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Satisfied? Jealous? On Deciding Not to Be Monogamous

Still jealous even if you agree to not be monogamous?

What if you have a romantic partner and the two of you openly agree that you will have other sexual or romantic partners? This is not sneaking around and it is not infidelity; it is what social scientists call consensual non-monogamy(CNM).

A few weeks ago, in the post, Are monogamous relationships really better?, I began a discussion of an article that reviews the research studies on consensual non-monogamy (CNM). I defined some of the basic terms and identified my dog in the fight. Then I addressed the question of whether monogamy provides “a life full of safe and excellent sex.”

Besides the safe and scintillating sex, monogamy supposedly provides relationships graced with more satisfaction and less jealousy. That’s the conventional wisdom. Is it true?

Again, I’ll turn to the review in the article by Terri Conley and her colleagues. (Reference is below.) The research that has been done so far tells us little about CNM satisfaction among heterosexual couples. There are, though, some studies comparing monogamous and consensually non-monogamous relationships among gay men. (Rates of CNM are higher in gay men’s partnerships than in the partnerships of lesbians or heterosexuals.)

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Here’s what those studies showed, as summarized by Conley and her colleagues:

  • “…gay men in CNM relationships are quite comparable with gay men in monogamous partnerships in their level of satisfaction.”
  • “Men reported that their open relationships accommodated their intimacy needs as well as their desires for sexual diversity. Moreover, the men in these partnerships often felt more intimate with their partner when they agreed to be non-monogamous. Just as monogamy can provide a sense of support and protection, consensual non-monogamy can provide the emotional support of a primary partnership while also allowing exploration of other sexual relationships.”

Now, on to jealousy. In studies of people’s beliefs, evidence is strong and consistent that people think that monogamy comes with less jealousy. As for what actually happens, the evidence tells a different story.

  • “…levels of jealousy were actually lower for those in CNM relationships than in a monogamous sample.”
  • About CNM relationships: “jealousy is more manageable in these relationships than in monogamous relationships and is experienced less noxiously.”

Conley and her colleagues add, “To the extent that other relationships are explicitly allowed, experiences of jealousy should almost by definition be lower in CNM relationships. Still, the fact that jealousy was managed by individuals in CNM relationships, rather than overwhelming them, is inconsistent with presumptions about monogamy conveyed by participants in our research.”

In one last part to this series on consensual non-monogamy, I’ll present the evidence from the review paper relevant to the question: What about the children?

Reference:

Conley, T. D., Ziegler, A., Moors, A. C., Matsick, J. L., & Valentine, B. (2012).  A critical examination of popular assumptions about the benefits and outcomes of monogamous relationships. Personality and Social Psychology Review.

[Notes. (1) Thanks to Rolf Degen for the heads-up about the Conley article. (2) See below for some other recent blog posts.]

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Bella DePaulo, Ph.D., is author of Singled Out: How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After. She is a visiting professor at UCSB.

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