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Video: Can couples really be monogamous?

  1. Transcript of: Can couples really be monogamous?

    AMY ROBACH reporting: This morning on TODAY'S RELATIONSHIPS , is monogamy natural? Every day it seems there is trouble in paradise for high-profile couples. Most recently, David Arquette and Courteney Cox who split after 11 years. But you certainly don't have to be famous to have bumps in your own marriage. So is committing to one partner for the rest of your life a reasonable expectation? Gail Saltz is a psychiatrist and TODAY contributor. Gail , good morning.

    Dr. GAIL SALTZ (Psychiatrist): Good morning.

    ROBACH: Obviously, we know the divorce rate in this country, so it doesn't work for everybody. But is there any sort of medical evidence to point to whether or not monogamy is a natural experience?

    Dr. SALTZ: I don't think there's any hard-wiring like, you know, certain breeds of penguins that only mate and therefore we could say there must be something in their hard-wiring. But I think that, you know, marriage was originally created as a business option, so to speak, a way of passing on wealth to your progeny, and you had to have monogamy to know it was your progeny. But obviously, that's not the purpose of marriage anymore. So now we're very consumed with what makes me feel good, what's making me happy, what am I enjoying. And we're looking around at couples like Courteney Cox and saying, 'Hey, if everybody's doing it, then what's the big deal?'

    Dr. SALTZ: And that sort of desensitizes us to the idea that we can attain monogamy . But it is a choice. It's not a hard-wire biological -- we are -- we are hard-wired, let me take that back. We are hard-wired to attach to somebody, to bond with somebody from a very young age. But to stay only with that one person, that's probably a choice.

    ROBACH: And it's interesting because obviously we just mentioned the celebrity breakups, but we also have a couple of polygamist shows on now. Monogamy is certainly a hot topic, or lack thereof.

    Dr. SALTZ: Yes. Yes. It's being questioned because, frankly, everything now, right, is up for grabs. I mean, look what's on TV , look around. We're all questioning, 'do I have to follow the rules?' And I think, you know, we're seeing a lot of in the news, rule-breaking. So we're kind of consumed with this concept right now, and monogamy has been an accepted rule. But now we're questioning do we really have to?

    ROBACH: Right. It -- I think the question a lot of people might have is do you think most couples struggle with monogamy ?

    Dr. SALTZ: I think that most couples think at some point or another do I want to stay monogamous at this moment? But it's usually a moment that they put themselves at high risk . And I think that it has to do with the old concept of your super ego. What's your moral compass? Did you come into this relationship saying, 'I really' -- most people would give up monogamy for themselves but they want their partner to be monogamous. So it's really, did both of you decide that this is very important to you. And there are benefits, big benefits.

    ROBACH: Right.

    Dr. SALTZ: Did you decide this is what you want, and if so are you willing do the hard work, and I do mean hard work of protecting yourself and your relationship so you stay monogamous.

    ROBACH: Is there a point though where it's a good idea to re-evaluate whether or not you want to be monogamous?

    Dr. SALTZ: Well, I think if you go into a marriage and you both discussed it, which hopefully you did, most people do not, but that you discussed it and decided you're going to be monogamous...

    ROBACH: Well, I think most people think it's a given when it comes to marriage.

    Dr. SALTZ: People think it's a given and they shouldn't.

    ROBACH: Right.

    Dr. SALTZ: Sometimes people think children's a given and they shouldn't. Sometimes they think religion's a given, they shouldn't. You should discuss this. But you can't yearly re-evaluate and one of you change your mind, that's the problem.

    ROBACH: Right. And that's part of what you give. You have some tips in terms of people going into this deciding what they want, basically.

    Dr. SALTZ: Yeah.

    ROBACH: You say the first thing to do is decide if that's what you and your partner actually really want to do.

    Dr. SALTZ: Have a discussion.

    ROBACH: The second is to avoid the high-risk settings like...

    Dr. SALTZ: Yes. People put themselves out there for travel, for business. They do it a lot alone. They go into bars, they go into clubs to entertain their clients...

    ROBACH: Temptation, temptation, temptation.

    Dr. SALTZ: ...and they put alcohol in the mix. And then, you know.

    ROBACH: You say keep sex life interesting and mutually satisfying.

    Dr. SALTZ: Yes.

    ROBACH: No sharing marital problems with members of the opposite sex .

    Dr. SALTZ: That's right . It's very risky. This is where you create the emotional infidelity that we've often talked about on this show.

    ROBACH: Right.

    Dr. SALTZ: But if you say, 'oh, I'm really having problems and I'm going to talk with you and you're so attractive, and by the way I'm attracted.'

    ROBACH: One thing can lead to another.

    Dr. SALTZ: Exactly. And if you're going to be friends with a member of the opposite sex or someone you're attracted to, you have to bring your partner into the mix. The four of you have to go out and do stuff together. And you better make sure you have a good sex life with your partner because that's when most infidelities happen. When you're not satisfied sexually with what's going on, both of you, somebody takes that bar moment...

    ROBACH: Right.

    Dr. SALTZ: ...and strays.

    ROBACH: Right. And you say acknowledge marital problems and outside attractions. So you're supposed to tell your spouse, 'hey, guess what?'

    Dr. SALTZ: Well, you don't have to tell them every little -- you would torture your partner with that. 'I like the soccer coach, I like the mailman, I like the' -- no. Not that. But if something is really starting to bubble up and you're becoming aware of it, then say, 'you know what, I want you to go out with me and so and so because I want to maintain my friendship, but you know, there seems to be a little tension there.' Don't kick it under the rug. Again, that's when the affair happens. And there's a lot to be gained by monogamy . A life partner who shares with you that life history and your family, if you decide to have one...

    ROBACH: Right.

    Dr. SALTZ: ...in an uninterrupted way is...

    ROBACH: Yeah, without that trust, it's not there.

    Dr. SALTZ: It's not there.

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