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Connection in marriage requires courage, communication


Last Sunday’s column (“To ‘affair proof’ marriage, stay connected,” Oct. 21, Las Vegas Review-Journal) was inspired by a website touting extramarital affairs as an alternative to divorce. I noted the irony of “preserving” the institution of marriage by diluting its meaning.

In contrast, I wondered aloud about a deeper, more courageous, more credible intervention to a disconnected, languishing, vapid marriage. I said: Why wouldn’t you instead go to your spouse, take a breath and say, “It’s not okay to abandon the work of connection, nor to abandon participation in sexual courtship. I won’t tolerate it. If you want to grow old with me, then you’ll need to be fixing those things tout suite.”

I got a wealth of letters, some samples of which follow …

Your question implies that the person to whom it’s directed is committed to doing the work.

— K.L., Las Vegas

The question presupposes exactly that commitment — without apology. Built into the meaning of marriage is radical accountability. I’m saying that my question will either jump start a renewed movement toward thriving marriage … or it will flush the real truth out of the grass. If my partner is no longer committed to an authentic marriage, then I would argue my partner has a moral duty to say that out loud: “Hey, this ain’t personal, but, while I don’t want to get a divorce, I have decided, henceforth, to mail in my marriage vows.”

I feel compelled to answer your question. It appears that many spouses have no idea what it takes emotionally for their spouse to actually ASK for more sex and then the devastating impact on the marriage when the asking spouse gets turned down.

I had a similar conversation with my own spouse about spicing things up. His response, “Well, I guess.” However, he never followed up, and when I initiated, he basically went along with it half-heartedly. So, there are many of us who tried to have that conversation. And when a spouse is unwilling to recognize the importance of sex, then websites like Victoria Milan can, in my view, legitimately claim that they are “an alternative to divorce.”

— M.A., Las Vegas.

It’s a huge risk to ask for a renewed commitment to thriving sexual courtship. And it’s consequential — devastating, as you say — to be turned down with a cavalier shrug. So, if we have the courage to ask the question, and, in asking, we make an unhappy truth overt, well then, yes, I suppose some folks have reason to remain legally married. Some folks at that point would renegotiate with themselves. Mail in the marriage their spouse apparently has already been mailing in. And, then, feel perfectly justified in arranging their life with the compensations of extramarital sex.

I wish there was a way of measuring, at the end of life, how many folks felt this ultimately was a good choice.

Really? After all that research, you think threatening a partner would work? I’ve learned you either are a lover or not. People like to take chances, experience different scenarios, regardless of their periodic contentment. I find you a bit silly, and perhaps out of touch. But I do enjoy your column.

— B.K., Mesquite, Nevada

Silly? Out of touch? Let’s talk.

You misunderstand. I’m not suggesting people threaten their partner. I am insisting that marriage is about accountability. That life partners hold each other accountable. That one of the greatest gifts you can give your mate is your unwavering self-respect. Or, said another way, amongst other attributes you might seek, always fall in love with someone who has the strength to leave you.

I’m not suggesting people threaten their partner. I’m observing that healthy boundaries, accountability and self-respect sometimes demand we threaten ourselves. We grab ourselves by the throat and say, “Does ‘for better or worse’ really include tolerating a mate who has unilaterally decided to stop showing up for this marriage?”

B.K., before we give anyone an ultimatum, we have already given ourselves that same ultimatum. B.K., marriage vows are themselves a public recitation of giving ourselves an ultimatum: “to love and to cherish, ‘til death us do part.”

You think I don’t know that people like to take chances and experience different scenarios?

Good woman, you must not read my column very often. Not only DO I know, but I have said explicitly that marriage/monogamy are biologically contraindicated in primates.

Every instinct we possess (biologically speaking) contradicts the idea. But then, likewise does “Thou Shalt Not Kill” contradict our biology. (Ever watch chimpanzees on NatGeo television?)

Becoming a human being means regularly not doing any number of things “people like to do.”

I’ll agree that I’m “silly and out of touch,” if you’ll agree that you are, how shall I say, braving waters ankle deep in the wading pool of moral reasoning.

But I do enjoy your reader mail.

Steven Kalas is a behavioral health consultant and counselor at Las Vegas Psychiatry and the author of “Human Matters: Wise and Witty Counsel on Relationships, Parenting, Grief and Doing the Right Thing” (Stephens Press). His columns also appear on Sundays in the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Contact him at 702-227-4165 or skalas@reviewjournal.com.