You might remember learning in history class that people used to enter marriages usually for economic reasons, to create strategic alliances, or to keep a bloodline pure. “Love” was often out of the equation and perhaps considered ludicrous, almost like the coronavirus-induced toilet paper crisis. Over time, society became more enlightened, and love became more of the norm (perhaps like wearing masks during said pandemic).
With that said, you might also remember learning about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs in psychology class. It states that humans need to meet some basic physiological needs (such as hunger and rest) before graduating to higher levels in the pyramid. After satisfying your physiological needs, you level up to meet your “security” needs, then your “love/belonging” needs, then your “esteem” needs, and finally your “self-actualization” needs, as if you’re in a video game that rewards you with the ultimate prize.
By several indications, humanity has either reached or is beginning to reach the top levels in the Maslow love department; in fact, we might be exploding out of the “self-actualization” pinnacle. For example, a recent study published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science (version for mere mortals here) found that consensual non-monogamy (polyamory or open relationships, really) can be a healthy option in improving life and relationship satisfaction.
The researchers recruited people interested in pursuing consensual non-monogamy (CNM) and observed them over a two-month period as they explored this realm.
“Those who engaged in CNM experienced significant increases in sexual satisfaction,” the abstract says, “particularly if they did so with the explicit goal of addressing sexual incompatibilities within their relationships. We found no evidence that engaging in CNM impacted either life satisfaction or relationship quality with the primary partner.”
Even though I’m in a rock-solid single-partner relationship, I’d like to explore one reason someone might join the consensual non-monogamous lifestyle and discuss its potential benefits to mental health and more. Think of it like taking the red pill in the movie The Matrix, only it reveals a pleasant truth propelled by empathy, while the blue pill would leave you ignorant, possibly judgmentally.
My One and Only? Please…
The study is the first of its kind (others studied participants already in polyamorous relationships), and the result is like rubbing sandpaper against the modern-day “monogamy” fairytale many of us were fed growing up–you know, the one that says you’re supposed to find your one Prince Charming with whom you’ll spend the rest of your life.
Let’s be honest: being the “one and only” can sometimes feel like a lot of pressure, for both the prince and the princess. Imagine being your partner’s lover, best friend, adventure buddy, therapist, health coach, chef, and so on. It’s like the relationship you might have with your smartphone, where it’s your phone, your calendar, your alarm, your GPS, your health tracker, your camera, or what have you, only with hormones, emotions, and specific needs. How tiring!
So, while humans may have evolved to pair-bond (to engage in a relatively permanent relationship), with culture amplifying that expectation, some people feel like they’re not wired to live this way. It appears we’re making enough progress in society to chip away at the polyamory stigma (such as being viewed as harmful for child-rearing) so we can achieve self-actualization in the (video) game of life. To be self-actualized is to be self-fulfilling, to reach your full potential. Sometimes reaching your full potential means you don’t have to be limited to a single relationship model like a caged animal.
Consensual Non-Monogamy: Benefits for Mental Health and More
So, what can increased life and relationship satisfaction look like in a 21st-century polyamorous arrangement? Again, given that many of us have been conditioned to find “the one” and remain faithful for the rest of our lives, it might be difficult for some to wrap their heads around the idea of sharing their partner with another person. It’s like me wrapping my head around using an Android phone: there’s a learning curve, and I learn much about myself after feeling it out and adapting.
Here are a few benefits of consensual non-monogamy, according to Dr Deborah Anapol, author of the book “Polyamory in the 21st Century,” and Dr Elisabeth Sheff, author of “Stories from the Polycule: Real Life in Polyamorous Families”:
According to Anapol and Sheff, because of its inherent complexity, consensual non-monogamy forces you to communicate, negotiate, trust, and maintain boundaries more quickly and honestly than you might otherwise, putting you on a speedier path to higher consciousness. (Remember the “self-actualization” pinnacle of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs?) The more people involved in your relationship web, the more easily you can get feedback on your behavior, learn to tolerate others, become more self-assured, practice safer sex, and connect emotionally (among other benefits, of course).
Community and Child-Rearing
Understandably, some might be concerned that consensual non-monogamy negatively affects child-rearing, but there’s evidence to the contrary. According to Anapol, polyamory, for example, can “create stable and nurturing families where children develop in an atmosphere of love and security.”
Having more family figures around, especially if those figures have undergone accelerated emotional growth, can help children meet their “material, intellectual, and emotional needs” more easily than they might with two working parents, a single parent, or subpar childcare. Not to mention that having communal responsibility over the family and other life matters can help reduce stress and burnout in an ever-changing world. That is, partners and their families can share resources and divide tasks, even if they don’t live together.
Redefining Gender Roles
Consensual non-monogamy–whose players are often gay, lesbian, or bisexual–allows you to truly transcend gender roles and remember that relationships are greater than the sum of their parts. Anapol says breaking out of the sex roles of biblical times can create more equality, sexual gratification, and respectful relationships because a novel lifestyle can open a world of possibilities.
While monogamous relationships can release the “John Wayne-style masculinity and the classic 1950s housewife version of femininity,” consensual non-monogamy often takes embracing different gender and sexual identities to another level so people can live more peacefully and authentically. Peace and authenticity help us step down from our pedestals and practice humility.
If society has been able to open its heart to gay marriage, and if science is parading the benefits of an open relationship like a marching band, then we can extend that love to people entering consensual non-monogamous lifestyles. By doing this, we are advancing ourselves as a tolerant, mindful, educated species.
If the time is right and you need help trading in your relationship anxiety and insecurity for peace of mind, then hit me up here and I’ll be in touch ASAP.
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