Is sexual jealousy an inevitable part of relationships?

Story highlights

  • Stephanie Fairyington: The thought of sexual betrayal alone can feel unbearable
  • The maniacal levels of jealousy many of us reach when romantic trust is threatened or broken is innate, she says

Stephanie Fairyington (@Fairyington1) is a journalist in NYC, who writes on gender and sexuality.The opinions expressed in this commentary are hers.

(CNN)Showtime's provocative series "The Affair" follows the devastating aftershocks of an adulterous relationship between Noah Solloway (played by Dominic West), a married father of four, and a married waitress, Alison (Ruth Wilson). The mess that extends from their extramarital union includes the demise of two marriages, four troubled and bereft children, an unplanned pregnancy, an accidental homicide and an unjust incarceration.

Stephanie Fairyington
Maura Tierney, who plays a deeply affecting Helen Solloway, Noah's abandoned wife, has said of the drama: "My friends who are couples, don't like to watch it together." As someone who struggles with sexual jealousy, which I believe is hardwired into us, I get why a couple might not want to preview the ugliness and suffering in store if they fail the expectation of fidelity. (Especially as it plays out on this show!) The thought of sexual betrayal alone can feel unbearable.
    In an interview last summer, showrunner Sarah Treem put it this way: "A romantic relationship is like a triangle where both people lean in, creating a structure that holds both of them up. If one person is quote unquote "unfaithful," she said, "the structure collapses. If your relationship is the primary thing that holds up your house, and for most of us it is, then it's terrifying."
      Author Dossie Easton, who co-wrote "The Ethical Slut," a guide to open relationships, has a less pragmatic and more philosophical -- and controversial -- take. She's long argued that sexual jealousy is a negative byproduct of the rigid expectations we've created around monogamy and marriage. She believes that the family structure would stay intact if we accepted our polyamorous natures and could "unlearn" sexual jealousy.
      "Sexual jealousy is supposed to be somehow unconquerable and immovable," Easton told me. "But that is a myth. It's really serious emotional work to unlearn jealousy and cultivate other ways to feel secure in a relationship, but it's possible. I've been doing it in my practice for the past 20 years and in my own life since 1969."
      Eminent family historian Stephanie Coontz's book "Marriage, a History: How Love Conquered Marriage" gives credence to East