Why it isn’t time to change our views of adultery and marriage.

My phone rang mid-day on a Monday — an unexpected call from a friend in a crisis sparked by a spouse’s newly revealed infidelity. I thought of my friend last week as I read a column on HuffPost Wedding, a request by life coach Lisa Haisha to reconsider monogamy, which is a promise implied by marriage but breached by many-a-spouse.

The divorce rate, Haisha wrote, “coupled with the prevalence of adultery,” is indicative of what she thinks we need: to let marriage evolve, to let each couple decide if infidelity is ok. The column admirably encourages spousal self disclosure, but it also implies that monogamy in marriage might not be important, as if infidelity’s prevalence is a reason to redefine a covenant. But if we redefine marriage to include people who don’t want to be faithful, we redefine marriage for people who don’t want to be married. Their choices do not negate the truth: monogamy in marriage is important.

This is, as Haisha wrote, the first time in human history in which the death that dissolves a monogamous marriage may not happen for several decades. She also wrote that monogamous marriage itself is new compared to plural marriage, that adultery might be inevitable, that it’s so normal among married women and men that we all ought to be free to change marriage’s boundaries to include it. But norms aren’t normal because they’re good. They’re normal because we keep them that way.

The onus is on each of us to consider norms critically, to admit that a new definition of marriage is desired because it’s easier to change marriage into something that allows for infidelity than to become people who can be faithful, not because monogamy isn’t important. As a result of a longer life expectancy, a couple indeed can be married for 60 years, Haisha wrote, and she followed that up with a question: “Is it realistic to think that two people could be emotionally, mentally, physically and sexually compatible for that long?” In short, and even in my opinion, no.

But the absence of constant compatibility in a marriage doesn’t warrant a rejection of monogamy. That’s because constant compatibility in marriage is impossible. People are compatible when they can exist together without conflict, which means compatibility, by definition, is not constant. But that compatibility waxes and wanes is not proof that monogamy is irrelevant. It is proof that monogamy is important. It creates a safe space in which a couple can use the communication Haisha suggests couples use — and not to redefine marriage, but to achieve compatibility again and again.

Couples who are monogamously married for decades and are happy are few and far between, Haisha wrote. But unhappily married couples aren’t unhappy because they are monogamous. They are probably unhappy because they aren’t communicating (or because they probably shouldn’t have gotten married in the first place).

Widespread marital misery is not an excuse to permit adultery, but evidence of what a marriage actually needs, of which too many marriages are devoid: love. Real love, selfless love — the kind of love I, a practicing Catholic, learned from Jesus. Maybe monogamy is hard, and maybe it is rare, but it reminds us that relationships don’t thrive if they don’t involve work, that marriage is designed to result in the destruction of self absorption. Adultery says “nothing is more necessary than gratification” and monogamy says “nothing is more necessary than love.” And in a marriage, I can’t imagine anything more important.

[callout]Click here to read Haisha’s column on HuffPost Wedding.[/callout]

Not all men are bullets.

A phone call is jarring when in it, your friend divulges the discovery she made of her husband’s infidelity. Of her boyfriend’s big lie. Of her crush’s double life. Or of his wife.
Whatever the breach of trust, the result — at first, at least — is devastating. One person’s choice pulls the path out from under somebody else, somebody who didn’t sign up for this. Somebody who promised to be true to him even in bad times after he promised infidelity would never be the source of them.Until it was.

“Until death,” as it turns out, is often code for “until I change my mind” — fidelity often only upheld when not inconvenient. She picks him as husband and intertwines her world with his, but has to peg him, when he leaves her, as a bullet.

You really dodged a bullet.

Fidelity is too often breached, too treated as impossible. I’ve received too many jarring phone calls.This isn’t a blame game. Relationships are systemic, and most marriages that end probably shouldn’t have started. But I’ve met enough women who are so disheartened by the men who used to walk life beside them to share this with all men on women’s behalf:

Some of us are giving up on you.Which doesn’t mean good single men will be single forever. It means women need good single men now more than ever.

We need you to step up and stand out.

To teach your brothers (biological or otherwise) how to make good choices.

To teach them to treat women first as sisters.

We need our male friends and our brothers and our dads to do what they say they are going to do. We need to meet men who use forethought before they pursue us, who pursue God before they pursue us. We need men whose choices inspire us to say “they do exist” (and not “is this some kind of a joke?”).

We need to know that men exist who want to love a woman like Christ loves the church. Who know love is a choice.

We need to know that not all men are bullets.

Because I know you aren’t, but I know a lot of ladies who need good men to prove it.

Is monogamy unnatural?

ID-100157105According to a column Friday on CNN.com, to honor each other as man and wife for the rest of our lives is probably impossible.

“Strict sexual fidelity is a lofty but perhaps fundamentally doomed aspiration,” wrote Meghan Laslocky, the column’s writer and author of The Little Book of Heartbreak: Love Gone Wrong Through the Ages.

According to Laslocky, humans have to tolerate the “impulse to experience sexual variety” for longer now than ever, because people are living longer now than before.

“A person is theoretically expected to have one sexual partner for about 50 years,” she wrote. “This seems like a lot to expect of any human being — even the most honorable, ethical and moral.” It’s a lot to expect, she said, because humans are animals and animals aren’t often monogamous.

“Face it,” the column’s headline reads. “Monogamy is unnatural.”

Then infidelity is “only human,” to use words the average American adult might use. But I have good news for Laslocky:

Infidelity is not “only human.” Fidelity is.

Humans are embodied spirits, created in God’s image, given enough daily grace to resist temptation. “Original sin,” according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “caused ‘a deprivation of original holiness and justice, but human nature has not been totally corrupted; it is wounded… and inclined to sin – an inclination to evil that is called concupiscence.”

Concupiscence is definitely in “the impulse to experience sexual variety.” It is what pulls a married man or woman toward sex with somebody other than his or her spouse. According to Theology of the Body (TOB), “It is as if the ‘man of concupiscence’ …had simply ceased… to remain above the world of living beings or ‘animalia.'” We have to learn, according to TOB, “‘to be the authentic master(s) of (our) own innermost impulses…'”

It is animal to act thoughtlessly on impulse, and human to use faith and reason to control it. It is animal to be unfaithful, and human to keep our vows.

This doesn’t mean we are animals because we sin. It doesn’t mean we are animals at all. It doesn’t make us less-than, but proves we are greater-than, that we don’t sin because we’re human but because for a moment, we forgot we are human. It means that because we are human, we aren’t bound by sin, but invited to be freed from it, that we don’t have to keep doing the things we sometimes think we can’t not do.

If we are the animals Laslocky says we are, it isn’t because of biology, but because we’re rejecting grace. And if “sexual fidelity is a lofty but perhaps fundamentally doomed aspiration,” it isn’t because we are animals, but because we believe we are.

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Click here to read Laslocky’s column in full.

Relevant quote: “If redeemed man still sins, this is not due to an imperfection of Christ’s redemptive act, but to man’s will not to avail himself of the grace which flows from that act. God’s command is of course proportioned to man’s capabilities; but to the capabilities of the man to whom the Holy Spirit has been given” (Pope John Paul II in Veritatis Splendor).