“Toxic Monogamy Culture” — and How to Have Healthier Relationships

There’s a popular post from tumblr by user nankingdecade making the rounds amongst non-monogamy communities called ‘What I mean when I say “toxic monogamy culture”’ that has gotten a lot of push-back:

Just as many people take umbrage with the term “toxic masculinity” because they think the term implies that all masculinity is toxic, people are also rubbed wrong when they think the entire institution of monogamy is being attacked. That isn’t what I see happening here. The post makes a lot of great points about how monogamy as a cultural institution has been interpreted and practiced in ways that are unhealthy.

As a Certified Sex Coach, I’d like to delve deeper into the points that the original tumblr post is trying to make about monogamy and explore how to have happier and healthier relationships (of whatever style!).

  1. The normalization of jealousy as an indicator of love

Honestly, the media (music and movies in particular) tries to make jealousy look sexy (Nick Jonas’ Jealous) or like a sign of devotion (Grease). Jealousy is the outward expression of deeper emotions like insecurity, co-dependence, feelings of possessiveness, low self esteem, or anxiety, and, expressed inappropriately, can lead to unhealthy conduct like monitoring or controlling a partner’s behavior.

There is nothing wrong with experiencing jealousy — what matters is how you deal with it! Experiencing jealousy in a relationship can be dealt with by expressing to your partner the feeling that underlies the jealousy, like fear of being replaced, and asking your partner for feedback about what’s going on for them. This serves as a reality check that interrupts the jealousy cycle that, left unexpressed in a healthy manner, can lead to brooding and lashing out at your partner. This takes a lot of vulnerability, but it’s worth developing this skill to build more trusting, compassionate relationships!

2. the idea that a sufficiently intense love is enough to overcome any practical incompatibilities

They say that love can conquer all, but should it? A couple can love one another very deeply and still be a poor match for one another, whether that is because they have differing visions on what they want out of life, one partner wants children and the other does not, or one partner has a kink that is necessary to their sexual satisfaction that their partner does not enjoy, or a myriad of other incompatibilities. Sometimes the best way you can love another person is to let them go.

3. the idea that you should meet your partner’s every need, and if you don’t, either you’re inadequate or they’re too needy

This idea is embedded in the language people use to describe their romantic partners: they’re my “other half”! There’s so much pressure for romantic partners to meet all of each other’s romantic and sexual needs, and frequently their social needs as well! I hear from my more extroverted clients that they feel a lot of pressure to meet all of their more introverted partner’s social needs by staying home when they wish they could go out more. Not everyone’s needs are the same, and sacrificing your own well-being in order to meet your partner’s every need can lead to resentment and relationship dissatisfaction.

One of the things I tell my clients regularly is to make more friends and spend more time away from each other. Not only are friendships crucial to the well-being of adults as they age, spending time apart from your partner has other surprising benefits. As Esther Perel explains so eloquently in Mating in Captivity, relationships require some breathing space to rekindle the mystery that keeps us interested in our partners, and developing your own hobbies and interests can actually make you more attractive to your partner!

4. the idea that a sufficiently intense love should cause you to cease to be attracted to anyone else

This belief really is toxic. I have had many clients come to me questioning whether they really love their partner since they are experiencing attraction to someone else. This belief can lead to a lot of shame and feeling broken, or even feeling like a relationship must be broken up because the person experiencing attraction feels guilty for not being “faithful” despite their lack of actual transgression.

It is completely normal and healthy to experience attraction to people other than your partner when in a relationship, but like jealousy, it’s how you handle that attraction that matters. As long as you abide by your relationship agreement with your partner as to what constitutes appropriate behavior with other people, there’s nothing wrong with harboring a crush or fantasizing about someone else.

5. the idea that commitment is synonymous with exclusivity

This point the original poster is making here is that you can have multiple romantic relationships and still have those relationships be deeply meaningful and committed. Many polyamorous people (those who have multiple romantic/sexual partners with all partners’ knowledge and consent) have multiple long-term committed relationships. Their commitments may look different than those of monogamous relationships, but they are are no less valid or sincere.

6. the idea that marriage and children are the only valid teleological justifications for being committed to a relationship

The idea that the only valid reasons for being committed to a relationship are marriage and children is patently false. Many people have loving and committed relationships without any intention of ever having children, or of having their love legally recognized by the government. This idea also excludes people who cannot bear children and those who cannot access the institution of marriage.

7. the idea that your insecurities are always your partner’s responsibility to tip-toe around and never your responsibility to work on

Experiencing insecurity is totally normal, but like the original poster implies, it is important for someone feeling insecure to take ownership for how they are feeling and seek support from a qualified professional if they find themselves demanding their partner change their behavior or having to be constantly reassured. Someone like a therapist trained in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy can support you in learning how to challenge self-defeating thoughts that lead to insecurity, leading to relief for both you and your partner.

8. the idea that your value to a partner is directly proportional to the amount of time and energy they spend on you, and it is in zero-sum competition with everything else they value in life

This point challenges the idea that the amount of time and energy your partner spends on you in comparison to all of the other aspects of their life (work, friendships, hobbies) reflects how much you mean to them. Your partner might get a lot of satisfaction from putting in the hours on a project at work, from hanging out with friends, or from hobbies like gaming or crafting. This does not mean that they love you any less. If your love language is quality time, it’s important that you express that to your partner and come up with an agreement on how to get both of your needs met.

9. the idea that being of value to a partner should always make up a large chunk of how you value yourself

Your self worth should not rely on having a romantic partner or on making someone else happy. Your self-worth should be a reflection of your kindness, your compassion, your smarts, your strength, your skills, your virtues, and your capacity to love! It’s so easy to let yourself get lost in a long-term partnership and forget who you are all by yourself, without your partner, but it’s truly worth the effort of undertaking that self-exploration and reestablishing what makes you you. Finding yourself again after you’ve become enmeshed with another person can be so liberating and can reinvigorate your relationship as well!

Passion Forge Coaching with Certified Sex Coach™ Hillary Berry

Need a relationship detox? Do you want to explore your erotic potential, reignite your sex life, and forge stronger relationships?

I work with clients to improve communication, reawaken libido and desire for sexual connection, develop body confidence, release shame and trauma, and spark a sense of creativity and play in the bedroom!

Check out my website or contact me to see if we would be a good match to work together.

Non-monogamy and kink friendly!