Some people prefer being in a monogamous relationship, while others prefer polyamorous or open relationships. Maybe monogamy isn’t a good fit for you, and that's OK.
So, we asked an expert how to figure out if you’re cut for a monogamous or non-monogamous relationship.
Monogamy is the practice of having only one romantic and/or sexual partner at a time, as opposed to having multiple committed partners at once.
“A monogamous relationship is when two individuals engage in a romantic, intimate, emotional, and or sexual relationship,” says Moraya Seeger DeGeare, a licensed marriage and family therapist, and Paired’s In-House Relationship Expert. “The agreement of the relationship is that the couple will exclusively date and have sex with each other.”
As the mainstream, monogamy is often treated as the “default” way to be in a relationship, but it’s by no means the only way. Some research suggests that social stigma is one of the main reasons why many people identify as monogamous, while other studies found that many couples assume they’re monogamous, but never discuss exactly what that means with their partner.
A monogamous relationship is neither bad nor good — it depends on what you want and need from a romantic relationship.
Western culture assumes that everyone strives to be with one partner who will be able to satisfy all their needs. However, just as consensual non-monogamy isn’t for everyone, the same can be said for monogamy. Only 56% of American adults cite monogamy as their ideal relationship style, according to a 2020 YouGot survey of over 1,300 people.
The best way to figure out what type of relationship structure is best for you is to reflect on what you want from a relationship, and why. It can be a hard exercise to do, especially if you grew up believing there was only one way to be in a relationship.
Remember that monogamy isn’t inherently “better” than non-monogamy — or vice versa — because relationships aren’t one-size-fits-all.
You feel satisfaction thinking about the security and connection that one person can offer.
It's easier to foster emotional connection and intimacy with just one person.
You like the simplicity of building one relationship at a time, as opposed to juggling several partners.
When you think about being with one person in your future it feels fulfilling.
You notice the thought of your partner with someone else romantically and sexually brings on negative feelings.
It's part of your faith and/or culture, and you’re happy to respect that.
You notice yourself fantasizing about opening your relationship.
You don't think one person can fulfill all your desires, wants, and needs.
You feel like something is missing in your relationship, even though you love your current partner.
You want to experiment sexually in a way that your partner can’t satisfy.
You have sexual, romantic, or emotional feelings toward people other than your partner.
You sometimes feel constrained, even though you have a happy and healthy relationship with your partner.
A non-monogamous relationship is one where there’s no emotional and/or sexual exclusivity.
“Non-monogamy covers a wide variety of relationships that are defined by having multiple romantic or sexual partners who are consensually agreeing to the terms of the relationship they have set,” explains Seeger DeGeare.
Consensual non-monogamy (CNM), or ethical non-monogamy (ENM) is a catch-all term for all types of relationships where those involved are free to explore sexual and/or romantic connections with several partners. A non-monogamous relationship can include polyamory, open relationships, swinging, throuples, and more.
Despite the stigma surrounding non-monogamy, research has shown time and again that people in CNM relationships report the same levels of relationship satisfaction, emotional well-being, and sexual satisfaction as those in monogamous relationships.
If you’re curious about non-monogamy and want to open your relationship with your partner, Seeger DeGeare shares some tips on how to broach the conversation:
Be intentional about the time. Don’t bring it up during a fight or when it seems like you are being reactive to a situation.
Take the time to really ask yourself what you’re curious to explore in an open relationship, how it might expand, and to think about what your individual needs and fantasies are.
Give space for your partner to have the reaction they have, for some couples new things can feel scary when you never thought about having any other relationship beyond the ones you saw around you growing up.
A first step if your partner feels curious about you is to think about where you are at in terms of understanding what non-monogamy could look like for you.
Fantasize together as a way to share desires (this doesn’t mean you ever had to act on them) and think about little steps that might feel comfortable to take as a couple. Perhaps start by looking at dating apps together, exploring message boards, or even casually talking with a trusted friend if they have an open relationship.
All relationships, but especially ones navigating ethical non-monogamy, require excellent communication to thrive. So starting out communicating in a judgment-free way as you each share what you are curious or fearful of is a great first step to work on in these early stages