A new book argues that if the institution of marriage is to endure, it must evolve with the times.

With infidelity now seeming less like a deadly plague and more like a relatively mild form of cancer—we all know someone who has suffered from it, even if we haven’t experienced it ourselves—does it still make sense for monogamy to constitute the basis for marriage? Or should couples figure out creative ways to expand the boundaries of their relationships, acknowledging that they might want to continue to be life partners even if one or both needs the occasional night off? This is the argument of Pamela Haag’s new book, Marriage Confidential: The Post-Romantic Age of Workhorse Wives, Royal Children, Undersexed Spouses, and Rebel Couples Who Are Rewriting the Rules, in which “affair-tolerant” couples aren’t a regressive throwback—they’re the benchmark of a new kind of modernity. Its abundance of gimmicky catchphrases aside, this book asks serious questions about whether we have come to expect too much from contemporary marriage: a partner who is simultaneously an emotional and intellectual “soul mate,” a monogamous provider of sexual thrills, and a best friend to see us through our creaky final decades. If marriage has a hard time living up to these burdens—and a divorce rate holding steady at 50 percent suggests just how hard it is—maybe we ought to be thinking about ways to transform it.

Haag notes that marriage has undergone a dramatic transformation from the “traditional” partnerships of the nineteenth century, when marriage was “a social institution and an obligation,” to the “romantic” marriages of the twentieth century, when the practice of choosing a partner for reasons of love rather than practicality first became widespread. Now, she argues, we are moving into a “post-romantic age.”

In a series of chapters examining monogamy alternatives that range from asexuality to open marriage, the only real target of her scorn is the serial monogamist, who’s “always convinced that he’s in love with the next girlfriend … and that it will be different for them, in this marriage, this time around.” If he’d stop chasing this fantasy of romantic love, she reasons, he could maintain an intimate partnership with his wife—even if only for the sake of their kids—while enjoying a discreet dalliance now and then. In this vision of marriage, the happiest couples might well be the “infidelity tolerators”: those who can accept a one-night stand or three as long as the marital bond is the primary relationship.

The problem isn’t only that “infidelity tolerance” is a slippery slope: One day, you’re quietly overlooking a suspicious text on your husband’s phone, the next you’re fielding questions from the news media about his love child. It’s also that this “post-romantic” view of marriage isn’t entirely convincing. Granted, it’s impossible to know what goes on within the privacy of other people’s marriages. But, while they may be getting rarer and rarer, we all know couples who seem to be happily, enduringly married: the elderly couple who hold hands in the street, or the assisted-living resident whom I once heard proudly brag that she and her husband had had sex every day of their marriage. “What is a mystery to me,” Haag confesses, “and a thing of beguiling beauty, is the genuinely sexually contented long-term marriage—a monogamous dam lovingly constructed to manage the wayward lusts of nature.” Unfortunately, it’s the one phenomenon of contemporary married life that she chose not to investigate. But the fact that it still exists suggests that the old rules might have some value yet.

Excerpted from Ruth Franklin’s (at The New Republic) article “Can (This) Marriage Be Saved?


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Photo of Michelle O'Neil Michelle O'Neil

Michelle May O’Neil has 30+ years’ experience representing small business owners, professionals, and individuals in litigation related to family law matters such as divorce, child custody, and complex property division. Described by one lawyer as “a lethal combination of sweet-and-salty”, Ms. O’Neil exudes…

Michelle May O’Neil has 30+ years’ experience representing small business owners, professionals, and individuals in litigation related to family law matters such as divorce, child custody, and complex property division. Described by one lawyer as “a lethal combination of sweet-and-salty”, Ms. O’Neil exudes genuine compassion for her client’s difficulties, yet she can be relentless when in pursuit of a client’s goals. One judge said of Ms. O’Neil, “She cannot be out-gunned, out-briefed, or out-lawyered!”

Family Law Specialist

Ms. O’Neil became a board-certified family law specialist by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization in 1997 and has maintained her certification since that time. While representing clients in litigation before the trial court is an important part of her practice, Ms. O’Neil also handles appellate matters in the trial court, courts of appeals and Texas Supreme Court. Lawyers frequently consult with Ms. O’Neil on their litigation cases about specialized legal issues requiring particularized attention both at the trial court and appellate levels. This gives her a unique perspective and depth of perception that benefits both her litigation and appellate clients.

Top Lawyers in Texas and America

Ms. O’Neil has been named to the list of Texas SuperLawyers for many years, a peer-voted honor given to only about 5% of the lawyers in the state of Texas. Ms. O’Neil received the special honor of being named by Texas SuperLawyers as one of the Top 50 Women Lawyers in Texas, Top 100 Lawyers in Texas, and Top 100 Lawyers in DFW for multiple years. She was named one of the Best Lawyers in America and received an “A-V” peer review rating by Martindale-Hubbell Legal Directories for the highest quality legal ability and ethical standards.

Author and Speaker

A noted author, Ms. O’Neil released her second book Basics of Texas Divorce Law in November 2010, with a second edition released in 2013, and a third edition expected in 2015.  Her first book, All About Texas Law and Kids, was published in September 2009 by Texas Lawyer Press. In 2012, Ms. O’Neil co-authored the booklets What You Need To Know About Common Law Marriage In Texas and Social Study Evaluations.  The State Bar of Texas and other providers of continuing education for attorneys frequently enlist Ms. O’Neil to provide instruction to attorneys on topics of her expertise in the family law arena.