How not to do non-monogamy

Christina here…

Here’s some charming information:  Newt Gingrich’s ex-wife Marianne recently admitted to ABC news that Gingrich asked for an “open marriage“, after cheating on her for over six years with his current wife, Callista.

You’ve probably already heard, this, but here’s a relevant snippet, just in case not:

In her most provocative comments, the ex-Mrs. Gingrich said Newt sought an “open marriage” arrangement so he could have a mistress and a wife.

She said when Gingrich admitted to a six-year affair with a Congressional aide, he asked her if she would share him with the other woman, Callista, who is now married to Gingrich.

“And I just stared at him and he said, ‘Callista doesn’t care what I do,’” Marianne Gingrich told ABC News. “He wanted an open marriage and I refused.”

Marianne described her “shock” at Gingrich’s behavior, including how she says she learned he conducted his affair with Callista “in my bedroom in our apartment in Washington.”

“He always called me at night,” she recalled, “and always ended with ‘I love you.’ Well, she was listening.”

Bloggers and media outlets quickly labeled Newt’s behavior as “polyamory”. One blog title particularly enraged me: “Polyamory, thy name is Newt“.

The author of the above piece writes:

I can see polyamorists shaking their heads and wanting to distance themselves from him but I wonder if it’s worth, even temporarily, claiming Gingrich as one of their own, even just for laughs. It would be grand, I think, if a prominent spokesperson for polyamory stood up and welcomed Gingrich into their open arms.

Here’s how you don’t do polyamory: First you get married to wife #1 (Jackie) and presumably have monogamous vows. Then, you cheat on her. Then she gets cancer and you divorce her while she lay stunned by the news of your affair. Six months later, you marry the woman with whom you cheated on your first wife with (Marianne), presumably having monogamous vows. You have a clandestine affair for six years, then decide you want a divorce so you can marry your mistress. After you tell your current wife you want a divorce, you tell her you will stay with her if she agrees on an open marriage. When she cannot agree, you divorce her and marry your third wife (Callista).

As my friend TheNerd said, “Comparing Gingrich to polyamory is like comparing wife-beating to BDSM.”


I’ll say something perhaps stronger: Newt Gingrich is to polyamory as rape is to “making love”.

One can “do” polyamory in many ways. I don’t want to play the no-true-polyamorist card, but polyamory is the ability to open your heart to multiple loving, consensual relationships – built upon ideals such as honesty, respect, consent, ethics, communication, trust, and love.

What’s missing from Newty are most of those things. He got the “multiple” part right, but failed miserably at the rest. Asking your wife for an open marriage after she’s discovered you’ve been breaking her trust for six years is abusive and selfish. Especially when you blame your wife by saying things like,

“He said the problem with me was I wanted him all to myself,” she said. “I said, ‘That’s what marriage is.’ He said [of Callista], ‘She doesn’t care what I do.’ ”

Blaming your wife for being selfishly monogamous while heralding your mistress as the better woman and demanding either an open marriage or a divorce is tantamount to coercion. That’s as bad as telling someone they need to believe in the son of your sky daddy or else face eternal hellfire in – oh, wait… maybe that’s where Newt got the idea of giving people choices which are not choices at all.

I’m all for having multiple relationships of multiple relationships work for you and all involved. Relationships – all of them – have rules. Some go unspoken: I trust that my boss won’t grab my ass when he passes me in the hall. We’ve never had to have a conversation about that, and probably never will. Some are spelled out: Chris (my husband) and I won’t make babies with anyone other than each other. When you break the rules, you break the trust established in your relationship. When you break the rules for six years behind the back of your partner, you grossly fail at even the basics of trust. If my boss could somehow grab my ass for six years while passing me in the hall without my knowledge and then demand that I allow him when I find out about it because “your co-worker doesn’t care, and if you don’t let me, I’ll fire you” that would not come close to the abuse by Newt to his ex-wife.

