Is Being "Monogamish" The FUTURE Of Happy Marriages?

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Are monogamish marriages real?

Will Smith and Jada Pinkett-Smith may have an "open marriage". And for some reason, that notion upsets A LOT of people. Perhaps because many think couples in open marriages don't have a "real marriage."

After all, being sexually faithful is a spousal requirement, right?

There's a societal expectation that when we start dating, fall in love and adopt the title "couple" that being sexually monogamous always follows, especially if we wed. About 93 percent of us say faithfulness is a must to make a marriage successful — even more so than having a happy sex life, sharing household chores, and having similar passions and interests.

But the truth is — monogamy is a choice. And with somewhere between 25 percent of 72 percent of married people "getting some on the side," it's obvious the majority of us aren't very good at monogamy.

Living together 24/7 squashes sexual desire, says Mating in Captivity author Esther Perel; so does having and raising kids, along with a host of other things life throws at us, such as: joblessness, illness, depression, disability, and menopause. What if couples actually examined monogamy — and what they fear about non-monogamy — instead of just accepting things the way they are (which clearly isn't working well)?

What if we ask ourselves, are we actually good at monogamy? Do we like it? Do we truly want it forever?

Chances are you already know that sexual monogamy and lifetime pair-bonding is rare amongst animals. Well, it's not much different for humans. According to one anthropological study, only 48 of 109 societies haven't allowed extramarital sex to, both, husbands and wives.

Of course, monogamy has its pluses.

For men, it assures them that they're raising their own children. And for women, it at least offers the possibility, if not always the reality, that they won't be left to raise a baby alone. But, by making sexual fidelity the marker of a "real marriage," it gives those who wed a false illusion that they are safe, special, and share a unique intimacy. While some couples can do that "'til death" ... many more cannot.

The problem is we have no healthy models of non-monogamy.

Non-monogamy includes a vast array of consensual arrangements — from open relationships and swinging to polyamory and threesomes, and even to the occasional hall pass. But the way we currently talk about non-monogamy as a culture either focuses on cheating (and the devastating deception that comes along with it) or on promiscuity.

We don't see high-profile couples talking honestly about why they chose consensual non-monogamy, how they make it work, what they struggle with, how it helps them be better spouses. There still is so much shame and judgment about the nature of such a relationship, that those who have such an arrangement — and between 4.3 percent to 10.5 percent of all relationships identify that way — prefer to stay mum.

However, that may all change soon. 

More of us are not only questioning monogamy, but are also opening up to the idea of being "monogamish" — a word coined by sex columnist Dan Savage to describe couples who are mostly monogamous but are OK with the occasional sexual fling outside the partnership. They get what many married people say they want: commitment, lifelong partnership, stability, love, companionship, a co-parent ... while also keeping eroticism alive or perhaps addressing differing sexual needs. They also get to experience compersion, what the poly community calls "the joy people feel for their partner, as he or she discovers satisfaction outside the relationship."

In a recent survey, many Millennials and Gen Xers agreed that monogamy "is a social expectation but not a biological reality."

While it's not peer-reviewed or a scientific study, it indicates there is some willingness to question monogamy as the de facto love script. At the same time, more couples are also taking a new look at infidelity. While in the past many spouses might assume infidelity was a ticket straight to divorce court, about half of the newlywed women in one study said they expect infidelity will be part of their marriage.

So maybe it's time for YOU to have this discussion with yourself ... and your partner. 

What matters to you more, relationship stability or sexual monogamy? OK, you probably want both. But if you had to put them in descending order according to importance, what would you say? How might your choice change at different times in your life — if you had young children? if your spouse had a much lower libido than you, or became ill and was unable to have intercourse?

Besides offering sexual variety, those who practice consensual non-monogamy say it also leads to deeper connections with others and it's a safe way express sexuality, fulfill exhibitionist or voyeuristic sides, or explore bisexuality or fantasies.

As a bonus, it may even make your marriage more passionate.

Of course, this doesn't mean you have to start opening up your relationship immediately — or ever. You may decide an open relationship isn't for you, and that's OK. But at least you would have questioned what you believe — or at least what you thought you believed — about monogamy, as well as your what your partner believes.

That alone might be all you need to keep you sexually connected to each other in healthy, satisfying and honest ways.

Vicki Larson is a journalist, columnist and co-author of the book The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels.

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