Editor’s note: Over the next two months, we will be featuring guest posts by the fabulous Emily Swayne, a geeky therapist who sees clients at Blue Box Counseling & Wellness in Minnesota.
This week, Emily is talking about Compulsory Monogamy. Buckle up for a great read!
Non-monogamy and polyamory as valid relationship styles seem to be getting more and more airtime these days.
Celebrities are coming out as polyamorous, there are more and more pieces of media with polyamorous representation, and there are even certain dating apps that cater to polyamorous and consensually non-monogamous folks. As someone who realized I was polyamorous a number of years ago, it’s been really exciting and encouraging to see! Of course, there are some folks who aren’t nearly as excited as I am about this, and some who may even be angry or confused. I think one big reason for that is something called compulsory monogamy.
Compulsory monogamy is essentially the idea that monogamy is and should be the default relationship type. This concept can come along with all sorts of ideas and narratives around monogamy being morally “good”; that it’s a sign of a mature, upstanding adult; that we should long for a romantic relationship with “the one” and should expect that relationship to fulfill all of our needs. The concept of compulsory monogamy tells us that not only should we want a monogamous relationship, but that there is something wrong with us if we don’t. This push to disqualify non-monogamy as valid has the potential to hurt non-monogamous folks in many ways on both micro and macro levels. This can include things like social stigma; being ostracized from loved ones; loss of jobs or custody of children; eviction; the way laws are written; and lack of information, resources, and representation – to name a few. It can also leave non-monogamous people feeling lost as they don’t always have many examples of other non-monogamous relationships or much cultural narrative to model their relationship towards or against.
Additionally, sometimes non-monogamous folks are compared to/made out to be the same as cheaters and often are even treated more harshly. This is such an interesting piece of compulsory monogamy to me because you would think that cheating would fly in the face of everything it stood for, but it would seem that consensual, ethical, non-monogamy is seen as even more of an affront. Honestly, just take a moment to think about that: culturally the narratives are there that it is literally better to vow faithfulness to someone then secretly betray them and sometimes even put their sexual health at risk, all without their consent, than it is to be open and honest about wanting multiple partners and finding ways to make that work.
Don’t get me wrong, as much as I love and advocate for polyamory, I don’t want that to be compulsory either. I do believe that monogamy can be a valid choice for some, however I think we would all be better off if we were taught how to mindfully and intentionally enter into relationships that were a good fit for everyone involved. Not because we have to, but because we’ve taken the time to know ourselves and discover what relationship style will fit us best. I hope for a world where people know that they have options; where there isn’t a portrayal of just one “right” path; and where everyone can feel safe and supported in living as their most authentic, full, best self.
Now maybe you’re thinking “okay cool, that’s great but how the f*ck do I do that???” which is a good and valid question. I think reading articles like this is a start. There are multiple books you can read, people you can follow on social media, support spaces you can join (virtually and in person) to learn more. Additionally, whether you’re non-monogamous, monogamous, or unsure, there are resources out there for you to learn more about ethical non-monogamy. You may just have to do a little extra digging, because, well, the whole thing this article is about! I think one of the most important pieces in the process of deconstruction is curiosity. Curiosity asks good questions, non-judgmentally seeks answers, and admits that it doesn’t know it all.
Ultimately, I think each person would benefit from taking time to evaluate and find answers for themselves. I may be providing some base information, but YOU are the expert of you and your life. However, what I can do is offer a few thinking points, questions, and ideas to hopefully help you along in moving towards a world with better options for all of us, even if we’re different.
-A poll taken in January of 2020 found that about 1/3rd of Americans are non-monogamous in some way: if you find out someone close to you is non-monogamous how would you respond and react? Is this the way you would want someone to respond to something you told them? If not, what can you do to help yourself be more supportive and prepared?
– Think about the people in your life that are important to you. This can include anyone: partners, friends, children, co-workers, family members, etc. Think about how you feel about them. Now, what if I told you that you had to pick one of those people, only one, who you *truly* loved? How would you feel? If it’s true that we’re only capable of loving one person at a time, what would make that only applicable to romantic relationships? Why do you think our culture is so insistent that we can only romantically love one person at a time?
–What is it about monogamy or non-monogamy that you value? Why do you feel this is the best choice for you at this present time in your life? What life experiences, beliefs, and stories influence this for you?
–If you are monogamous: imagine you were told that you were wrong for wanting to share your life only with one person. Or that you weren’t allowed to marry less than 2 other people for it to count legally. Imagine your friends and family stopped talking to you because you didn’t want to date multiple people at once. What if someone threatened to take your home, kids, or job away because they thought only being with one person at a time was weird or wrong? What thoughts does this bring up? What feelings come up when you imagine this? What if imagine a loved one going through the same thing? What thoughts and feelings come up for you?
– Have you ever discussed monogamy and/or non-monogamy with the people in your life? What are questions you would want to ask or topics you would want to explore? How could you initiate this kind of interaction?
–What if compulsory monogamy no longer existed and everyone started from a more blank slate in deciding their relationship style- what might be some advantages to this? Disadvantages?
Even though I believe in each person’s autonomy and have a desire for each person to be empowered to make their own choices, I also very much believe in interdependence and community support. Although I can’t give you answers, that doesn’t mean you have to determine all this by yourself. On top of other resources I mentioned, having thoughtful and respectful discussions with those around you can be a great way to learn and grow!
Interested in exploring your relationships, or want to work with a therapist you don’t have worry about judging you? Get in touch with Emily to schedule today!