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Challenging Monogamy

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Is Monogamy the Only Choice?

There are certain cultural assumptions in American marriages and relationships: Staying together longer means success, there’s a special someone for everyone, and marriage means being with one person for the rest of your life.  It’s rare that we think about these rules as culturally constructed, but they are. Monogamy is assumed as the gold standard of long term relationships, and this default setting is elevated to a higher status. Unfortunately, there is not necessarily evidence that monogamy is a better choice for happier relationships. And some argue it isn’t necessarily a choice, but explain being polyamorous as a sexual orientation like being gay or bisexual. The important challenge is to question the assumption that monogamy is the only type of healthy relationship.

Many couples are challenging the default monogamy option.  People are talking about it and opening up to other possibilities.  Consensual non-monogamy (CNM) is another option where individuals choose alternative boundaries when it comes to sex, intimacy, and time together.  There are many forms of consensual non-monogamy – from swingers inviting over a third party over for dinner, to polyamorous families with multiple long term relationships.

While there are myths and misunderstandings about couples that choose non-monogamy, researchers estimate 15-28% of couples have agreements about non-monogamy in their relationship. Estimates are even higher among gay and lesbian couples. There are many flavors of non-monogamy and the beautiful thing is it’s up to you how to do it.  The rules do not have to be assumed – you can choose to do it your own way.  The key is to actually talk about these rules and decide what’s right for you.

It is critical that individuals self-reflect and explore their own relationship needs and preferences in order to bring that knowledge to a partner. Communication and honesty are important to create and sustain open relationships. There are many resources and tools available to learn about various open relationships and gaining skills to keep relationships healthy.

When should you not explore an open relationship?

Honesty, trust and communication are key to a healthy open relationship, so if these aren’t present, it’s the wrong time. Open relationships are not sanctioned infidelity. Cheating is possible in both monogamous and polyamorous relationships, and a basis of honesty, trust and communication will help relationships of all flavors.

Guest Writer: Molly Adler, LISW-in Training

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