Polyamorous marriage is having a moment. The spike in this alternative marriage arrangement is happening with young, married couples who have been married for a few years, yet long for “something more.” From the Greek “Polloi” meaning “many” and Latin “amor” for love, this growing lifestyle is about mutually changing your monogamous agreement. Whether you dare to do it or just want to know about it, there are some things to learn about this experimental way of being married.
What Is Polyamory
Polyamory differs from straight-up cheating, which involves spouses doing it behind each other’s back. It also differs from Polygamy where only one person gets to have many partners. Also known as “consensual polyamory” or “relationship anarchy,” this new form of marriage is secretly surging.
“Couples who consider themselves primary to one another but crave something more are trying this relationship situation,” says Dr. Tammy Nelson, a sex and relationship therapist, sex researcher, and author of the new book The New Monogamy, Redefining Your Relationship After Infidelity. “A more open monogamy might include other sexual partners.”
Why Polyamory Is on the Rise
Ashley Madison, the dating site for mostly married people looking to cheat with other married people recently published a study called “Love Beyond Lockdown: A Report on Navigating Marriage and Infidelity Through A Pandemic And A New Normal.” The amazingly popular site’s slogan is “Life is short, have an affair.”
Through a series of anonymous member surveys, the company wanted to learn about married life during the lockdown and why so many married people are having extramarital affairs while at home with their spouse. The study addresses topics including increased stress, sex, divorce, cheating during a pandemic, and “the future of marriage and monogamy.”
The study concluded with a few key findings.
- “Lack of sexual initiation is the primary complaint of married people during lockdown,” the study found. Seventy-five percent of cheaters don’t look to their partner in times of uncertainty and stress, so they go outside the marriage.
- The pandemic has not decreased the desire or ability to cheat, in fact, it has fueled it.
History of Polyamory and What's Next
To understand the future of polyamorous marriage, a little history puts it in perspective. Formerly known as “group marriage,” polyamory has its roots in the free-love movement of the late 1960s and 70s in California. The term “polyfidelity” was coined around 1971 by the Kerista commune, a hippie communal living arrangement in San Francisco. It differs from “swinging” which is consensual sex in the same room with another couple. Polyamory can involve actually falling in love with someone other than your spouse.
While having a new, exciting relationship and falling in love with someone else while you are still married sounds fun, the downside of all of this is jealousy. Watching your husband or wife fall in love with someone in front of you can be devastating. But the hippies figured this poly dilemma out by using the concept of “Compersion,” which is a “feeling of pleasure or deep emotion arising from your partner being with another partner. Often referred to as the opposite of jealousy.
Polyamory is not for anyone who is jealous of other people moving in on their husband or wife. It often works as a marriage alternative for couples who have been together for a while and are on the verge of a divorce due to sexual dissatisfaction, or couples who want to explore something new.
“After infidelity, she says “both partners lose trust and faith in each other. What happens when this implicit agreement is broken?” says Dr. Nelson, "The new monogamy contract is a relationship agreement where each partner has a say in setting the ground rules for the relationship.”
This could also include everything from letting each other have non-sexual dates with other people, having sex with other people, or having sex with other people in front of each other. Or maybe she wants a threesome fantasy with another guy in there. The point here is that in non-monogamous relationships, it’s usually the woman who comes up with the rules.
As with any “alternative” sex practice, open communication is essential. “When the pandemic is lifted we may see that some marriages didn’t make it,” says Dr. Nelson, “their couplehood wasn’t strong enough to get through the pandemic. Other couples will find that they are closer than ever. One thing that the pandemic has taught couples was to be more honest with each other about their needs and desires.” Becoming more transparent about what you like and don’t like is the way to a better marriage and a better sex life.
Everyone needs to feel desired and appreciated in a relationship. They also need to feel sexually excited by their partner. Non-monogamy sounds like a radical concept, “but couples may occasionally need to find an outside relationship to fill in the gaps,” says Dr. Nelson. She also says that women are often the ones who want changes in the relationship. “Women are not settling for dissatisfying sex anymore.”
And sometimes it's not just about the sex. Most sex therapists will tell you that some couples say their sex life is wonderful, but they crave more emotional intimacy with their partner. The Ashley Madison study found that many people cheating were also looking for an “emotional connection” that has been lost in the marriage. The problem with the pandemic, says Dr. Nelson, is that “it takes more effort to get to the point where couples are feeling connected again. The pandemic magnified issues that were a problem before, and couples are driving each other crazy.”
So if non-monogamy is not something you are interested in doing, what should you do? One take-away from all of this is that neurologically, we as humans need novelty and changes in our brain. Before Covid-19 we went out on dates, we traveled, we went out and danced. Now we are stuck in the house 24-7 with each other. ”Attraction happens in the space between you.” says Dr. Nelson. Pre-pandemic people went out and saw their friends, they went to work, they saw their families. Now there are fewer social distractions.” Now people are sitting in the bed next to their spouse flirting with someone else on their phone,” says Dr. Nelson.
The good thing about this pandemic situation is that it has the potential to open up the conversation about the future of the relationship. Is your relationship really working? What changes would you like to see? How can you make it better? Do you want to open up the relationship to other people or make what you have better? The future of monogamy for some couples could be more love and more sex, with your spouse...or with other people.