Five Myths About Polyamory and Monogamish Relationships

Group of people laying in circleSeveral years ago, sex advice columnist Dan Savage coined the term “monogamish” to refer to long-term committed relationships that bend the rules of monogamy with the consent of both parties. Since that time, he has published thousands of letters from people in monogamish relationships, thanking him for giving them permission to try an arrangement that works better for them.

Last year, Showtime began airing a reality show called Polyamory: Married and Dating, which takes a close look at the lives of polyamorous people. Polyamory is the practice of loving more than one person at a time. The show stars a polyamorous triad—three people in a committed, long-term relationship—and a polyamorous married couple who have serious committed relationships with people outside of their marriage.

Both Savage and the participants in the Showtime series have experienced some backlash for their advocacy of nontraditional relationships. But when nonmonogamous relationships are loving and consensual, participants in them believe they can strengthen marriages, serve individual needs, and increase intimacy. Unfortunately, people in these relationships often face immense stigma and even legal problems propelled by myths about nontraditional relationships.

Myth 1: Nonmonogamous relationships are a free-for-all.

People who cheat on their spouse are, technically speaking, not in a monogamous relationship. But when nonmonogamy is entered into openly and on a long-term basis, all partners typically obey a variety of rules. In Showtime’s show, the polyamorous triad navigates the consequences of one member breaking the rules, and the result is increased communication. Nonmonogamous relationships don’t work without rules, and often the discussion and renegotiation of these rules can contribute to deeper intimacy.

Myth 2: Nonmonogamy is an excuse to cheat.

By definition, nonmonogamy means that people don’t have sex with only one other partner. But this does not necessarily mean they can have sex with anyone. Successful nonmonogamous couples establish strong rules about what is and is not cheating, and frequently have veto power over who their partners sleep with. While it’s certainly possible for one partner to be pressured into nonmonogamy, these relationships generally don’t work unless both partners enter into the relationship willingly and lovingly.

Myth 3: Nonmonogamy is bad for children.

With the divorce rate in the United States hovering around 50% and the number of single parents rapidly increasing, most children see their parents involved in multiple romantic relationships over a lifetime. So long as children have consistency in their caregivers and are not subjected to an endless parade of people to whom they become attached and who then leave, nonmonogamy is not harmful. Nonmonogamy, after all, does not mean an abandonment of all social mores and norms, and nonmonogamous parents are just as capable of keeping their sex lives private as monogamous parents.

Myth 4: Nonmonogamy harms women.

Well-publicized cases of polygamy abuse are often the first things people think of when they consider nonmonogamous relationships. But modern nonmonogamous relationships are consensual for all parties. In these arrangements, it’s not just men who get to sleep with other people. Given that more women than men report being bisexual, nonmonogamy can provide a healthy sexual outlet for bisexual women who might not otherwise have such an outlet.

Myth 5: Nonmonogamy harms marriages.

Many people involved in monogamish relationships have been married for decades. When one partner’s desire wanes, nonmonogamy can provide a sexual outlet that sustains the marriage. Because nonmonogamy must be carefully negotiated and constantly reevaluated, these arrangements can bring married couples closer together and encourage open, honest dialogue. Sleeping with other people also does not have to compromise the marital bond. Married couples sometimes have sex with friends periodically while still sustaining their primary commitment to their spouses.

References:

  1. Polyamory. (n.d.). Alternatives to Marriage Project. Retrieved from http://www.unmarried.org/polyamory.html
  2. Savage, D. (n.d.). Monogamish couples share their stories. Washington City Paper. Retrieved from http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/articles/42014/savage-love-monogamish-couples-share-their-stories/

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The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • harper

    March 1st, 2013 at 11:07 PM

    it may work for some people,yeah.but not for all.many who have tried it would suffer I’m pretty certain.reason is,most of us just aren’t prepared to ‘share’ our partner even though we wouldn’t mind having multiple partners ourselves!

    let’s be frank here,you may say you are okay with a nonmonogamous relationship but on a psychological and a deeper level it will cause problems,it will haunt you.let’s not kid ourselves!

