One of the more frustrating myths we run across as therapists is that nonmonogamy will somehow fix something that is wrong in your relationship. This is a bit similar to people thinking that having a baby will somehow solve a problem in their relationship. What usually ends up happening is that you end up with the same problems, but now you’ve just invited more people to the party. In those cases, the more is definitely not merrier. Here are the most common problems that people think nonmonogamy is going to solve for them.
Problem #1 – Desire Discrepancy Problems
When one partner wants sex more often than another partner, major relationship issues can follow. Often this pattern ends up polarizing couples on an issue. On the surface, it only seems logical that allowing one partner to go out and have sex with other people will surely take the pressure off the person who never wants to have sex while satisfying the sexual needs of the partner who wants sex all the time, right? Unfortunately, it doesn’t end up working out this way. First, people aren’t just one-to-one replacements for each other. For many people, it’s not just about the number of times you are getting laid, but the type of intimacy shared between two people. Second, the person with the lower desire level often ends up worrying that now they will be left for someone who can satisfy their partner. This just leaves them feeling even more inadequate. The only time this one ends up working out is if the couple figures out how to stay intimate with each other while understanding and addressing their insecurities. If the couple can find a way to communicate openly and share intimacy with each other in other ways, then opening up may help alleviate desire discrepancy issues.
Problem #2 – Chronic Cheating
At some point, people may decide that their cheating is an indicator that they are nonmonogamous, and there may be some truth in that. But opening up your relationship doesn’t automatically solve the problem of cheating. Often this problem develops because the person has difficulty speaking up for their desires in a relationship, or fears confrontation. If you don’t solve the underlying problem of being conflict avoidant or having difficulty identifying your desires, you are still going to have similar problems when you are nonmonogamous, and you are going to find yourself cheating in different ways.
Problem # 3 – Your Need For Novelty and Variety
I have no problem with people wanting novelty and variety in their lives. I think it’s great for keeping your brain young, learning new things, and widening your experiences. It becomes a problem when you are novelty-chasing to get a dopamine hit or validation-seeking. Exiting a relationship as soon as the excitement wears off means that you are really just using people for your own enjoyment. Unless you’ve explicitly agreed to do this to each other, it just makes you a crappy partner. You need to check what you are looking for in these relationships and make sure it’s not just validation that you are attractive, fuckable, dateable, good at sex, or worthy of attention. If your novelty seeking is really about getting external sources of validation, what you really need to be doing is working on your self-worth in therapy.
Problem #4 – Your Boredom or Loneliness
Dating multiple people sounds like a great way to get out and meet people and not ever be alone again. It is possible that you will meet some great people and learn some new things. However, when people start to open up in their relationship, learning how to date and find new partners can exacerbate these problems. You might find that you have a lot of lonely or bored nights at home while your partner is out on dates and you are waiting for conversations to turn into dates or matches to happen. Many couples try to get around this problem by making agreements around only having dates on the same night. This can get really frustrating if one partner is not having good luck on the dating apps, which can lead to creating more tension in the relationship. If you end up only relying on dating as a hobby and don’t develop other hobbies, it’s possible you are back to the problem of relying on too much external validation as a source of self-worth. Now, I don’t want to understate the importance of having friends and spending time with them, or the problems of genuine loneliness. Developing friendships and support networks outside of your romantic relationship is incredibly important for humans. Be aware that there is a line between having a solid group of friends and using people as objects to validate yourself.
Problem #5 – Your Dying Relationship
Couples in the 7-13+ year range of their relationship, especially if they had kids early or didn’t have kids at all, often find that they are stuck in a routine in their relationship and feeling like “just roommates”. You might still really love your partner, but you have lost that spark. Your lives are very entwined, and the thought of separating everything just sounds so incredibly overwhelming. Instead of figuring out how to reignite the passion between the two of you, you could just go reignite the passion with whole new people! Sometimes this works out quite well if you really do have a solid relationship that has all of the components of a secure functioning relationship. If you are really living a parallel relationship, you are just as likely to drift further apart when you open up, and all the cracks in your relationship will just widen. Now, there’s nothing wrong with splitting up. If your relationship really is dying, nonmonogamy will certainly show that to you. It will likely make sure you fully see where exactly the dying is happening. At that point you have two options: accept it and move on, or work on those spots to then maybe reignite your relationship.
Just because nonmonogamy won’t help you fix any of these problems doesn’t mean that you should avoid becoming nonmonogamous until you have all of your problems fixed. You often can’t fix relational problems unless you are in a relationship actively working on the problem. The overlying point is that you need to recognize that each of these things aren’t magically going to be cured, and that you still need to be working on the underlying problem.