A recent issue of Psychological Inquiry provided a number of scientific articles about the current state of monogamy and marriage. One paper in particular outlined how most of us are guilty of psychologically and emotionally suffocating our romantic partners in monogamous relationships.1 Another offered a solution to this problem in the form of consensual non-monogamy.2 Although their paper was incredibly interesting and made a great case for embarking upon a polyamorous relationship, its applicability may be limited to people who are open to consensual non-monogamy. And we know this isn’t the majority of people.
So here is how these principles can be applied to monogamous relationships while retaining monogamy:
Don’t expect one person to meet all of your needs.
- We expect so much from our partners. We want them to be our best friend, our confidant, our lover, caretaker, and a number of other things all at once. This isn’t possible to get from one person. Find other people to meet some of those needs. Lifting some of the weight from your partner can provide more room to be good at just a couple of those things. Do you love to play tennis but your partner hates it and only does it for you? Find another tennis buddy. Do you love Christmas shopping, but your partner hates it? Find someone else to go with you. Could some of your emotional needs be met by a good friend or family member? Let them play a larger role.
Engage in open and honest communication.
- One of the things people in consensual non-monogamous relationships do best is communicate. They have to. It is imperitive to the success of the relationship to be open, honest, and effective communicators. This doesn’t just happen overnight. Communication takes practice and effort from both parties. But it is worth the work. Communication has been linked to sexual satisfaction, relationship satisfaction, sexual desire, and the list goes on. Communicate. It is just a good habit to form. Within polyamorous relationships, this communication is often scheduled. Monogamous couples could benefit from this approach. By scheduling time to ‘check in’ with one another, you offer the opportunity to communicate rather than interrupting the flow of the relationship. Open communication then becomes a natural part of that flow.
Integrate some “space” into your relationship.
- This should come more easily once you engage in the first suggestion. But in addition to finding other people to meet your needs, perhaps form new hobbies independent of one another. When your partner is doing something where they exert their autonomy, it enhances the feeling of your partner being their own individual, which in turn may enhance desire. You could also create actual space by arrange a trip with the guys or girls for the weekend and leave your partner behind. Providing there is a primarily secure attachment and healthy relational base, this space will create room for desire. As Esther Perel says in her TED Talk and articulates in her book, Mating in Captivity, fire needs air. Desire is like fire. For it to stay lit, it needs some air, some space.
Managing expectations, engaging in open honest communication, and allowing for some space in your relationship are all great suggestions for keeping any type of romantic relationship healthy and happy.
1. Finkle, E.J., Hui, M.H., Carswell, K.L., & Larson, G.M. (2014). The suffocation of marriage: Climbing Mount Maslow without enough oxygen. Psychological Inquiry, 25(1), 1-41.
2. Conley, T.D., & Moors, A.C. (2014). More oxygen please!: How polyamorous relationship strategies might oxygenate marriage. Psychological Inquiry, 25(1), 56-63.