By Pieter De Wit
Last weekend my partner and I spent some quality time at the beach, embracing a heatwave. Although I have never cheated on my girlfriend, my eyes still wandered to a beautiful woman sunbathing in front of us, and I felt guilty and ashamed for fantasising over another woman.
However, worldwide 20-25% of men and 10-15% of women, who are or have been married, admitted to having an affair at some point in their relationship. Divorce rates globally have more than doubled since the 1970s, and I wonder: are we designed for monogamous relationships?
I grew up in a Christian family where monogamy was not just the norm, as far as I knew nothing else existed! The first time I heard of non-monogamy, I thought of people living in cults far away. But when I dug into how and why people choose this lifestyle, the idea started to intrigue me.
Types Of Non-Monogamy
Most of us have grown up with serial monogamy. You have a romantic and sexual relationship with one partner only. And if this relationship comes to an end, you might start a new chapter with a different partner.
Non-monogamy, at its most basic, is a relationship that involves more than two people. Many forms exist such as polygamy, while open relationships consist of a couple who is, according to their own rules, “open” to sexual contact with others.
You may wonder if this is a new thing inspired by us millennials, but non-monogamous relationships have existed for a very long time. Some research suggests that males in early hunter-gatherer populations mated with multiple females to increase their chances of offspring. When people started to live in larger communities due to agriculture, sexually transmitted infections forced them for the first time into monogamous relationships.
Many cultures today still have non-monogamous traditions, such as the Masaai in Kenya and the Mosuo in China amongst others. In many Western nations, polyamory is slowly being more openly accepted.
Open-minded millennials value freedom a lot, and their liberal mindset perfectly fits the concept of non-monogamy, where “free love” is celebrated. They are ideally placed to ignite a public dialogue to incorporate non-monogamy into the new normal.
Does Non-Monogamy Work?
In a study, non-monogamist and monogamist groups reported similar levels of overall relationship satisfaction, but the non-monogamists reported higher levels of sexual satisfaction.
Communication and free will are the keys to developing any good relationship, and as non-monogamous relationships force couples to set clear rules and talk about their problems, this might have a beneficial impact on their emotional involvement. If love is the motive, there seems no reason for it to be less successful than a monogamous relationship, but if it is seen as an escape, then it is doomed to fail.
Non-monogamous couples may experience fewer feelings of jealousy, thanks in part to the strong communication and deeper more meaningful bonds. Couples realise that an extra dating partner does not diminish the emotions within their primary relationship. Still, it is vital to create a safe environment where partners can discuss each other’s concerns and jealousy issues.
One appealing aspect for me is that love is seen as abundant, allowing many meaningful romantic relationships. We usually see love as being scarce and limited to just one person. But why should it be?
This abundance of love could be the key to overcoming the mental barrier in engaging in an open relationship. We often value our romantic relationship as being more important than our friendships, but if love is abundant in all relationships, this hierarchy can disappear!
One of the most critical issues I have in my relationship is that my partner and I have high expectations of each other. But if you think about it, it is absurd to place so many demands on one person.
It reminds me of a quote by Osho: “If you love a flower, don’t pick it up. Because if you pick it up it dies and it ceases to be what you love. So if you love a flower, let it be. Love is not about possession. Love is about appreciation.”
An open relationship could be a step in the direction of true love. Without demanding loyalty or anything else from your partner, you just love them for who they are.
I’m not ready for an open relationship yet, but my mind has opened more. I am convinced it can be useful to discuss the traditional framing of relationships and see if non-monogamy could be something for you to explore. If you choose an open relationship for the right reasons and multiply your love, I think it can deepen your bonds, and you might experience love on another level. But whatever you choose, communication with your partner(s) will be imperative to sustain a peaceful relationship and eternal love.