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Is Monogamy the Only Way to Be Happy?

January 13, 2013, 12:00 AM

There's a pervasive notion that a monogamous relationship is the ideal.  Certainly, that's what most Americans have been hearing for as long as they can remember.  A committed, loving relationship between two people is the end-all-be-all -- and, to hear many tell it, the only thing that helps keep the fabric of society from being torn asunder.

As I've mentioned in a previous post, Rethinking Monogamy, there's little evidence that monogamy is some kind of biological default--especially in humans.  In fact, it's not clear that humans (nor most other mammalian species) are actually "naturally" sexually monogamous at all.  But, from the social psychological perspective, there's been ample research suggesting that monogamous relationships--heterosexual marriages in particular--prolong life, improve one's financial standing and generally just make people happier.  (Whatever "happier"actually means).

But is a monogamous relationship the only way to achieve this so-called "happiness?"  Recent research out of the University of Michigan says maybe not -- in fact, consensual non-monogamy, or relationships in which partners permit multiple sexual and romantic partners into the mix, may be just as good.

The researchers, when comparing monogamous and non-monogamous relationships, found a few interesting things.  Those in non-monogamous relationships reported similar levels of relationships satisfaction, more intimacy and less jealousy.  The finding led the researchers to ultimately say that non-monogamy might be a "viable" relationship alternative. 

But the key word there is "might."  Unfortunately, there's not a lot of data on non-traditional relationship arrangements.  To date, most research focuses on monogamy vs. singledom. The idea that there might be other arrangements out there in the world simply wasn't considered.

Neurobiological research has not necessarily supported the idea of sexual monogamy--but it has shown us that "social" monogamy is important.  We seem to be designed as social beings.  It makes sense from an evolutionary standpoint.  If we weren't designed to seek out the company of others, our species might not survive.  There'd be no baby-making and no one around to help raise children, help gather food and help keep an eye out for predators.  It's entirely possible that this critical "social" component does not have to be limited to one partner.  But a lot more research needs to be done before we come to any hard and fast conclusions one way or the other.

What do you think?  Is monogamy the sure path to "happiness"?  Or should we start considering non-monogamy a "viable" substitute for monogamy?

Photo credit:  CREATISTA/shutterstock.com


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