Cheating in Relationships: An Honest Response
by LiYana Silver
Cheating in relationships rears its hurtful head everywhere, and I don’t have to tell you it’s a devastating killer. What if there were an option to cheating in relationships that didn’t have to involve fiery break-ups and divorce lawyers; that didn’t have to spell betrayal and dishonesty; and that didn’t have to make enemies of allies? And what if this option challenged how we define the gold standard of relationships: monogamy?
Although love, intimacy, sex and relationship are often the most important areas in our lives, they are also where we experience the most confusion and suffering. Cheating in relationships is one at the top of the pile of confusion and suffering. Additionally, the relationship models we have inherited don’t fit us so well. We have few tools or skills with which to navigate relationships we are in. Or we can’t seem to find one at all.
Cheating in relationships is one of the most painful ways we “break the rules.” However, cheating actually has more to do with the rules (spoken and unspoken) that are broken with the act of cheating, than the act itself. It is therefore essential to fully define, and even re-define, the rules by which we live out our relationships.
Cheating in relationships: is there an honest response to this dishonest act? I want you to hear more, inspired by the timely question of a reader and client below.
In an intentional community in New Mexico, I was raised on liberal doses of critical thinking, self-expression, and interpersonal relating. During the span of my career from modern dancer to business consultant to nutritional counselor to relationship coach and teacher, I have developed irreverently reverent perspectives on relationships, love and sex. As the traditional boundaries of life and love seem less and less applicable to our current lives, I notice that navigating sex and relationship in the quickly-evolving landscape of 21st century life calls for nothing short of a revolution of relationship re-definition.
Let me introduce myself: LiYana Silver, Relationship Expert. Consider me your intrepid guide on your joyride to your relationship edges. I am honored to have my life defined by my exquisite relationship, now marriage – a co-created work of art – which has been workshop, crucible and launching pad for life and love.
Let me introduce a question from one of my readers, “Does Monogamy need to be re-defined for today’s couples to have any chance at longevity?”
Well, as far as the dictionary is concerned, monogamy already has a definition. Webster’s (or, more accurately, the excellent dictionary that accompanies my computer’s word-processing program) puts it like this: “Monogamy: The practice or state of being married to one person at a time; the practice or state of having a sexual relationship with only one partner.” Pretty clear. And no, I don’t intend to keep addressing your question like a smart alec! I bring up the dictionary’s denotation of monogamy so that I can to reach beyond it to monogamy’s connotation: monogamy as a relationship lifestyle and outlook on love, sex and partnered life; monogamy as sexual exclusivity; monogamy as marriage. And this monogamy, I would say, is in grand need of re-definition.
Another way to phrase your question might be, do we need sexual monogamy and marriage to stay together for the long haul? By examining the relevancy of marriage and sexual monogamy, longevity also gets thrown under scrutiny as well.
Life is changing, and fast. For many of us, culture has flung its doors wide open and said, “You choose!” We live in an era exploding with choice – where to live, how to live, with whom and for how long. Never before has the cultural conversation leaned so far in the direction of personal choice. Never before have we been as encouraged as now to consider that following our personal bliss is the ultimate directive to inform one’s life path. At the same time, we still live in a culture that holds the relationship gold standard to be: find-a-soul-mate-or-at-least-someone-you-can-stand-get-a-ring-get-married-have-a-kid-or-2.3-and-live-happily-ever-after. There is tremendous pressure to be everything to one another, to get all your needs met by one person. And of course, in the middle of those cultural pushes and pulls, the models of relationship passed down from just the previous generation are less relevant to the our day to day lives. I’m sure you know a relationship or two that have longevity going for them, but nothing else.
Healthy, functional longevity assumes that your two lives go in relatively the same direction for a period of time. I have heard it said that marriages “worked” when the life expectancy for the average human being was 30-40 years. We’re up to something like 65-75 years now, living more than twice as long as when marriage “worked.” To have a life-time’s worth of longevity in your relationship you need to be relatively well-matched in most areas, including career direction, managing money, family and social circles, having children, rearing children as well as preference of sexuality and geographic location. It is a tall order to expect that two individuals will want the same things throughout a partnership of possibly a lifetime’s length, pragmatically speaking. Especially when there is cultural encouragement to live life based on your personal directive.
Please don’t misunderstand: I am in no way saying there is anything wrong with a lifetime partnership of monogamy. It can be infinitely more simple and satisfying than some other relationship concoction, to be sure! However, we have been taught that we should just find love, and somehow it will all fall into place. But love is not enough for a successful and sustainable relationship. Nor is it enough anymore to fit one’s self into the standard cultural model of monogamy. A relationship that is lasting and sustainable, in which the individuals are happy fulfilled and challenged for a long as the relationship lasts; that in and of itself is a powerful re-definition of the monogamy we know and have inherited. And this kind of monogamy requires looking under the hood of the relationship vehicle, not just climbing in and hoping for the best. It requires a bit of a radical overhaul and a set of skills not provided in movies, school curriculum or most family dinner conversations; skills for communication, adaptation, and navigating the large questions of life and partnership.
