Nationalism vs. Patriotism: Narcissism vs. Self-love

By Sam Vaknin
Author of “Malignant Self-love: Narcissism Revisited

Patriotism is akin to the healthy form of self-love: it consists mainly of pride in one’s self-identity and values based on one’s culture and shared history. Patriotism is not exclusionary, but inclusive. The patriot, in constantly seeking to improve his lot and that of his compatriots, is open to advice and suggestions, and welcomes criticism. Patriotism is concerned with the concrete, the here and now. It is grounded in reality.

Nationalism is very much like compensatory, malignant narcissism. It rears its head when people stop being patriots, when they are rendered by circumstances (usually of their own making) ashamed of who they are: Nazi Germany comes to mind. Nationalism is exclusionary and oppositional: the nationalist’s sense of self-identity and self-worth depends on the aggressive belittlement and devaluation of other collectives (other nations, minorities, ethnic groups, or religions.) The nationalist regards every hint of criticism of “his” nation as an act of violence. Though he volubly professes to an ardent love of his “Volk”, the nationalist is mostly concerned with the abstract and the elitist: megalomaniacal, grandiose fantasies of a utopian future occupy his time, not the concrete, or the here and now.

It is common to believe that the more marked the differences between newcomers and citizens, the more pronounced the resultant racism. After all, white Frenchmen, Americans, and Dutch hotheads attack black folks. The self-proclaimed liberal white often harbour averse racism (unconscious racist attitudes). But, this is only half the truth. The ugliest manifestations of racism (up to genocide) are reserved to immigrants who look, act, and talk like us. The more they try to emulate and imitate us, the harder they attempt to belong, the more ferocious our rejection of them.

Freud coined the phrase “narcissism of small differences” in a paper titled “The Taboo of Virginity” that he published in 1917. Referring to earlier work by British anthropologist Ernest Crawley, he said that we reserve our most virulent emotions – aggression, hatred, envy – towards those who resemble us the most. We feel threatened not by the Other with whom we have little in common – but by the “nearly-we”, who mirror and reflect us.

The “nearly-he” imperils the narcissist’s selfhood and challenges his uniqueness, perfection, and superiority – the fundaments of the narcissist’s sense of self-worth. It provokes in him primitive narcissistic defences and leads him to adopt desperate measures to protect, preserve, and restore his balance. I call it the Gulliver Array of Defence Mechanisms.

The very existence of the “nearly-he” constitutes a narcissistic injury. The narcissist feels humiliated, shamed, and embarrassed not to be special after all – and he reacts with envy and aggression towards this source of frustration.

In doing so, he resorts to splitting, projection, and Projective Identification. He attributes to other people personal traits that he dislikes in himself and he forces them to behave in conformity with his expectations. In other words, the narcissist sees in others those parts of himself that he cannot countenance and deny. He forces people around him to become him and to reflect his shameful behaviours, hidden fears, and forbidden wishes.

But how does the narcissist avoid the realisation that what he loudly decries and derides is actually part of him? By exaggerating, or even dreaming up and creatively inventing, differences between his qualities and conduct and other people’s. The more hostile he becomes towards the “nearly-he”, the easier it is to distinguish himself from “the Other”.

To maintain this self-differentiating aggression, the narcissist stokes the fires of hostility by obsessively and vengefully nurturing grudges and hurts (some of them imagined). He dwells on injustice and pain inflicted on him by these stereotypically “bad or unworthy” people. He devalues and dehumanises them and plots revenge to achieve closure. In the process, he indulges in grandiose fantasies, aimed to boost his feelings of omnipotence and magical immunity.

In the process of acquiring an adversary, the narcissist blocks out information that threatens to undermine his emerging self-perception as righteous and offended. He begins to base his whole identity on the brewing conflict which is by now a major preoccupation and a defining or even all-pervasive dimension of his existence.

Very much the same dynamic applies to coping with major differences between the narcissist and others. He emphasises the large disparities while transforming even the most minor ones into decisive and unbridgeable.

