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Startling infidelity numbers: Does 'happily ever after' exist?

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Arnold. Ashton. Anthony.  When it comes to the ABCs of infidelity, one thing is certain: It’s only a matter of days – maybe minutes – before another extramarital scandal rocks the headlines.

With brand new stories of celebrity and political infidelity hitting the newsstands every week, one can't help but wonder if happily-ever-after is a big, fat myth. After all, if this is what we're seeing regularly in our glossy magazines and on TV, what's happening behind closed doors? Is monogamy just too much to ask?

Over at Good in Bed, we've been curious to learn how people truly feel about monogamy these days. As a standard that has held sway for so long, is everyone really just dismissing it as obsolete?

Working with the definition of monogamy as a relationship in which two partners are romantically and sexually exclusive, we surveyed 2,321 people (1,394 men and 921 women), ranging in age from 18 to 73. The majority of the participants were married (56.3 percent).

The results of the survey? Some of our intriguing findings include:
• Almost two-thirds said they believed that their current partner was their “partner for life.”
• More than half believed forming monogamous relationships is a part of human nature and that relationships would be healthier if people valued monogamy more.
• About 78 percent agreed being monogamous helps a relationship grow over time.
• Fifty-six percent said they simply assume monogamy with a partner, while just 13 percent said they had explicitly negotiated it.
• More than 90 percent believed monogamy is a choice.

Despite their professed commitment to monogamy, however; many of the respondents had also grappled with infidelity:
• About half admitted to having had a partner cheat on them, either sexually or emotionally.
• Forty-two percent confessed to having engaged in infidelity themselves.
• Half of people who had been cheated ended their relationship as a result, but 70 percent of people who admitted cheating did stay in the relationship—and 54 percent believed that their partner never discovered the infidelity.

While a large majority of survey respondents still believed wholeheartedly in monogamy, an even greater percentage of them believed that monogamy was a choice. And sometimes it was a choice that was made alone. More than half of survey respondents had been cheated on in the past, and a little less than half had cheated on their partner. When asked what led them astray, the top three answers were curiosity, lack of sexual novelty and boredom.

Of course, these issues are nothing new. It's why I — and countless other experts — often recommend an injection of sexual adventurousness when things become stale. Still, many in long-term relationships assume their relationship rut is an indicator that monogamy itself is a flawed cultural ideal. In fact, married survey participants had significantly more negative attitudes toward monogamy than participants who were seriously dating one person. Is a growing disenchantment with monogamy inevitable?

Then there were those couples who had dipped a toe into the world of polyamory. Though only a small percent of those surveyed had tried an open relationship before, 40 percent of respondents were open to trying such an arrangement in the future.

Either way, it seems that traditional values haven't completely disappeared. In fact, most of the survey participants believed in the concept of soul mates — the idea that there is one person out there for every other person on earth. It's a surprising show of idealism and sentimentality in a world that's come to embrace the unconventional.

Still, despite what sappy love songs and uplifting rom-coms would have you believe, relationships don't float along on a cloud of happily-ever-after. Regardless of the side you take, soul mates or not, relationships take work and it is important to be prepared to deal with the ebbs and flows.

So before giving up on monogamy entirely, ask yourself: Am I doing all the heavy lifting necessary to make this work?

What are your attitudes towards monogamy? Feel free to hop over to Good in Bed and participate in the survey.

Kristen Mark, Ph.D., M.P.H. is a sex and relationships researcher and assistant professor at University of Kentucky. She is also the survey director at Good in Bed.