Sunday, January 25, 2009

Betrayal or Adaptation?: Revising the Wedding Vows

I received this email today. It was a very short description of a very complicated problem. When I opened it I originally thought it might be another Viagra spam, as we all get so many of these:

Hi. My name is Sam. I'm 54 with diabetes and can't get an erection. My wife, Mindy is 45 bi and wants me to give her my blessing to have sex with other men. I'd enjoy seeing her with others. Is that normal or OK? Sam

We all marry with good intentions and generally take this commitment to our partner very seriously. Along with the promise of mutual emotional and material support, fidelity is perceived as central to the marriage arrangement. A sexual experience enjoyed by either partner with a third party definitely breaks the deal. It is hard to slip on that ring with your fingers crossed.

That said, I believe marriage in this modern age can be redefined mutually to adapt to changes in circumstances. This flexibility may actually help preserve the marriage, given that adhering to the original contract might be so rigid as to make one partner feel trapped, form resentments and dissolve the marriage before any real substantial negotiation takes place.

Marriage is so multifaceted in its considerations: religious, relational, financial, its effect on extended family. But its primary role, as I see it, is to protect the well-being and future interests of the progeny produced by the reproductive union. In Sam and Mindy's case, both being in midlife, I am supposing their children, if any, are out of the picture. The introduction of infidelity into a marriage with children would more than likely cause irreparable harm to the family stability and emotional state of the children. But in this couple's case, this does not appear to apply.

If Mindy is truly actively bisexual, it appears that the practice of open marriage has already been introduced. So as long as this couple has negotiated the parameters of this defined open marriage, it appears valid. Note how much this truly complicates the relationship; health and communicable disease considerations and the potential for a myriad of negative emotions that occur from relational triangulation: the inactive partner may feel betrayed, jealous or discounted. The active member may feel objectified, unprotected, abandoned and confused as to who is the focus of his/her affection. Sam's enjoyment of a voyeuristic role may be an attempt to reenact and resolve a chaotic romantic relationship involving 3 in his past. His curiosity may have even been spawned by his observation of turmoil in his parent's bond. Once again, this letter is short, so I do have to speculate a little bit. But Sam has to truly ask himself what is meant by "enjoy," in terms of his upbringing and relational past and how this effects his internal processes and the overall health of the relationship.

Given the precarious effect triangulation has on a marriage, it would be wise to consider other alternatives. There are many diabetic males who can perform sexually with either mechanical or pharmaceutical interventions. I hesitate to give a "yes or no" answer to any personal question that has its "gray areas," and this one has many. So what is "normal" or "right" is a private value and moral decision, to be decided on a couple to couple basis. The mutual respect as well as the
emotional and sexual freedoms of both parties is what really matters, as we adapt to the changes and challenges of our marriage and life over many years.

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