Time for more than unhappily ever after

IT'S not working. And none of us wants to admit it. It's time we got more creative and honest about relationships. Instead of being prescriptive and judgemental, let's be descriptive and productive.

It's time we admitted we need to go beyond the fairytales and the outdated and unrealistic social models created by and for religious oppression, financial and gender inequality and social convention. We need to find a new relationship model.

At least a third of marriages end in divorce. Statistics on sexual outsourcing aren't available, but it's clearly something that occurs more than we'd like to admit. I'm not just talking about physical intimacy outside people's "official" relationships, I'm talking porn, sex toys, cyber sex and emotional intimacy.

Such terms as "living in sin", "scarlet woman", "illegitimate" children (aka "bastards") and "broken" families are widely and rightly considered old-fashioned and unenlightened.

But consider for a moment the judgement embedded in these terms: infidelity, adultery, monogamy, virgin, slut and family values. These words and phrases are brainwashing tools embedded in our minds early in our lives to prevent us developing emotional and ethical templates beyond the two or three rickety versions in common use. Relationships are not one size fits all.

"Swans have long been viewed as a symbol of fidelity and everlasting love. But researchers from the University of Melbourne tested the DNA of cygnets and found that one in six is the product of an illicit encounter."

As with swans, so with us. According to some estimates, one child in every 10 is not biologically related to one of its putative parents. Almost a quarter of paternity tests conducted by one of Australia's largest DNA laboratories find the man submitting a sample is not the father. This suggests all children should be DNA tested at birth. Every child deserves to know who their parents are, and every parent deserves to know their child really is theirs.

This is not a new thing. It has not been caused by raunch culture, permissiveness, feminism or the move away from religion.

This has been happening since the year dot. It's marriage that was invented. Love, lust and infidelity were not.

I know millions of stories. And so, I'm sure, do you. The bloke who recently found he had a brother from an affair his mother had when he was four. The dad with two families. A woman who left her husband because he was gay but now wishes they had come up with an arrangement whereby they raised the children under the same roof. A deeply religious woman, married for 25 years, who covers her head as prescribed by her religion but who has spent every Friday night for the past decade at a bondage club (she's always home by breakfast). And my happily married mate who goes to a sex club once a month with his wife's blessing and clear rules on what's permitted and what's not.

Esther Perel, the author of Mating in Captivity, describes the human condition as being torn between "security and adventure". She speaks of the puritanical streak that runs through the heart and crotch of our culture. These days, the majority of us will have two or three significant long-term relationships in our lifetimes.

Why, then, do we still see the 60-year happy marriage as the norm we fail to live up to when the reality is it's as rare as the body of a supermodel?

Work hard, by all means, but relationship disintegration is not a failure. It's a fact of life.

What about the children, you say? There are two simple rules: all children need is to know they are loved, and all children want is to see their parents trying, even if not always succeeding, to get their act together.

Teach them that if something is not working, you try to change it. But also teach them to know when something is a lost cause. Try everything to stay under the same roof, but children are better off living with their parents apart than living with parents together in a seriously dysfunctional relationship.

Be creative. I know of many arrangements that are not conventional but are healthy and functional: two threesomes, functioning for more than 20 years; gay families; former couples still living under the same roof with their kids.

I can count on one hand the people I know who grew up in "functional" families. For the majority who grow up in dysfunctional families, the only other model available is the fantasy one in the movies, fairytales and books. Isn't it time we came up with more realistic and truthful models?

It's time for us to bravely blaze a trail of truth and reality. It's tricky, but we're smart. The long way round might be the short way home.