Intimate Relationships: Rediscovering Consensual Non- Monogamy

Updated: Nov 20, 2019

by Kristen Vallely

Abstract Interpersonal relationships highly influence people on a plethora of levels. The diversity of relationship forms allows for customization to find fulfillment. However, the types of relationships one forms should be based on personality rather than societal norms. Marriage has a strong hold on American culture but it is declining, making way for styles that are popular across the world. This study compared monogamy and consensual non-monogamy relationships to expose the differences and effect of prior interest/knowledge, communication style and satisfaction levels. The results authenticate that consensual non-monogamous relationships have higher self-reports of relationship fulfillment, affection, intimacy and belonging. Correspondingly, monogamist arguments last typically 51.3% longer than those in CNM. Lastly, 58% reported positive to the clarification of romantic relationship definitions and up to 39% claimed it increased their initial interest level. The findings support the thesis and illuminate the need for further research. Intimate Relationships: Rediscovering Consensual Non- Monogamy

Humans are naturally social and curious creatures that yearn to make sense of the world around us. Knowledge is used to form our identity, worldview, relationships and our expectations of future interactions. Across the world, there are a variety of ways that people express love and have relationships. For instance, America has grown quite attached to the idea of finding The One, getting married and having 2.5 kids. Today, 50% of marriages fail and 75% of marriages experience infidelity (Feingold, 2018). Monogamists believe one person can fulfill all their needs, and for some it works. On the other hand, satisfying all of someone’s desires is a nearly impossible challenge that often results in compromise. Some may choose to stay in unsatisfactory relationships and this may become damaging to the relationship and their self-esteem. With such high rates of failure, it is important to educate on the less known relationship styles so that people may have a choice and feel confident in their desires that stray from the social norm of monogamy. This paper examines the numerous benefits of consensual non- monogamy, the variation in communication styles, and the cultures that practice and embrace it. Literature Review

Love is paramount, intangible and not exclusive to any one gender, sex or orientation. People are pursuing education on romantic relationships as Google searches have escalated over the past decade on consensual non- monogamy and continue to rise (Moors, 2016). Consensual non-monogamy (CNM) is defined as “an umbrella category that covers a range of relationship styles that describe openly conducted multiple partner relationships.” Rediscovering consensual non-monogamy has attracted attention and is coming out with new discoveries. For instance, consensual non- monogamy (CNM) is most effective when focused on what is known as the 4 C’s (Feingold, 2018). These four are Compersion, Communication, Community and Compatibility. Being able to share joy, communicate needs effectively, have a sense of belonging and being compatible allows for a strong foundation. This foundation includes emotional literacy, which involves checking in on one's’ feelings and emotions, and can communicate them in a constructive manner. A study completed by Malouff, J. M., Schutte, N. S., & Thorsteinsson, E. B. (2014) found that there was a significant relationship between emotional intelligence and having satisfying relationships. These were also linked to positive health and work productivity. Communication is crucial to relationship building and the miniscule education on relationship types leaves a surplus of misinformation. In Rubel & Bogaert (2014)’s study, they debunk myths of consensual non-monogamy. A common assumption often made is that those in CNM are promiscuous and practice risky sexual behaviors. And yet further inquiry found that those in CNM are no more likely to have a sexually transmitted infection than the general population and that they have safer sex than those who cheat in monogamous relationships. They also explored feelings of well-being and how it is unaffected by relationship type. They found that CNM partners report greater levels of relationship satisfaction and happiness. They also report experiencing increased levels of trust, communication, and lower levels of jealousy. This correlates with other findings that claim CNM relationships have familial benefits in emotional, financial and practical areas such as extra income, availability of support, and a wider range of role models (Sheff, 2014). This study’s finding on jealousy are exemplary of compersion, or finding happiness in others happiness. The prevalence of jealousy is present in both CNM and monogamous yet those in CNM view jealousy as a tool that contributes to personal development and bringing the couple closer together. They rationalize their fears and can find joy in another partners excitement. This shifts a competition mindset into a cooperative one. Cooperative mindsets are ideal for social interaction and necessary for relationships. Interconnectivity and benevolence can be expressed in compersion and community care. Le, B. et al. (2018) explores the aspect of community by identifying a personality trait of communal living. Communal living, or “care for specific people through investment of time, effort or money” is beneficial for all. They found that those with this trait have more secure and satisfying relationships with their families, friends and significant others. These relationships are built on equality and future care over immediate needs. If one person has more advanced levels of this trait in a couple, it can result in an increase of the other partners communal attitude, or worst case, decrease for both. This study notes that in the early stages of a relationship, it will require high degrees if communal motivation to be successful, healthy and satisfying. This is also known as the honeymoon stage when both partners put in a lot of care and effort. In addition, people who have this trait tend to have a general compassion for others and are more altruistic. One member with this trait can make a distinct impact in a community for the better. On the other hand, the repercussions of giving not reciprocating can result in exploitation and neglect of oneself. People who are high in unmitigated communal motivation accept, receive and request lower levels of support. Unfortunately, those in these positions have also been linked to greater distress, depression, anxiety and pessimism. The consequences of not being communally motivated has negative influence on satisfaction in in relationships, feelings of belonging and overall of well-being. This study illustrates how being communally aware can positively affect those around you and provide long-lasting connections and community as well as the pertinence of generous partners. Community and culture make up much of who we become. How we are raised steer our views on the world and determine what becomes our norms. Psychology Today (2018) brings up some interesting statistics on cultures around the world that practice CNM. Research showed that 32 countries practice polygamy and that there are significant determining factors. There seemed to be an increase in the practice in areas where there were less males in the population as well as populations where males had high diseases rates. This can be explained by the healthy men being more capable of reproducing healthy children and being around long enough to care for them. A study by Clarkin P, et al. (2018) they found evidence of 53 societies in the ethnographic record that allowed a woman to take more than one husband (i.e., polyandry). Thus, indicating that this practice was not as rare as once believed. They also provide information on the diversity of relationships within the animal kingdom. Gorillas are said to be polygynous, gibbons are monogamous, and chimpanzees are polygynandries (or multimale/multifemale). They discuss that some aspects of human behavior and our evolved biology are more consistent with monogamous species (ex. the neurobiology of romantic love and pair-bonding), while other traits hint at polygyny (ex. slight sexual dimorphism, the fact that many cultures allow people to have more than one spouse). Their final report is that human biology is “consistent with slight polygyny/ mostly monogamy”. This is reinforced in the book, The Garden of Eden (2016). The book explores the evidence in our DNA that proves that human nature was not solely monogamous. “Until recently, only a few men…Contributed a large fraction of Y chromosome pool at every generation”. This means that in our past, not all men reproduced. Based on DNA evidence alone, this shows us that humans have evolved to the point where polyamory and monogamy has become a choice. They estimate that this happened somewhere between 5,000 and 10,000 years ago (Barash, 2016). In fact, there are genetic variances in DNA of monogamous and polyamorous cultures (Hammer, 2008). Today, many practice consensual non- monogamy including but not limited to Asia, Oceania, several groups in Africa, nearly all Indian tribes, Arabs and those who practice the Muslim religion. Considering this, who is practicing CNM today in America?