Deep inside, the narcissist is continuously subject to a gnawing suspicion that his self-perception as omnipotent, omniscient, and irresistible is flawed, confabulated, and unrealistic. When criticised, the narcissist actually agrees with the critic. In other words, there are only minor differences between the narcissist and his detractors. But this threatens the narcissist’s internal cohesion. Hence the wild rage at any hint of disagreement, resistance, or debate.

Similarly, intimacy brings people closer together – it makes them more similar. There are only minor differences between intimate partners. The narcissist perceives this as a threat to his sense of uniqueness. He reacts by devaluing the source of his fears: the mate, spouse, lover, or partner. He re-establishes the boundaries and the distinctions that were removed by intimacy. Thus restored, he is emotionally ready to embark on another round of idealisation (the Approach-Avoidance Repetition Complex).

In a study titled “War and Relatedness”, published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, the authors, Enrico Spolaore, Romain Wacziarg concluded:

“(T)he degree of genealogical relatedness between populations has a positive effect on their conflict propensities because more closely related populations, on average, tend to interact more and develop more disputes over sets of common issues … (P)opulations that are genetically closer are more prone to go to war with each other, even after controlling for a wide set of measures of geographic distance and other factors that affect conflict, including measures of trade and democracy.”

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Author Bio

Sam Vaknin ( http://samvak.tripod.com ) is the author of Malignant Self-love: Narcissism Revisited and After the Rain – How the West Lost the East, as well as many other books and ebooks about topics in psychology, relationships, philosophy, economics, international affairs, and award-winning short fiction.

He is the Editor-in-Chief of Global Politician and served as a columnist for Central Europe Review, PopMatters, eBookWeb , and Bellaonline, and as a United Press International (UPI) Senior Business Correspondent. He was the editor of mental health and Central East Europe categories in The Open Directory and Suite101.

Visit Sam’s Web site at http://www.narcissistic-abuse.com

Solitude as a Rational Choice

By Sam Vaknin
Author of “Malignant Self-love: Narcissism Revisited

“Purebred” schizoids shrug off their disorder: they simply don’t like being around people and they resent the pathologizing of their lifestyle “choice” to remain aloof and alone. They consider the diagnosis of Schizoid Personality Disorder to be spurious, a mere reflection of current social coercive mores, and a culture-bound artefact.

Narcissist, as usual, tend to rationalize and aggrandize their schizoid conduct. They propound the idea that being alone is the only logical choice in today’s hostile, anomic, and atomized world. The concept of “individual” exists only in the human species. Animals flock together or operate in colonies and herds. Each member of these aggregates is an extension of the organic whole. In contradistinction, people band and socialize only for purposes of a goal-oriented cooperation or the seeking of emotional rewards (solace, succor, love, support, etc.)

Yet, in contemporary civilization, the accomplishment of most goals is outsourced to impersonal collectives such as the state or large corporations. Everything from food production and distribution to education is now relegated to faceless, anonymous entities, which require little or no social interaction. Additionally, new technologies empower the individual and render him or her self-sufficient, profoundly independent of others.

As they have grown in complexity and expectations (fed by the mass media) relationships have mutated to being emotionally unrewarding and narcissistically injurious to the point of becoming a perpetual fount of pain and unease. More formalized social interactions present a substantial financial and emotional risk. Close to half of all marriages, for instance, end in a divorce, inflicting enormous pecuniary damage and emotional deprivation on the parties involved. The prevailing ethos of gender wars as reflected in the evolving legal milieu further serves to deter any residual predilection and propensity to team up and bond.

This is a vicious circle that is difficult to break: traumatized by past encounters and liaisons, people tend to avoid future ones. Deeply wounded, they are rendered less tolerant, more hypervigilant, more defensive, and more aggressive – traits which bode ill for their capacity to initiate, sustain, and maintain relationships. The breakdown and dysfunction of societal structures and institutions, communities, and social units is masked by technologies which provide verisimilitudes and confabulations. We all gravitate towards a delusional and fantastic universe of our own making as we find the real one too hurtful to endure.

