The Husband Swap

When one size does not fit all.

Posted Dec 13, 2014

Most of the academic and popular literature concerning consensual non-monogamy falls into one of two camps. On the one had, a modicum of that writing is produced by those who practice non-monogamy and laud it as a route to relational freedom. On the other hand, the majority of the writers who do not practice non-monogamy themselves cast open relationships as a slippery slope to divorce. And divorce, they say, is a proof that multiple relationships are simply not sustainable. Polys often have a far more flexible attitude towards divorce than conventional culture dictates, as I explain in “Divorce Among the Polyamorists.” 


Polyamorous relationships can and do end, like any other relationship. Many polyamorous folks argue that the emotional wellbeing and degree of needs satisfaction for the people involved in the relationship are more important than the duration of the relationship itself. Merely enduring for the sake of longevity is not generally the goal for poly folks, but rather staying together in a healthy relationship that meets everyone’s needs is more important. As I explain in my blog ”Does Polyamory Work?”, common poly wisdom encourages people to move on if they would be happier elsewhere.

Complexity comes in when considering children. It is easy for adults to focus on their own happiness and leave a relationship that is less than fulfilling. What then happens to children whose fulfilment and happiness are impacted when adults make decisions to prioritize their own wishes and desires? Some children remain unaffected, or no more so than when adults leave their lives because they move away or die. As I explained in my blog “When Partners Leave Polyamorous Families with Children” this is very painful for some children who have forged emotional bonds with adults who then disappear from the kids’ lives.

Some polyamorists assert that unhappy parents make for unhappy kids, and parents who stay in miserable relationships are not doing their children any favors. Louisa Leontiades, author of the forthcoming book The Husband Swap (Second Edition, Thorntree Press, 2015), is solidly in that parental camp. "If you've stayed unhappy in a relationship until death do you part, there's no grand prize waiting for you when you die," says Leontiades. "Staying in a relationship that makes you unhappy only serves to show our children that we require such sacrifices of them, too. And I never want my children to put a relationship over their own happiness. We are now in a time where the best role models for our generation are not the ones who sacrifice their long-term happiness to conform to society's monogamous ideals, but the ones who accept that maybe the One True Love paradigm is not for them, due to geographical mobility, increased longevity, more financial security for women, less sexual shame... to name but a few influencing factors."

Given the prevalence of divorce among (nominally or ostensibly) monogamous people, clearly the One True Love paradigm does not work for roughly half of marriages. Relationships that were previously considered alternative or unconventional are becoming more common, from gay or lesbian families to single parents or non-monogamists. A growing number of people appear to be interested in building relationship configurations that suit their needs as opposed to trying (and failing) to fit into a one-size-fits-all model of monogamy. The explosion of books on the subject of human sexuality and non-monogamous relationships points to a new awareness of a smorgasbord of options: swinging, monogamish, relationship anarchy, open relationships, polyamory, polyfidelity and solo polyamory, to name a few (see my blogs “Seven Forms of Non-Monogamy” and “The Future of (Non and Serial) Monogamy” for more information).

These varied relationships come with new configurations that require new strategies for dealing with relationships. Literature from non-monogamists goes on at some length about these strategies, which often focus on emotional growth that enables people to deal with life's challenges as and when they arise. Given polyamorists’ emphasis on communication, it is unsurprising that much of the advice focuses on active, direct, and compassionate communication that rejects shame and embraces honesty. Such advice is applicable to all relationships, non-monogamous or not.

"The one-size-doesn't-fit-all philosophy not only applies to monogamy but polyamory too," says Leontiades. "The biggest lesson of all for me was that we should have the freedom to choose the configuration that suits us—and that includes monogamy. But in order to do so, you have to 'Know thyself'. It's relationship skill 101."