Moors, Matsick, & Schechinger, (2017) found that those who practice CNM are mostly upper-class white citizens who are highly educated. Three benefits that were documented from CNM relationships include need fulfillment, a variety of nonsexual activates and personal growth. They challenge the American ideal that one partner should be able to fulfill all their partner needs. The idea that one could satisfy another for their entire ever-changing life is unrealistic and puts unnecessary pressure and stress on the relationship. By asking too much of one partner, you can become suffocating and yet still frustrated that you are not receiving what you need. In monogamous relationships, that partner’s life often becomes your life as studies illustrate that people tend to withdraw from social supports when in a relationship. In CNM relationships, the multiple needs are met by different people and this allows for a larger net of support and quality of interaction. Another variable to note is woman equality. In monogamous relationships, a woman is tied to a man emotionally, financially and socially, and become stigmatized when single. While men are often praised for cheating, women are judged by hooking up and not following the status quo. Jealousy has evolved from protecting genetics to representing sexual ownership in today’s world (Moors et al, 2017). This instinctual need for compatibility isolates those who cannot find it in just one person and takes their sense of community.


Curiosity and understanding are key features in what creates the world around us. Understanding the variety of intimate relationships can allow people to find partners that are better suited for them and allow them to be their best self. In consideration of Maslow’s’ hierarchy of needs, people need to have basic needs met to be their true self. They must be physically well, have a sense of security, belonging and ultimately esteem. Then, altruism may come into effect and therefore benevolence. Without needs being met, there will always be a yearning for something else. To satisfy one’s self, many use deceptions to avoid conflict. Despite that, deception interferes with pair-bonding qualities such as intimacy which is necessary to feel a sense of belonging and acceptance. In a society that stigmatizes cheaters/liars, it might be good to seek relationships that have statistically less deception in relationships. When looking for lifetime partners, we should find people who inspire change and insight. Considering that many cultures around the world practice consensual non- monogamy as well as highly educated Americans, it may not be such a strange idea to explore. We should not settle or face social punishment for wanting more than what one person can give.

