Few topics are as intriguing as infidelity. Whether Madame Bovary, “The Good Wife”, or Arnold Schwarzenegger -- tales of adultery are titillating to us all.
Evolutionary psychologist Robert Wright claims: “Lasting love is something a person has to decide to experience. Lifelong monogamous devotion is just not natural – not for women even, and emphatically not for men. It requires what, for lack of a better term, we can call an act of will.” In other words, none of us is “hard wired” for monogamy. From a biological and evolutionary standpoint, we are all likely to want more than one partner over a lifetime.
So when we do decide to be monogamous to one person forever, which aspect of our self decides, and why?
Figuring this out can be like playing with a mix-and-match children’s toy: An animal with the head of a lion, stomach of a goat, and legs of cheetah is going to act very differently than one with the head of a lamb, stomach of chicken and legs of a sloth.
Broadly speaking, here’s what to expect from each of your three aspects:
Primitive: This is your impulsive, party animal aspect -- “If it looks good, I'll take it”. Not much concerned with relationships, loyalties, or the future. More likely to be curious or concerned with status.
Social: This is the part of you that prefers a single attachment for safety, comfort, and familiarity. It may even be leery of new people.
Reasonable: This part of you is driven by your overall goals. For example, if security is your primary goal, reason may help your social needs overrule your sexual urges for a new partner. If “living life to fullest” is your mantra, reason will strategize how to grab new opportunities with little concern for long term attachments.
As we all know, even the best intentions can be undone by a tempting morsel. Monogamy is easier to “choose” when your various agendas are in agreement, and you suffer inner conflict when your three aspects are not well aligned. This is when the act of will comes in.
If monogamy is your goal, how do you build, strengthen or support your willpower when it flags?
If temptation beckons, take a moment to ask yourself some questions:
- "Why now?" Are you angry at your partner? Do you feel neglected? Are you craving reassurance or unhappy with yourself? Are you particularly bored with your life?
- "What's my history?" Growing up, what did you learn about monogamy? How did your parents behave? What about other role models? What were social messages you gleaned from your particular community? What personal experiences have you had with fidelity?
- "What are my subconscious attitudes and expectations about monogamy?" Do you secretly think that "the rules" don't apply to you? Is your self image tied to being sexually alluring and accomplished? How do you judge others who are faithful or unfaithful to their mates?
Considering and reflecting on questions like these can create a bit of mental "space" - allowing new options to reveal themselves. Introspection helps create room to maneuver in a direction consistent with your overall goals. Deeper self-knowledge will focus your attention on what is truly important, strengthening your backbone and bolstering your willlpower.