A recent Houston Chronicle Blog by Kayt Sukel titled Rethinking Monogamy stated that Monogamy might not be “natural” as most mammals are not monogamous. Even mammals that partner for life, like prairie voles, may have sexual affairs. Sukel concludes that there is “no biological evidence to suggest that human beings are naturally monogamous.”
I agree that human beings are not biologically programed to be sexually faithful to one partner – but that is no argument against monogamy! First, we human beings do lots of things we are not biologically programed to do – wear clothes, build buildings, ride bicycles, write blogs, etc. But that is not my true concern. While humans are biologically driven to do things, we are not just biologically driven to do things. We humans have the capacity to choose our path – to choose something that is difficult, but worthwhile. As animals, we may be programmed to procreate, and to diversify the gene pool. As conscious choice making beings, we can choose to stay loyal to one person. I am suggesting that the choice of faithfulness is not easy, only that it is possible.
Monogamy is under attack because it is difficult to stay emotionally and sexually focused on one partner. Throughout history, affairs and sexual infidelity within marriage are rampant. More recently, lenient laws and relaxed social mores about divorce are allowing an easier relationship exit. This allows individuals to leave a relationship that does not meet their needs. While this is useful when a relationship is truly harmful, it also allows a quick way out of a relationship that could be saved, and perhaps strengthened with the right support. William Doherty, in his excellent book – Take Back your Marriage, describes “consumer marriage” the view of the relationship as a commodity – if it gets broken, you can get a new one! While I don’t think this is the conscious view of most people, it does appear to be at work in our culture.
Some scientific data suggests that serial monogamy is natural – that couples get together, procreate and then change partners to have other offspring – this provides more diversity for the gene pool.
None of the arguments about the naturalness of monogamy get at the commitment that it is possible for one person to make to another. I have no moral objection to a person developing serial relationships, or even multiple relationships at a time, as long as the partners in the relationship truly agree to the arrangement.
Marriage with a spiritual purpose is possible. This kind of marriage goes beyond the giddiness of new love, beyond the consumer marriage, and even beyond the need to procreate. It is a giving to the partner and to the relationship as a central component of one’s being. It is not easy or always fun, but it comes out of a deep responsibility to the relationship and partner. The spiritual marriage is not “natural” – meaning that it is not the path that biology may have in mind. Rather the spiritual marriage is “supernatural” – above and beyond nature. Developing spiritual marriage takes effort, energy, and commitment, yet the result is deeply satisfying.
Michael Winters is a Psychologist in Houston focusing on marriage counseling and therapy. Michael received his PhD from the University of Memphis and has been practicing since 1991.