January 21, 2012

What is the future of marriage?

The New York Times has created a forum for the debate on open marriage framed around

The Gingrich Question: Cheating vs. Open Marriage. This topic has had much discussion and exploration amongst my circles of friends. The following commentary by Professor Ralph Richard Banks best describes my point of view. 

Reprinted from the New York Times.

The Perils and Promise of Openness

Ralph Richard Banks
Ralph Richard Banks, the Jackson Eli Reynolds professor of law at Stanford Law School, is the author of "Is Marriage for White People? How the African American Marriage Decline Affects Everyone."
JANUARY 20, 2012
Many couples do not always practice the sexual monogamy they promise. Sexual affairs and the accompanying deceit often lead to spousal discord and eventually divorce.
Yet, some people think that extramarital sex may bolster marriage. They believe that some couples, rather than chase an arguably unrealistic ideal, might fare better with an open marriage, an arrangement that supposedly would leave the couple both more sexually fulfilled and better able to maintain the trust that illicit affairs destroy. Could infidelity, often cast as the downfall of marriage, in fact be its savior?
Most single Americans want to marry their soul mate. But the surest road to discord, sexual and otherwise, is to expect your partner to complete you.
For most couples, in our society, no. The same expectations that leave people dissatisfied with their relationship also make it difficult for an open marriage to thrive.
Contemporary marriage revolves around the ideals of emotional intimacy and interdependence. More than simply an economic arrangement or a parenting partnership, marriage is also the relationship that people hope will satisfy their most intimate emotional and psychological needs. Most single Americans,according to survey data, want to marry their soul mate, that one individual who most complements, completes and fulfills them.
Sexual exclusivity is at the heart of marriage in part because sexual intercourse implicates the sort of emotional intimacy that animates marriage. Even those who claim to want an open marriage are often less than enthused about their spouse taking advantage of that sexual freedom.
The paradox of marital satisfaction is that people would almost certainly be happier if they expected less. The surest road to discord, sexual and otherwise, is to expect your partner to complete you, to make you whole.
If couples relaxed or relinquished some of their emotional expectations, marriages could better accommodate extramarital dalliances. But then, there would also be less need for them.