It often feels like there’s a discrepancy between freedom and security—especially regarding relationships. Oftentimes, I’ll find that my clients feel trapped in their monogamous relationship. They feel there is a societal culture that has made this decision of monogamy for them, and they wonder if they actually want to be on their own, to be more free and independent. Conversely, they may feel that they actually want multiple partners, committed or uncommitted. In either case, they begin to feel that their monogamous situation is too confining, and it feels unnatural.
If you are in a monogamous relationship, or if you imagine that you will be in one, or if you just think you want one, I believe it is important to think about it deeply and understand why you feel that way. We are technically the ones who make the decision to be in a monogamous relationship, but it doesn’t always feel like it is a choice. Therefore, I think it indicates an issue if you don’t want to contemplate this choice and actually try to find the reasons why you want to be monogamous. If you can’t – or won’t – do this, then you are likely going to experience that feeling of being trapped down the road. Even if you do actually want a monogamous relationship, that feeling is going to arise because you haven’t properly explored your feelings. And that part of you that’s naturally there, the part that doesn’t want to be with just one person and instead wants freedom, is going to wear you out.
When we don’t have a good answer to this question, we start to act out, going into fantasies of wondering what it would be like to be with other people, or to be on our own. Eventually, it can even grow up to the point where one partner ends up turning to destructive habits like having an affair. You need to have a fleshed-out answer at your disposal, easily-accessible to help address the parts of you that will rise over time, asking you why you are in a monogamous relationship. Otherwise, you will find yourself in the hell of ambivalence, playing the role of someone in a monogamous relationship but who is secretly wondering, is this really me? Is this the life I chose?
How to find the answer
The best way I know how to find that answer is to really consider what it means to be in a monogamous relationship. For example, what are the pros and cons?
I’ve often said that principles and agreements in your relationship are central to your happiness in that relationship. I believe these agreements are related to the main pros of monogamy – you have someone who is able and willing to come to you when you are having a difficult time, as we all do sometimes. You have somebody who is hopefully learning more and more over time about how to help you feel better. Somebody who is good at helping you regulate the inevitable stress of life. And you do that for them, too.
This emotional support is a gift; it’s the cornerstone of your relationship. In fact, there are all kinds of studies about what that support does for your health and the regulation of your nervous system. You feel the security of that support, so you use less resources that would normally be used to self-regulate if you were in a less stable relationship (or not in one at all).
Freeing up resources
This brings me to another major “pro” of monogamy: if you’re really committed to another person, you don’t need to dedicate as many resources to figuring out what your relationship is and dealing with the ever-changing emotions associated with a non-committed, unstable relationship. When you find yourself in a stable, mature relationship, all of that insecurity is suddenly off the table. You have so much more space in your mind and your heart to focus on other stuff together, like going on vacation, building a house, etc. These things are material, but they are indicative of a sense of freedom that comes with commitment. You no longer need to worry about your day-to-day position in their life – the stability and the trust is continually built up over time between the two of you.
I’d like to take a moment to note that I don’t have anything against polyamory, it just typically requires more work and more time. It’s more complicated. And perhaps, with that comes a lot of potential for growth, and expression, and understanding yourself in the context of multiple deep, intimate relationships. I’d love to explore that idea more, and talk to someone who has experienced it themselves. But that’s a different conversation.
Keep checking in with yourself
Throughout my 17 year relationship, I’ve seen my character develop in ways that I couldn’t do without a dedicated partner. Through all of the ups and downs, through all of the tests of my principles, and the tests of who I am, I’ve asked myself: can I learn how to be patient? Can I learn how to be supportive? Can I help my wife with her own personal growth rather than focusing on where our relationship may be lacking? Can I develop more clarity about what I want? Can my character be continuously developed throughout this relationship?
Being open to considering this idea and truly discovering the answers to these questions is necessary to help you continue along the right path for you and for your relationship. You can’t be happy if you constantly push away any potentially-scary thoughts just because they challenge a decision you’ve made in the past.
If you struggle with any of these thoughts, or want help finding the answers to any of these questions, feel free to reach out and book a call.