  • patton

    March 2nd, 2013 at 9:31 AM

    I never want to have my husband use the term monogamish in any kind of refernce to how he wants our marriage to be!

  • Keith

    March 2nd, 2013 at 12:00 PM

    It is always nice to see another myth-busting piece when it comes to polyamory and ethical non-monogamy. Thanks!

  • Dillon

    March 3rd, 2013 at 8:32 AM

    if you are not willing to be a part of a committed and monogamous relationship then why would you choose to get married in the first place? I would have a very hard time making this marriage vow and then turning around and saying or having my partner say that she needs to see other people but wants to stay married to me. I disagree with this totally and fell that it is nonsense! This is the excuse that someone who is looking ro cheat wants to use to feel better about betraying the vows that he or she took, and I don’t think that you are going to find too many married couples who are going to be game for this at all.

  • WT

    March 3rd, 2013 at 11:50 PM

    Well not everybody is the same u know! Some people like to have it different from whats considered the norm. it doesnt make them weird or ‘bad’. Thats just the way they want to be!

    And as in everything else if it involves consenting adults I don’t see why anybody else needs to have a problem, right! Everybody has a right to do and to be what and how they want to. Nobody else can dictate terms to them or call them names!

  • Betsy Andrews

    March 4th, 2013 at 3:49 AM

    It is awfully easy to stand on the outside looking in and thinking that this is not the right lifestyle for you, and that may be the case. Fine. But who am I to judge what works for others based against what works for me? I know that this is not something that I am personally looking for nor would I want to be with someone who did like this kind of marriage or relationship. But hey, it might actually work for some couples, keep the spice alive and actually help to keep the marriage together. If it works, then it works and it’s not up to me to say whether it is right or wrong. Just because something could be wrong for me does not mean that it can’t be right for someone else.

  • Chloe

    March 4th, 2013 at 11:33 PM

    Usually I’m not someone who would be interested in what anybody else does or follows. But this is something that sounds like a fad. And like every other, it will pass too. I don’t think there are a lot of such relationships that survive and sustain over long period of time , are there?!

  • Kent

    March 6th, 2013 at 7:42 AM

    Poly is a newish name given to a phenom that has always existed but rarely acknowledged.

  • Erin

    March 10th, 2013 at 9:34 PM

    As a happy participant in two fully-disclosed but separate romantic relationships, as well as a therapist, I appreciate this post and its debunking. Thank you!

  • FreeThinker13

    March 11th, 2013 at 6:44 PM

    I agree with Dillon. Why bother getting married if you both are willing to see other people?? In that case, wouldn’t it make more sense to stay legally “single”? I’m sure it works for some people… But definitely wouldn’t work for me.

  • PolyVeteran

    March 12th, 2013 at 2:58 PM

    Why shouldnt we get married if we want to? We are looking to add another WIFE to our marriage. She deserves to have the same rights and privileges as I do, as any other wife. “Why bother getting married” is actually quite the rude and insensitive question. With the divorce rate what it is, why does ANY ONE bother to get married anymore? I got married because I love my husband, and wanted to have a lifelong commitment with him. He is planning on marrying his girlfriend for the same reasons. At 18 years, our relationship is the longest lasting of anyone we know, we MUST be doing something right!

  • Chris

    April 25th, 2013 at 10:28 PM

    Thank you Harper. From experience I totally agree. At some point someone ends up feeling left out or less important. It seems the only way this can work is if none of the parties involved actually cares.

  • PolyCouple

    September 7th, 2014 at 8:10 PM

    My partner and I have been married for 5 years and poly for life. While we have been polyamorous together things have been a bit difficult, running into issues here and there. After we changed our ‘rules’ to be simply just open communication and honesty things got a lot easier. Thanks for your posting, we love reading about other people in similar relationships and how to navigate the emotions behind everything.

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