Everything You Need to Know About Monogamy Vs. Polygamy

By: Michael Arangua

Updated January 27, 2021

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Many people have different ideas about relationships and which type of relationships are right for them, especially in terms of romantic relationships. In Western cultures, monogamy and polygamy are the two most common types of unions. Monogamy is officially defined as "the practice or state of having a sexual relationship with only one partner" while polygamy consists of a marriage in which a spouse of any gender may have more than one mate at the same time. In most of society, monogamy is regarded favorably, while polygamy is often judged. 

It is common to wonder whether one of these unions is “better” than the other. Questions about these relationships often revolve around issues of morality and fidelity. Ultimately, no single answer is universal; different partnerships work well for different people. However, monogamous people tend to pair well with others seeking monogamy, just as polygamous individuals are better suited for other individuals who partake in polygamy. As mentioned above, polygamy refers to a marriage that involves multiple partners. Polyamory is a different, more general term that describes having more than one open romantic relationship at a time. 

The Never-Ending Debate

While various people are compatible within various unions, the ongoing debate surrounding monogamy and polygamy has yet to subside. In much of society and in many religious traditions, monogamy is viewed as indicative of a loving, faithful, and true union. In those contexts, marriage is perceived as a partnership which should only contain two people who commit to forsake all others.

Individuals who question the validity of monogamy may cite this type of partnership as outdated, overly restrictive, or even unnatural. High divorce rates, reports of infidelity, and sexual boredom are also cited as reasons to oppose monogamy. People who hold these views generally cite polygamy as a healthy alternative for consenting adults. Greater companionship, higher income, and ongoing sexual variety are often cited as advantages of polygamous relationships.

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Individuals who favor monogamy also tend to cite bonding, emotional intimacy, decreased worries of STDs, and other cases as reasons to opt for monogamy. The Huffington Post even champions monogamous relationships as the pinnacle of values like honor, respect, fidelity, loyalty, and trust. However, many polygamous individuals would make the case that the values above can still exist within non-monogamous relationships.

Cheating And Polygamy

As polygamy has gained more attention and news coverage, some people have begun to question whether or not polygamy is simply a “politically correct” way of cheating on a spouse. Monogamous individuals often raise these concerns. However, there is a clear distinction between cheating and polygamy.

When someone cheats in a relationship, they may lie to their partner, hide facts or evidence, or sneak around with someone else. Cheating can be extremely damaging to a relationship and can cause trust issues, self-esteem issues, and other psychological and emotional distress for the partner who has been deceived.

On the other hand, in polygamous relationships, all parties are aware of each other’s relationships. The dishonest or unfaithful behaviors that a monogamous person may exhibit in cheating are wholly different from a consensual partnership that involves more than two individuals. However, if one or more individuals in a polygamous relationship enter into a union with someone else outside of the existing relationship, that may also be a form of cheating.

Which Relationship Is For You?

The majority of people instinctively know whether or not they prefer monogamous or polygamous partnerships, but if you are unsure, there are several factors you can consider in order to determine which relationship style suits you better. First, consider your reasons for entering either type of relationship—rushing into a monogamous or a polygamous union solely because of imposed social or familial norms can cause long-term problems.

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Next, consider what kind of relationships make you happy, as well as what relationship situations make you unhappy. If the thought of maintaining relationships with more than one partner excites you, and you are not bothered by the thought of a spouse pursuing other relationships alongside yours, then polygamy might match your desires.

If you experience feelings of jealousy or possessiveness at the thought of your significant other being romantically or sexually involved with someone else, though, then polygamy is probably not a natural fit for you. Although severe possessiveness or jealousy can be detrimental to any relationship, the desire to be your spouse’s only sexual and romantic partner is reasonable for monogamous individuals.

It is also important to consider your value system and the future you envision for yourself. If you maintain religious beliefs at odds with polygamy, for example, then you may weight those beliefs more heavily than your desire to explore multiple partnerships. If you do not expect or wish to raise children within a two-parent household, then polygamy may fit more easily into your future life.

In these and in all considerations regarding your romantic and sexual wellbeing, consider what will make you the happiest without causing harm to someone else. You deserve to live a full life, and the definition of that life is up to you.

A Final Word

Relationships are inherently complicated. Regardless of whether or not an individual chooses to enter into a monogamous or polygamous partnership, many factors impact whether a relationship lasts through the years: timing, lifestyle, desires, sexual compatibility, personalities, and so much more. In many cases, the relationships that make us the happiest may be different than what we initially envisioned.

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Even more important than the relationship or relationships you choose for yourself is the relationship you have with your own emotions and wellbeing. Before you make a commitment to any union, monogamous or polygamous, you may benefit from figuring out what makes you happy and fulfilled as an individual. Exploring and promoting the behaviors and attitudes that make you feel content on a deep emotional level will support your long-term psychological health. If you are already in a relationship and are considering committing to a marriage or other long-term union, you and your partner may also benefit from premarital counseling; research has shown that couples who complete some form of premarital counseling tend to have greater marital satisfaction than couples who don’t. If you are unsure how to fit individual or premarital counseling into your busy life, then you may want to consider online therapy with BetterHelp.

Online therapy is flexible, so you can arrange counseling sessions according to you and your partner’s schedules or pursue individual therapy on your own time. You can also choose how to connect with a mental health professional: via video chat, phone call, or text messaging. Online therapy is not limited to times of struggle, either; relationship maintenance is healthy and important, and as you pursue the relationship or relationships that will make you happiest, an online therapist through BetterHelp may provide empathetic and knowledgeable support. Consider these reviews from BetterHelp users who have worked with counselors to manage their relationships.

" Marcia was a great counselor. I was seeking to resolve issues w.r.t my marital life in an individual capacity. With the help of Marcia, I could see things which I didn't pay attention to before and realize my own role and power in problems and solutions w.r.t my marriage. I used to do video sessions and Marcia was happy and sad with me as well, displaying great empathy. I have learnt to let go of control, set my boundaries and also stand up for myself with support and guidance from Marcia. She is also direct with you when you need to hear the hard truths and realities, I liked that. I highly recommend her if you are seeking therapy for relationship issues. "

" ’ve worked with Maryanne for 3(or 4) sessions and I’m already feeling more confident and positive to overcome my negative emotion and behaviour patterns and live a happier life. She’s professional, resourceful, patient, supportive and loving. Her sessions are all well-structured and she never rushes our conversations because of the time limit. Very often my issues are related to my partner, and Maryanne gave me empathetic responses while also offered non-judgemental and constructive feedback to support me understand and improve my situations. I’m very grateful to have found her and can’t thank her enough for all the valuable tools and techniques she taught me to improve my life. " https://www.betterhelp.com/maryanne-walker/


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