Not only did he break the rules, but (assuming he fucked his wife and his mistress) he potentially exposed Marianne to sexually-transmitted infections. It is not ethical to potentially expose someone to STI’s without his or her consent. When your partner knows (in the biblical sense) other people, it’s as if you know them as well. Marianne knew Callista by proxy.

Polyamory: thy name is not Newt.  Cheating, unethical abuser, thy name is Newt.

The most hilarious outcome of this whole Newt open marriage debacle is this opinion piece on Fox news, “Newt Gingrich’s three marriages mean he might make a strong president — really” which claims that Newt would make a great president because he’s been through tough times and clearly these three women think he’s the bees-knees, otherwise they wouldn’t have married him in the first place. I almost vomited up my fruit-roll up:

1) Three women have met Mr. Gingrich and been so moved by his emotional energy and intellect that they decided they wanted to spend the rest of their lives with him.

2) Two of these women felt this way even though Mr. Gingrich was already married.

3) One of them felt this way even though Mr. Gingrich was already married for the second time, was not exactly her equal in the looks department and had a wife (Marianne) who wanted to make his life without her as painful as possible.

Gag me.

There’s this little thing called Cognitive Dissonance I want to talk about. Cognitive Dissonance is that icky feeling you get when you hold conflicting cognitions simultaneously. In this case, the two conflicting cognition: “I like Newt, but Newt engages in behaviors consistent with cheating asshats, the kind of person I should not like.”

Cognitive dissonance makes people feel uncomfortable, so they are motivationally driven to reduce that dissonance to create consistency.  Instead of seeing Newt for the cheat he is, his 2nd and 3rd wife (and the writer of the above referenced opinion piece) chose to decide that Newt must possess such incredible “emotional energy and intellect” that they could overlook/excuse his unethical behavior. I guess it’s harder to admit that you’ve made the wrong choices and invested time into the wrong relationship than it is to admit your lover isn’t worthy.

So, attempting to coerce your wife into an “open marriage” after cheating on her for 6 years is not polyamory, just like rape is not making love, and wife-beating is not BDSM, and a one-night stand is not a committed relationship.

Learn more about Christina and follow her @Ziztur.

About christinastephens
  • F

    Oh hell no, polyamory that ain’t. That’s pathological self-love.

    It doesn’t really matter if Fox wants to interpret it some other way. You don’t do that and run on the standard “Family Values” platform.

    Now, a real platform that valued loving families of all sorts, that would be great.

  • The Nerd


  • wunelle

    What a surprise to see Faux news getting things utterly, brain-suckingly wrong in their contortions to keep people with money tuned in. What a way to make a laughingstock out of all of us.

  • onefuriousllama

    Ah, the religious right. They are a wonder to behold. I’m so very glad they are not evil hypocritical assholes to a man. It would have been bad if they were.

  • Riptide

    It seems to me that Marianne knew what she was getting into, so I don’t get how she’s so shocked and hurt that the Newtster could possibly stray from her.

    That said, I’m more amused than enraged by the attempts to cast his philandering as ‘polyamory’. It shows the thugs are aware of us and are trying to use us to boost their ratings however they can.

  • Carlie

    I wish this essay could get as much mainstream media airtime as the idiots calling it polyamory.

    • Christina

      Me too! =D

  • ‘Tis Himself, OM.

    Newt Gingrich’s three marriages mean he might make a strong president — really

    What his three marriages tell me is he can’t honor a commitment. I really doubt he loved any of these women. He was interested in sex and possibly companionship. If there’s anyone Gingrich is in love with, it’s himself.

  • Otrame

    I am always amazed that women who have an affair with a married man expect him to not do the same thing to them. I am sure there are guys who only cheat with one person and never ever cheat on their former mistress once they are married, but I bet it is not very common. I wonder if Callista thinks he’ll be faithful to her. It’s possible she really doesn’t care, I suppose.

    On a related note: why doesn’t anyone ever mention why Newt quit being Speaker of the House? He sat down and shut up very suddenly and stayed that way for ten years. I’ve always wondered why.