Research Questions

With all this information on cultures around the world who participate in consensual non-monogamy, it is reasonable to believe that there will be a rise in consensual non-monogamy once it is better understood. The negative view that portrays consensual non-monogamy as immoral does not have grounds to stand on. Therefore, if people could separate relationships from stereotypes and the stigma associated with it, then people would feel more comfortable practicing polyamorous relationships if they had a better understanding of it/it’s true definitions. The definitions themselves are not intensely different nor are the behaviors of consensual non-monogamy and hookup culture. In fact, a necessity in successful relationships is communication. This leads into the second hypothesis that people in consensual non-monogamous relationships tend to have clearer communication than those in monogamous ones. With clear communication and freedom to develop as an individual, this could lead to further equality between men and women in relationships, personal development, and challenge the idea that humans are possessive creatures. Being open to the idea that a partner may have other encounters and acknowledging that it does not endanger one's’ personal intimacy, it may allow for an increase in personal freedom. If this is so then people in polyamorous relationships are more likely to feel fulfilled in their relationships. Lastly, CNM is a viable option. About evolution, the genetic diversity of a larger pool of DNA would minimize the prevalence of genetic defects and increase variation. This would be beneficial to humanity and could lead to healthier lines of children.


Participants In a quantitative research method, the target audience is 50 people from the ages of 18-30. The aim was to get 25 monogamous and 25 non- monogamous relationship partners to get a well-rounded view. This was completed by a series of Likert scales from 1-5, 5 being difficult and 1 being easy. The survey will ask about how often they have conflict and how long it takes to work through. Additionally, it will ask about how one partner affects the other, where they land on a jealousy scale, happiness scale and a self-improvement scale. The study also hopes to explore what the public’s first response to CNM relationships was and how it may be changed by education of definitions. At the end of the survey, the definitions presented was of a monogamous relationship, polyamorous relationship, and hookup culture. Once that was complete, it asked one more question to see if their perspective has changed. The theory is that they will be aversive to consensual non-monogamy at first, and then open their mind when reading about hookup culture. This education may lead to recognition and acceptance of the relationship type and initiate the decline of the social stigma attached to those who practice it. Materials The best approach would be to use an online system such as Monkey Survey to create a survey (see figure 3) and then manually send them out. This will make receiving responses more likely and calculating scores easier. Surveys will illustrate how people rate their own personal achievements and happiness with their current partner. This, divided into two groups, should give an opportunity to see the differences between two types in a satisfactory way. The survey will also explore their communication tactics such as how they deal with conflict, jealousy, and new challenges. The expectation is to find that CNM relationships are more open when it comes to conflicts, discussing jealousy and new challenges scale. One would expect to find that monogamist relationships have an increased percentage of used deception to maintain their relationship. In conclusion, this survey’s findings should supply a conscientious perspective of the personal struggles in monogamist and consensual non-monogamous relationships. Results The results validated prior assumptions that consensual non-monogamous relationships would have higher relationship fulfillment, higher levels of affection, intimacy and belonging. This is shown on the chart (Relationship Fulfillment Survey), the monogamist had similar levels reported however, overall the sum was secondary to consensual non-monogamy relationships. This is shown as well in the reports of argument time frame in which monogamist arguments last typically 51.3% longer than those in CNM. While there were an uneven percentage of monogamist over CNM, the survey still suggests a contrast in satisfaction. Lastly, 58% reported that they responded positively to the true definition of romantic relationships. Furthermore, 39% claimed that it altered their initial interest level positively.


Figure 1. Data plot from Intimate Relationship fulfillment survey. Figure 2. Bar graph of data presented from Intimate Relationships fulfillment survey. Discussion The final results establish and document claims in support of the thesis. Concerning the first hypothesis, of the 80% of monogamist that had no interest in CNM, 58% reported learning something. Furthermore, a total of 39% disclosed that it changed their initial interest level. These findings highlight the desire for further education on the topic and that it has potential to be recognized on a universal scale. The second hypothesis assesses the quality of communication between the contrasting relationship styles. 80% of those in CNM relationships report having effective communication with their partner in addition to processing arguments quickly. In contrast, 71% of monogamous relationships recorded having good communication with their partner, though more than half revealed that their argument processing time was longer than those in CNM. Uniquely, 47% monogamous couples reported that an average dispute can last several hours. The evidence generated deduce that those in CNM relationships have better communication patterns along with effective conflict resolution skills. Taking this into account as we continue to the third research question, that those in CNM are more fulfilled. To find this, the participants measurements from the survey questions included fulfillment level, affection, intimacy, sense of belonging and prevalence of misunderstandings in the relationship. This has been used to successfully provide insight that substantiates that those in CNM relationships are more fulfilled across the board. As you can see in the chart [see Relationship Satisfaction], Consensual non- monogamy partners experience higher satisfaction in each area except misunderstandings. This explicitly demonstrates how consensual non-monogamy is both beneficial and feasible. The final hypothesis, that CNM relationships are a viable option for humanity, can be demonstrated in recent studies. Previous scholars documented that monogamy’s influence on human nature affected DNA by confining genetics to an isolated pool (Hammer, 2008). In short, there would be more genetic variations and thus less irregularity with an increase of diversity. In summary, these results are promising and imply that consensual non-monogamy relationships are viable, developing and may provide positive modifications to interpersonal relationships. The limitations of this paper include: Participant diversity, genetic testing and time restraint. The reports are from a small (50) pool of young professionals in the New York area. Future research is recommended to include a diverse subject pool to encapsulate different regions of America. Another area of improvement for future research is a longer period to provide the study with a wider range of statistical data. The time restraint stunted the depth of inquisition that could explore effectively. Areas that could be enhanced include conflict styles, religious background and social pressures. The time and location restraint hindered finding an equal number of monogamist and consensual non-monogamists to compare as well. Additionally, to continue to examine the nature of genetic diversity in the fourth hypothesis, one would need to retrieve DNA from various parts of the world where monogamy and CNM is culturally and generationally practiced. The study would potentially point out the populations’ instances of genetic variation and of genetic defect. Provided that these obstructions are fixed, future research could interpret which relationship type has greater instances of defect and gene diversity. It would be notable to acknowledge the genes that show up in the various relationship styles as it may conclude that relationship style could in fact be in our genetics. Now, the field of relationship types involving consensual non-monogamy is novel and the findings appeal to a diverse population that will continue to blossom.


