Updated: Aug 22
People who practice ethical non-monogamy talk a lot about what it means to be ethical in a non-monogamous relationship. But what about people who are monogamous? Most folks I know assume monogamy is the baseline for a relationship and that it means the same thing to everyone. People in monogamous relationships often feel no need to discuss what they expect from monogamy and what that means to them. And this is a problem.
Monogamy is the only “acceptable” relationship style modeled in western countries. Most of us grow up seeing only monogamous couples on television and in movies. Our romances are always about a monogamous couple. When someone is not monogamous, it is cheating and having an affair. We are taught to assume that all people mean the same thing and expect the same thing from monogamy.
The thing is, it doesn’t mean the same thing to most of us. Even when you are raised in the same religion, same part of the country and same racial background, the concept of monogamy differs between people.
So, what should people who want to practice monogamy think and talk about before they get into a long term relationship?
What Does Monogamy Mean to You and Your Partner?
Most likely, as a monogamist you have never really asked yourself what this means to you. Is monogamy simply not having sex with others outside your primary relationship? Does it include emotional monogamy? What does emotional monogamy mean? Is chatting with an old girlfriend on Facebook cheating to you? What about flirting at a bar on a Friday night? Does it mean you and your partner get rid of anything significant from former partners?
Monogamy is more complicated than just not sleeping with someone other than your partner. You and your partner need to clarify what eat of you mean by “monogamy.”
When Do You Expect Monogamy?
Most of us have an idea when a relationship begins. But everyone has a different marker for this start point. Is it the first time you sleep together? Is it after the third date? Is it only after you exchange house keys? Is it after the first date? Or after you both say “I love you?”
You need to clarify this with your partner. If one of you assumes that monogamy begins after the third date and the other doesn’t think it starts until there is an explicit conversation about not dating other people, then someone is set up to have a heart broken.
How Important is Monogamy to You?
For many people breaking the monogamy assumption and sleeping with someone else is an immediate deal breaker. If you have an affair, your partner may believe there is no coming back from that.
For many people breaking the monogamous compact is more flexible. Some people are okay if their partner has been traveling for months and had a one night stand on the road. That might not be a deal breaker. Some people are okay if your partner has close friends where there is emotional intimacy while other people think of this as cheating. Some women are okay if their husbands find someone to sleep with when they are pregnant or sick but expect that the secondary relationship is short lived.
Monogamous couples need to decide what is and is not okay in the context of their specific relationship. If these things go unaddressed the couple creates potential landmines in a relationship.
Why Talk About Any of This?
Many times we use the same word as someone else but don’t mean the same thing. If you don’t discuss what monogamy means to you, your partner may have a totally different concept of the relationship you two are trying to create. Talking about monogamy brings a couple onto the same page about monogamy. It inoculates you and your partner against some potential conflicts down the line.
It is easier to have these conversations early in a relationship. However, even established relationships are better served if this conversation happens.
Trust me, having this discussion (usually several different discussions) will help your relationship. Better yet, if you end up in therapy, you will cut down on a session or two and save some money!