Updated: Oct 24
In our days the internet abounds in advices on how to ignite, reignite or keep the spark alive in a marriage. The societal norm though, and the golden standard, is a monogamous relationship where it is known and accepted that keeping the desire, passion and love alive is one of the biggest challenges. We are already aware about the classical monogamous approaches on how to strengthen and make a marriage last, yet very little is written and talked about other alternatives like polyamory that might benefit a marriage long term.
Polyamory is a very sensitive subject in the western societies that have as norm sexual exclusivity between two partners and believe that having extramarital sex is wrong and constitutes a solid, valid reason to end a marriage. Polyamory has been neglected by the mainstream relationship researchers (Barker & Langdridge, 2010) and only few studies have focused on the processes in it.
If in the past individuals got married for economic reasons, now they get married to fulfill their romantic love. It is expected and assumed that a partner will fulfill all their needs: companionship, intimacy, intellectual involvement, and sex. (Drigotas & Rusbult, 1992). This can cause relationship problems, when one partner is not able to live up to these high standards and the other partner becomes highly unsatisfied or has an extramarital affair to fulfil these needs.
Polyamory is a form of consensual non‐monogamy where one person is open to fostering emotional intimacy and love with several other people simultaneously (Barker & Langdridge, 2010). It is more complex than monogamy as the romantic involvement creates more emotions, more ambivalence and it involves a variety of behaviors. So instead of fighting or resist the natural desire or lust, the monogamist individuals experience for people outside the marriage, polyamorous individuals dive right into these and they try to harbor them in their relationship.
An article examining the associations between consensual nonmonogamy, psychological well-being, and relationship quality (Rubel & Bogaert, 2015) found that consensual nonmonogamists have similar psychological well-being and relationship quality as monogamists. Contrary to what some individuals might believe, the view that consensual nonmonogamy is harmful to psychological wellbeing or to relationship adjustment is not supported by the existent literature.
In another study examining the need fulfillment in polyamorous relationships (Mitchell, Bartholomew &Cobb, 2014) it was found that individuals can have fulﬁlling, satisfying, and committed relationships with multiple partners without those relationships having a notable negative inﬂuence on one another. The study conﬁrms that individuals can also have simultaneous fulﬁlling, committed attachments to multiple romantic partners. Having needs met with one partner was minimally associated with relationship satisfaction and unassociated with commitment with another partner.
Another article (Conley & Moors) focuses on how polyamory could improve monogamous relationships over time. Four dimensions are mentioned: social capital, household management, communication, and management of attraction to others.
Polyamorous individuals have a larger network of friends around them than monogamist couples do. Having a bigger social network can offer one deeper emotional connections, sexual companionship, extra help with their children, aid in redistributing ﬁnancial and household responsibilities (Barker,2005; Pallotta-Chiarolli, Haydon, & Hunter, 2013). In the later, as the dyadic relationship evolves, monogamists see their friends together or withdraw from them, especially in the beginning of the relationship. After experiencing a divorce, the social network of individuals in monogamist relationships declines even further.
Once a romantic relationship is over, the monogamists don’t necessarily maintain the contact with their ex-es, especially when they go into a new relationship. In contrast, polyamorists often maintain the bonds after the relationship has ended. (Barker, 2005). Jealousy is described as less toxic, and extreme forms of jealousy are infrequently experienced among people in polyamorous relationships (Pines & Aronson, 1981; Ritchie & Barker, 2006).
Another aspect is the house hold management that is it easier and less stressful to deal with in a polyamorous relationship. If more partners are living together, the household chores can be distributed equally, and the financial aspects can be managed easier. Also, the parents in a polyamorous relationship report a number of advantages to their lifestyle, including more time to spend on personal pursuits and less parenting fatigue as well as ﬁnancial beneﬁts, especially reduced need for childcare (Pallotta-Chiarolli et al., 2013; Sheff, 2010) as they share their parenting roles with the partners outside the dyadic relationship.
When it comes about communication, it seems that there is a massive need of polyamorous couples to talk about the relationships involved. They are encouraged to be honest, open, set a specific time to talk about it, express their needs and concerns about the relationships. There is a lot that the monogamist couples can learn from the polyamorous ones about conflict management and making their relationship a priority.
Opening a monogamist relationship up and exploring different avenues can bring excitement and spice-up relationships. (Anapol, 2010). Moreover, the introduction of a new relationship is thought to reignite sparks and/or bring excitement and joy to existing relationships among people in polyamorous relationships (Anapol,2010; Chapman,2010; Perel, 2006). The attraction and lust towards a different partner is acknowledged and accepted as normal and natural. In a monogamist couple this attraction is fought against and if it is hidden and acted upon, it can result in an affair. In a polyamorous relationship the term “infidelity” is more volatile, as it can still happen, yet it is more accepted and worked upon, in contrast with the monogamist relationships where it can create trauma, end the relationship or shatter both partners.
Even thought polyamory is a frowned upon subject and it doesn’t seem like it can be a healthy, viable solution to enliven the spark of a monogamist marriage, one can take away the fact that lust for another person outside the monogamist relationships is something natural and it happens and that the monogamist relationships would truly benefit from the honesty and openness of both partners. One must be aware that there are other alternatives to explore out there and just because the society declares monogamy as a golden standard, it is not, and it doesn’t have to be like this for everybody. There is a lot of value, newness, excitement, aliveness, true connection, sexual and emotional fulfillment that a polyamorous relationship can bring.
Conley, T.D., Moors, A.C., Amy, C. (2014). More oxygen, please! How polyamorous relationship strategies might oxygenate marriage. Psychological Inquiring. Vol. 25(1). Pp. 56-63.
Aaron, B.Z., Brunning, L. (2017). How complex is your love? The case of romantic compromises and polyamory. Journal for the Theory of Social Behavior.
Mogilski, J.K., Memering, S.L., Welling, L.L.M, Shackelford, TK. (2017) Monogamy versus Consensual Non-Monogamy: Alternative Approaches to Pursuing a Strategically Pluralistic Mating Strategy. Archives of Sexual Behavior. Vol 46(2). pp. 407-417.
Rubel, A.N., Bogaert, A.F. (2015). Consensual Nonmonogamy: Psychological Well-Being and Relationship Quality Correlates. Journal of Sex Research, pp. 961-982.
Rodrigues, D., Lopes, D., Pereira, M. (2016). ‘We Agree and Now Everything Goes My Way’’: Consensual Sexual Nonmonogamy, Extradyadic Sex, and Relationship Satisfaction. Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking. Vol. 19(6). Pp. 373-379.
Mitchell, M.E., Bartholomew, K., Cobb, R.J. (2014). Need fulfillment in polyamorous relationships. Journal of Sex Research. Vol. 51(3). pp. 329-339.