Barash, D. (2016). Out of Eden. New York: Oxford University Press.

Clarkin, P. (2018). Is the Human Species Sexually Omnivorous?. [online] Patrick F. Clarkin, Ph.D. [Accessed 13 Mar. 2018]. Dr. Elisabeth Sheff, C. (2018). Three Waves of Non-Monogamy: A Select History of Polyamory in the United States. [online] Elisabeth Sheff. [Accessed 23 Apr. 2018]. Feingold, L. (2018). Polyamory. [online] Youtube. [Accessed 8 May 2018]. Le, B., Impett, E., Lemay, E., Muise, A. and Tskhay, K. (2018). Communal motivation and well-being in interpersonal relationships: An integrative review and meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 144(1), pp.1-25. Malouff, J. M., Schutte, N. S., & Thorsteinsson, E. B. (2014). Trait Emotional Intelligence and Romantic Relationship Satisfaction: A Meta-Analysis. American Journal Of Family Therapy, 42(1), 53-66. doi:10.1080/01926187.2012.748549 Moors, A., Matsick, J. and Schechinger, H. (2017). Unique and Shared Relationship Benefits of Consensually Non-Monogamous and Monogamous Relationships. European Psychologist, 22(1), pp.55-71. Mogilski, J., Memering, S., Welling, L. and Shackelford, T. (2018). Monogamy versus Consensual Non-Monogamy: Alternative Approaches to Pursuing a Strategically Pluralistic Mating Strategy. Psychology Today. (2018). The wide world of polygamy: We hate it, others love it. [online] [Accessed 14 Mar. 2018]. Rubel, A. and Bogaert, A. (2014). Consensual Nonmonogamy: Psychological Well-Being and Relationship Quality Correlates. The Journal of Sex Research, 52(9), pp.961-982.

Relationship Fulfillment Survey

1. Is this relationship monogamous or polyamorous?

Monogamous Polyamorous

2. How fulfilled do you feel in your current relationship?

Not fulfilled 2 Average 4 Completely fulfilled

3. How affectionate are you and your partner?

Not at all 2 Average 4 Very

4. How intimate/close do you feel with your partner?

Not intimate 2 Average 4 Extremely intimate

5. When in a relationship, how is your sense of belonging effected?

Not at all 2 Neutral 4 Higher

6. Do you and your partner communicate well?

Yes No

7. When you and your partner have an argument, how long does it typically last?

Minutes Hours Days Weeks

8. How often do you or your partner misinterpret/misunderstand what the other meant?

Never Rarely Sometimes Often

9. Would you be in a polyamorous relationship?

Yes No 10. Please read the following definitions.

Swinging: Refers to when a couple practices extradyadic sex with members of another couple, typically at the same time within a shared social setting.

Open Relationship: A relationship in which partners explicitly agree that they can have extradyadic sex.

Polyamory: The practice of, belief in, or willingness to engage in multiple romantic/ or sexual relationships with the consent of everyone involved.

Did you learn anything after reading these definitions you did not know, and if so does it change your answer to the previous question?

A. Yes, I learned something, and yes it does

B. Yes, I learned something, and no it does not

C. No I did not learn something, and yes it does

D. No I did not learn something, and no it does not

Figure 3. Survey utilized to evaluate changes in preference, relationship fulfillment and communication traits.

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