end up feeling like you need to show that to somebody else. Once the communication is on that level, you can figure out how to work it out (or not. As it’s possible they simply can’t handle what you have to say, at which point I would be more likely to say you fall into option two above.)
Regardless sometimes that communication alone will solve the problem through new activities (red room anyone?) But where I disagree with my friend I mentioned earlier though, is that when this communication takes place, it’s possible that another person, or even some other people might be discussed. As far as I’m concerned, that’s ok. It doesn’t necessarily mean you’re with the wrong person. As long as the relationship has a totally open and honest level of communication, including potential feelings of pride, jealousy and inadequacy, and they are addressed respectfully with a constructive solution sought, then I don’t believe infidelity has occurred regardless of who does what with who. The bond between two people who love each other is not merely based on the physical, and to say that somebody being involved with a different person negates a legendary bond of love is just ridiculous. What matters is the trust. If that is intact, so too should be the bond.
When I have these conversations, people try to flip it on me. They say: “Well that’s very ideal, but what if the love of your life came to you and told you she wanted to be with somebody else sexually, or that she already had but she still loved you! Could you really still be with her?” Short answer: Yes, probably. Longer answer: If she had already done so, I would be pretty upset, pissed even to the point I might need some time. But would I end it right away? No. I would try for the level of communication I mentioned above. I would need to understand why she needed it, and what the solution was. If I was satisfied with it, and I felt I could trust her based on that communication, I could stay. In fact, once, a long time ago I already did. But then many years later when I was similarly tested, I couldn’t open up and be that honest, I couldn’t bear my soul and make myself vulnerable, and so, I lost. Rarely is it the actions that will kill a real relationship, but the reasons behind them that are locked away and never addressed.
When love and trust and that level of communication exist, I believe the right people for each other can overcome almost anything. Then again, that’s awfully romantic of me… what do I know?