Reboot: M is for Monogamy

Please enjoy again: M is for Monogamy


M is for Monogamy

Happy New Year everyone!  Welcome to the A to Z of Sex.   I’m Dr Lori Beth and I am your host.  We are working our way through the erotic alphabet one letter at a time.  Just a reminder this podcast deals with adult content, so if you don’t have total privacy, you might want to put on your headphones.  Today the letter is M and M is for Monogamy.

The Ethnographic Atlas Codebook classifies 84.6% cultures as polygynous (1 husband multiple wives), 15.1% classified as monogamous and .3% as polyandrous (1 wife, multiple husbands).    Monogamy is a minority life choice when you look at world cultures.   When we look at human evolution, hunter gatherer and tribal societies historically practiced forms of polyamory.  So how did monogamy become the preference and even the only legal form of romantic relationship in western society?  

Some of this may be due to the spread of Christianity.  However, the most agreed upon explanation is that people who were anti-polygyny had larger and stronger armies.  Monogamous groups grow larger because more men have wives within the group so they don’t have to leave to find wives in another group.    Scheidel (2009) talks about monogamy in Greco-Roman times and says that monogamy was socially imposed and this allowed men of lower status to marry.  In fact, these men were offered the possibility of wives in exchange for military service and taxes.  

Monogamy and non-monogamy have pros and cons.  Some people are better suited to one form of relationship style than the other.  Often people don’t choose a particular style but simply absorb what is expected of them based on their family upbringing and cultures. 

Pros of Monogamy:

    1. Sex improves over time.

If you spend time and attention on your relationship, sex can improve the longer you know each other.  There is nothing like sex with someone who knows every inch of you and all of the things that make you scream.

    1. Intimacy of all types can be deeper.

There is a deeper intimacy that is born out of sharing with someone for a

long time.  This comes from coping with difficult times, living through

trauma together, experiencing joy together, sharing each other’s

achievements.  The level of emotional connection becomes more

intense over time and interaction. Higher levels of emotional intimacy

are associated with higher self-esteem, lower levels of stress, higher

levels of happiness.

    1. Higher degree of emotional security.

If you choose monogamy and both you and your partner are faithful to your vows, you have a higher degree of emotional security.  You know that your partner will have your back no matter what.  You have a true partner – someone to rely on, someone who will place your well-being high up on their priority list.

    1. More physical security

Two working together are often able to create more physical security. Two incomes make sorting out the usual expenses easier and sometimes much easier.  Even in households where only one is earning, physical life is easier as the other often provides services and support for daily living.  When one person is unable to work, the other is there to foot the bill.  Monogamous couples make commitments to each other about taking care of each other when illness strikes.  Often this provides more security than any other commitment.

    1. A guaranteed cheering section.

In a good relationship, your spouse/partner is your biggest fan.  They can provide you with acknowledgement of your achievements, motivation and solace when you fail.  People who have a good support system have lower stress levels and reach more of their goals.

    1. Familiarity

When you are familiar with someone, you feel you can relax fully without worrying that your relationship will fail.  Familiarity means that you don’t always feel you must be on your best form or best behaviour.  


Cons of Monogamy:

    1. Boredom

When you know everything about someone, boredom can seep into the relationship.  For many couples this is when the risk of affairs arises.  People become unhappy in relationships when they become boring and can find it difficult to break the cycle.  In cases where no one has an affair, sometimes one partner will become emotionally intimate with friends and find they have little to share with the other partner.  This decreases intimacy further.

    1. Growing apart

People grow and change throughout their lives.  Sometimes they change in different ways and find they are no longer as compatible.  This is particularly difficult when their sexual desires change and they find they are sexually incompatible.    This can lead to long term unhappiness and sometimes to depression.

    1. Relationship burnout.

Burnout comes when you rely on your partner to meet all of your emotional needs.  It is extremely difficult to meet all the needs of another person.  Parents know how hard this is.  It is even more difficult when an adult is completely dependent upon you.  In healthy monogamous couples, friends and family meet some of the emotional needs of each partner.

    1. Desire for variety.

By definition, monogamy limits variety in some ways.  If you want lots of variety in your daily relationships, monogamy won’t provide this as well as non-monogamy. 

    1. Familiarity

Familiarity can also mean complacency.  Many of us become complacent in long term relationships.  We stop taking care of ourselves physically, stop trying to look our best.  We may stop doing the special things for our partners that we did when we were courting.  Complacency can be the death knell of a relationship. 

Sometimes lower levels of sexually transmitted diseases are listed as a benefit for monogamy but this is not always true.  Research highlights that people who are being unfaithful are less likely to practice safe sex, less likely to be tested for sexually transmitted infections and less likely to tell their partners than people who are in consensually non-monogamous relationships. 

Sometimes people suggest that lower levels of jealousy is a benefit of being in a monogamous relationship however, this is not always the case.  In 2012, Conley and colleagues did a critical review of the popular assumptions about the benefits of a monogamous relationship.  This was published in Personality and Social Psychology Review.  She found the levels of jealousy were actually lower in consensually non-monogamous relationships and that jealousy in monogamous relationships was not handled as well as in non-monogamous ones.

In my experience working with people, monogamy works best for people who are prepared to spend the time, energy and attention working on the relationship.  My tips to make monogamy truly successful:

    1. Become emotionally literate.

If you master managing your emotions, expressing your emotions well and resolving internal conflict, you will be a better partner and your relationship will benefit.

    1. Learn to argue productively.

There are ways to disagree that result in productive resolution of the conflict.  Couples who manage to do this, have happier, more successful, longer lasting relationships.  Learn to talk about the behaviour not the person.  Learn to own your own feelings and your contribution to the conflict.

    1. Learn how to apologise and how to forgive.

Full apologies include a change in behaviour.  If you are apologising for hurting someone’s feelings but you don’t feel you have done wrong, make this clear and then continue to examine what has happened.  Forgiveness includes letting go of the conflict.  Couples frequently have the same argument over and over again.  For some, this is because behaviours never change and expectations never change.   For others, this is because one partner is not able to forgive even after an apology and a change in behaviour.

    1. Make expectations clear and explicit and make clear agreements.

Unhappiness often results from expectations not being met.  If a couple sits down and talks through expectations and makes clear agreements, then unhappiness is avoided.  Good negotiation skills are needed to do this.

Set time aside to enjoy each other and to do things together.

Date nights are necessary to keeping a relationship alive and happy.

    1. Prioritise great sex.

Relationships that have great sex and intimacy are happier and longer lasting.

I work with couples on creating powerful agreements and setting in place relationship routines and rituals to keep their partnerships running smoothly, with lots of excitement and joy.  Each couple’s routines and rituals look different but the emotional and social skills needed to create them and keep them going strong are the same.  All of these are improved with practice and practice does not have to be onerous.  It can be surprisingly fun.  Couples who have these structures in place have a good foundation to last in the long term. Creating an emotional foundation and a good relationship structure raises the probability that your relationship will last the distance, whether it is a monogamous one or a consensually non-monogamous one.

Thanks for joining me for the A to Z of Sex this week.

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Check out my YouTube channel: Dr Lori Beth Bisbey.

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If you enjoy the show please leave me a review on iTunes and Stitcher. Join me next week for the letter N. 


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