Monogamy and Polyamory: Here’s what sets them apart

Monogamy essentially involves exclusivity on the part of both partners in a relationship, while in polyamorous relationships an individual can have multiple partners.
A man and woman holding hands
Monogamy refers to a relationship where both parties are exclusive to each other. Image courtesy: Pexels
Anjuri Nayar Singh Published: 6 Jun 2024, 15:45 pm IST
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A husband and wife or even a girlfriend and a boyfriend, is the ideal definition of a monogamous relationship. While this may seem very natural to most of us, monogamy might not be the preferred choice for many consenting adults today. Monogamy might not only refer to sexual relationships, the norms are true for emotional associations as well.

Monogamy refers to the privilege of exclusivity that two partners share. Both partners are seeing only each other, and are in a relationship with just one another. Many people prefer open and non-monogamous relationships as well. These associations are referred to as polyamorous relationships.

What is monogamy?

Just being with one partner, is what monogamy essentially means. Monogamy is referred to as the dominant marriage type, in a review article, published in the journal Frontiers. “Monogamy which is most commonly practiced refers to the marriage of two people at a time – historically one husband and one wife,” says psychologist Dr Rashi Agarwal.

Many people assume long-standing marriages to be monogamous. While this may refer to the traditional meaning of marriage, in the modern context, marriage may not necessarily mean a monogamous relationship. Both parties may be open to seeing other people, hence, breaking the cardinal rule of monogamy. The traits of a monogamous relationship are loyal and faithful. There is no space for cheating in a monogamous relationship.

What is Polyamory?

Polyamory is when a person has more than one romantic relationship at one point in time. What’s unique is that each partner knows that others exist as well. The multiple partners may also associate with each other. A study, published in Archives of Sexual Behavior, defines polyamory as a situation where you have feelings for multiple people. These can be both emotional as well as sexual. If you are in a consensual nonmonogamy relationship, then you are more likely to have polyamorous relationships, states the study.

There are many types of polyamory such as solo polyamory where people are in no primary relationship, and are dating many people at the same time, polyfidelity; which is when a group of three people are exclusive to each other, Hierarchical polyamory; which is when the person has one primary relationship, and some secondary ones, that need less time, and finally non-hierarchical polyamory, here is when all partners get equal attention.

A man and two women hugging.
People in polyamorous relationships can have multiple partners, and they will be aware about each other. Image courtesy: Freepik

How is polyamory different from polygamy?

Polyamory is different from polygamy in terms of the kind of relationship. “Polygamy means one person marrying multiple people. Polyamorous is also called consensual nonmonogamy. It is the practice of having multiple intimate relationships, whether sexual or just romantic, with the full knowledge and consent of all parties involved,” explains Dr Agarwal. Polyamory is generally not gender-specific; anyone can have multiple partners of any gender. Polyamory can also be within the LGBTQ community and it’s a sexual lifestyle if not a particular orientation per se.

Monogamy vs. Polyamory: what is the difference

The difference between the two refers to the number of partners that are present. A monogamous relationship just needs two partners, whereas in a polyamorous relationship, there will be more partners involved. The importance given to each partner will vary depending on the type of polyamorous relationship you are involved in. Here people make a mutual decision to have more than one sexual partner. A study, in Frontiers in Psychology states that only 4 to 5 percent of the population in the US practiced polyamory in the US in 2021.

Polyamorous relationships often come with stigma and judgement attached to them and might be frowned upon in most cultures as well. For a polyamorous relationship to succeed, it is very important to understand what each person is feeling and their thoughts. Besides this, honest communication is essential.

How to be in a successful monogamous relationship

Monogamy might be the norm, however, to be happy in a monogamous relationship, it is important to remember a few points

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1. Be open and honest

When it comes to setting expectations, it is important to set the right expectations. You should be able to state how to feel exactly with each other and be comfortable in each other’s presence.

2. Set your rules

Even consensual relationships need rules and boundaries to avoid any sort of confusion, and these must be established well between the partners. This will help you set your expectations in the relationship, and also be honest with each other.

3. Validate each other’s feelings

While it is important to set rules, it is also essential that you are open to what your partner is looking for. This would help encourage a faithful relationship, and there are fewer chances of either partner giving into temptation and cheating.

4. Don’t force the relationship

If something is not working, it is better to let it go. Trying to drag a half-working relationship, can lead to a lot of hurt and betrayal. Therefore, it is better to end something that does not work for you.

5. Spruce up your relationship

Who says monogamous relationships must be boring, it is very important to keep adding the play element in all your relationships. Try to see a relationship counsellor if you are dealing with issues, and resolve them before they begin to hurt the relationship.

A sheet of paper with the words Polyamory on it.
Polyamorous relationships might not necessarily be heterogenous in nature. Image courtesy: Pexels

Signs that monogamy is not working for you

There are a few signs that indicate that monogamy might not be the ideal relationship type for you:

  • You feel strongly about being with multiple people and exploring multiple relationships.
  • A prior cheating incident by your partner can lead to you on the same path as well.
  • Both partners don’t agree on certain foundational aspects of the relationship, such as boundaries and limitations.
  • You are not possessive and don’t mind your partner being with someone else.

Summary

While all traditional marriages thrive on the principle of monogamy, there are other relationship types as well which bring happiness and satisfaction to many people around the world. However, honest communication is the backbone of any relationship to succeed, be it monogamous or polyamorous. This must be kept in mind if you want to be in a happy relationship. There are some tell-tale signs that monogamy is not for you, and also some tips that can help make your monogamous relationship happy.

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About the Author

Anjuri Nayar Singh has over 12 years of experience in writing for various topics including lifestyle, films, television and OTT. She also writes on art and culture, education and human interest stories. ...Read More

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