Modern life is so taxing and onerous and so depletes the individual’s scarce resources that little is left to accommodate the needs of social intercourse. People’s energy, funds, and wherewithal are stretched to the breaking point by the often conflicting demands of mere survival in post-industrial societies. Furthermore, the sublimation of instinctual urges to pair (libido), associate, mingle, and fraternize is both encouraged and rewarded. Substitutes exist for all social functions, including sex (porn) and childrearing (single parenthood) rendering social institutions obsolete and superfluous social give-and-take awkward and inefficient.

The individual “me” has emerged as the organizing principle in human affairs, supplanting the collective. The idolatry of the individual inexorably and ineluctably results in the malignant forms of narcissism that are so prevalent – indeed, all-pervasive – wherever we direct our gaze.

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Author Bio

Sam Vaknin ( http://samvak.tripod.com ) is the author of Malignant Self-love: Narcissism Revisited and After the Rain – How the West Lost the East, as well as many other books and ebooks about topics in psychology, relationships, philosophy, economics, and international affairs.

He is the Editor-in-Chief of Global Politician and served as a columnist for Central Europe Review, PopMatters, eBookWeb , and Bellaonline, and as a United Press International (UPI) Senior Business Correspondent. He was the editor of mental health and Central East Europe categories in The Open Directory and Suite101.

Visit Sam’s Web site at http://www.narcissistic-abuse.com

Misinformation about Covert vs. Classic Narcissists

By Sam Vaknin
Author of “Malignant Self-love: Narcissism Revisited

Contrary to misinformation spread by “experts” online, covert narcissists are not cunning and manipulative. Classic narcissists are: they often disguise their true nature effectively, knowingly, and intentionally. They are persistent actors with great thespian skills. Not so the covert narcissist: he suppresses his true nature because he lacks the confidence to assert it. His is not a premeditated choice: can’t help but shy away. The covert narcissist is his own worst critic.

Inverted narcissists are covert narcissists. They are self-centred, sensitive, vulnerable, and defensive, or hostile, and paranoid. They harbour grandiose fantasies and have a strong sense of entitlement. They tend to exploit other, albeit stealthily and subtly. Covert narcissists are aware of their innate limitations and shortcomings and, therefore, constantly fret and stress over their inability to fulfil their unrealistic dreams and expectations. They avoid recognition, competition, and the limelight for fear of being exposed as frauds or failures. They are ostentatiously modest.

Covert narcissists often feel guilty over and ashamed of their socially-impermissible aggressive urges and desires. Consequently, they are shy and unassertive and intensely self-critical (perfectionist). This inner conflict between an overwhelming sense of worthlessness and a grandiose False Self results in mood and anxiety disorders. They team up with classic narcissists (see below), but, in secret, resent and envy them.

Compare the classic narcissist to the covert narcissist is this table (Cooper and Akhtar, 1989):

Arrogant/Overt

Shy/Covert

Self-Concept Grandiosity; preoccupation with fantasies of outstanding success; undue sense of uniqueness; feelings of entitlement; seeming self-sufficiency Inferiority; morose self-doubts; marked propensity toward feeling ashamed; fragility; relentless search for glory and power; marked sensitivity to criticism and realistic setbacks
Interpersonal Relationships Numerous but shallow relationships; intense need for tribute from others; scorn for others, often masked by pseudohumility; lack of empathy; inability to genuinely participate in group activities; valuing of children over spouse in family life Inability to genuinely depend on others and trust them; chronic envy of others� talents, possessions, and capacity for deep object relations; lack of regard for generational boundaries; disregard for others� time; refusal to answer letters
Social Adaptation Socially charming; often successful; consistent hard work done mainly to seek admiration (�pseudo- sublimation�); intense ambition; preoccupation with appearances Nagging aimlessness; shallow vocational commitment; dilettante-like attitude; multiple but superficial interests; chronic boredom; aesthetic taste often ill-informed and imitative
Ethics, Standards, and Ideals

