Why monogamy – and what that has to do with couples therapy
I am sitting right now in the offices of Imago Relationships in New York, an organization whose core values are about monogamous committed long-term relationships. I sat up a little straighter when I came across a blog post on Psychology Today entitled “Why we think monogamy is normal” by Michael Price, PhD. As someone who accepts monogamy is normal I was fascinated by his subtitle, “How polygamy became an exotic exception.”
Im living in a world where infidelity is rife, and serial monogamy is more the rule than the exception. Just how did we get to the place where we believe that one of the virtues of life is to fall in love once, and share a lifetime of faithfulness.
According to Price, there’s a lot of evidence to suggest that polygamy had significant advantages if you lived in a pre-civilization tribal village. The strong powerful man with the best genes had the strongest children and the resources to raise them to be fine warriors and/or workers. Polygamy was the way of the world, although monogamy was often the only option for the less well off. Legally enforced monogamy for all emerged in Greece and Rome. The idea was to build a more egalitarian society by stopping the men at the top of the heap from hogging all the available women. Dr, Price also suggests that a society of monogamous households led to stronger more united societies which could produce stronger and larger armies. For example, you were more likely to find a wife at home, and wouldn’t have to leave town to find one.
Later on, Christianity celebrated monogamy as a virtue, and ensured it’s spread as the norm for western civilization.
So how does this all relate to Imago Couples Therapy? Surely we’re not just trying to keep couples together because monogamous marriages seemed like a great idea for creating victorious armies in the ancient world?
Let’s look at this from a different perspective - from that of Imago, and our mental and spiritual well-being.
Imago serves a new society, where the needs are no longer to create warriors (at least not that many), but to create peacemakers, relationship builders and collaborators. Because without citizens who can work together to create peace, and collaborate on conserving natural resources, the future of society looks very bleak.
Imago’s founders, Harville Hendrix, PhD and Helen LaKelly Hunt, PhD, often talk about how enhancing the relationship within a couple can be a path to creating world peace. That might sound a little fanciful, until you consider that according to Dr Price, even the ancients in Greece and Rome passed legislation about couples relationships which were primarily related to the needs of society at that time. They ruled Polygamy out, because it made the new civilizations weaker.
That’s why it makes sense to look again to the heart of the family to ask what are the qualities we might want there that make our society stronger and more sustainable. If the future is to be determined by the quality and strength of our relationships, then no relationships are more powerful or transformation than the relationships between married partners. That’s in part because they carry far more commitment than those between friends and colleagues. If you argue with your friend, you can easily ditch them, or at least avoid them for a week. If you fight with your partner, there’s a lot invested to make it worth working through the issue.
Imago is a way to create extraordinary relationships between the partner in a committed couple.
Imago views conflict as an opportunity to deepen connection. When a couple fights, it may look trivial on the surface, but it’s usually about a much deeper emotional agenda. Imago teaches couples a unique way to talk about conflict called the Imago Dialogue. That helps couples explore these issues honestly and openly, without bringing up the reactivity and defensiveness that might simply generate a fight. Even more importantly, Imago dialogue is extremely egalitarian, with each partner having just as much right to their opinions and perspectives.
Perhaps that’s a long-term trend in the evolution of society. The ancient Greeks turned from polygamy to be more egalitarian, because it strengthened society. Abraham Lincoln went to war to free slaves, because he believed that an egalitarian workforce strengthened the economy. The long-term trend, is towards egalitarianism.
How Imago sees that reflected in today’s society is through the idea of the “conscious couple”. That’s a couple who uses tools like the Imago dialogue to explore their conflicts, without judgment, to find out from them the potential for healing and growth. That’s not something that tends to happen in discussions with your friends – unless they are very close. If the discussion get too tough, you can just go and spend more time with another friend for a while. And if there isn’t absolute egalitarianism in the relationship, then you can always just tell your partner what they should think.
Working through issues with intimate partners changes people. It means opening up to growth challenges. And that in turn can help people me much more effective in other relationships. Maybe a future Dr. Price will write about the emergence of the Conscious Couple, as a historical trend that led to a conscious society, characterized by people with relationship skills that created a more sustainable and just society.