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Why Some Couples Choose Polyamory

Letting go of societal expectations about our sexual nature.

Key points

  • Some people seek polyamory because they know they’re not monogamous by nature.
  • Others try polyamory to fix a broken relationship.
  • Some have their curiosity aroused when they learn about polyamory from the media or friends.
  • Others see polyamory as a way of exploring their sexuality.

Although monogamy is still widely considered the ideal in our society, consensual non-monogamy has gained a lot of attention in the media in recent years. Given the high degree of infidelity in supposedly monogamous relationships, many couples have decided to accept the fact that they are not monogamous by nature and are open with their partners about the sexual relations they have with others.

Researchers generally recognize three types of consensual non-monogamy. The first is the open relationship, in which each partner is allowed to have casual sex with other people as long as they remain committed to the primary relationship. The second is swinging, in which two or more couples swap partners for the evening, typically on a regular basis.

The third type is polyamory, in which people form emotionally and sexually intimate relationships with multiple partners. Research shows that polyamorists tend to experience more relational satisfaction and less jealousy than do practitioners of other forms of consensual non-monogamy. Still, the relationship dynamics are complex and demanding, so it isn’t always clear why some couples choose polyamory in the first place. This is the question that Ball State University (Indiana) psychologist Alexander Tatum and his colleagues explored in an article they recently published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior.

For this study, Tatum and colleagues recruited 63 American adults who have been, or currently are, involved in a polyamorous relationship, who were asked to talk about their initial motivation for pursuing polyamory. The research team then analyzed the responses and identified four common themes.

Values Alignment

The first theme was “Values Alignment.” Many of the participants remarked that they struggled to remain monogamous, and that the lifestyle didn’t fit with their authentic self. They often had disdain for the societal expectation that couples remain monogamous and saw no reason to abide by it. Some of them had first tried an open relationship or swinging with their partner but found that polyamory was the best relationship structure for meeting their sexual and emotional intimacy needs.

Others admitted that they knew themselves to be non-monogamous from early in their adult life. Many of these, however, tried to conform to societal expectations. But when they found they couldn’t remain faithful to a single relationship, they decided to be authentic by becoming polyamorous.

Relationship Factors

The second theme was “Relationship Factors.” A number of the participants reported that they had had the feeling that something was missing in their monogamous relationship, and they convinced their partner to try polyamory as a way to explore their sexuality. In other cases, it was the participant’s partner who had pushed to open the relationship, and they gave in for the sake of the relationship.

Polyamory experts often warn that opening up a troubled relationship isn’t an effective way of saving it, and this was borne out by comments from this study. For instance, one heterosexual man reported that he and his wife tried polyamory to fix their broken marriage. “Poly didn’t fix it,” he said. “But I discovered poly was lovely.” This remark suggests that sometimes people have to leave behind old relationships to enter into a polyamorous lifestyle.

External Stimuli

The third theme was “External Stimuli.” In some cases, one person in a monogamous relationship developed feelings for a third party while still in love with their primary partner. Rather than breaking the relationship, the couple decided to expand it instead.

In other cases, couples were drawn to polyamory after learning about it, either from the media or from polyamorous friends. This aroused a curiosity about the lifestyle that they decided to explore.


The fourth theme was “Sexuality.” Couples can develop a deep emotional bond even when they aren’t sexually compatible. Polyamorous couples understand that it’s unreasonable to expect one partner to meet all their needs. So, it’s not uncommon, for example, for a primary relationship to be high in emotional support but low in sexual satisfaction, while each member gets their sexual needs met by another partner.

One participant reported that she’d agreed to an open marriage when she lost interest in sex. She let her husband take on a secondary relationship in which he could get his sexual needs met. But once she was free of the yoke of monogamy, she too began to explore her own sexuality, only to find that her “libido came roaring back” with a different sex partner.

This study by Tatum and colleagues shows us that couples seek out polyamory for a number of reasons, but the idea that ties all these together may be the drive to be authentic. Society expects us to be monogamous in our intimate relationships. And for many people, that is exactly what they want. It’s what rings true for them; it’s what’s in their nature.

But for other people, the expectation of monogamy is a yoke that holds them back from living an authentic life. They also have the integrity to understand that infidelity while pretending to be monogamous is just as inauthentic. Instead, they have chosen to live their life authentically according to their own values, loving and cherishing the people they enter into relationships with.


Tatum, A. K., Flicker, S. M., Peralta, I., & Kubicki, R. J. (2023). Initial motivations for engaging in polyamorous relationships. Archives of Sexual Behavior. Advance online publication.

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