Infidelity and Feeling Alive, Part III


Exploring options


Could marriage (or commitment) be reinvented as hearty enough to be able to tolerate uncertainty, risk, and adventure—and, in addition, the “aliveness” of both partners?  


In fact, that is what some “new monogamists” believe they are doing.  Swingers, or lifestylers, sometimes describe their practices as “playing with fire”:  although they employ strategies to minimize the potential danger to their bonds, the idea is to get close enough to the flame of desire to feel the heat, but not so close as to get burned (Frank 2007).  Lifestylers also often claim to experience feelings of freedom, especially from shame and guilt around sex and the burdens of secrecy and dishonesty.  Swinging may become a rebellious secret that the couple shares but is hidden from the world.  Especially for individuals who had premarital sex partners, or view sex as recreation or adventure, swinging or other types of consensual non-monogamy may provide a welcome compromise, providing commitment and excitement.  Extradyadic erotic encounters offer opportunities to feel desirable as well as to see their partner being desired by others.  Interviewees talked about seeing their partners in “a new light,” but also themselves.  The various communities formed by consensual non-monogamists offer support and guidance.  The term NRE, or “new relationship energy,” for example, is used to explain the heightened emotional intensity generated by some new partnerships—like the “aliveness” discussed above—helping individuals make sense of their own, and their partners,’ emotional upheavals in ways that do not require labeling the existing marriage as “dead” in comparison.  New relationship energy will fade, partners return to their senses, and the commitment is often strengthened. 


Consensual non-monogamists are not immune to transgression or betrayal, and some break the rules they worked so hard to negotiate.  And although understanding NRE helps partners accept change in each other, sometimes someone changes so much that the original partnership becomes unsustainable.  Still, consensual non-monogamy is based on ideals of communication, honesty, and self-reflection, a positive redress to the secrecy and lying accompanying infidelity.  Many consensual non-monogamists also enjoy having the freedom to develop or explore meaningful connections with others on a social level, even if those relationships do not become intimate. 



Adapted from “Playing with Fire”:  Risk, Infidelity, and Intimacy in Contemporary Relationships (2011) by Katherine Frank




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Katherine Frank