Caricatured modesty; pretended contempt for money in real life; idiosyncratically and unevenly moral; apparent enthusiasm for sociopolitical affairs Readiness to shift values to gain favor; pathological lying; materialistic lifestyle; delinquent tendencies; inordinate ethnic and moral relativism; irreverence toward authority
Love and Sexuality Marital instability; cold and greedy seductiveness; extramarital affairs and promiscuity; uninhibited sexual life Inability to remain in love; impaired capacity for viewing the romantic partner as a separate individual with his or her own interests, rights, and values; inability to genuinely comprehend the incest taboo; occasional sexual perversions
Cognitive Style Impressively knowledgeable; decisive and opinionated; often strikingly articulate; egocentric perception of reality; love of language; fondness for shortcuts to acquisition of knowledge Knowledge often limited to trivia (�headline intelligence�); forgetful of details, especially names; impaired in the capacity for learning new skills; tendency to change meanings of reality when facing a threat to self-esteem; language and speaking used for regulating self-esteem

The Inverted Narcissist is a co-dependent who depends exclusively on narcissists (narcissist-co-dependent). If you are living with a narcissist, have a relationship with one, if you are married to one, if you are working with a narcissist, etc. – it does NOT mean that you are an inverted narcissist.

To “qualify” as an inverted narcissist, you must CRAVE to be in a relationship with a narcissist, regardless of any abuse inflicted on you by him/her. You must ACTIVELY seek relationships with narcissists and ONLY with narcissists, no matter what your (bitter and traumatic) past experience has been. You must feel EMPTY and UNHAPPY in relationships with ANY OTHER kind of person. Only then, and if you satisfy the other diagnostic criteria of a Dependent Personality Disorder, can you be safely labelled an “inverted narcissist”.

TIPS: How to Cope with Financial Abuse

Interview granted to The Guardian, June 29, 2013
by: Sam Vaknin, author of “Malignant Self-love – Narcissism Revisited” and other books about personality disorders (www.narcissistic-abuse.com)
My media kit (with ideas for articles) is available here: http://www.narcissistic-abuse.com/mediakit.html
Q. Would narcissists often try to restrict their partner’s independence by reducing their access to shared family finances? Why?
A. Narcissists are control freaks, paranoid, jealous, possessive, and envious. They are the sad products of early childhood abandonment by parents, caregivers, role models, and/or peers. Hence their extreme abandonment anxiety and insecure attachment style. Fostering financial dependence in their nearest and dearest is just another way of making sure of their continued presence as sources of narcissistic supply (attention.) He who holds the purse strings holds the heart’s strings.
Reducing other people to begging and cajoling also buttresses the narcissist’s grandiose fantasy of omnipotence and provides him with a somewhat sadistic gratification.
Q. Would it also happen with female narcissists exercising control over men?
A. Yes. There is no major psychodynamic difference between male and female narcissists.

Q. What advice would you give to someone in a relationship with a narcissist? Should they try to keep their finances separate?

A. They should never allow themselves to be irrevocably separated from their family of origin and close friends. They should maintain their support network and refuse to become a part of the narcissist’s cult-like shared psychosis. They should make sure that they have independent sources of wealth (a trust fund; real estate; bank accounts; deposits; securities) and sustainable sources of income (a job; rental income; interest and dividends; royalties). Above all: they should not share with their narcissistic intimate partner the full, unmitigated details of their life and critical bits of information such as banking passwords and safe box access codes.

Q. I understand that narcissists will sometimes sacrifice their finances and get into big trouble financially (even going bankrupt) in order to satisfy other narcissistic desires – so I presume this means that narcissists are also people whose finances can be instable?

A. It is not as simple as that. The classic narcissist maintains an island of stability in his life (e.g.: his job, business, and finances) while the other dimensions of his existence (e.g., interpersonal relations) wallow in chaos and unpredictability. The narcissist may marry, divorce, and remarry with dizzying speed. Everything in his life may be in constant flux: friends, emotions, judgements, values, beliefs, place of residence, affiliations, hobbies. Everything, that is, except his work. His career is the island of compensating stability in his otherwise mercurial existence. This kind of narcissist is dogged by unmitigated ambition and devotion. He perseveres in one workplace or one job, patiently, persistently and blindly climbing up the corporate ladder and treading the career path. In his pursuit of job fulfilment and achievements, the narcissist is ruthless and unscrupulous – and, very often, successful.