I look at the process of re-defining like taking the lid off of what you are SUPPOSED to do, examining it, keeping the bits that work for you, leaving the rest. For most of us, this is a new and confronting task. Peeking under the lid will bring up all kinds of interesting things, including how long you want the relationship to last. Maybe you don’t want till death do you part. Maybe there is a natural life and death of a relationship, and if it ends before life does, it is not a failure. The father of a dear friend of mine has had a series of 10-year relationships over the course of his life. He’s on his 3rd rich and wonderful one, and certainly doesn’t consider himself a failure at relationship or marriage. Maybe you don’t want just one sexual partner. Ours is a generation groomed on sexual choice, pre-sold on sex. It is just as natural for people to want to pair up for life as it is to be gregarious, flirtatious, and sexually experimentative. Humans are complex beings, with sexual and sensual curiosities abounding. But sexuality aside, it is preposterous to expect you can get all of your needs met by one person. Re-defining monogamy must include, then, a look at what it is possible to get from your partner, and what is best gotten outside the relationship, to ease the pressure on the partnership and feed the complex beings within the partnership.
Consulting your own heart at least as much as our cultural norms is not just a novel nicety afforded by modern life, it is also a necessity. Depression, suicidal tendencies, schizophrenia, and general numbness can be caused by all kinds of reasons, including genetics, history, family, diet, environment, astrology, karma, gender, pre-destiny, seasons or hormones. More importantly, it can also be caused by being un-aligned with your personal truth and not living according to what you hold most sacred, inspiring and exciting.
But does following your personal bliss inevitably lead you away from monogamy? Does it lead you to want more than one sexual partner, or reconsider marriage as the ideal container for relationship? Does it encourage irresponsibility? Maybe. But, of course not necessarily.
To re-define monogamy is to invoke adaptability and responsibility – the ABILITY to ADAPT and RESPOND; it is to become a relationship entrepreneur. What are most needed are the necessary skills to navigate ANY relationship, to have it last as long you desire, monogamous or not. To re-define monogamy is to go beyond the definition in the dictionary, or the model that was handed down to you like too-tight tennis shoes, and create a model that is relevant to you and your life, that you love.
And from a client, “Is the desire for monogamy a concept that is culturally inbred and encouraged, or it truly a primal urge innate in most of us?”
My simple answer is YES.
YES, monogamy as the culturally accepted norm for relationships is definitely inbred and encouraged. If you were to throw a dart into a wall of DVD movie rentals, you will likely pierce one that is all about finding the perfect soul mate, being faithful and blissful, happily ever after, forever and ever.
I certainly can’t speak for “most of us” but YES, monogamy is certainly an urge innate in many of us.
We, the human species, tend to use the lenses of cultural trends, science, anthropology or sociology to attempt to make sense of our humanity – caught as we are somewhere twixt our animal instincts and our abilities to be rational, self-conscious and contemplative of the divine. These lenses attempt to define what is natural, and hence, what is unnatural. We look for common threads and search for proof as an attempt to determine a direction to point ourselves in for our best life. But among humans, there’s no control group. What the herd is currently doing, what the herd did historically or what it means to go against the herd is just one metric to judge a life by; it is just one system or standard to use to direct your life.
We are always looking for THE answer, but it is also useful to spend at least as much time looking for YOUR answer. Are you a person for whom monogamy is an intrinsic urge, a means to be most fulfilled and connected this lifetime? Or are you a person who is happy to lift the constraints of monogamy so as to create the relationship most suited to your expression and satisfaction? Are you listening close enough to see when that might change for you, and do you have the skills to adapt as your needs change?
It is difficult to look toward culture for any kind of standard, since no culture is completely homogeneous. Within any culture there are sub-cultures – a constant, dynamic morphing as the culture converses with life. As culture changes, its desire for monogamy can also change.
It is also difficult to look solely toward science. Often science looks to the animal world to give us strange human creatures some guidance in what is “natural.” Some animal species mate for life and are poster children for loyalty and fidelity. Some use sexual intercourse with multiple and copious numbers of partners as a means for creating and maintaining social harmony. Some eat their mates after copulation. Any concept can be proven scientifically, partly due to the extraordinary variations in the observable world, and partly due to the viewpoints and agendas of the funders of said scientific study.
It is equally difficult to look toward anthropology. There are theories that support pair bonding as the healthiest and best means of survival, and there are theories that extol the virtues of an entire village raising a child. A colleague once told me of a tribe from South America, where a woman is expected to choose one man to be the biological father of her child, another one or two that will raise and look after the child with her, and several others with whom she will have intercourse with while pregnant, so as to impart their qualities to her developing baby. Granted, I am not sure if this is an actual tribe discovered by some intrepid anthropologist, or created by a hopeful sociologist as a fascinating alternative for child rearing and monogamy. Regardless, it is a cultural norm a tad different than the one we find ourselves steeped in, to be sure!
And of course, it is just as difficult to look toward your own instincts or desires. There can be an assumption that if you remove the SHOULDs imposed by culture, your desires will rise to the top like cream. Making your way through cultural influences toward your own innate desires requires self-awareness, the ability to go where no man or woman has gone before, and the willingness to be inner-directed, rather than governed by custom. I believe what is “natural” are those desires that bring you the most joy, fulfillment and sense of contribution. But that is my personal definition, created by a mind encouraged to think freely, within a greatly privileged culture that hasn’t ostracized me for plodding upstream against the current of convention.
I say look to – and then beyond – both nature and nurture in order to create a life and a love that is born of you and resembles you thoroughly. I assert it is better to have a relationship that is imperfect but based on your own deliberate choices than to have one that is retro-fitted to someone else’s version of perfection. At the end of the day, I say marry yourself to your own oxymoronic nature. Take what deeply resonates with you and leave the rest.