Over recent months the bed springs sound effect on The Archers has been called out of retirement by the relationship between Lillian, whom I wrote about here, and Justin Elliot, ruthless businessman and philanderer . As I wrote previously Lillian did seem to have reached that stage of life where contemplation of past and future can carry its own fears. Uncomplicated fun with Justin (a married man) perhaps reminded Lillian of her youth, and she did seem to delight in having to secretly escape from an assignation in negligee and wellies. She even confessed as much, that the excitement, as much as the sex or friendship, attracted her to Justin.
Justin himself originally told Lillian that he and his wife, Miranda, had “an arrangement”. This made my therapist ears perk up. As someone who works with clients who practice ethical non monogamy I secretly hoped that Miranda and Justin might be polygamous. It might be worth explaining what the difference between ethical non monogamy and an affair is;
Arranging the Arrangement.
There have always been those societies and cultures which have not followed the western Christian model of pair bonding. Many different forms of managing intimate relationships exist, if you want to learn more I recommend Meg John Barker’s Rewritng the Rules as a good starting point.. Even within our own society there have been those who have found that the traditional structure does not work for them. We might only know the most famous examples, Georgiana the Duchess of Devonshire, Nelson and Lady Hamilton, The Russells and Sackville Wests, but their very existence shows that people have been building different types of relationships for as long as there have been relationships.
What then distinguishes this from cheating, from an affair?
The key is the word arrangement. Ethical non monogamy (which is a term which covers everything from swinging to polyamory) involves all of the parties involved having agreed to the way in which their relationship is arranged. Now this may include “don’t ask don’t tell” but this cannot be an assumption that sex outside the relationship is acceptable. Justin may have believed he and Miranda had an arrangement, but it has become clear, over the weeks, that they simply had an area of their life together they did not talk about. This is the very opposite of what needs to happen if you want to have successful non-monogamy. This does not mean, as some used to argue, that each partner needs to hear every detail of your time with every other partner. It is not about full disclosure of every kiss (or more.) Instead it is about an honest, and open agreement of what the arrangement is.
Threats and Jealousy.
As the Justin/Miranda/Lillian storyline has approached its climax (no pun intended) it has become increasingly clear that Miranda feels threatened and hurt by Justin’s actions. Her exchange with Lillian compared Lillian unfavourably to Justin’s previous relationships. Miranda was lashing out, perhaps understandably, but at the wrong target. It was Justin she had made promises to, and he to her, and it was both of them who chose not to talk about why they sought relationships with others. Indeed perhaps they, just like Lillian found the excitement of the forbidden alluring. Whatever the reason, Lillian was not the person Miranda should have been talking to. It might have seemed too late, but, if honest communication, even at this late stage happened, things might have been very different. If I were working with Miranda and Justin as a couple, i would want Miranda to be honest about her pain and jealousy, and Justin would need to listen without deflection or blame.
This has not happened, and instead Miranda has issued an ultimatum, the cliché; It’s her or me. As Friday night’s episode showed, Justin made his choice. This is the problem with ultimatums, when we force someone into a black or white choice, we have to accept they may make that choice. Communication is not about threats, or punishment, but about being willing, and able to not only listen, but to share what we are really feeling.
A Happy ending?
It is unsurprising, but worrying that Justin has basically now announced to Lillian that he has left Miranda, and wants to be with her. I wonder if the scriptwriters see this as her happy ending, after being deserted, and ripped off, by Matt (her ex husband who ran off into the sunset with all her savings). The one thing missing again is communication. This is how many people behave as they move from relationship to relationship, repeating old patterns, and then wondering why the same things keep happening. Maybe Lillian wants to be with Justin, maybe she just enjoyed the sex and excitement, but would be happy to see what blossomed, but without communication she cannot have the space she needs to explore her feelings.
Affairs rarely end in all of the people involved getting what they want. Even if Justin had chosen to stay with Miranda the lack of honesty and communication would have hung like a dark cloud over their marriage. If a couple is to move forward after an affair they often need to see a relationship counsellor to explore how to build a new way of being together. Papering over the cracks rarely ends well. However, if you attempt to build a new relationship, as Justin wants to with Lillian, you also need to see it as something new. This new relationship is not the one of exciting affair, mistress and lover, and that needs to be acknowledged. Will Lilian accept Justin having other affairs (he may expect her to). Will Justin accept a partner who wants to be far more involved in his life that Miranda was? The script writers no doubt see future drama, but for real life people involved in situations like this, the drama is pain and heartache. The only way to avoid or at least work around this pain is to be honest and open with your partners, and respect their thoughts and feelings.
I would love the believe this is the happy ending Lillian wished for, but I find it very unlikely.
I wrote more about what to expect from relationship counselling here