Monogamy is Dead; Long Live Monogamy

The New Monogamy | Redefining Your Relationship After Infidelity

Tammy Nelson

1st Edition (2012)

New Harbinger | ISBN 978-1608823154


Like some of the other books we review, this is not a book about swinging or ethical non-monogamy, per se. This is a self-help book for couples who have experienced infidelity within a relationship that was intended to be traditionally monogamous and who want to salvage the relationship.

This is not a book for those who harbor illusions that they can return to the same relationship they had pre-infidelity, or even find that desirous.

“I wrote this book,” the author states, “to challenge the common view that an affair has to mean the end of a relationship.” In it, we hear parallels to Elizabeth Scheff’s article in Psychology Today, which asks, “Is Polyamory a Form of Sexual Orientation?” Nelson seems to empathize with those in Scheff’s study who state that they simply aren’t “wired for” monogamy:

Much of the literature on affair recovery assumes that infidelity is a symptom of some fundamental problem in a marriage or committed relationship, ignoring the more important dilemma of whether monogamy is even possible to the average person.

This is not a book for those who harbor illusions that they can return to the same relationship they had pre-infidelity, or even find that desirous. This is a book for people who realize that an affair is sometimes a “wake up call,” as Nelson puts it, warranting a totally new approach to the marital relationship, moving forward.

In the introduction, Nelson makes some bold assertions:

Monogamy as we know it is changing in our world and in our culture. Our ability to remain monogamous is becoming more difficult in an age when cheating is easier than ever. Marriage as we know it will be totally different by the end of this century. The couples that manage to stay together and make it work will be the ones who decide to create fluidity and flexibility in their partnerships.

It’s not a book advocating open marriage, but it does present several options from closed monogamy to wide open poly-sexuality, for partners to consider together.

Beyond the introduction, Nelson’s book is divided into eight chapters, most with embedded exercises for couples to complete as they recover from an affair, as well as case studies of couples the author has worked with in her practice as a counselor and sex therapist in NYC.

1 | Infidelity and the New Monogamy
2 | Listening to the Affair
3| Building Trust
4 | Creating a Vision of Your New Relationship
5 | Creating a New Monogamy Agreement
6 | Erotic Recovery
7 | Further Explorations in Eroticism
8 | Your New Relationship, Moving Forward

The author defines “the new monogamy” as “the conscious choices a couple makes about their sexual and emotional fidelity when they both agree to stay together and make it work. The new monogamy also means that each marriage is highly individualized.” She advocates for monogamy agreements created by the couple in the wake of infidelity and renegotiated as time passes.


It was interesting to read this book as a married couple who split up for a short time and then got back together, though our break up was not related to infidelity. Many of the chapters and exercises didn’t pertain to our exact situation, but — at the same time — much of the rhetoric of Nelson’s “new monogamy” rang true to what we experienced and stumbled upon for ourselves when we decided to give our marriage another go rather than divorce.

For that reason, we’d recommend this book to any couple who is experiencing tension or difficulty. This book contains some wise nuggets for any couple, but really isn’t something we’d recommend to folks in a primarily happy, well-functioning relationship. It’s not that you wouldn’t find it interesting, it’s just that much of the content is very specifically geared toward recovering after an affair.

We’d recommend this book to any couple who is experiencing tension or difficulty.

Having said that, you don’t have to do all of the “recovering from the affair” exercises to gain from reading this book. If nothing else, the chapters on “erotic recovery” and “further explorations in eroticism” are worth a read to any couple who is experiencing stagnancy in the bedroom. Those chapters echo Esther Perel’s Mating in Captivity, acknowledging that “erotic curiosity” is necessary to sustain desire, but tends to decrease in long-term relationships over time:

Relationships can become so safe and secure that they lose their sense of the unexpected. When you know that every day your partner and your routine will be the same as the day before, you can get into what is traditionally known as a “rut.” A rut is the exact opposite of what we think of as eroticism.

There’s also a brief bit towards the end of the book on “infidelity intervention” (an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, they say) in which Nelson promotes the idea of creating “relationship adventure.” She goes so far as to state that “adding adventure to your sex life is crucial,” and encourages couples to create “an environment that welcomes adventure and exploration.”

If we have a complaint about this book, it is this — In the scenarios where Nelson relates couples who have opened their marriages to others, she talks exclusively about the married couple, treating the other(s) involved as if they are inconsequential props. We are 100% sure this is not intentional, but it struck us that she should include some information for readers about how to be ethically non-monogamous in terms of all involved. For example, in one vignette, she talks about a couple agreeing to have complete sexual freedom one weekend each month but remain monogamous the rest of the month. She does not, unfortunately, acknowledge that the people these two are off fucking one weekend twelve times a year probably have emotions and needs, and should be privy to the arrangement and good with it, too.

In the end, what we appreciate about this book is its acknowledgment of what the author calls “The Fairy Tale”:

The new monogamy is a new way of looking at marriage and committed relationships….You may have engaged in these culturally defined rituals without truly looking at your own personal beliefs, your needs in the relationship, and what you wanted out of it. You may have only briefly discussed each other’s needs and expectations….You may have assumed, wrongly, that all it would take to be blissful was to find a person who would commit to you.

This book asks its reader to consider that there are other types of fairy tales to be written that don’t center on traditional monogamy, and that we can be — should be — the authors of our own fairy tales.

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featured photo | Nicoleta Ionescu

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