The Origins of Monogamy in Society
Monogamy is not a natural state for humans to function in. Our hunter-gatherer ancestors were not monogamous but maintained intimate relationships with several if not many members of their tribe. Intimacy helped bond tribal members in close-knit unions that addressed survival, emotional and social needs and was a successful strategy for several hundred thousand years.
The shift to agriculture and settlement resulted in a change in relationship configurations towards marriage and later monogamy and this change has persisted to this day with marriage and monogamy being thought of as the natural state for men and women to be in, especially in Western industrial nations. Originally, the shift to marriage was due to economic reasons. It made it easier for fathers to divide and share valuable commodities such as land with their children. The next transition towards monogamy came from idealistic 19th Century Victorians who promoted conservative sexual values. Sexual exclusivity actual came about much later but then became popular quickly.
Because sexual drives produce the strongest emotions humans typically experience, many authorities, especially religious figures, were afraid of liberal and open sexual behavior and how it would manifest in deleterious behaviors that would be difficult to monitor or control. Thus, they reasoned that sexual behavior should be monitored and controlled or limited so the psychology of monogamy was promoted avidly to limit sexual behavior to two people, once dating behavior was practiced and relationship skills were mastered to some degree. Our current insistence on monogamy being the proper way to be in a committed relationship has now superseded all other configurations in Western cultures primarily but 83% of other cultures accept all types of relationship styles and don’t demonize non-monogamous unions. Today, monogamy is still the minority relationship style in the world.
The animal kingdom is primarily non-monogamous with monogamy occurring in only about 3% of its species. This was mother nature’s way of maintaining a healthy gene pool. Modern anthropologists who have studied ancient cultures know that polyamory was the primary relationship style and it worked exceedingly well until about ten thousand years ago when settlement and agriculture began to take precedent over hunter-gatherer lifestyles.
Monogamy: A Look at Some Facts from Various Research Studies that May Come as a Surprise!
Monogamy is a difficult disposition to maintain in a relationship whether it be a married one or any other relationship configuration.
It is common for anyone to be attracted to another individual or to be interested in another person’s attraction to us.
Most extramarital relationships are not with strangers but with others that are known such as neighbors, co-workers or long-term friends or close friends.
Despite the fact that infidelity is looked down upon heavily and is often considered an appropriate reason to end a relationship, many people have actually been unfaithful to their partners at some time in that partnership or have been the recipients of infidelity.
Given these facts, it is prudent that monogamy should be looked at critically to understand its dynamics and practical application in modern relationships.
Expectations that are Typical in Modern Monogamous Relationships
Partners expect sexual and romantic behavior to be exclusive to their relationship and infidelity is considered unacceptable.
Partners feel they will remain faithful for the duration of their relationship despite the fact that they often admit to being attracted or aroused by others and having thoughts of having sex with others as well.
Monogamy is considered the dominant pattern for relationships in most industrialized countries and is strongly encouraged by social institutions and especially by many religions.
Infidelity is said to be the primary cause for relationship failures and divorce.
Those relationships that do not fail but continue on along with the stressors of distress, distrust and discord, are known to be very troublesome to the individual partners and any other family members that reside with them such as children and extended family members.
Factors That Hinder Monogamous Relationships
People tend to be inconsistent in their standards regarding monogamy and often minimize their failures at fidelity but expect higher standards from their partner than their own.
Those with liberal alternative relationship configurations such as consensual non-monogamy (partners allow sex with other persons besides the primary relationship) make the point that monogamous unions are less likely to succeed because jealousy, monitoring the other’s behaviors, and suspicion are tactics employed to ensure their partner is faithful which also creates significant distrust in the partnership.
It has also been found that those in monogamous relationships are less likely to practice safe sex when they are unfaithful which then puts their partners at risk for contracting STD’s. If individuals say they practice monogamy but change partners multiple times during their lifetime, are they really monogamous? This could be considered serial monogamy.
The Psychology of Infidelity
Men tend to be intolerant of their partner’s sexual activity with other men but are more tolerant of their partner’s emotional involvement with other men. Women tend to take an opposite position being more tolerant to their partner sleeping with other women than their partner being emotionally involved with other women. When men cheat on their partners, they are less criticized for their infidelity than women are when they cheat on their partners. Society seems to be harder on women cheating than men. This is of course unfair and illogical. The double standard rears its ugly head here.
Current statistics indicate that women cheat almost as much as men do nowadays and this seems to be related to more women being in the workforce. Some other interesting facts show that at least 20% of married couples will experience infidelity in their relationship and if a person has cheated in one union, he or she is likely to cheat in another. Also, if one has been cheated on, they are more likely to have this happen again in another partnership. When one has been subjected to infidelity, they are more likely to be suspicious of this happening with their next partner.
The big question that arises out of damaged relationships due to infidelity is: do I stay and try to work things out with my partner or do I end the union and leave? The answer to this question is often complicated and tied to personal values about relationships or is influenced by religious beliefs or by societal norms. I think the best approach is to ask yourself how much the partnership means to you and are you willing to work things out.
Is Monogamy a Good Model for Modern Relationships?
Is it rational to think that one person will fulfill all the needs of another person or that they should be able or expected to do so?
Is it reasonable for individuals to desire other friends and partners to help them fulfill their emotional, psychological and spiritual needs throughout their lifetimes?
Is making a commitment for a life-long relationship reasonable and do we really think we will always feel the same way about that person for such a long period of time?
Despite the fact that monogamy is an expected condition in relationships, it is rare that couples actually discuss or spell out what a monogamous union actually entails for them such as what rules will be adopted and lived by. Is flirting with others all right or is being attracted to a celebrity or other person of status acceptable? Are online friendships or involved intimate chats all right or is having phone sex permissible? Is watching porn to be considered cheating? May couples discuss their fantasies about their attraction to others or is this also taboo? Recent studies indicate that intimate relationships become less rewarding over time even as expectations for the partnership to be viable and enduring increase.
Is Monogamy a Good Relationship Style for You?
If you are the kind of person who likes a lot of alone time, doesn’t need to be with one particular person most of the time and likes to spend time with a variety of friends, then monogamy might be stifling for you.
You are not troubled significantly by emotional insecurity, jealousy and wondering whether your partner or partners might like another more than you. If you have such feelings, you are willing to discuss them and work through the emotional upsets as they arise. In other words, you don’t let jealous thoughts and feelings overpower you.
You are all right with a partner being with another regarding involvement that can be friendship oriented, recreational or sexual. You like variety and novelty in relationships so you desire multiple friends, partners, or lovers.
Some people are naturally oriented more towards monogamy and others are more attracted to polyamory. No one relationship type is right or wrong. It is a choice and should not be judged as right or wrong as our Western cultures frequently do.