The borderline narcissist reacts to instability in one area of his life by introducing chaos into all the others. Thus, if such a narcissist resigns (or, more likely, is made redundant) – he also relocates to another city or country. If he divorces, he is also likely to resign his job.

This added instability gives this type of narcissist the feeling that all the dimensions of his life are changing simultaneously, that he is being “unshackled”, that a transformation is in progress. This, of course, is an illusion. Those who know the narcissist, no longer trust his frequent “conversions”, “decisions”, “crises”, “transformations”, “developments” and “periods”. They see through his pretensions, protestations, and solemn declarations into the core of his instability. They know that he is not to be relied upon. They know that with narcissists, temporariness is the only permanence.

Narcissists hate routine. When a narcissist finds himself doing the same things over and over again, he gets depressed. He oversleeps, over-eats, over-drinks and, in general, engages in addictive, impulsive, reckless, and compulsive behaviours. This is his way of re-introducing risk and excitement into what he (emotionally) perceives to be a barren life.

The problem is that even the most exciting and varied existence becomes routine after a while. Living in the same country or apartment, meeting the same people, doing essentially the same things (even with changing content) – all “qualify”, in the eyes of the narcissist, as stultifying rote.

The narcissist feels entitled. He feels it is his right – due to his intellectual or physical superiority – to lead a thrilling, rewarding, kaleidoscopic life. He wants to force life itself, or at least people around him, to yield to his wishes and needs, supreme among them the need for stimulating variety.

Psychology of The Lifestyle (Swinging)

By Sam Vaknin
Author of “Malignant Self-love: Narcissism Revisited

The Lifestyle involves sexual acts performed by more than two participants whether in the same space, or separately. It is also known as “swinging”, “wife-, or spouse-swapping”, “wife-, or spouse-sharing”, “group sex” and, where multiple people interact with a single person, “gangbanging”. Swinging can be soft (engaging in sexual activity with one’s own intimate partner, but in the presence of others), or hard (having sex not with one’s spouse or mate.) Threesomes (mostly male-female-male or MFM) are the most common configuration.

The psychological background to such unusual pursuits is not clear and has never been studied in depth. Still, thousands of online chats between active and wannabe adherents and fans in various forums reveal 10 psychodynamic strands:

1. Latent and overt bisexuality and homosexuality: both men and women (but especially women) adopt swinging as a way to sample same-sex experiences in a tolerant, at times anonymous, and permissive environment;

2. The Slut-Madonna Complex: to be sexually attracted to their spouses, some men need to “debase” and “humiliate” them by witnessing their “sluttish” conduct with others. These men find it difficult to have regular, intimate sex with women to whom they are emotionally attached and whose probity is beyond doubt. Sex is “dirty” and demeaning, so it should be mechanical, the preserve of whorish and promiscuous partners;

3. Voyeurism and exhibitionism are both rampant in and satisfied by swinging. Oftentimes, those who partake in the Lifestyle document their exploits on video and share photos and saucy verbal descriptions. Amateur porn and public sex (“dogging”) are fixtures of swinging;

4. Vicarious gratification. “Cuckolds” are (typically male) swingers who masturbate to the sight of their partner having sex with another, usually without actually joining the fray. They derive gratification from and are sexually aroused by the evident pleasure experienced by their significant other: her vocalizations, body language, body fluids, enraptured movements, and orgasm and abandon;

5. Masochism is a prime motive for a minority of swingers. They relish in their own agony as they watch their spouse hooking up with others: envy, pain, anxiety, a sense of humiliation, an overpowering feeling of worthlessness and inadequacy, sinfulness, debauchery, depravity, and decadence all conspire to thrill the masochist and delight him;

