When it comes to marriage and long-term relationships, we often default to the expectation that monogamy is implicitly agreed upon. But it’s more than just “monogamy” that we’re agreeing to: With monogamy we're agreeing to everything a relationship comes with, from arguments to changes in sex drive.
Monogamy is often equated to a big blanket of “until death do us part”—and that’s it; no room for discussion or a rejiggering of the “rules.” If you don’t like what you agreed to 10, 15, or 20 years later, do you just have to get divorced? Without even talking about alternative solutions?
But who is to say this has to be the case? More and more couples are beginning to look at marriage for what it is: an agreement made between two people to spend their lives together. It’s a contract, one that can be negotiated and renegotiated as we change, both as individuals and as a couple.
Enter the “monogamy agreement.” Here is what you need to know.
What does it mean to have a monogamy agreement?
A monogamy agreement is the explicit, spelled out contract of your relationship. You’re not simply assuming commitment to one person. Instead, you're having a discussion to figure out the nuances and situations that will work for both parties in a relationship, whether at the beginning of a partnership or years into the relationship.
“A monogamy agreement is an opportunity to openly discuss and define the relationship needs,” explains Dr. Kristie Overstreet , Ph.D., a psychotherapist and clinical sexologist.
Adds Lucy Rowett, a certified sex coach and clinical sexologist: “There are so many things that we take for granted in relationships, which can lead to resentment and misunderstandings later on. It’s very useful to be mindful of how you want to approach a relationship, what you want to receive, and how you and your partner communicate.”
We really have to stop making assumptions
Many people walk into long-term relationships (or marriages) assuming they share the same views on what constitutes monogamy. Monogamy agreements are becoming popular because couples are starting to see that instead of making assumptions, we need to come to the table ready to learn and communicate about different, sometimes nontraditional options.
“I have seen couples who have been together for many years [even] define cheating differently. One partner defined cheating as having sex with someone else and the other partner didn't view kissing as cheating,” Overstreet says.
Having discussions around these topics allows for greater depth in communication and trust.
How do you make a monogamy agreement?
You want to start with an assessment of your personal values and what is essential to you in a relationship. “Get super clear on what your core values are as a person,” Rowett says. “What is most important to you? How do you show up in the world? This will make any kind of communication within a relationship clearer because you know where you stand.”
Rowett tells us that a monogamy agreement should cover everything from personal values to broader topics like how much you share about your relationship with other people (whether it be your therapist or on social media).
Healthy relationships aren’t just built on what constitutes “cheating,” but everything and anything inside of a partnership. The point is, it’s a LOT to think about and discuss.
The agreement is never set in stone
A monogamy agreement is never a finite contract, nor will a monogamy agreement look the same for every couple.
People change, relationships change, libidos change, feelings change. You have to be willing to reassess when necessary, while being open to those difficult conversations.
“I will always advocate continuous communication and being clear about how you want your relationship to be,” Rowett explains. “You may not want to write it all out, but it is useful to have conversations about it so you know you're both on the same page.”
“These agreements are a great way to discuss what each person's needs and desires are especially within sexual relationships. These discussions can improve trust and intimacy,” Overstreet adds.