An Exploration of Alternative Relationship Styles

When I was a young boy in the third grade, I came home to my mom in total confusion and full of questions. My girlfriend had pushed me at school and run away crying, and I had no idea why. My mom asked what I had done that day, and after retracing my steps on the events throughout the day, I told my mom about how I had been holding hands with another girl while at recess. My mom informed me that what I had done was wrong, and my actions led my girlfriend believe I no longer liked her. But that was not true; I wanted them both to be my girlfriend. I mean come on, what kind of boy doesn’t have the fantasy of holding not just one, but TWO girls’ hands at recess! That is living like a KING and I did not understand why it was not acceptable to have two girlfriends.

This was the first moment the social stigma of a non-monogamous relationship being immoral was implanted into me and maybe you have a similar experience. It was not that our parent’s are intentionally manipulating us, rather the standards of society have also led them, and a large number of the U.S. population, to believe monogamy is the only morally correct relationship style.

Monogamous relationships are not ideal for everyone, and most are too frightened to explore the other option we have available to us.

This fear stems from our religious beliefs, societal influences, and our overall lack of information on alternative relationship styles. With alternative relationship styles becoming practiced more today, people are growing curious as to whether or not the traditional style of monogamy is the most beneficial for their overall happiness and fulfillment in a relationship. To better understand this, you must understand what monogamy is.

Defining monogamy is a struggle in itself because there are different ways to tackle it. Terri Conley, a Psychology and Women’s Studies professor at University of Michigan, defines monogamy as an agreement of both parties involved in the relationship to be invested emotionally and sexually in the other and includes no one else. Some take monogamy to the extreme and practice lifetime monogamy.

A great example of someone devoted to the style of lifetime monogamy is Tim Tebow, a man acquiring fame through football. As most of you know, Tim was involved in a monogamous relationship with Olivia Culpo. Ms. Culpo is a former Miss Universe. Mr. Tebow had a vow between himself and God that he would abstain from sexual activities until he was married so he would have sex with only one person. Olivia was not exactly enthusiastic with this level of devotion to this practice. She lost patience with Tim, so she terminated the relationship. This is great evidence as to how much religion can control someone’s actions in a relationship because Olivia is no ugly duckling by any means so I am sure Tim truly wanted to peruse a sexual relationship with her as would any hetero man. But his religious beliefs got in the way and he chose to continue the pursuit of a lifetime partner elsewhere.

Though not to the extreme of Mr. Tebow, there is evidence that the majority of Americans choose monogamy. Conley says people choose monogamy solely because it helps them evade the shame society throws, like hot black tar, onto those in other forms of relationships. Participants in Conley’s studies said a benefit of being monogamous is the social acceptance. This is not to say some individuals do not experience true fulfillment in a monogamous relationship because some do, rather a large majority of the population does admit to practicing this style to avoid rejection.

There are some logical reasons for you to avoid a non-monogamous relationship though. People steer clear of non-monogamous relationships because it is legal to fire an employee for partaking in this practice. I know it sounds ludicrous but these actions actually make it permissible to end your employment. There have also been legal cases of children being removed from their parents care because they are in non-monogamous relationship. If that isn’t crazy enough even when a mental health professional deems the child well-adjusted to the situation, the state is still legally allowed to take the child from the parent.

As a society, we are becoming more accepting of those different than us. Hogenboom, a recipient of the Ivan Noble Bursary as a Science Reporter, states that us as nation becoming more open to views on other social issues such as gay marriage, suggests we are also gaining acceptance of polygamy. Even with acceptance increasing, getting polygamy to become legal would be a very challenging feat because there are no guidelines to polygamy that are set in stone; the rules differ from relationship to relationship. Polygamy being outlawed in the first place is a strange situation because at the beginning of time, humans were nomadic and traveled continuously and this made polygamy an ideal relationship style in which to engage.

