The recent Ashley Madison scandal has caused a major discussion about modern marriage, especially in the U.S. We all know that divorce rates are higher than ever and we attribute that to all kinds of things – especially changing values, and social networks. But while Ashley Madison does say a lot about what’s wrong with relationships these days, it certainly isn’t a new phenomenon, and it says much more about the way that people have always been.
Ashley Madison is a big deal because it publicized a huge group of unfaithful men and women, something that was never so easy to do before the internet. Finding people to be unfaithful with was never so easy before either. And people are taking advantage. What this says – to me – is that the behavior of monogamy is changing, even though the expectations of it are not.
A great TED TALK by relationship therapist Esther Perel explains why even happy people find themselves cheating on their partner. After so many years being with the same person many of us crave excitement and novelty, even though we still love our partner and may even have a wonderful family. And most affairs have much more to do with that desire than with sex.
Affairs are nothing new, and now may be the time to address those inclinations in a healthy, communicative way. Perel asks “How do we reconcile what is universally forbidden, yet universally practiced?” The answer is the same as for most relationship questions: there has to be communication.
As a sex and relationship expert I’ve seen tons of couples who claim they’ve tried everything, only to discover they haven’t been working together to solve the problem. When a relationship or marriage is struggling people tend to throw blame around and feel contempt for one another, which creates a disconnect between them. Sometimes they go looking for a better connection somewhere else, or one finds them unexpectedly.
In a marriage we expect our partner to be our everything, which is a lot of pressure and not really possible. We need different people for different parts of our lives, and many affairs are just about wanting to experience different passions – not even sexually, just in general. One person can’t satisfy every single desire in our life, but we don’t need to have a secret lover to be satisfied either.
More often than not, the partner who “wasn’t satisfying enough” didn’t even know there was more they could do. You’d be amazed how much can change in a simple conversation about desires. Really knowing and connecting with someone means sharing your whole self with them, and being able to do that creates an unmatched level of comfort and happiness.
It’s very possible that both partners could have that feeling of longing for something more or something different, and talking about and exploring that together can actually bring them much closer together rather than splitting them apart. If they can connect over and admit that to themselves and each other, it’s much easier to figure out what it means and what to do about it together.
Even open (non-monogamous) relationships require communication and understanding and have expectations of what’s fair. The truth is that monogamy isn’t the end-all important aspect of a relationship – communication is.
Even for couples who have endured an affair, communication and understanding can turn pain into a closer, more honest connection. Hurtful experiences are going to happen no matter what, but they can be an opportunity to grow and learn together if both partners commit to making changes. Of course, actions speak louder than words.
And this is where a professional can be an enormous help. Once you and your partner have discussed what you want for yourselves and for your relationship, therapists and counselors can help you plan and stay on track to make that happen. They can remind you that you’re not alone, you’re not the first people to go through this, and there are ways to find happiness again.
You can create a “second relationship” with the same person you’ve been with all along. And I can help. Talking truthfully about your feelings and desires and plans can be the start of a completely different, happier dynamic that doesn’t leave anyone feeling neglected or unsatisfied.
If you’re struggling with relationship problems from the past, or right now, or feel like they’re coming – there’s a lot that you can do to find peace again and make it last. The first step is to say something. Message me here on my site, and let’s get started.