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Sunday, July 19, 2020

Understanding Serial Monogamists - Part 2

In Part 1 of this topic, Understanding Serial Monogamists , I provided basic information describing the characteristics of most serial monogamists.  Of course, each person is an individual, whether they're a serial monogamist or not, so although that article discussed the most common characteristics, there will always be individual differences.

Understanding Serial Monogamists

In this article, I'm providing two typical vignettes.  Clinical Vignette 1 is about the relationship dynamics of a person who is a serial monogamist and the other who is not. Clinical Vignette 2 is about what it's often like when two serial monogamists get together.

Needless to say, as previously mentioned, no example can encapsulate all the nuances of individual relationships, so think of these vignettes as examples of typical characteristics of these relationships.

Clinical Vignette 1: A Serial Monogamist With Someone Who Wants to Take Time to Get to Know the Other Person

June and Ed
After meeting on a dating app, texting and talking on the phone a few times, June and Ed decided to meet for a drink for their first date.  They were both in their early 40s.  June was widowed three months before, and Ed was out of his prior relationship and dating other people for almost a year.

During their first date, they both felt physical chemistry.  At the same time, although Ed enjoyed his date with June, he noticed that June spent a lot of time talking about her deceased spouse.  While he was sympathetic to June's loss, he wanted to know more about June as an individual rather than hearing about June's deceased husband, John.

He attempted to steer the conversation to other topics several times, but June kept relating these topics to her prior relationship with John.  He noticed that whenever she mentioned John's name, she would light up.  Not only did she spend a lot of time talking about her former marriage, but she had high praise for John.  She said that her spiritual belief was that he was still hovering above her, watching over and protecting her.

On the one hand, Ed thought to himself that June might not have given herself enough time to mourn the loss of John and she might not be ready to date.  But, on the other hand, he really liked her and he wanted to get to know her better.

When Ed asked June what she was looking for in a relationship, she told him that she didn't want to spend a lot of time dating.  In fact, she said, she wanted to get into a new relationship as soon as possible.  She said she liked the comfort and security of being in a monogamous relationship and she hoped to be in new relationship very soon.

When June asked Ed what he wanted, he told her that he liked being in a relationship, but he also wanted to give himself some time to be one his own, date casually and get to know someone well before getting into a new relationship.  He said that, after his last relationship, which lasted three years, he got into therapy because he noticed that he was repeating certain patterns in that relationship, and he wanted to get to know himself better before he got into another relationship and repeated the same patterns.

In response, June said that she "didn't believe in therapy." She told him that her 10 year marriage to John was "perfect," and she already knew she wanted a similar relationship with someone else.  She said that the thought of spending time dating different people was very unappealing to her because she wanted the comfort and security of being in a relationship.  She said she needed someone who was going to be as loyal and true as John, and she wouldn't settle for anything less.

Although both of them saw "red flags" from the beginning in terms of wanting different things, they decided to continue to see each other to see where things would go.

June told Ed from the beginning that she couldn't tolerate the thought that he might be dating other women, so she asked him to date her exclusively.  Initially, Ed was reluctant to make this agreement, but he felt so attracted to June and liked her that he agreed.

Within the next few months, June and Ed were struggling with their differences. Whenever Ed wanted to spend time with his friends or engage in hobbies that didn't interest June, she complained, and he felt stifled by what he perceived as her "neediness."

She told him that she expected him to spend most, if not all, his free time with her and when he spent time with friends or doing things that she wasn't interested in, she felt her needs weren't being met and he was neglecting her.

Over time, Ed also got tired of hearing how "wonderful" John was and how "great" June's marriage to John had been.  Although June never said it directly, Ed felt that she was hinting that, compared to John, he didn't measure up in her eyes.

Although he knew that June was probably idealizing her marriage to John in an unrealistic way because no relationship is "perfect," he couldn't help feeling annoyed and frustrated.  He felt that, in effect, John's "ghost" was always hanging over them in a way that made him feel that he was in a love triangle with June and John where she thought he was inadequate compared to John.

After a while, Ed felt that June was constantly nagging him to spend time with her, and he wished that she had more friends and other interests to occupy her time so that he didn't have to be everything to her.  And June felt that if Ed really cared about her, he would want to spend all his free time with her and try to please her in every way he could.  She had already told him that she hated being alone, so she couldn't understand why he didn't listen to her.

Within four months, Ed felt like he had enough. He was bored with June, he felt frustrated by her clinginess and tired of hearing about her deceased husband. So, he told June he thought things weren't working out between them and they should end their relationship.  June said she was very disappointed because she had hoped Ed would eventually be as committed to being in a relationship with her as she was with him.

