Is Monogamy Real or Just an Ideal?

“… the day my husband told me about his affairs has become very important for us, in many ways more important than our wedding anniversary. While it was a day that turned my world upside down, it’s one that we still celebrate today, after all these years. It’s not the day itself we’re celebrating; rather, it was the honesty that began that day. It resulted in our making a commitment to be honest about all important issues affecting our relationship. When I think how far we’ve come, I know there’s hope for others in gaining a new understanding of affairs—and surviving them.” ~ Peggy Vaughan

On our wedding day, Bob and I, like all couples, assumed that our marriage would be monogamous; after all that was part of the promise, the vow, the commitment that we made to each other on that sacred day.

Unlike many couples we spent a lot of time talking about the value of monogamy and the pain of affairs. I grew up in a family where my father’s affairs devastated my mother, siblings and me, age 13. The wounds I experienced during my adolescence from watching the destruction of my family took years to heal. Before Bob and I married I shared that history with him. It turns out that having deeply discussed this hurt was actually a protective factor for our marriage and family. It should be an issue every couple discusses.

During a lifetime with any partner, there will no doubt be times where we experience attractions to others and temptation to cross the marital boundary. Given the right opportunity, some of us will act upon those feelings. Experts agree that no couple is immune to being touched by an affair.

Peggy Vaughan, author of The Monogamy Myth, wrote extensively about how to prevent, cope with and recover from affairs:

“The Monogamy Myth is the belief that monogamy is the norm in our society and that it is supported by society as a whole. The effect of believing that most marriages or committed relationships are monogamous is that if an affair happens, it’s seen strictly as a personal failure of the people involved. This leads to personal blame, personal shame, wounded pride, and almost universal feelings of devastation.

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The reality is that monogamy is not the norm, not by today’s standards, anyway. Conservative estimates are that 60 percent of men and 40 percent of women will have an extramarital affair…With this many marriages affected, it’s unreasonable to think affairs are due only to the failures and shortcomings of individual husbands or wives.”

Peggy also provides hope for the future of monogamy:

“The best hope for monogamy lies in rejecting the idea that a couple can assume monogamy without discussing the issue, or that they can assure monogamy by making threats as to what they would do if it happened…The hope for monogamy lies in making a conscious choice that specifically involves a commitment to honesty. In making this choice, both partners realize that attractions to others are likely, indeed inevitable, no matter how much they love each other.

So they engage in ongoing honest communication about the reality of the temptations and how to avoid the consequences of acting on those temptations. The effect on the relationship is to create a sense of closeness and a knowledge of each other that replaces suspicion with trust, making it more likely that it will be monogamous.”

As a therapist who works with many couples desiring to recover from or prevent an affair, Peggy has been one of my greatest inspirations and teachers. Sadly, I learned today from her husband James that she passed away last week after a three year battle with cancer. As part of her legacy Peggy has left all of her work on her website for free (except a couple of her books still in print that she didn’t hold the rights to.) Please visit her website at and check out the plethora of resources.

By sharing themselves so openly in all their work, Peggy and James Vaughan have given us hope for monogamy and hope for recovery after an affair. Thank you James and thank you, Peggy, for all that you have given to the world. Your contribution has and will continue to make this world a better place for couples and families. Your memory will live on through the many people and therapists who will learn from your work. It was a blessing to know you.

Lori & Bob Hollander, Guest Authors
Copyright © 2012 – Lori & Bob Hollander. Lori Hollander, LCSW-C, BCD, and Bob Hollander, JD, LCSW-C, are licensed counselors and co-founders of Relationships Work, an innovative therapy practice and online resource center. Together, they encourage couples to consciously co-create their relationships in order to achieve a deeper, more intimate connection. You can visit Relationships Work online at: Follow them on Facebook.

Thanks to Larry James,

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