Updated: Apr 11, 2022
We counsel over 200 gay and lesbian couples a year in our workshops and therapy sessions.
One of the most frequently asked questions we get year after year is...
"What do you think about monogamy and same-sex couples?"
I love this question.
Back in 2011, The New York Times Magazine published a fascinating article on the topic.
In it, Dan Savage, one of America's leading human sexuality journalists, set out his thoughts on the matter.
Can monogamy kill a relationship?
While Savage acknowledged some of the advantages of monogamy, he also noted its drawbacks, which include "boredom, despair, lack of variety, sexual death, and being taken for granted.”
Instead, Savage enjoys a same-sex, long-term, committed union with his partner that he describes as "monogamish."
This is a term he coined for couples that are “mostly monogamous, but there’s a little allowance for the reality of desire for others and a variety of experiences and adventure and possibility.”
Being monogamish allows for both he and his partner to have "occasional infidelities," so long as they are open and honest about them with each other.
In fact, Savage believes "...a more flexible attitude within marriage may be just what the straight community needs. Treating monogamy, rather than honesty or joy or humor, as the main indicator of a successful marriage gives people unrealistic expectations of themselves and their partners. And that, Savage says, destroys more families than it saves."
If non-monogamy is so popular in the gay community, why don't I know many couples who practice it?
Few couples that practice non-monogamy want to be identified as non-monogamous by outsiders.
Since 2006, Colleen Hoff at the SFSU Center for Research on Gender and Sexuality and the Gay Couples Study have published plenty of research on the epidemiology of non-monogamy in the gay community (see Beyond Monogamy: Lessons from Long-Term Male Couples In Non-Monogamous Relationships).
They estimate that about half of the couples in the study had some version of non-monogamy in their relationship, and cycling in and out of non-monogamous phases were the norm for such couples.
What does the Gay Couples Institute think about non-monogamy in committed, long-term, same-sex relationships?
After having counselled over 2,500 gay and lesbian couples...
We see plenty of couples who have healthy monogamous relationships. And we see plenty of couples who have healthy non-monogamous relationships.
We see a lot of unhealthy monogamous relationships. We also see a lot of unhealthy non-monogamous relationships. (We define relationship health as having a Locke-Wallace Relationship Satisfaction score of over 85.)
Monogamy versus non-monogamy does not seem to be the major corollary with relationship health.
For this reason, we don't make any assertions as to the direction couples should take in that arena.
But one thing is for certain:
Non-monogamy that has been chosen unilaterally (which is where one partner wants it more than the other) results in the decline of relationship satisfaction.
What's more, non-monogamy status that is chosen during a period of emotional disengagement, where negative feelings are not being discussed and conflict is being avoided, usually results in the couple regretting the decision down the road.
All this is to say that you can have a healthy, satisfying, and fulfilling relationship whether you are monogamous or non-monogamous.
The key is what each partner wants and whether you know how to manage conflict within your partnership.
Do you want to go deeper into learning how you can navigate conflict in your relationship and make your partnership last?