6. Swinging is also a form of legitimized cheating. It spices up the stale sex lives of the players and neutralized the emotional and financial risks and threats associated with furtive extramarital escapades. Many swingers adopt the Lifestyle in order to alleviate boredom, counter routine, realise sexual fantasies, learn new techniques, feel desirable and attractive once more, and cope with discrepancies in sex drive. They insist: “swinging saved my marriage”;

7. Some swingers use the Lifestyle to “display” or “exhibit” their partners, casting them as desired and desirable trophies, or status symbols. Others present may sexually “sample the wife” but never own her, a form of restricted access which causes her suitors much envy and frustration. “I am the one who ends up going home with her” – these swingers brag, thus reaffirming their own irresistibility and attractiveness;

8. The Lifestyle is a rollercoaster of serial relationships, mostly with strangers. It is, therefore, thrilling, risky, and exciting and provokes anxiety, romantic jealousy, and guilt (for having dragged the partner into the Lifestyle, or for not having restrained her). There is also a recurrent fear of losing the partner owing to a growing emotional or sexual bond with one of her casual “F-buddies” or “friends with benefits”. Swinging results in an adrenaline rush, a high, and in addictive periods of calm after these self-inflicted psychosexual storms;

9. Swinging calls for the objectification of sexual partners. Many swingers prefer to remain anonymous in settings like Lifestyle retreats or group sex and orgies. They are thus reduced to genitalia and erogenous zones enmeshed in auto-erotic and narcissistic acts of masturbatory gratification with other people’s bodies as mere props. Women reported experiencing a new sense of empowerment and mastery as they can finally dictate the terms and conditions of sexual encounters, pick and choose partners, and realize hitherto suppressed sexual fantasies. Other practitioners actually prefer to swing only with close friends, using sex as a form of intimacy-enhancing recreation;

10.Nudity has a pronounced aesthetic dimension and when multiple naked bodies intertwine, the combination can amount to a work of art, a flesh-and-blood throbbing sculpture. Many swingers find sex to be the most supreme form of artistic experience, an interconnectedness that enhances empathy and communication and provides extreme sensual pleasure. It is also great fun: the ultimate in entertainment, where novelty and familiarity merge to yield a unique journey with each new entrant.

 

Munchausen and Munchausen by Proxy Syndromes: Forms of Pathological Narcissism?

By Sam Vaknin
Author of “Malignant Self-love: Narcissism Revisited

Patients afflicted with the Factitious Disorder colloquially known as “Munchausen Syndrome” seek to attract the attention of medical personnel by feigning or by self-inflicting serious illness or injury. “Munchausen by Proxy Syndrome” (Factitious Illness or Disorder by Proxy, or Imposed by Another, or FII – Fabricated or Induced Illness by Carers) involves the patient inducing illness in or causing injury to a dependent (child, old parent) in order to gain, in her capacity as a caretaker, the attention, praise, and sympathy of medical care providers. Both syndromes are forms of shared psychosis (folie a deux or a plusieurs) and “crazy-making” with hospital staff as unwilling and unwitting participants in the drama.

Superficially, this overwhelming need for consideration by figures of authority and role models (doctors, nurses, clergy, social workers) resembles the narcissist’s relentless and compulsive pursuit of narcissistic supply (which consists of attention, adulation, admiration, being feared or noted, etc.) But, there are some important differences.

To start with, the narcissist – especially the somatic variety – worships his body and cherishes his health. If anything, narcissists tend to be hypochondriacs. They are loath to self-harm and self-mutilate, let alone fake laboratory tests and consume potentially deleterious substances and medications. They are also unlikely to seriously “damage” their sources of supply (e.g., children) as long as they are compliant and adulating.

As opposed to narcissists, people with both Munchausen Syndromes desire acceptance, love, caring, relationships, and nurturing, not merely attention: theirs is an emotional need that amounts to more than the mere regulation of their sense of self-worth. They have no full-fledged False Self, only a clinging, insecure, traumatized, deceitful, and needy True Self. Munchausen Syndrome may be comorbid (can be diagnosed with) personality disorders, though and the patients are pathological liars, schizoid, paranoid, hypervigilant, and aggressive (especially when confronted.)

