A classic Hollywood rom-com ending is where the protagonist lives ‘happily ever after’ with The One after they realise that they should stop sleeping around with other people and commit to just one person. But why? What’s wrong with the main character consensually having several different partners? Is it bad to love more than one person, romantically? Is it wrong to want to sleep with more than one person?
Monogamy is the societal norm. How many of us have pined after or idealised being in a relationship with someone who was just completely devoted to only you? It’s ingrained in us that we’re only supposed to only have one partner, and that non-monogamous lifestyles are abnormal and taboo. In fact, when I first heard about it as a thing, I never even considered the possibility of practising it, only that you’re meant to commit to one person, and one person only. Just so we’re clear, I’m talking about consensual, and ethical, non-monogamy. This is when everyone in the various relationship arrangements willingly consents to seeing other people and having multiple different sexual or romantic partners. Non-monogamous relationships take many different forms: open relationships, polyamory, monogamish, and more casual arrangements like friends with benefits. So, let me clear the air on people’s psychological assumptions of consensual non-monogamous (CNM) relationships.
An important thing to clarify here is that commitment does not equal monogamy. Monogamy is just having one romantic/sexual partner. How committed you are to your relationship with your partner is just your intention to maintain the relationship in the long-term. Just because someone is in several different relationships, it doesn’t mean that they can’t be committed to maintaining all of them. You can love your partner, and you can also love someone else romantically, too. That’s probably a reason why monogamy isn’t always that well-practised—we all know someone who’s been cheated on or someone who has cheated on someone, or maybe it’s even crossed your own mind. CNM presents a healthier alternative because cheating has been found to be associated with less use of sexual protection, STI testing, and discussion of sexual health with new partners. But cheating can actually still happen in CNM relationships. It just looks a little different and involves things like breaking the boundaries of what was agreed to between the partners.
Whenever I bring up CNM to people, there’s always at least one person who says that while it sounds great, it could never work because people will get jealous. It’s actually not true that people in CNM relationships experience more jealousy of their partners. In fact, jealousy is more manageable in these relationships compared to monogamous relationships because in monogamous relationships, people may be more sexually jealous. Think about all those people who’ve worried about their partner cheating on them because of certain interactions their partner had with other people—I’m not going to lie and tell you that I haven’t been one of those people, because it’s a totally common occurrence. In CNM relationships, studies conducted with couples who swing showed that any jealousy that couples did have, diminished over time. In polyamorous relationships, partners experienced positive feelings and more happiness when their partners got into a new relationship.
People also assume that being in a CNM relationship will result in less happiness in their relationships, but that’s also not true. CNM taps into two things that are key to staying satisfied in bed and in your relationships: novelty and communication. Trying new things with your partner (whether in bed or just in your daily life) has been shown to boost satisfaction. Moreover, the more willing you are to try new things with one partner and meet their sexual needs not only boost your satisfaction with them, but also your satisfaction with other partners. And as you have more experiences with different partners, you’d likely discuss things such as what you like and dislike, safe sex practices, how you feel about the relationships, and so on. These discussions help to improve satisfaction in your relationships and sex lives and is important for sexual satisfaction and wellbeing.
Admittedly, the CNM lifestyle is not for everyone. I used to be that person who’d think they couldn’t practise it because they’d get jealous, so it’s understandable why most people do enjoy having just one person to commit to romantically and sexually. For some, that’s the dream—albeit not necessarily a sustainable one. However, the stigma that exists around CNM relationships is unjustified. There can be a Hollywood ‘happily ever after’ ending where the protagonist ends up with multiple lovers, because love isn’t finite. It’s totally fine to want to be with more than one person—as long as you do it consensually.