After the breakup, Ed continued to talk to his therapist about aftermath of his relationship with June and his patterns in relationships.  He realized that he didn't pay attention to his initial gut feeling when he first met June that they weren't compatible.

He also felt badly about hurting June's feelings, even though he knew that ending the relationship was for the best. However, he found out from mutual friends that within a week of their breakup, June was already seeing someone new and talking about wanting a committed relationship with the new person.

Clinical Vignette 2: Two Serial Monogamists Get Together

Agnes and Bill
After they met at a friend's party, Agnes and Bill, who were both in their late 30s, began seeing each other almost every day.  They had each gone through a breakup only a few weeks before, and they both agreed that they wanted and needed to be in a relationship.  They also agreed that they didn't want to date casually or see other people, so their relationship was intense from the beginning.

Within two months, Bill's lease ended, and he moved into Agnes' apartment.  Since Agnes was the main lessor on her lease, she gave her roommate a few weeks notice to find another apartment. She told Bill that she used to like having her roommate around because she didn't like to be alone, but now that she was in a relationship with Bill, she wanted to spend all of her free time with him.

Bill agreed that he didn't like being alone, which is why he remained at home with his parents until he moved in with Agnes.  Even though his parents kept urging Bill to move out to be on his own, he remained with his parents because of his aversion to being alone.

Bill's and Agnes' friends were surprised that their relationship became so intense so quickly.  These friends urged them to slow down to get to know each other.  But neither Bill nor Agnes were interested in slowing down.  They knew they wanted to be together every moment they could.

Within a few months of living together, Agnes and Bill began to feel bored with each other--even though neither of them said it.  Rather than addressing it directly, their boredom came out in frequent irritability and petty arguments that seemed to go nowhere.

In their own way, each of them felt disappointed in the relationship.  They both thought they knew each other from the time they first met, but they were discovering that there were things they didn't know or like.

Although it was never discussed between them, each of them began feeling nostalgic about their previous relationships.  John decided to get together for coffee with his prior girlfriend, Jane. While he was with Jane, he realized he still had romantic and sexual feelings for her.  He knew that Jane would be open to having a sexual affair with him even though he was supposed to be in a monogamous relationship with Agnes.  But he considered himself to be a loyal person, so he put that thought out of his head.

Agnes often daydreamed about her former boyfriend, Greg.  She wondered if she made a mistake when she broke up with him a few months before. She felt sad when she thought about Greg and even sadder because she felt her needs weren't being met in her current relationship with Bill.  She realized that she also felt that her needs weren't being met when she was with Greg, but she couldn't help thinking about him.

A month later, Agnes and Bill mutually decided to end their relationship because things weren't working out between them.  Within a few weeks, each of them was with someone new in another intense relationship, and they were repeating the same patterns.

The vignettes provided above are just two examples of these type of relationships.  In reality, there are many variations for both types.

Two people, one of whom is a serial monogamist and the other who wants to take time to get to know the other person, can work things out in the long run if they're each willing to compromise and try to negotiate their differences.

But in this dynamic, the reality is that these two people often don't get to the point where they get into a relationship because the serial monogamist is put off by the person who wants to take things slowly.  And the person who wants to take thing slower feels too pressured by the serial monogamist.

Similarly, two serial monogamists can work out their relationship and they might even be willing to stay together, despite boredom and stagnation, because they want to be in the relationship.

Most of the time, for a relationship between adults to work out, each person needs to come to the relationship as a mature individual who can handle the give-and-take involved in a long term relationship.  This means that they have developed independently, and they have taken the time to grieve the loss of a prior relationship so that they come to the new relationship without the emotional baggage.

It also means that, as individuals, they each bring something to the relationship and they're not solely dependent on the relationship to meet all their emotional needs.

Getting Help in Therapy
If you're currently having problems in your relationship that you've been unable to resolve on your own, you owe it to yourself to get help in therapy.

A therapist, who has experience helping individuals and couples to work on relationship issues, can help you to understand your dynamics in a relationship and the relationship dynamics so you can decide if you want to salvage your relationship or if it's best to end it.

Taking the first step, which is contacting a licensed psychotherapist for help, is often the hardest, but it can also be part of a transformative experience.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP, EFT and Somatic Experiencing therapist (see my article: The Therapeutic Benefits of Integrative Therapy).

I work with individual adults and couples.

I am currently providing teletherapy, which is also known as online therapy, telemental health and telehealth (see my article: The Advantages of Online Therapy).

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.