Everything You Need To Know About Monogamy Vs. Polygamy

Medically reviewed by Laura Angers Maddox
Updated February 21, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Everyone may have different ideas about how relationships and marriage should be, including the types of partnerships that work for them. Often, monogamy and polygamy are two types of partnerships that someone may consider or prefer.  

When it comes to monogamy definition, Merriam-Webster defined monogamy as the practice of having a relationship with only one partner. In comparison, polygamy consists of a marriage in which a spouse of any gender may have more than one wife or spouse simultaneously. In many societies, monogamy is regarded favorably, while polygamy may be judged or misunderstood. 

Polygamy often refers to marriage. However, polyamory is another common term used to signify being interested in or having the capacity to love or date multiple partners. You may also hear the terms “ethical nonmonogamy” or “relationship anarchy” regarding having multiple intimate relationships simultaneously.

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Monogamy vs. polygamy

You may wonder whether monogamy or polygamy is “better.” Questions about these relationships often revolve around issues of morality or fidelity. However, the answer may not be universal and differ between people in most countries across the world. The differences in these types of partnerships can work for different people, and one may not sound right for you based on your values, opinions, or needs.  

Monogamous individuals may pair well with others seeking monogamy, just as polygamous individuals may be suited for others who partake in polygamy. However, relationships may exist between partners who have differing needs or preferences. A woman who has never wanted to be a wife may be more open to the potential of an open relationship without a permanent husband.

While relationships can vary depending on wants and needs, there may be a societal debate on which type of relationship is “better.” In many traditions, monogamy and being married may be viewed as indicative of a loving, faithful, or true union. In those contexts, marriage is perceived as a partnership that may only contain two spouses who commit to a life together until death. 

Preferring polygamy 

Individuals who question the concept of monogamy may cite this type of partnership as outdated, overly restrictive, or unnatural. High divorce rates, reports of infidelity, or sexual boredom are also cited as reasons why polygamy is practiced.

People who hold these may see polygamy as a healthy alternative for consenting adults. More companionship, higher income, and ongoing sexual variety are often cited as advantages of polygamous or polyamorous relationships. The definitions of polygamy can vary and include polyandry and polygyny. Polyandry is a common option for women who are open to polygamy, just as polygyny is for men. These two practices are not legal and go against many state and federal laws, however.

Preferring monogamy 

Individuals who favor monogamy may cite certain parts of traditional relationships such as bonding, less jealousy, emotional intimacy, and decreased worries about STDs as reasons to opt for monogamy. The Huffington Post 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 might still exist within non-monogamous relationships. In these cases, the debate may be a matter of opinion and preference. Additionally, polygamy is illegal in most of the United States.

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Cheating and polygamy

Some people may question whether polygamy is an avenue to cheating on a spouse without feeling guilty. Monogamous individuals might raise these concerns. However, cheating and polygamy are different things. Someone may cheat in a polygamous relationship by not following relationship rules, as they might in a monogamous relationship. 

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

All parties may be aware of each other’s relationships in polygamous relationships. They often consent to the situation. Polygamous couples may still have rules for their partners, such as using safety during sex or only having outside sexual relationships that aren’t romantic. If that rule is broken, it may be considered cheating or betrayal.  

What type of relationship works for you? 

Many people instinctively know whether or not they prefer monogamous or polygamous partnerships. However, if you’re unsure, there are several factors you can consider to determine which relationship style suits you better. 

Consider your reasoning 

First, consider your reasons for entering either type of relationship. For example, rushing into a monogamous or polygamous union solely because of imposed social or familial norms or sexual roles may cause long-term problems. Why do you want to try this type of relationship? What examples made you consider it as a realistic option?

Think about what makes you happy 

Next, consider what kind of relationships make you happy and what situations make you unhappy. Suppose 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. In that case, 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, you may not want a polygamous connection.

Although possessiveness or jealousy may happen in any relationship, the desire to be your spouse’s only sexual and romantic partner is often reported by monogamous individuals.

Consider your values 

Consider your value system outside of society’s and the future you envision for yourself. If you maintain religious or cultural beliefs at odds with polygamy, you may weigh 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, polygamy may fit into your future life. However, the concept of polygamy may not be for everyone.

In these and all considerations regarding your romantic and sexual well-being, consider what will make you the happiest without causing harm to yourself or others. The definition of happiness in your life can be up to you. 

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Getting relationship support through counseling 

Relationships are often complicated. Whether an individual chooses to enter a monogamous or polygamous partnership, many factors could impact whether a relationship is beneficial, such as timing, lifestyle, desires, sexual compatibility, and personality. 

When partaking in romantic or sexual connections, you may also want to focus on your relationship with your own emotions and well-being. Exploring and promoting the behaviors and attitudes that make you feel content on a deep emotional level can help 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 benefit from couples counseling. Research has shown that couples who complete some form of premarital counseling tend to have greater marital satisfaction than couples who don’t.

Online counseling 

If you are unsure how to fit individual or couples counseling into your busy life, you might consider online therapy. Online therapy is often flexible, so you can arrange counseling sessions according to your and your partners’ schedules or pursue individual therapy on your own time. 

Online counseling has been proven to be just as effective as traditional face-to-face interventions for various issues. One study found that couples who received online therapy experienced significant improvements in their relationship satisfaction, mental health, and all other outcome scores. These findings add to the growing evidence that online therapy is as efficacious as traditional in-person therapy.

Relationship maintenance can be healthy and valuable. A therapist may provide empathetic and knowledgeable support as you pursue the relationship that will make you happiest. Consider reaching out through an online platform such as BetterHelp for individuals or Regain for couples. 

Takeaway

Being in a monogamous or polygamous relationship is your decision. Although outside factors such as societal standards or the opinions of your loved ones may influence your decision, you might choose to make a choice based on your own needs or desires.

If you’re struggling with issues in any intimate relationship, therapy may be a viable option to pursue. Consider reaching out to a counselor to discuss your concerns. 

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