Surviving Infidelity: Is Monogamy Normal?

A wife comes home from work in the middle of the day and finds her husband at home too. He was just leaving. She is surprised to see his car at home and didn't know that he'd be there.

Bounding out of the garage to say hello, he startles her. She jumps out of her daydream. She was deep in thought, wondering what she'd do if she found him sleeping with someone.

Just like in the movies.

"What are you doing here?" he says.

"What are you doing here?" she says.

Maybe it was because she had just seen Silver Lining Playbook, in which there is--shall we say--an "incident" that involved coming home from work in the middle of the day.

Here, in real life, the woman jokes that she is coming home to meet him for a lunch-time tryst. She was unusually explicit. This put the husband on his heels for a moment as he puzzled over if she was serious. He smiles in a way that says, "Naw, you wouldn't do that...would you?"

The tilt of his head and raise of one eyebrow beg the question.

They beg the question for what seems like a long time.

"I forgot something and had to swing by to grab it," she says, snapping him back to reality, but not before he lingers on this thought, "People married 20 years don't do that, do they?"

He stands erect, smile vanishing. "Of course," he says. "I was just working from home before the meeting this afternoon."

They exchange a lighthearted smile. It's a fun and playful connection.

Later that evening, the wife approaches him to go to bed and make love. During pillow talk, she confesses her daytime nightmare about finding him in bed with someone.

He laughs.
She is serious.

She confesses that she planned out how she would be from that day forward, after meeting his mistress.

"I would not accept divorce," she says matter-of-factly, so therefore we would no longer have any sex. You could have sex with whoever you wanted. I wouldn't care."

After a while she cracks a smile.

But the lines on his forehead are creased.

"Wow. I had no idea," he said, eyes widening. "I wouldn't accept divorce either, I guess," he thinks aloud. "Would you really let me..."

She cuts him off. "Oh I can't believe that you..."

"No, no. Let me finish. I had no idea that you would...damn, that's pretty hot."

"I can't believe you!" she says, feeling him completely aroused.

Now she's lost her mojo.

"This little date of ours," she huffs, turning her back to him, "is over."


In my post about porn I wrote about what is known as the Coolidge effect. The term gets the name from an old joke told about Calvin Coolidge when he was President.

The President and Mrs. Coolidge were being shown [separately] around an experimental government farm. When [Mrs. Coolidge] came to the chicken yard she noticed that a rooster was mating very frequently. She asked the attendant how often that happened and was told, “Dozens of times each day.” Mrs. Coolidge said, “Tell that to the President when he comes by.” Upon being told, the President asked, “Same hen every time?” The reply was, “Oh, no, Mr. President, a different hen every time.” President: “Tell that to Mrs. Coolidge.”

Are men just meant to be sex machines looking for novel partners to satisfy nature's insurance policy for sowing the human gene pool as widely as possible?


 The Monogamy Myth

Peggy Vaughn was perhaps the first person to talk openly in the wider media about her struggle to stay married to her husband because of his repeated infidelity. When Monica Lewinsky was only seven years old, Vaughn and her husband were on The Phil Donahue Show talking about surviving infidelity in their own marriage.

Vaughn died recently. In fact, she died on the same day that CIA Director David Petraeus sent his resignation letter to President Obama after public reports of his affair with Paula Broadwell.

Surviving infidelity

You could say Peggy Vaughn wrote the book on affairs. One of them is called The Monogamy Myth. In her keynote address to the Smart Marriages Conference (Washington, DC, 1999), she wrote about how the biggest mistake married people make is to assume that an affair shouldn't happen in their marriage.

Here's what else she had to say about monogamy and surviving infidelity: 

Why Affairs Happen: (A combination of three different kinds of factors.)

  • Factors that PUSH people into affairs (problems/faults/shortcomings of individuals or relationship).
  • Factors that PULL people into affairs (excitement, curiosity, enhanced self-image, “falling in love”).
  • Societal factors that CONTRIBUTE to affairs (fascination with affairs, using sex to sell, deception learned as teens due to our inability to talk honestly about sexual issues, and the secrecy surrounding this issue that serves to protect those having affairs from dealing with the consequences of their actions).

Surviving Infidelity-How to Prevent Affairs:

  • What will NOT work: Assuming it can’t happen to you, being “in love,” promising to be faithful, threats or ultimatums, religious commandments, having more children, repeating the marriage vows, spicing up your sex life, trying to be “perfect,” and trying to meet all your partner’s needs.
  • What is MORE LIKELY to work: Being aware that no one is immune from having an affair, making a commitment to honesty (rather than just a promise of monogamy), and engaging in ongoing, honest communication about everything that impacts your relationship, including attractions to others.

Surviving Infidelity if an Affair Occurs -Rebuilding the Marriage:

  • Answering all questions and hanging in through the inevitable emotional turmoil.
  • Severing contact with the third party and building trust through actions, not promises.
  • Making a commitment to Honesty and to ongoing honest communication.
  • Accepting the fact that monogamy is an issue that’s never settled “once and for all.”

Personally Recovering from the Emotional Impact:

  • Accepting the fact that it happened (no more “if only…” or “why me?”)
  • Deliberately focusing on dealing with it and talking openly about what happened.
  • Allowing time to heal and, most of all, believing it’s possible to recover.
  • Surviving infidelity means that this is not just personal failure…that societal factors play a part as well.

The “Monogamy Myth” includes the belief that:

  • Monogamy is the norm in our society and society as a whole supports monogamy.
  • You can assume monogamy when you get married, so there’s no need to discuss it.
  • Most people are monogamous, so an affair indicates a personal failure of your particular marriage.

Challenging Society’s Monogamy Myth:

  • Monogamy is not the norm. Society gives lip service to monogamy, but actually supports affairs.
  • No marriage is immune from affairs. There needs to be ongoing honest communication.
  • No couple can fully understand why an affair happens by looking ONLY at their own marriage.

Bottom line: recognizing the POWER OF HONESTY:

  • Definition: Honesty is more than just “not lying;” it’s “not withholding relevant information.”
  • Prevention: Despite whatever factors lead someone to be tempted to have an affair, whether or not they act on the temptation depends on their willingness to be dishonest and deceptive.
  • Surviving Infidelity and Recovering: Ongoing honesty is essential to both personal recovery and to rebuilding the marriage.
  • Society’s Role: While this is an intensely personal problem, it is also a societal problem. Any effort to help people deal with this issue on a personal basis requires that we also address the societal factors, especially replacing the general secrecy and hypocrisy about this issue with responsible honesty.



Is talking about other attractions a radioactive topic for you and your spouse?