  • Rory

    This presidential primary reason is really sucking the life out of me. It makes me ill to hear people talk about Gingrich, and Perry, and Santorum (to say nothing of Bachmann) as if they’re viable candidates for leadership of a major nation, rather than cochroached excuses for human beings wallowing in tribalism and bigotry. I really kind of miss being politically apathetic.

  • We Are Ing

    why doesn’t anyone ever mention why Newt quit being Speaker of the House? He sat down and shut up very suddenly and stayed that way for ten years. I’ve always wondered why.

    IIRC he was caught misappropriating funds

  • Randomfactor

    He sat down and shut up very suddenly and stayed that way for ten years. I’ve always wondered why.

    If he’s the nominee, you’ll find out. The ethics committee records will accidentally be left on some cooperative journalist’s desk.

  • Kendra Holliday

    Damn you are harsh! I LOVE IT. I don’t care how rich he is, I can’t believe there are that many women lining up to get fucked by him. Just goes to show it takes all kinds of stupid to make the world go ’round.

  • Leila

    This reminds me of a booklet written by Dr Naik about the fundamental teachings of Islam. He does talk about polygamy in it and funnily enough, Newty-boy there actually almost word-for-word agrees with him. Naik says the onus is on the woman; it would be selfish of her NOT to allow her husband to take on multiple wives and a good wife would not allow another woman to go husband-less.

    I wonder if Newt secretly reads his work.

  • Al Stefanelli

    I know a guy who is at the head of a local polyamory group, and yeah, what Newt did is not polyamory, it’s douchebaggery… What a fucking tool…

  • Hola

    I’m not going to jump to conclusions and say Newt is necessarily poly. But I am also not going to say that he’s necessarily NOT poly just because he “didn’t do it right.”

    We don’t traditionally define sexual orientation or identity by how ethical and honest you live it out. We define it by what we sexually want. If a guy is in a sexless relationship with a woman, but sneaks out to sleep with men, are we not allowed to call him gay because he isn’t “doing it right?” If a monoamorous couple lies to each other, are they deprived of their orientation/identity?

    Lying and cheating do not belong in any loving relationship, mono or poly, gay or straight. But if people make mistakes, it shouldn’t cost them their sexual identity.

    Newt has a lot of flaws, but one thing he has in common with everyone is a sexual identity. What exactly that identity is, is up to him alone.

    • The Nerd

      This is where we get into identity vs activity. Newt may be polyamorously oriented, but his actions were much closer to cheating than to polyamory. I only have one partner, and I still consider myself polyamorous, so I agree that one’s identity isn’t negated by a single act. I believe the problem lies in our not having separate words for polyamorous people and polyamorous actions, so we end up calling them as though they were the same.

    • We Are Ing

      Newt has shown no indication that he has any interest in actual polyamory. Just that he demands free reign from his spouses whether they agree or not. He denies the label and everything he’s done that has been labeled it is actually abuse. If someone labeled a rapist as a BDSM fetishist that doesn’t make it so.

  • Arancaytar

    I guess this means they’ll now stop using the “slippery slope to polygamy” argument when denouncing gay marriage.

    (Haha, of course not.)

  • Anri

    On the whole Cognitive Dissonance biz… just imagine, just close your eyes and picture, for a few minutes, what the apocalypticly eruptive shock and horror reaction Fox News would be spewing if this were President Obama and not Newt.

    Here’s the really crazy thing: if tomorrow, there were relevations that the President did exactly the same thing as Newty, both stories would be run concurrently, one filled with praise (with the occasional pro forma tut-tutting), and the other a wall-to-wall vein-popping, spittle-flecked, the-sky-opens-rain-of-blood hoo-rah.

    Perhaps I’m being unfair… but I don’t think so.

  • Dhorvath, OM

    How not to do interpersonal relationships. Newt is a manipulative entitled piece of shit and it pisses me off to have him associated with the idea of open marriages. Yet he is. So.
    What really offends is that he has picked up and misunderstood a fringe culture then abandoned it when it proved the incorrect tool for his needs. Merely words that he thought might make a difficult situation easier, and now we reap the fallout. Gah!