NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Thursday, November 17, 2022

Couples Who Want to Remain Monogamous Can Learn a Lot From Polyamorous Principles

There have more open discussions in recent years about the benefits of polyamory and other forms of consensual nonmonogamy

Polyamory is having more than one consensual romantic relationship at the same time and, there are many ways to have a consensual nonmonogamous relationship.

Monogamous Couples Can Learn From Polyamorous Principles

Despite there being more discussions about polyamory, it's difficult to know how many people in the United States are in some form of polyamorous or consensual nonmonogamous relationship. 

This is partly due to the stigma that still exists against these types of relationships, and negative stereotypes continue to run high.  So, people in these relationships are often reluctant to talk about reveal the nature of their relationship.  Nevertheless, most relationship experts give an estimate of 4-5% in the US.

Couples Who Want to Remain Monogamous Can Learn From Polyamorous Principles
Despite the increased prevalence of polyamory, it's not for everyone. 

The majority of people in relationships still want to remain monogamous.  But given the high rate of divorce, infidelity and sexual problems in relationships that supposed to be monogamous, many of these couples are realizing there's no one-size-fits-all way to be in a monogamous relationship.

Couples who want to remain monogamous can learn a lot from polyamorous principles without opening their relationship, including:
  • Developing Open and Honest Communication Skills: Successful polyamorous relationships are based on good communication in terms of:
    • Negotiating Boundaries: This includes agreeing to boundaries about people outside the relationship, including boundaries with friends, family members, personal schedules, and so on. (see my article: Setting Healthy Boundaries in Your Relationship).

Monogamous Couples Can Learn From Polyamorous Principles

    • Changing Attitudes About the Relationship: What people want at the beginning of a relationship can be different from what they want a few years in.  It's important to acknowledge this and not assume you're both on the same page about everything, especially in a long term relationship.  
    • Defining the Nature of the Relationship: Related to changing attitudes about the relationship: Two people who are in a long term monogamous relationship can each assume they both have the same perspective about their relationship--only to discover that this isn't the case.  For instance, one person might think that watching porn privately is no big deal while the other person considers it cheating.  This often leads to conflict because it was never discussed.
  • Practicing Safe Sex: Since polyamory means being involved with more than just one person, people in successful polyamorous relationships talk about safe sex practices. In contrast, people who are in monogamous relationships often stop talking about safe sex and assume they no longer need to practice safe sex because their relationship is exclusive. But the high rate of infidelity among people who are supposed to be monogamous often means that people who cheat aren't practicing safe sex and could give their partner a sexually transmitted infection.  This needs to be discussed openly and honestly.
  • Coping With Jealousy: Part of a successful polyamorous relationship is negotiating issues around jealousy. This doesn't mean that jealousy doesn't exist in these relationships. It just means that poly people talk about it and work towards a solution.  In contrast, there is a high degree of jealousy in monogamous relationships, and suspicious partners are more likely to check their partner's email and cellphone to see if they're cheating. In some monogamous relationships the jealousy and mistrust is so high that people put trackers on their partner's phone.  Granted--this often comes from discovering that a partner has been cheating, but not always. So, monogamous couples can learn to talk about their jealousy and try to find proactive ways of dealing with it (Overcoming Insecurity and Jealousy That's Ruining Your Relationship).
  • Developing a Sense of Independence and Focusing on Personal Growth: Aside from having relationships with other people, people in successful polyamorous relationships allow their partners to have a sense of independence outside their relationship in terms of having their own friends, interests and other areas in their life. They talk to each other about their needs.  They also know that one person can't fulfill all their needs.  In contrast, many people in monogamous relationships end up sacrificing their own needs for their partner. This often leads to resentment and dissatisfaction with the relationship. Being able to talk openly about this issue is important and another area where monogamous individuals can learn from poly people (see my article: Growing as an Individual While You're in a Relationship).
Practical Steps You Can Take in Your Relationship
  • Set a Regular Time to Have Open and Honest Communication: With people's busy schedules, it's easy to put relationship issues on the back burner, especially if one or both people tend to avoid it because they have difficulty expressing themselves when it comes to personal issues. Scheduling a regular time, whether it's once a week, bi-weekly or once a month, to have honest communication can help a couple to avoid misunderstandings and resentment.  This isn't a time to talk about work or your children. It's time dedicated to the relationship (see my article: How to Improve Communication in Your Relationship).
Monogamous Couples Can Learn From Polyamorous Principles

