Fidelity is considered key to making a marriage work and is assumed to be automatically agreed upon when two individuals say “I do.” However, even the most romantic vows don’t always guarantee that both spouses will stay faithful. The key to maintaining marital fidelity, according to relationship experts, is “new monogamy.”
According to relationship expert Tammy Nelson, new monogamy is all about recognizing that it is okay for a husband and wife to form attachments with other people, as long as these attachments do not threaten the primary connection — their marriage.
“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,” Nelson tells Psychology Today.
“The fidelity resides in the fact that these couples work out openly and together what will be and will not be allowed in their relationships with Party C, and maybe Parties D, E, and F.”
In contrast with new monogamy is what’s known as “old monogamy,” which psychotherapist Esther Perel describes as “the idea that there is one person out there who can be everything you want: confidant, best friend, and passionate lover—your soulmate.”
New monogamy, meanwhile, involves acknowledging that a person can connect with someone other than his or her spouse, and that’s okay, as long as they are open and honest about it with their husband or wife.
How new monogamy works
Nelson says that new monogamy is one way for couples to be open and honest about their expectations about their relationship to ensure that the needs of both people are met.
Part of being open and honest about those expectations is getting together to revisit your explicit and implicit assumptions about your relationship, which might be based on what you believe it traditionally means to be faithful to your spouse.
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For example, when it comes to relationships with other people, it’s important to talk not just about the acts you consider unacceptable, which you might talk about more openly (like your husband coming home late), but also the smaller, more implicit things that can lead up to those bigger acts (like repeatedly not notifying you of his whereabouts).
Perel also writes that negotiating new monogamy involves discussing things like the limits of your relationships with other people (e.g., sharing personal information with other people or meeting with friends regularly for dinner) and sexual fidelity (e.g., watching porn or being attracted to other people).
By talking about these things, you get to also find out your and your partner’s needs. Does either of you need to regularly spend time with your friends when you need to de-stress? How do you feel about your partner being attracted to other people? Discuss subjects like these, remembering to stay open and honest the whole time.
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According to Perel, taking these steps can help make fidelity a conscious choice for you and your spouse, instead of something you only practice for the sake of preserving your marriage.
“Fidelity is a choice that you must negotiate regularly to protect your most intimate bond while you both continue to grow as individuals,” she writes.