While narcissists are indiscriminate and “promiscuous” when it comes to their sources of narcissistic supply – anyone would do – patients with the Munchausen Syndromes derive emotional nurturance and sustenance mainly from healthcare practitioners.

Time-limited Marriage: Solution to Cheating and Divorce?

By Sam Vaknin
Author of “Malignant Self-love: Narcissism Revisited”

The ancient institution of monogamous marriage is ill-suited to the exigencies of modern Western civilization. People of both genders live and work longer (which renders monogamy impracticable); travel far and away frequently; and are exposed to thousands of tempting romantic alternatives via social networking.

In an age of malignant individualism, bordering on narcissism, men and women alike put themselves, their fantasies, and their needs first, all else – family included – be damned. And with 5 decades of uninterrupted prosperity and feminism/ women’s lib most of the denizens of the West have acquired the financial wherewithal to realize their dreams at the expense and to the detriment of collectives they ostensibly belong to.

Owing to the dramatic doubling of life expectancy, modern marriages seem to go through three phases: infatuation (honeymoon); procreation-accumulation (of assets, children, and shared experiences); and exhaustion-outsourcing (bonding with new emotional and sexual partners for rejuvenation or the fulfilment of fantasies, needs, and wishes.) Divorces and breakups occur mostly at the seams, the periods of transition between these phases and especially between the stages of accumulation-procreation and exhaustion-outsourcing.

With marriage on the decline and infidelity on the rise, the reasonable solution would be polyamory: households with multiple partners of both genders all of whom are committed to one another for the long haul, romantically-involved, sexually-shared, and economically united. Alas, while a perfectly rational development of the traditional marriage and one that is best-suited to modernity, it is an emotionally unstable arrangement, what with romantic jealousy ineluctably rearing its ugly head.

The question is not why there are so many divorces, but why so few. Surely, serial monogamy (in effect, a tawdry variant of TLM) is far better, fairer, and more humane than adultery? Couples stay together and tolerate straying owing to inertia; financial or emotional dependence; insecurity (lack of self-confidence or low self-esteem); fear of the unknown and the tedium of dating. Some couples persevere owing to religious conviction of for the sake of appearances. Yet others make a smooth transition to an alternative lifestyle (polyamory, swinging, or consensual adultery).

Indeed, what has changed is not the incidence of adultery, even among women. There are good grounds to assume that it has remained the same throughout human history. The phenomenon – quantitatively and qualitatively – has always been the same, merely underreported. What have changed are the social acceptability of extramarital sex both before and during marriage and the ease of obtaining divorce. People discuss adultery openly where before it was a taboo topic.

Another new development may be the rise of “selfish affairs” among women younger than 35 who are used to multiple sexual partners. “Selfish affairs” are acts of adultery whose sole purpose is to satisfy sexual curiosity and the need for romantic diversity. The emotional component in these usually short-term affairs (one-night stands and the like) is muted. Among women older than 60, adultery has become the accepted way or seeking emotional connection and intimacy outside the marital bond. These are “outsourcing affairs.”

Human psychology dictates that in any modern, adaptable variant of marriage monogamy must be preserved while allowing for emotional, sexual, and romantic diversity. How to square the circle?

Enter “time-limited marriages” (TLM). These are marriage contracts with expiration dates: one to three years for childless couples and a minimum of seven years for those blessed with children (to allow the parents to provide a stable environment during the child’s formative years.) These contracts can be allowed to expire and then the parties are free to look elsewhere for the fulfilment of their sexual and romantic dreams and wishes; or they can be renewed and renegotiated.

Within the TLM, partners would have little incentive to cheat: they could simply wait for the contract to lapse. The looming expiry would also keep the intimate partners on their toes and on their best behavior by generating a sempiternal environment of courtship and positive sexual tension. The periodically renegotiated marriage contracts would reflect changing economic realities, shifts in romantic sentiment, and other pertinent new data. Of course, TLM would eliminate the need for divorces (except in extreme, emergency cases.)

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