  • Talk About How to Get Your Needs Met Outside the Relationship: You can't expect your partner to fulfill all your needs.  It's not possible without putting a heavy burden on your partner.  Even if you and your partner have agreed to be sexually and romantically monogamous, neither of you can meet all of the other's needs.  In the past, when extended families lived within close proximity to each other, there was always someone else to talk to, confide in, provide a compassionate ear or share an interest that a partner might not like.  But now with family members spread out all over the country and increasingly busy schedules, family support isn't always readily available. This means that couples are relying on each other much more now than couples ever did in the past. Not only is this stressful--it's not possible for any one person to take all of this on.  So, there needs to be other people, including friends, who take on some of these roles.
  • Give Each Other Space to Be Independent People: One of the primary reasons why sexual desire goes out the window in many monogamous relationships is that each person has sacrificed their sense of independence and autonomy and they become emotionally "fused." Talk about how each of you can engage in activities that are separate from each. other.  Instead of doing everything together, find ways you can each develop your own interests. Or if you each already have interests that don't appeal to other partner, talk about how each of you can have space to engage in these activities. Not only will this give you a sense of increased well-being, but you can each bring back something new to each other which will enhance the relationship (see my article: Resist the Urge to Merge).
The vast majority of people, who want to remain monogamous, can learn a lot from people in polyamorous relationships in terms of improving communication, dealing with problems as they arise, recognizing they have different needs and they can't be fulfilled by one person, maintaining a sense of independence, and making room for autonomy and personal growth.

When Should You Seek Help in Therapy?
Many of the issues discussed in this article can be worked out without a mental health professional, but there are times when help is needed, including, but not limited to, when there are issues related to:
  • Difficulty With Communicating Personal NeedsMany individuals have difficulty communicating their needs for a variety of reasons.  They might have been raised in a household where communicating personal needs was seen as indulgent or selfish.  Maybe they had hurtful experiences in other relationships where their emotional vulnerability was met with scorn.  Or there could be other reasons.  A skilled psychotherapist can help clients to define personal needs and help people to communicate these needs in a healthy way.
Seeking Help in Therapy For Relationship Issues
  • Built Up Resentment: If problems have festered for a long time, it can be hard to broach certain relationship topics because they have become too fraught to discuss calmly.  A skilled psychotherapist can help a couple to move beyond their reactivity and resentments to understand the underlying issues and focus on the negative cycle instead of blaming each other (see my article: Overcoming the Negative Cycle in Your Relationship).
  • Fear of Change: Many people would rather avoid talking about changes in the relationship because it feels too frightening to them. Their fears might be rooted in unresolved childhood trauma or traumatic experiences from prior relationships. An experienced therapist can help by working with the individual or couple to understand and work through these fears so that the couple no longer avoids discussing issues in the relationship (see my article: Fear of Change).
  • Unresolved Issues Related to a History Cheating: Many couples avoid dealing with a history of cheating. Instead, they just agree to "move on" without understanding the underlying issues, which will be different for each individual, or addressing the impact on the relationship in terms of feelings of betrayal and mistrust.  However couples who work through issues in couples therapy develop a stronger relationship (see my article: Coping With Betrayal in a Relationship).
  • Denial: Denial is a powerful defense mechanism. People who are fear making changes often convince themselves that "everything will work out" without the couple doing anything to improve things.  Fear gets in the way of discussing difficult issues.  Then, something happens to challenge this assumption--the discovery of an affair, one partner saying they want out of the relationship or some other crisis that shakes their confidence that things will work out on their own.  A skilled couples therapist can help the couple to deal with the crisis and get to the other side where they can finally address issues they have been avoiding.
  • Distorted Beliefs About Relationships: People who believe that "love conquers all" or other myths can become disillusioned when they realize that it takes more than love to work out important issues in relationships.  There are many people in relationships who love each other, but they can't work out their problems.  A skilled couples therapist can help a couple to overcome distorted beliefs so they can deal with the problems in their relationship.
Problems that you might have thought were beyond fixing often have solutions.

Rather than avoiding problems in your relationship, seek help from a licensed mental health professional.

Seeking help in therapy sooner rather than later can enable you to work out problems and have a more fulfilling relationship.

About Me
I am a licensed New York City psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP, EFT, Somatic Experiencing and Sex Therapist.

I work with individual adults and couples and I have helped many clients to work through relationship problems, including issues related to trauma (see my article:What is a Trauma Therapist?).

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.