How not to do non-monogamy

How not to do non-monogamy January 20, 2012

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.

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