Thursday, July 15, 2010

Marital Problems

I have posted several times about marriage and how we have a romanticized perspective of it. Science and Religion Today hosted a challenging (and I would argue controversial) post on considering if we should change our expectations about spousal sexual faithfulness. The author argues that by loosening the reigns on sexual fidelity, relational faithfulness can increase. He states:
But even as we allow for less fidelity, we may find our relationships enriched with greater faithfulness. When an occasional casual sexual adventure is no longer an existential threat to a marriage, it may become something partners can choose to share openly with each other, thereby increasing their own sense of intimacy and trust.
I'm not sure I buy it, but it's interesting to ponder, especially if we take the same process of managing anxiety to increase religious faith. Perhaps what we need to do is not necessarily lower our sexual standards, but put less emphasis on them so we are less anxious about them.

The same blog also summarized another study that found divorce clusters in social networks. Does that mean divorce is contagious? Or socially more acceptable when there are other divorcees? Or perhaps there is a lack of relational health in groups. It will be interesting if other pick up these findings and explore the possible causes more.


  1. Hi, Josh! I'm do you de-emphasize the importance of sexual/moral standards without sending the message that the standard is irrelevant?

  2. Interesting post and article link.

    It’s possible that Ryan buys into the premise that human beings (especially human males) are some constantly boiling cauldron of sexual lust in relentless danger of spinning wildly out of control. Certainly in Christian circles this is almost a given. And it’s one reason why there is so much emphasis on “taming the beast” and why sermons on sex seem to suppose a level of sexual obsession that is probably true for only a minority of people. Maybe those hotwired people are the ones who write the books and preach the sermons!

    Oddly enough, currently lack of sexual desire is generally seen as the most common sexual problem that brings married people into sex therapy (maybe more true for women but men aren’t immune). Joan Sewell, in her book "I’d Rather Eat Chocolate," confesses that, given a choice of a good book and sex, the book would win. Sandra Tseng Loh writes that, after 18 years of marriage, she found it hard to think that her husband was all the different from herself. Would he even want to change out of his sweatpants to go pursuing those kittenish young "Sex and the City" types who would require “all those fancy meals, chilled crantinis, and vigorous discoing”? She couldn’t imagine that he’d find it worth “all that showering, micro-trimming, the grooming, the continual anointing, of all the body parts.” Their marriage broke up, but not because he was pursuing one of those sex kittens. I suspect boredom was as big a factor as any.

    People get involved with “illicit” partners for a variety of reasons, but constant horniness and out-of-control lust is almost certainly not the biggest factor. A recent study on men and affairs confirmed as much (lack of appreciation emerged as the biggest contributor).

    But there’s one thing for sure. Nobody who has sexual feelings has them only and always for their spouse. I suspect that having to hide the range of one’s sexual feelings from the spouse turns that spouse into some kind of live-in parent. A wife, for example, turns into the stern and righteous mother, always snooping around for evidence that some moment of titillation had been triggered by something or someone other than her. Definitely not the sort of thing that triggers desire and a feeling of sexual alliance. Freud not withstanding, most of us don’t have the hots for mom.

    I suspect that being able to be more open and honest about the range of one’s sexual feelings with a spouse could help keep marital chemistry alive. It could make the spouse feel like less like a parent (or border patrol guard) and more like a sexual ally and confidant. And, in the process, I suspect that there would be fewer rather than more affairs.


  3. Thanks to both Cal and Uncle Steve for the comments!

    I'm not saying that we should de-emphasize the importance of the some of the standards, but more in how we handle them. We do this kind of thing with many other standards: What's the priority? We should be able to have open conversations about struggles and temptations without being judged by ourselves and others while still maintaining that we should not walk down that path.

    The point is more that because we condemn any hint of breaching a standard, even talk of it becomes taboo and we are therefore more at risk of breaking it.



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