Let’s survey the landscape: “Serial” monogamy. Affairs. Monogamish. Famously high divorce rates. Friends with benefits. Is true, lasting monogamy a fading institution?
I’ve worked with individuals, happily married couples, people on the dating scene, marriages on the rocks, new relationships, poly-amores, and everything in between. And I’m going to speak a brutal truth. Monogamous relationships are harder to really pull off well than “open” relationships.
The trajectory I set for my clients is fantastic relationships, and at that level monogamy simply doesn’t arise as an issue. Seriously, people who are in a fantastic relationship aren’t coming to me to discuss monogamy. It’s a non-issue.
That said, here is what we know about monogamy that works:
Working monogamy is monogamy in practice. It’s not conceptual. It’s not a personality type (as much as one might insist that it is). Monogamy is a relationship state. It involves being monogamous to a real live human being, with all of their quirks and gifts and uniqueness.
If you’re currently in search of your ideal soul-mate, your perfect match on this Earth…
If you left a partner who cheated on you…
In short, if you are not in a relationship…
Then I hate to break it to you: you are not monogamous.
You can’t be monogamous without the who that you are monogamous to. What you are instead is what we call monogamous to monogamy. You are monogamous to an idea. It’s simply not the same as being monogamous to someone.
Why? Because it takes a lot to connect with another human being. All the more so, to connect in a way that eclipses all others. If you’re not actually in such a relationship—if you’re not doing what it takes to connect with someone at that level, grappling with the beautifully messy realities and complexities of human relating—I’m sorry but you have no claim to monogamy. There are plenty of people out there who use their laundry list of ideals, monogamy among them, to avoid relationships rather than to get into one.
So get all up in there with someone. Then maybe we can have a meaningful conversation about monogamy.
Working monogamy is organic monogamy. Monogamy that arises spontaneously because the relationship really is that good. Where the thought of being with someone else draws a rather blank stare and a “…Why?” Organic monogamy is descriptive rather than prescriptive. It requires no effort and draws little attention. It isn’t so much chosen or negotiated as discovered. “Monogamy” is a convenient label for what you’re naturally doing, left to your own devices. Just as the Moon travelling freely through space orbits the Earth. There’s no resisting temptation because there isn’t anyone funner, sexier, more attractive, more alluring, or better in bed than the one you’re with. There isn’t any wandering because there isn’t anywhere to go. Any step away is a step down from what you’ve already got.
Working monogamy is being monogamous to someone (as opposed to demanding monogamy from someone). It doesn’t work that way. Monogamy has everything to do with your behavior and nothing to do with your partner’s.
Sure, you can extort / demand / insist on your partner’s monogamy. Perhaps indefinitely. But it will never get you a good relationship if you don’t already have one.
I frequent a Facebook group for singles who are all followers of a certain very popular motivational speaker. Recently a woman posted that she met a great guy. She described his many wonderful qualities and how well-suited they were. But he “refuses to be monogamous,” and she was asking the group for thoughts on what to do. I read through the many responses, most of them some variation of telling her to dump the scoundrel and run as fast as she could, since he’ll never change. Until we got into a discussion of what she really wanted, what monogamy represented to her:
Exclusivity isn’t the same as longevity. Exclusivity isn’t the same as depth, or intimacy, or commitment. If your desire is to have a committed, long-lasting, passionate, deep, intimate relationship with someone, the only way is to build that kind of relationship with someone.
As for monogamy itself, the only kind of monogamy we really care about is the organic kind, where the relationship is so fantastic that nothing out there compares to what you’ve got at home. But that too has to be built. If you demand it, you end up with monogamy without longevity, without passion or intimacy or depth.
So having a monogamous relationship does not consist of finding a “monogamous” partner. Crappy relationships are the birthplace of all the affairs of the monogamy-minded. Newlyweds are generally not planning their future affairs.
By the same token, building a fantastic relationship can render “open relationship” status functionally irrelevant.
But in all my years of coaching/teaching—and living, for that matter—I’ve never seen monogamy, in and of itself, make a crappy relationship fantastic.
Focusing on monogamy as an issue won’t improve a relationship, but focusing on improving the relationship can neutralize monogamy as an issue.