I had the misfortune of stumbling across the comments section of a TedX talk about being “Monogam-ish”.
As a Polyamorous woman, I felt like the content of the video was ultimately ridiculous for one reason: I don’t believe that actively allowing your spouse to “talk but not touch” and “fantasize but not act” is in any way comparable Consensual Non-Monogamy. To me, that is nothing more than Monogamy- simply with a better and more accepting view of human biological and sexual drive.
But while I found the content a bit ridiculous, the comments on the video were the thing which I found absolutely absurd. Indeed, the vast majority of them were ultimately focused on degrading those involved in Consentually Non-Monogamous relationships; as a Polyamorous person, I am not shocked by the viewpoints expressed, in all honesty. I am quite used to them at this point. But one of the more ridiculous ones went on to state that Consensual Non-Monogamy could never be “healthy”- because apparently the health of a relationship is determined by your ability not to point (sexually, emotionally or otherwise) your dong at anyone other than the person you said your “I Do”s with at the altar. This is an ideology that raises my hackles every time- and for good reason.
Monogamous or Non-Monogamous… While sex and access to it is an often cited reason for divorce among couples? When you look at the actual underlying psychological causes of Divorce, most of the time it actually has very little to do with sex itself. If it really did, then the divorce rates of Consentually Non-Monogamous couples would not be comparable to the divorce rates among Monogamous couples- and they are; studies have shown truly discernible difference in divorce rates despite social ideology claiming Consensual Non-Monogamy is unsustainable or “unhealthy”. In other words, sex is often not what people are actually searching for. Instead, what they are often searching for is emotional and other intimacy and acceptance that they feel they are not getting from their partner at the current time.
Relationships don’t require sexual monogamy in order to actually be successful… They require the cornerstones of Open and Honest communication, trust, Acknowledgement of Sexuality, Acceptance of Them as a Person, and Respect and Consideration. With or without them, regardless of the structure of the relationship (whether Monogamous or Consentually Non-Monogamous), relationships are doomed to fail. And those most often cited “sexually based” reasons that lead to divorce? Often boil down to the fact that one (or many) nonsexual cornerstones is ultimately missing from the equation; in other words, they don’t feel respected, they don’t feel as if they are given enough consideration, they don’t feel as if they are able to communicate, and so on and so forth. As a result, they often seek that emotional reciprocation and intimacy somewhere else- usually in the form of sexual intimacy because we as a society have a hard time shaking the idea that sex is always tied to emotional intimacy.
But what are these cornerstones? How can we integrate them into our relationships And how can we tell when a relationship is actually unhealthy regardless of whether we’re Monogamous or Polyamorous? The answer to that is actually pretty simple.
All relationships, if they are to last, absolutely require regular and effective communication. I won’t rehash this again in depth since I spoke about this topic quite a bit when detailing why my Husband and I- even after two years- have never once had a fight… But if you can’t effectively communicate with your partner your relationship is doomed to fail.
Feeling as if you cannot communicate with you partner- or feeling as if your partner routinely and intentionally dismisses all efforts to communicate with them is a sign of an unhealthy and potentially abusive relationship.
Openness and Honesty
It goes without saying that if you communicate with your partner, that communication must be open and honest; when it comes to the big stuff like how you feel, what you want, and so on,? The fact of the matter is that you can’t expect them to get resolved if you don’t speak to your spouse truthfully about these things.
Feeling as if you cannot tell your spouse about things or express your needs or wants without being dismissed, judged, or attacked is a sign of an unhealthy and potentially abusive relationship.
Respect and Consideration
Again, this is another one that I spoke about in the above mentioned article so I won’t delve too far into it a second time… But respecting your partner and having consideration for not only their desires and needs, but also their interests, is a huge factor. If at any point one of you does not feel as if you are being respected enough- or that your needs, interests, and desires are not being taken fairly into account- it can ruin a relationship faster than anything else.
Your partner not having respect for you and actively and intentionally disregarding your interests, needs, or desires- or is dismissing them or attacking you for them- is a sign of an unhealthy and potentially abusive relationship.
This one seems like a bit of a contradiction, but it actually isn’t. This hearkens back to the idea of Respect and Consideration, really.
In a relationship, you have to be willing to recognize that you are not the only person whose needs and desires matter anymore; that you now also have to account for the needs and desires of your Spouse as well as your own. You have to be willing to sacrifice some things for the relationship and for your Spouse- or at least understand that you will no longer be able to do whatever you want, whenever you want, because that’s what you want to do. But at the same time, you should not sacrifice everything. It is ok to participate in things for yourself occasionally- either because you do want to, simply want time away from your Spouse, or just want something of your own to yourself.
The difference is in whether or not you are participating in it with no consideration to your Spouse’s feelings, needs, or own desires- especially if you hold a double standard that disallows your Spouse from participating in their own “personal” activities, or punishes them for doing so. Doing so is a marker of an unhealthy and even potentially abusive relationship.
Acknowledgement of Sexuality
This one will undoubtedly put people off… But acknowledging the fact that your partner will inevitably find other people sexually attractive or desirable is an important factor in a healthy relationship. Finding them such, however, doesn’t mean they will necessarily stray from the commitment that you two have- there is, after all, a significant difference between action and thought.
The truth is that sexual desire is most certainly a biological function. As such, it’s not something that we can control. Acknowledging that neither you nor your partner can actually just turn it off like a light bulb the second you enter into a relationship together is something which goes a very long way to curbing jealousy and possessive traits- traits that are inextricably linked to sexual fears and are ultimately detrimental to a relationship.
Expecting your partner not to have sexual fantasies or be sexually aroused by others they find attractive- especially if you are going so far as to punish them if they are / do- is a sign of an unhealthy and potentially abusive relationship. Not only is it unhealthy, it’s unfair; you can’t punish someone for something out of their control biologically.
Acceptance means just that: Accepting, without judgement, who your partner is as a person. That includes not only their innate sexual drive, but also their personality quirks, their desires, and everything else that makes them them. However, the continued personal growth of a person in a relationship is also normal. Couples will inevitably learn, grow, and better themselves together for one another… But it should be organic– born out of love and respect- and should happen naturally out of a desire to please your Spouse. As a result, acceptance means not trying to forcefully change them into who you want them to be.
That doesn’t mean they can’t anger or annoy you at times, but it is to say that if you feel like you need to change your partner then they aren’t the right person for you; if you feel like you have to change or mold a person into who you want them to be, you shouldn’t have married them to begin with. Belittling or attacking them for who they are, their interests, dreams, desires, or any other aspect of “them” is potentially abusive and is a sign of an unhealthy relationship.
A great relationship is about two things: First, appreciating the similarities, and second, respecting the differences.
Trust is also an important factor. You should be able to trust that your partner will consider your needs and desires. You should also be able to trust your partner not to break the agreement of your commitment- however you have defined that commitment as a couple (polyamorous, swinging, monogamous, etc). You should be able to trust that they will communicate openly and honestly with you.. And so on and so forth.
If you do not feel as if you can trust your partner- especially if that distrust drives you to routinely invade their privacy in illegal or immoral ways- that is a sign of an unhealthy and potentially abusive relationship.
All of this also paves the way for effective compromise and conflict resolution- which, like these cornerstones, can make or break a relationship. And the fact is that your relationship will likely fail if none of these are met or achieved, or participated in consistently. Not only is it likely doomed, but it may also be abusive; as I have always stated, if you want a healthy, happy, and long lasting marriage then they should also be met before you consider marrying someone- because marriage will not make good relationships great or bad relationships acceptable.