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One of the most disturbing things about the hacking of the adultery website Ashley Madison was finding out how many members it has. There are 37 million people world-wide who subscribe to the website’s motto ‘Life is short. Have an affair’.
Depressing proof that, for lots of people, the traditional model of marriage isn’t working.
Hardly surprising when you think about it because how can there be a perfect one-size-fits-all model for a relationship when we all have different tastes, needs and wants?
It’s weird. We all accept that not everyone likes the same clothes, food, cars, houses and careers and will happily agree that that lying on a secluded beach is one person’s idea of heaven and another’s idea of hell.
Why can’t we also accept that while one type of person will remain happily faithful for 40 years, others find it both impossible and unappealing.
Just as one person climbs into the warm, secure lap of marriage, snuggling and snuffling with contentment, another person frantically clambers out of it, suffocating and gasping for air.
Yet most people – young, old, conservative and free-spirited – still follow the well-worn path of a traditional style of marriage (monogamous, live together, marry for love, death till we part) even when it’s quite clear it might not suit us.
‘The New ‘I Do’’ is a brilliant book which offers up some much-needed alternatives for marriage and any relationship (you don’t have to be married to adopt the concept of any of the styles).
For the 1.2 million British members of Ashley Madison who are not only feeling pretty nervous but questioning their actions, it seemed a fitting time to talk about what other creative types of modern marriage options are out there.
Therapist Susan Pease Gadoua and journalist Vicki Larson have come up with these…
We’re all aware (and most highly suspicious) of this one: two people who want to be married but don’t want to be sexually faithful. An open marriage isn’t the same as cheating because both of you agree to have other lovers (though lots have rules attached to how to carry out these encounters).
Open marriages have traditionally been associated with hippy-types along with a belief that one person wants it, the other goes along with it because they feel they have to. But for people who don’t believe all their sexual needs can be met by one person, it’s a far more honest, workable solution than pretending to be monogamous and deceiving each other.
This is agreeing to a ‘trial’ marriage (minus kids) to give both of you a chance to see if you like it, usually with a time limit on it. It’s legal and you can renew or convert it into another type of marriage if it’s working and you think you’d like to stay together for longer.
If you have commitment issues, it’s a ‘baby-steps’ way into long-term commitment and it avoids a costly, messy divorce.
In concept, it sounds quite off-putting: it’s less about love and more about choosing a partner for practical reasons like friendship and wanting the same things out of life. In reality, this can be highly successful and a satisfying option. It actually has more chance of lasting than marriages based on intense passion with little else to go with it.
The assumption is we spent more time doing ‘friend-type’ things with our partners than ‘love-type’ things (sex, staring into each other’s eyes etc).
If you’re the sort of person who craves intimacy with a soul mate and loves the rollercoaster side of love, this isn’t for you. But if you’re attracted to stability and value contentment over passion, it may not be a bad idea.
It’s fairly obvious what this one’s about: your primary purpose of being together is to raise children. Lots of people commit to parenting marriages if they haven’t met ‘The One’ but their chances of having children are plummeting.
The upside: you don’t need to be in love to bring up a happy, healthy child. So long as you are both good friends and happy to put your children first, it can work well. But if you see it as ‘settling’ for less than what you truly deserve, you can end up feeling disappointed and lonely within the marriage.
LIVING APART MARRIAGE:
You’re married but don’t live together, or only do part-time. This model suits more people than you think and I’ve seen it work very successfully with couples who need lots of time alone.
The old saying ‘Can’t live with them, can’t live without them’ rings true for a lot of couples, especially those in volatile relationships. If you’re hugely attracted to each other but with very different personalities, this can make the everyday negotiation of living together difficult.
There’s lots of freedom for both to do other things – like pursue demanding careers – with the bonus that you tend to plan the time you do have together more creatively. But you need a high degree of trust with both partners wanting the arrangement, rather than one doing it to hold onto someone who secretly wants out.
THE SAFETY MARRIAGE:
This marriage is about security and mutual benefit: agreeing to offer someone what they want, in return for what you want. It might be about financial security or emotional security but rather than both of you kidding yourselves it’s about love, you’re honest about the reasons.
The immediate scenario that springs to mind is the old-fashioned ‘gold-digger’ trade of looks and sex for money. But you might be happy to marry someone who’s less attractive than you in return for longed-for devotion and a promise that they will never cheat.
Whether you like all these ideas or don’t like the idea of any, the basic takeaway is absolutely sound: it’s your marriage, make your own rules rather than adopt a model that doesn’t fit.
‘The New ‘I do’ has lots of practical and emotional tips on how to make each style work.