Most of us are raised with monogamous, possibly married caregivers who don’t discuss or model a creative relationship style. Television also limited our exposure as children, because there still isn’t a primetime show centering around non-monogamous or polyamorous couples and families thriving. Yet now we’re in a powerful cultural moment where people are seeing and hearing about more diverse relationships, and we’re gaining confidence in exploring diverse forms of love, not just monogamy.
The message is that one form is not right for all, and no relationship style can necessarily promise long-term happiness or success.
This isn’t to say monogamy is a bad thing. I’m not against any relationship style as long as it’s honest and has compassion and ethics tied to it. But monogamy — along with open or poly relational styles — does not inherently have any relational ethics or care.
The health of the individuals in a relationship determines the health of the relationship, not its style, rules or boundaries. I support all couples and partners creatively and honestly determining what’s right for them. The value is in the intent and impact of all partners involved.
Many don’t know that you can be sex-positive and still prefer monogamy, just like you can be sex-negative and prefer open or poly styles.
Here are 7 things to consider about monogamy and finding a healthy relationship style:
1. Know yourself.
You need to be self-reflective and ask yourself why you are choosing your relationship style. All styles have benefits and deficits, and it’s important to have self-understanding as to what you are wanting, expecting and why. Conscious decision-making is important, as many choose monogamy out of anxiety, thinking it will eliminate jealousy and being left. But remember, restrictions don’t promise love, safety or happiness.
2. Don’t assume a relationship style.
Unless partners have requested and are committed to monogamy, don’t assume you’re in a monogamous relationship. Far too many people use length of time together, depth of intimacy or level of connection to determine what relationship style and sexual expectations they can place on a partner. A conversation is mandatory, as mind-reading and assumptions can lead to hurt feelings and disappointment.
3. Explore your relationship’s expectations.
Just like monogamy can’t be assumed, neither can your definition or expectations of it. Discuss what monogamy means to you, what boundaries you are requesting and why. Use it as an opportunity to build further intimacy with partners to learn more about them and yourself. All parties’ definitions and relational-sexual needs are legitimate, and no one’s definition should hold more weight or value. There is no “right” way for everyone.
4. What about sexual compatibility?
Don’t rush into monogamy too soon. It’s often not the best choice for partners who aren’t sexually compatible, and it can take time to explore what a couple’s sexuality may look like. Sexual compatibility means the types of sex you desire, how often you like partnered sex and how much intimacy you prefer during sex.
5. Check-ins are a good thing.
A chosen relationship and sexual style is an ongoing dialogue, not a one-time commitment. Do yearly — even monthly — check-ins discussing how all partners feel about the relationship, sex life and any potential changes. Listen with calmness and care, as honest and open sharing, though it may not always be what you want to hear, is an act of love and relational commitment.
6. Everything can be renegotiated at any time.
Be flexible with what you request sexually and from your relationship style. The style that works for you or your partner now may not serve all your needs throughout the relationship. Change is not always a bad thing, and a relationship style other than monogamy does not mean “less committed” or “less intimate.”
7. Monogamy is hard, and not for everyone.
It’s important to be honest about what works best for you. If you have struggled in the past with monogamy, then stop agreeing to it and find partners open to a different relationship style. Many people are not built for monogamy but thrive in other healthy creative formations, and some have a poly or open sexual orientation. Be confident and ask for what you need.