In The Secret Lives of Wives, Iris Krasnow interviewed a slew of women who described themselves as happily married, compiling their stories into advice for the rest of us. One “secret” the wives shared: Make emotional connections with men who are not your husband.
Psychologist Deborah L. Davis is also a fan of extramarital “boyfriends”: “Emotional intimacy with your boyfriends can involve sharing thoughts and feelings, ideas, hopes, and dreams, but not bodily fluids …. The biggest problem is that once you’ve become sexually intimate with another man, you’ve pierced the bubble of your marriage. Sex is no longer the magic ingredient that places the marital relationship above and beyond all others. If ‘above and beyond’ is important to you or your mate, take heed.”
Okay … no monkey business. But what about the question of the “emotional affair”? “For goodness sake people,” Davis chides. “any friendship worth having is an emotional affair.”
Every marriage has its own magic ingredients. Sexual monogamy is one common denominator, but it’s not universal (see Newt Gingrich and the spate of follow-up discussions on open marriage). It’s also not the only sacred ground. Marriages are built on all kinds of intimate connections, shared languages and loves. It could be equally threatening, I’d think, to subvert any of these areas into relationships with others instead of into the one you have with your partner.
On the other hand, people are complicated. There is something to be said for the idea that it is impossible to get everything you need from one person. If you want to stay married, the goal is to choose a person who can give you most of what you need, or at least the stuff that would be unseemly to seek out elsewhere. Certain boundaries aside, I think the threat comes less from reaching out to others than from depriving the partner at home. Friendships, even flirtations with other men or women, can be a way of remembering that you’re attractive, interesting, intelligent. It would be great if we could be effectively reminded by the person we wake up next to. But these things are easy to forget when the primary currency of your married life is the care and feeding of a family. And while your spouse’s appreciation is essential (and always appreciated), getting a sense of your value from someone who hasn’t already pledged his life to you strikes a different kind of chord.
The problem is when this chord becomes more resonant than the same old song. This is part of why people frown on extramarital emotional connections. The deep grooves of a timeworn relationship can compare unfavorably to fascinating banter with someone shiny and new. Interactions with others can be a perfectly healthy way to feed your brain … and maybe even your libido. But if your primary connection is fundamentally unfulfilling, finding connection elsewhere will only make you feel worse about it. This, in turn, can make the shiny new person even more appealing. Which is one reason Davis cautions against turning fantasy into reality. “Rarely is the grass truly greener on the other side.”
What’s your take on looking for “like” outside of marriage? Do you believe in male/female friendships? Where do you draw the line?
Read “In Praise of Boyfriends (For Married Women)” on Psychology Today
(Global heteronormative apology: Krasnow talks specifically about wives, but this could all apply to homosexuals as well as married hetero males.)