How Important is Monogamy in a Relationship?

While the definition of monogamy can seem obvious, there are actually several definitions, and our understanding of monogamy is changing as our personal relationships evolve. 

In fact, early humans were originally thought to be monogamous for 5 year periods with one partner, purely for procreation, and then move onto another partner for the same purposes. 

However, the expectations placed on us by modern society and how we conduct ourselves have evolved since we now have personal mental growth and awareness, as humans have changed greatly since the Stone Age era.

So we learn to communicate to each other through a lifetime of relationships with same partners, friends, family, etc.

When we find we are in a cycle of 5 year relationships, then it may be time to sort out some personal growth, especially if we are continuously attracting the wrong kind of partners.

What is monogamy?

Monogamy is typically defined as a long-term commitment to only one partner, usually through marriage or living together. In more recent years, monogamy has been treated as an orientation in polyamory, which is the practice of engaging in multiple romantic relationships. 

Many monogamous marriages have brief periods of non-monogamy during which one spouse has relations with someone outside of the marriage and is commonly labelled as “cheating”. 

Monogamy has always been seen as the “gold standard” of being in a relationship, especially when it comes to matters of a physical nature. But among the general public there are numerous layers of mistaken assumptions about what is “normal” and acceptable.

In reality, there are dozens, and perhaps hundreds of physical intimacies that are “normal” in society but seldom openly discussed because of our seemingly never ending quest for the highest standard.

What’s “normal” today, was commonly frowned upon as recently as 20 years ago. Finding a partner who has the same expectations of a relationship as you do, and being able to communicate openly their wants and needs, will go a long way in maintaining a happy, healthy union.

Let’s take a look at some of the relationships that are considered the “new normal”, and common behavioural factors that occur within them.

Consensual Monogamy

This is the practice where both partners agree about keeping their relationship monogamous and have a mutual definition of what that means. 

Both partners should discuss and agree on what monogamy means to them—usually physical and emotional intimacy with each other, and no one else. 

If either or both want to open the relationship to others, it’s with the understanding that they’ll both discuss changing the contract through intentional conversation, and that both agree on it. 

This is something that could take many conversations. One hesitant partner should never agree, and the other partner should never push too hard.

Many psychologists have stated that a lot of couples they see have never talked about or negotiated what monogamy actually means for them, and has been something as vague as “being loyal to one another.”

But when specifics are explored, one partner may believe that looking at pornography is cheating. For another, masturbating feels like betrayal. And for another, engaging in intimate text messaging or a virtual encounter on the internet without ever meeting each other or even being in the same country, is cheating.

Just like any other relationship agreement, then, monogamy demands a more detailed discussion about its meaning.

Consensual Non-Monogamy

Attitudes about monogamy are slowly showing signs of changing. For an open physical and/or emotional relationship with others, mutual consent of both partners is essential.

In this scenario, each agrees to open the relationship in ways satisfactory to both. Some partners prefer not to know about their partner’s physical behavior outside the relationship. They have a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy; others want to know, and many insist on knowing.

Rules are important here. It is imperative to work out things such as who and when, for example.

A common misconception is that people who have open relationships or are polyamorous just want to constantly be having a good time. The truth is that these types of relationships actually take hard work and a lot of honest communication.

Whether it’s a straight couple that are both flirting and/or openly sleeping with people on the side, or even a polyamorous relationship involving three people, where all three people have emotional and physical relationships with each other, there has to be a lot of trust, open conversation, and safety occurring for these relationships to thrive.

Jealousy in a Relationship

Regardless of whether couples are in a happy, healthy relationship, jealousy is bound to rear its ugly head at some stage.

There are numerous reasons why this can happen and again, resolution requires dialogue and safety between the partners. Knowing in advance the kinds of issues that a relationship may present can help prevent some of these conflicts in the first place.

For those in a monogamous relationship, one common reason is mistrust or anxiety around cheating. Discovering your partner has been unfaithful is a terrible blow and it can change your whole set of expectations and beliefs about your relationship. Suddenly, there may be a lot of questions you may not have ever thought of before. Why didn’t I know? Did my partner ever love me? How can I ever trust my partner again? Will our relationship survive this?

When you start a new relationship after experiencing infidelity in your previous one, how do you trust the person, but also be cautious, and stay on guard? And how do you know you’re ready to date again without being paranoid about every little thing your partner does that could trigger old feelings of suspicion and insecurity? Are they checking their phone often? Why aren’t they calling me back straight away? Is it because they are with someone else?

Ask for support in overcoming your relationship obstacles

No matter what your expectations are in your current or future relationships, open communication and honesty is key to maintaining an even keel with your partner. Knowing in advance the kinds of issues that a relationship may present can help prevent some of these conflicts in the first place.

Verbalising things that are important to you will go a long way in helping your partner understand your wants and needs better, and provides a solid foundation for a successful relationship, now and in the future. Talking to friends, family or a counsellor is also a great first step in resolving any relationship issues.

As an experienced couples counsellor, I can help you restore your relationship and keep the process objective. I will help steer you through your concerns while giving you a neutral and unbiased perspective on the issues involved. Call me directly so we can schedule a time to chat to help you move forward with your life.