Monogamy did not come around until the time people started to settle down and form communities. Now I believe humans began experimenting with monogamy because starting a close immediate family would help ensure a better living situation during the hard times but most of those worries humans once had are now gone with our modern advancements and monogamy may be outdated.

There is current research bringing forward many different theories on relationships. David P. Schmitt, who studies personality, evolutionary, cross-cultural, and human psychology and is currently a Professor of Psychology at Bradley University, conducted a research study with the results being that men and women alike have not developed to practice monogamy over an extended period of time. Moreover, he found that it is entirely possible that humans may prefer forms of a non-monogamous relationship style over a long term monogamous style.

There is no standard to which relationship style is universally more beneficial to both parties involved; it has to be observed situation by situation. For example, if you are an anxious person, you may not participate in a non-monogamous relationship because it could become another source of anxiety, not knowing who your partner is having relations with. On the other hand, you being that same anxious person may benefit from a non-monogamous relationship because you can obtain affection from multiple partners, making you experience a great sense of love. Another situation that may vary is if you are a person who is avoidant in relationships. You could spread your emotions by having multiple partners, thus not becoming too involved in one relationship; however, you may also find yourself having more trouble with multiple relationships because they involve having many emotional ties. These examples are evidence that each situation must be examined as for its own because each person reacts to situations differently.

With this in mind, there are also different personality types that do seem to benefit from the engagement of a non-monogamous relationship. The first of these personalities is an extrovert; these individuals tend to be more outgoing, talkative, and enjoy a group setting. Extroverts experience a greater success rate in non-monogamous relationships because they are more comfortable with the transition from being a friend to becoming a sexual partner with more than one individual. Second are those who are agreeable; they have a passion for making others experience higher levels of contentment. A non-monogamous relationship could benefit them because they desire multiple relationships involving intimate emotions. Those who are open minded to alternative experiences are also more likely to engage in a non-monogamous partnership. Those who are open to experiences are individuals who are seeking to experience as many situations as possible, including different sexual partners. Those who attempt to lessen the amount of uncertainty in everyday life would not find this experience as a beneficial one, rather a stress inducing one.

Say you are someone in love with chasing adrenaline; you may have a more positive outlook on a non-monogamous relationship as well. The reason for this is that you may experience enjoyment from the thrills in life, example being the constant struggle to find a new sexual partner. The most gratifying period of a relationship is during the flirtatious dance between sexual partners, attempting to unravel the essence of each other’s sexual arousal.

It is important to keep in mind that this emphasis of sexual gratification is not held by all those in non-monogamous partnerships; these situations are focused on those who are searching for new experiences. This also does not mean people will not change their preference of relationship styles as they enter and exit different phases.

An individual can participate in many different relationship styles throughout their lives. An example brought forward by Conley, is a woman throughout college engaging in multiple consensual non-monogamous partnerships in hopes to acquire a partner for a long-term monogamous relationship. In cases such as these, it can benefit you to practice a style other than monogamy in efforts to find your “prince charming”.

Other situations experiencing multiple styles are when you are in a long-term partnership and become bored with the monotony and seek out other partners, or you may feel you and your partner have a built a solid relationship after years together and want to explore a consensual non-monogamous relationship. If you are both understanding and open to the experimentation of the relationship, I believe there is nothing immoral about the act.

Individuals who choose to participate in a non-monogamous partnership can experience equal or higher levels of happiness than those who practice monogamy. That being said, it is also reasonable to say those in a lifetime monogamous relationship can reach higher levels of happiness than those in other practices. Individuals can also be involved in one style and no longer experience fulfillment and change the situation, whether that be to exit a relationship or change it.

With all of this evidence being presented on the matter of relationships’ overall effectiveness and success, you must bring into consideration all relationships styles, including non-monogamous ones. Numerous research studies demonstrate those involved in these alternative styles exhibit greater honesty, happiness, communication, and relationship satisfaction than monogamous styles, but this can differ depending on the individuals in the partnership. The choice of which style to adopt boils down to the individual’s preference and what they hold to be most beneficial to life as a whole, in present time.