Dating & Relationships

The Unique Benefits of a Consensually Non-Monogamous Relationship

April 24, 2017 by Justin Lehmiller

In a consensually non-monogamous (CNM) relationship, the partners involved agree that having more than one sexual and/or romantic partner at the same time is permissible. Although interest in CNM relationships appears to be on the rise, these relationships continue to be widely stigmatized, with people tending to see them as inferior to monogamous relationships in most ways [1]. This is interesting when you consider that research comparing the quality of CNM to monogamous relationships reveals few differences and suggests that CNM relationships are not inherently less satisfying or stable. Findings like this suggest that perhaps those who view CNM relationships as inferior simply have a difficult time imagining the potential benefits that these relationships afford.

So what exactly are the benefits of a CNM relationship anyway? And how are the benefits similar to or different from those afforded by a monogamous relationship? A new paper published in the European Psychologist offers some insight [2]. This paper is part of a special issue I coordinated for this journal on controversial issues in human sexuality research (to see the other articles in the issue, click here).

As part of this paper, the researchers asked 175 people who were currently in a CNM relationship to describe in their own words the benefits of consensual non-monogamy. Their responses were then coded for themes and compared to the responses of participants in a separate study who were asked to describe the benefits of monogamy in their own words.

What the results revealed is that many of the same benefits emerged for both types of relationships. These included:

· Family and community benefits, such as having a larger social network and the ability to share responsibilities.

· Trust, or being able to be open and honest with another person.

· Better and more frequent sex.

· Feelings of love.

· Strong communication.

· Commitment, or the ability to depend on another person for support.

Interestingly, three unique benefits emerged when people described CNM relationships that did not emerge when people described monogamous relationships. These included:

· Diversified need fulfillment, or the ability to have needs met that might otherwise go unfulfilled. The basic idea here is that when you have just one partner, it is difficult for that person to meet all of your needs simultaneously, especially those that might be in conflict with one another (e.g., needs for security and stability vs. needs for novelty and surprise). CNM relationships offer the ability to meet a diverse set of needs without putting too much pressure on any one person.

· Variety in non-sexual activities. Contrary to popular stereotypes, non-sexual activities were described more often as benefits of CNM than sex-related benefits. CNM relationships offer more flexibility in terms of who you can spend time with and the activities that you might participate in. The basic idea is that variety in partners will reduce the odds of falling into a routine, while also allowing the ability to enjoy an activity/hobby with one partner that might not be enjoyed by other partners.

· Personal growth and development, or the ability to have more personal freedom and autonomy. The thought here is that, in a CNM relationship, the partners have more freedom to explore aspects of the self that they might not otherwise be able to in a monogamous relationship. For instance, someone who is bisexual or pansexual might have more ability to acknowledge and explore their attraction to a wide range of partners by practicing CNM.

In sum, this research suggests that CNM and monogamous relationships have a lot in common in terms of the benefits they provide to the partners; however, CNM relationships appear to offer several unique additional benefits that might not be immediately apparent to persons who have never practiced CNM.

To be clear, none of this is to say or suggest that CNM relationships are superior to those that are monogamous. Indeed, as the authors of this paper acknowledge, “both relationship styles have their ‘pros’ and ‘cons.’” They suggest that it’s not productive to argue that one kind of relationship is better than another—instead, we should focus on better understanding “how adopting principles and strategies of one type of relationship could benefit the other.”

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[1] Conley, T.D., Moors, A.C., Matsick, J.L., & Ziegler, A. (2013). The fewer the merrier? Assessing stigma surrounding non-normative romantic relationships. Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy, 13, 1-30.

[2] Moors, A. C., Matsick, J. L., & Schechinger, H. A. (2017). Unique and Shared Relationship Benefits of Consensually Non-Monogamous and Monogamous Relationships. European Psychologist, 22, 55-71.

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Written by
Dr. Justin Lehmiller
Founder & Owner of Sex and Psychology

Dr. Justin Lehmiller is a social psychologist and Research Fellow at The Kinsey Institute. He runs the Sex and Psychology blog and podcast and is author of the popular book Tell Me What You Want. Dr. Lehmiller is an award-winning educator, and a prolific researcher who has published more than 50 academic works.

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