Is it time to change our views of adultery and marriage?

My phone rang mid-day on a Monday—an unexpected call from a friend in a crisis sparked by a spouse’s newly revealed infidelity. I thought of my friend last week as I read a column on HuffPost Wedding, a request by life coach Lisa Haisha to reconsider monogamy, which is a promise implied by marriage but breached by many-a-spouse. The divorce rate, Haisha wrote, “coupled with the prevalence of adultery,” is indicative of what she thinks we need: to let marriage evolve, to let each couple decide if infidelity is ok.

The column admirably encourages spousal self disclosure, but it also implies that monogamy in marriage might not be important, as if infidelity’s prevalence is a reason to redefine a covenant. But if we redefine marriage to include people who don’t want to be faithful, we redefine marriage for people who don’t want to be married. Their choices do not negate the truth: monogamy in marriage is important.

This is, as Haisha wrote, the first time in human history in which the death that dissolves a monogamous marriage may not happen for several decades. She also wrote that monogamous marriage itself is new compared to plural marriage, that adultery might be inevitable, that it’s so normal among married women and men that we all ought to be free to change marriage’s boundaries to include it. But norms aren’t normal because they’re good. They’re normal because we keep them that way. The onus is on each of us to consider norms critically, to admit that a new definition of marriage is desired because it’s easier to change marriage into something that allows for infidelity than to become people who can be faithful, not because monogamy isn’t important.

As a result of a longer life expectancy, a couple indeed can be married for 60 years, Haisha wrote, and she followed that up with a question: “Is it realistic to think that two people could be emotionally, mentally, physically and sexually compatible for that long?” In short, and even in my opinion, no. But the absence of constant compatibility in a marriage doesn’t warrant a rejection of monogamy. That’s because constant compatibility in marriage is impossible. People are compatible when they can exist together without conflict, which means compatibility, by definition, is not constant. But that compatibility waxes and wanes is not proof that monogamy is irrelevant. It is proof that monogamy is important. It creates a safe space in which a couple can use the communication Haisha suggests couples use—and not to redefine marriage, but to achieve compatibility again and again.

Couples who are monogamously married for decades and are happy are few and far between, Haisha wrote. But unhappily married couples aren’t unhappy because they are monogamous. They are probably unhappy because they aren’t communicating (or because they probably shouldn’t have gotten married in the first place). Widespread marital misery is not an excuse to permit adultery, but evidence of what a marriage actually needs, of which too many marriages are devoid: love. Real love, selfless love—the kind of love I, a practicing Catholic, learned from Jesus. Maybe monogamy is hard, and maybe it is rare, but it reminds us that relationships don’t thrive if they don’t involve work, that marriage is designed to result in the destruction of self absorption. Adultery says “nothing is more necessary than gratification” and monogamy says “nothing is more necessary than love.” And in a marriage, I can’t imagine anything more important.


arleen fall 2013Arleen Spenceley is author of forthcoming book Chastity is For Lovers: Single, Happy, and (Still) a Virgin, to be released by Ave Maria Press in Fall 2014. She works as a staff writer for the Tampa Bay Times. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a master’s degree in counseling, both from the University of South Florida. She blogs at and tweets @ArleenSpenceley. Click here to like her on Facebook.



  1. I agree.

    By J | 7 years ago Reply
  2. I love this post.

    By janique | 7 years ago Reply
    • So glad you got something good out of this post.

      By Arleen Spenceley (@ArleenSpenceley) | 7 years ago Reply
  3. Marriage is not for sissies. Take it seriously!

    By Theresa Griffith | 7 years ago Reply
  4. People got married for they thought they “love” each other yet at the back of their minds, when the time comes that they don’t like/love each other anymore it would be very easy for them to back out and separate because divorce is just like street food nowadays that could easily be bought in a lower price. It is always very important to put God first in your relationship. Monogamy in marriage is attainable as what I have seen with my grandparents, uncles and aunts and of course my parents. :))))) We should never lose hope and always pray for marriage with strong commitment.

    By anastasia steele | 7 years ago Reply
  5. Beautiful post! Couldn’t agree more.

    By Nati | 7 years ago Reply
  6. You hit the nail on the head there about compatibility, I just celebrated 9 years with my incompatible bride yesterday and posted this gem of a quote from 1910:

    “If Americans can be divorced for “incompatibility of temper”, I cannot conceive why they are not all divorced. I have known many happy marriages, but never a compatible one. The whole aim of marriage is to fight through and survive the instant when incompatibility becomes unquestionable. For a man and a woman, as such, are incompatible.”

    G.K. Chesterton (from the essay What’s Wrong with the World, 1910)

    By Michael Sutherland | 7 years ago Reply
  7. Adultery says, “nothing is more important than me and my personal gratification.”

    Monogamy says, “nothing is more important than you, and I willingly sacrifice my desires for your happiness whether you ask me to or not.”

    By Bryan | 7 years ago Reply
  8. Is adultery suddenly so much more prevalent now vs before? I don’t see that it’s any worse now, it has always been a problem. also, perhaps we should get rid of college because so many students dropout, or stop driving cars because there are fatalities.

    By Ken | 7 years ago Reply
  9. I think that there’s a legitimate point to be made for monogamy, but if you were trying to negate Haisha’s points you totally missed the mark. She had some very legitimate points about why monogamy might not be such a good thing. You can’t fight against facts with nothing but morals and values, people want to hear facts that back up your own argument but you didn’t really provide any. If there really are benefits to being totally monogamous (which there are, though I don’t believe it’s the only way) talk about those benefits, otherwise people who have opinions other than your own will never take an article like this seriously

    By Jay | 7 years ago Reply
  10. We have allowed Hollywood interpret for everyone what marriage is, what love is, what commitment is.
    Love and Marriage is a vocation. If you do not have it, better not even get close, ’cause you’ll just ruin it for the next generation coming after you.

    By Jose Luis Aguilera | 7 years ago Reply
  11. Thank you Arleen for this post. The conception of what is real freedom plays an important role in this argument. Thank you again

    By Eddie Prixens | 7 years ago Reply
    • Thank you for reading!

      By Arleen Spenceley (@ArleenSpenceley) | 7 years ago Reply
  12. Thank you Arleen! I’m 23,I’m from Argentina and it’s amazing that I can’t hardly find someone to talk about this stuff. I do believe that nowadays there is a lack of fidelity in married couples because maybe they shouldn’t have married in the first place. Some others think that is normal for a guy to seek for new sensations, from time to time. And I couldn’t be in more disagreement . I mean, how healthy could that be?, what kind of trust could be built? How could our children find confidence in their home and family?
    Matrimony is not for everyone, it’s a sacrament which requires deep and true love in order to get close to God together, through the ups and downs, that’s why it lasts a life.
    Keep writing, God bless you!

    By Marina | 7 years ago Reply
  13. Sorry, I meant I “can hardly find” someone to talk about this.

    By Marina | 7 years ago Reply
  14. Expecting more blogs of this kind. Good one.God bless..

    By Matt Pratt | 7 years ago Reply
    • More to come, Matt!

      By Arleen Spenceley (@ArleenSpenceley) | 7 years ago Reply
  15. Major thanks for the article.Really looking forward to read more. Keep writing.

    By Gerald | 7 years ago Reply

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