Are Monogamous Relationships Really Better? Science scrutinizes monogamy

Psychology Today’s website offers lots of good reading. I’ve posted some of Susan Heitler’s blog here before.

Recently, a friend introduced me to another blogger, Bella DePaulo, Ph.D. Her blog Living Single discusses “the truth about singles in our society.” Recently, she’s offered several short pieces on consensual non-monogamous relationships.

Are Monogamous Relationships Really Better? Science scrutinizes monogamy

Here’s a background point that caught my eye in this post:

My dog in this fight.
My dog is the one that isn’t keeping everyone awake and annoyed with its barking. I think contemporary American society has gotten carried away with its insistence that there is a right way to engage in sex (have lots of it, with just one person – or just one at a time). I think we should recognize that all sorts of approaches to sex (including asexuality and CNM) can be just fine for some people, and we should not keep trying to make everyone act and feel the same way. (This is not an endorsement of hurtful sex, of course.)
My other dog is science. If we (royal we) are going to proclaim that one kind of sex is best, then my answer to that is: Show me the data.”
More topically, I’ve found in my practice that the success of a relationship boils down to emotional maturity and capacity for self-awareness in the context of the relationship. For example, the successful non-monogamous client dyads I’ve seen demonstrate one common trait: self-awareness of jealousy. These partners were self-aware and/or developed self-awareness of their experience of jealousy. They were able to explore this emotion as part of their relationship, manage it and validate it. Rather than denying it, they wrestled with the power of jealousy and it became informative and useful in their efforts to strengthen their non-monogamous relationship. In some cases, the jealousy was revivifying for the couple, reigniting their bond, their sexual tension, thanks to their capacity to speak of it and explore it authentically.
Dr. DePaulo discusses Jealousy in relationships in her next post here:
“Now, on to jealousy. In studies of people’s beliefs, evidence is strong and consistent that people think that monogamy comes with less jealousy. As for what actually happens, the evidence tells a different story.
  • “…levels of jealousy were actually lower for those in CNM relationships than in a monogamous sample.”
  • About CNM relationships: “jealousy is more manageable in these relationships than in monogamous relationships and is experienced less noxiously.””

As David Schnarch discusses in “Passionate Marriage,” another important aspect in any relationship is self-validation. When partners can validate themselves in the context of a relationship, not depending on their partner for meaning and purpose, there is more healthy inter-dependence and less co-dependence. In non-dyadic partnerships (more than two people), this self-validation seems even more pressing a milestone to achieve to ensure that the image and experience of one\’s partner sharing experiences with a third is not insulting and assaultive to the self. With established self-validation, the other\’s experience outside the dyad is complementary rather than invasive, especially when the couple can discuss it openly within their agreed upon comfort zone of revealing details. The extra-dyadic experiences can be integrated positively as ways in which partners explore themselves, foster themselves, and come back to the primary partner stronger and more fulfilled.

To be clear, this kind of process requires a very strong primary partnership, built on trust, clear expectations and open communication. Much of my work has focused on helping couples develop that relational maturity and even navigate how and when an extra-dyadic relationship may be healthy and appropriate for them. Clearly, this process is unique for each partnership.