I must say, I can count the number of these relationships on one hand. Popular media, self-help, pop-psych writing, and even scientific research has held a monogamous bias for a very, very long time. According to a recent study published in Perspectives on Psychological Science, monogamy as a superior, more functional mode for relationships is so prevalent that it colors even scientific research on non-monogamy. Authors Terri D. Conley, Jess L. Matsick, Amy C. Moors and Ali Ziegler wanted to examine this bias and show, through original research and a review of previous published work, that polyamorous relationships can be just as functional and wholesome as monogamous relationships.
Hey, Guess What? Monogamous and Polyamorous Couples Are Equally Happy
The Stigma of Polyamory
The authors note that consensual non-monogamy (CNM) has its roots in the gay community. They argue that because heterosexual couples are dominant, engaging in CNM is transgressive because monogamy was "invented" to control women's sexuality and ensure paternity (and "legitimate" passing down of inheritance). People continue to attach a lot of stigma to polyamory.
In fact, the authors mention that when presented with hypothetical couples, people evaluated the quality of monogamous relationships at 4.8, and the quality of polyamorous relationships at 2.9. That is a big negative bias!
So, since this bias is incredibly negative and widespread, it's easy to see how it could affect not only how North Americans understand polyamory, but how relationship scholars from North America also unconsciously bias their own research.
Non-Monogamous Couples Are Committed and Loving
The most interesting results from this study show that, on measures of relationship satisfaction, commitment, and passionate love, people in monogamous relationships and CNM relationships were equally happy. In fact, even though the difference between the results is small and not significant, people in CNM relationships marked their satisfaction, commitment, and passionate love higher than those in monogamous relationships.
That's not all. The researchers measured three other things: jealous attitudes, jealous behaviors, and trust. The differences between monogamous and CNM couples in these elements were obvious and very significant.
Can you guess who is less jealous and more trusting?
Yup, it's the people in CNM relationships.
The researchers also broke down the results between the three types of CNM relationships they identified: polyamorous, swinging, and open relationships. The results between the three groups are generally similar, with one exception: the polyamorous group shows the least jealous attitudes, even when compared to swingers or people in open relationships.
Polyamorous People Excel in Relationships
Based on the six measures they studied, the researchers conclude that "the fact that the polyamorous groups reported greater relational outcomes on most measures could indicate that the polyamorous style of relationships - in which both sexual intimacy and emotional intimacy with a multiple people is allowed - is particularly effective."
In other words, polyamory, because of its focus on honest and open communication, trust building, and freedom to develop emotional intimacy with other partners without negative consequences (as opposed to swinging or open relationships), seems to make people happier.
Even when the authors investigated these measures for primary versus secondary partners, it seems that polyamorous people are just as committed and in love with their primary partners as monogamous people are to each other, busting the myth that polyamory is just about "shopping around" trying to find someone better.
Lessons for Everyone
This research holds lessons for every relationship style out there. I've always believed that the principles of polyamory - honesty, openness, and trust - are good for any relationship. They lead to stronger, more loving, and less jealous intimate relationships. This is contrary to the common belief that only monogamists are truly committed to each other.
This research shows us, once again, that many of the biases and much of the received knowledge we have doesn't hold up to scientific inquiry. Even as CNM relationships continue to be stigmatized - despite the fact that they're currently enjoying a "cultural moment" - we have to remember that this negative perception comes from cultural influence, but that everyone can also influence culture.
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