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Articles from January 2021

January 15, 2021

Nudity, Porn, Pigs, and Chicken Wings

I had an interesting chat with someone today that led me to think about all the moral differences couples encounter and how they handle them.

If you're in an arranged marriage, there is a good chance your relatives thoroughly checked out your spouse's morals before you married. And maybe they even knew which ones truly mattered to you. If not, you probably fell in love before you even gave a thought to most moral issues. When you discover a big difference, you have some work to do.

If you are very modest and you discover you married someone who extols the virtues of nudist vacations, you are going to need a Third Alternative that works for both of you.

If you grew up thinking that enjoying porn is a normal part of being male and you discover you married someone who views it as infidelity or humiliation, you are going to need a Third Alternative that works for both of you.

If you are certain that you'll be punished throughout eternity for eating pork and you discover you married someone who heard that growing up but likes bacon and thinks that rule was for back then, not now, you are going to need a Third Alternative that works for both of you.

If you love steaks, burgers, trout, and chicken wings and you married a vegan or watched your spouse become revolted at the thought of eating anything with a formerly beating heart, you are going to need a Third Alternative that works for both of you.

Some of our morals are non-negotiable. It makes sense, after you've been choked or poisoned or shot by your spouse, to seek a divorce or a no-communication, permanent separation. You might do the same over the sexual abuse of a child by your spouse. You might do it after learning your family income results from conning innocent victims out of their life savings. Or you might do it over porn or food or clothes.

Only you can decide which morals fall into this category for you, which ones supersede the vows you made to each other and the love you feel for your partner. I cannot help you with this.

If, however, you want to find a way to live and love even though your beliefs differ, I think I can help. It begins with respect. It begins with accepting that someone you loved enough to marry came to different conclusions from you on very important issues, like eating the flesh, milk, and eggs of other species. Or eating food they believe God will punish us for. Or wearing clothing when it's not required by law or needed for warmth. Or watching other people engage in sexual activities or alluring poses. Or violence in self-defense. Or abortion. Or when being truthful matters.

No matter how certain you are about these issues, you cannot come to any happy Third Alternative by shaming your spouse. The moment you assert your conclusion as the only legitimate one (even if many other people and seven holy books agree with you), your assertion destroys the respect your marriage needs to survive. Even if your spouse somehow agrees that you are The Better Spouse, your marriage suffers, because it needs two equal partners who respect each other. It cannot thrive with a Good Spouse and a Bad Spouse.

Shaming your spouse for not living in accordance with your moral beliefs also leaves you with no room for a Third Alternative, because you have made it clear that you will accept only abandoning his or her moral beliefs and accepting yours. There is no Third Alternative, because a Third Alternative is one that each of you likes at least as much as your own first choice.

Shaming your spouse also fails as a way of discovering a Third Alternative because it suggests, instantly, that the most important relationship in both your lives is in jeopardy. The human brain reacts to threats by trying to explain away the behavior that you're objecting to. Even without any clue why we did something, we will explain it, using a part of the brain that's been nicknamed the confabulator. And if it wants an explanation that will reduce the threat of the relationship ending, its go-to explanation is that this is a logical and natural response to something the accuser did.

So, please don't shame your spouse for being immodest in wanting to spend time in a nudist camp. (He or she may actually be far more modest than you are when it comes to taking credit for a success that others contributed to, for example.) Don't lecture about the cruelty of factory farming of chickens or recite the Old Testament or the Qur'an on the subject of eating pork. And don't ask if your husband would like it if his daughter or mother appeared in porn. None of these is going to get you where you want to go, unless that's to divorce court.

The route to a Third Alternative begins with accepting that there is something very important to your spouse that led to his or her moral beliefs instead of yours. And it's probably something you never even considered and cannot see now. This is why you begin with respectful curiosity. It's time to learn what the Third Alternative that will work for your marriage needs to accomplish.

Perhaps your wife never once gave a thought to the life of the chickens whose wings she loves to serve up whenever friends come over, but there are reasons she chooses chicken wings and not bowls of vegetable barley soup or truffles. And there are reasons that she buys them when guests are coming and not when she's eating alone while you're out of town. Ask. Learn. And do the same for all of her other choices of foods that feel immoral to you. You need this information to begin the creative work of finding alternatives that feel better to you and just as satisfying to her.

In the end, you and your spouse may very well find a Third Alternative that does not require changing either of your beliefs, only your practices. For example, porn is OK but not where you can see it, not children, not to exceed a particular budget, and not without frequent reassurance that you are the only one he wants in bed with him. Or porn is not OK, but the two of you will try new things to make your sex life more interesting. Or you two will budget for some hobby that gives your spouse the same status at work as talking about porn does. It all depends on what the appeal of porn is for one of you and what it would take to counteract porn's negative effects on the other.

If your spouse has stopped eating most breakfasts and lunches with you because you refuse to have bacon or ribs in the house, and this bothers you, you two might decide to try out alternative foods together or you might choose to eat breakfast together at the diner. You might even decide that it's worth it to have two kitchens.

And if you differ about nudity, you might decide to take separate vacations or to vacation near a nudist camp or beach, so you can spend some time together each day. Or the one who finds it unthinkable might go along to a clothing-optional event to learn more while comfortably clothed.

But first, you need to be open to learning what your husband or wife values about the thing they choose to do that you would not choose. Because you cannot create what works for the two of you until you know what works for each of you.

The Author

Patty Newbold is a widow who got it right the second time...

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