It’s difficult for many of us to see how responsible
non-monogamy can save a relationship; fears and
misconceptions about this emotionally touchy subject
can interfere with understanding how it can be beneficial.
Although non-monogamy is not for everyone and is not
always appropriate, below is a comparison of monogamy
and responsible non-monogamy. Note: cheating, lying,
unsafe sex, and promiscuity are not part of responsible
non-monogamy. Complete and radical honesty with your
partner is, and that seems to be what’s most threatening
and challenging to many of us.
With the custom of monogamy, you own each other, sort of
like how you own property. Your partner is yours and if they
even look at someone else the wrong way anger and jealousy
With responsible non-monogamy, a couple accepts that
owning the rights to each other isn’t love, but possessiveness.
What about the possibility of one of them falling in love with
someone else and abandoning the other? This can happen in
any relationship because you don’t need to sleep with someone
to fall in love with them. Furthermore, it seems that when two
people are destined to meet and fall in love they will,
regardless of whether or not they are single or involved.
With the custom of a traditional commitment and monogamy,
falling in love with someone means that fantasies (such as
“together forever” and “you are mine for the rest of my life”
and “grow old together”) become expectations, and when
they aren’t met it results in disappointment, heartache, anger,
and even divorce.
A responsibly non-monogamous couple tends to accept their
relationship as it is rather than how they want it to be or how
it’s “supposed to be.” They realize that if their relationship
fades or their partner falls in love with someone else, that’s
the way it was likely destined to be. If your relationship ends,
wouldn’t you rather accept that there is a more appropriate
match out there instead of pretending that your existing
connection is “the one” forever?
With the custom of monogamy, when someone cheats it is
kept secret. Because monogamy and honesty are often
assumed in relationships, both the cheater and the person
being cheated on are at risk for contracting STDs. According
to statistics, over 50% of men and women in “committed”
relationships cheat on their partners. Is assumed monogamy
realistic or safe?
With responsible non-monogamy, because there are no sexual
secrets, a couple is more likely to discuss and practice safe sex.
With the custom of monogamy, based on the above statistics,
the illusion of monogamy is much more important to many
people than honesty.
Responsibly non-monogamous couples, on the other hand,
place more value on radical honesty because truthfulness
brings them closer together. In light of this, responsible
non-monogamy could potentially reduce the divorce rate
and introduce a deeper level of honesty in relationships.
With the custom of monogamy, it’s common to blame
an ex-partner and their affair for the reason why the
relationship didn’t last. It’s interesting to note that the
policy of strict monogamy is never blamed in these
situations, yet many who cheat appear better suited for
non-monogamy. Truth be told, some people (both men
and women) feel like caged animals in long-term
With the custom of monogamy, the topic of exclusive
intimacy often is not discussed, but is usually expected.
Is this always realistic or even reasonable, especially when
you know the person has strayed in previous relationships
or sense he or she isn’t the kind of person who would be
happy being sexually exclusive with one person for the rest
of his or her life?
That brings us to related topics: Can we honestly expect
sexual passion to last decades in all relationships? Also,
what happens if one partner loses interest in sex or if one
reveals, years later, that he or she really doesn’t like sex and
wants to avoid it? Masturbation is not a good long-term
substitute for sexual intimacy.
With the custom of monogamy, you are supposed to be
attracted to your partner and only your partner. If you have
desires for or fantasies about someone else, even if you don’t
act on them, they are kept secret. This form of dishonesty can
drive a wedge between couples.
With responsible non-monogamy, the couple acknowledges
that we are all human and an attraction to someone else,
especially during a long-term monogamous relationship, is
A responsibly non-monogamous couple puts their
commitment to each other and their relationship first so
an attraction to someone else is less of a threat. It is natural
to feel insecure or jealous if your partner is attracted to
someone else, and it’s going to happen whether you’re
monogamous or not, but when a couple is open and honest
with each other about the subject it’s a lot less likely to
cause a problem.
What about children, you ask? Some responsibly non-
monogamous and progressive couples create a “commitment
contract,” where financial arrangements and planning
covering possible scenarios (together for 5 years, 10 years,
20 years, etc.) are agreed upon prior to marriage and before
children are conceived. A new concept? Hardly. Ancient
Egyptians had 5 and 10 year marriage contracts. If mutually
agreed upon, they would renew. Although it’s not easy to
address the subject like you would a business matter, it’s
much tougher to do so later in divorce court. If two people
are unwilling to confront or unable to agree on these issues
before marriage it’s a red flag for their longevity as a couple.
With the custom of monogamy, sex is love, and if your
partner has sex with someone else, they’ve betrayed you
emotionally and it must mean they don’t love you anymore.
Responsibly non-monogamous couples realize that while
love can be expressed through sex, sex in itself with a
secondary partner (if okay with all involved–including the
primary partner) does not have to diminish the love already
established with the primary partner, nor does it put the
primary relationship at risk, if the primary connection is
solid. Something real cannot be threatened. This idea is
similar to having one best friend and many good friends;
you don’t expect your best friend to fulfill everything for
you that many friends do.
With the custom of monogamy, often it’s “No cheating or
Responsibly non-monogamous couples realize that giving
such an ultimatum is about as effective as telling your teenager
never to drink alcohol. It’s more effective to discuss the issue
and to have a “no punishment policy” for your kids if they
call you for a ride to avoid driving drunk or to avoid riding
with someone who is drinking and driving. Similarly, such
a policy for responsible non-monogamy will encourage
honesty and can strengthen the commitment.
Lastly and most importantly, if we cheat, even if no one finds
out, negative karma is incurred and we set ourselves up for a
similar situation to “happen to” us in the future. Whatever
action we take will, in time, come back to us, so even though
radical honesty in relationships may be difficult it is often the
best policy. The eyes of truth are always watching us.
Copyright © 2007 Scott Petullo, Stephen Petullo