Monogamy vs. Polyamory?

I just finished reading a recent blog post by Sue Johnson, the founder of Emotionally-Focused Couple’s Therapy, entitled “Is Monogamy Just a Myth or Is It Possible?”  Despite being shocked by the question (is she really questioning whether monogamy is possible?), I was intrigued to see where she would go with it because I am so deeply inspired by her work, which greatly informs my approach to relationship therapy.  Though Dr. Johnson was not writing specifically about polyamory*, her sentiments were right in line with most poly-cynics so I was not at all surprised by her arguments (despite being disappointed by her (mis)use of loose references to attachment theory to justify a monogamy-centric view of love relationships).

One of the first things I often hear from people at the mere mention of words like “polyamory” or “open relationships” is a resounding “That doesn’t work!”  “Sooner or later human nature takes over…”  Adventurous types often include their own war stories as further proof that monogamy is the only way, “Oh, I tried that when I was young… What a disaster!”  Some of my more intellectual friends and colleagues cloak their biases in “psychological” language: “Poly people are just (fill in the blank) love addicts, sex addicts, co-dependent or avoidant types, etc.…who want to have their cake and eat it too.”

Whatever the argument against open relationships, polyamory, and responsible non-monogamy, I’ve heard it from teachers, therapists, strangers on the street, workshop participants, friends, colleagues, medical doctors and clients.  There are a lot of people who are convinced that monogamy is indeed the only option that does work, even when their own personal experience does not reflect that truth.

I don’t think that we should be asking either “Is monogamy a myth?” or “Can polyamory work?”  Instead the essential questions to be asking ourselves are:

  1. What do I want?  (If that question feels too big, try some of these instead: What do I long for?  What works for me?  What do I wish were possible in my life or my relationships?  What stirs my curiosity? What would I like to try?  What can I not see myself living without?)
  2. Do I have the emotional capacity and the relational skills to create and sustain the kinds of relational and/or sexual dynamics that I want?
  3. If not, can I develop those skills and capacities?
  4. If so, how do I develop those skills?

It can take a lot of time to figure out the answers to these questions.  Some people start out thinking they want to be polyamorous because it makes sense to them in theory, but when they examine their deepest longings, they find that they still want, at their core, a monogamous relationship.  Other people spend years in monogamous relationships, and then find, after they’ve chosen to pursue an open relationship path, that they feel liberated and more deeply connected than they ever felt in their monogamous relationships.

Some people fail, resolutely, regardless of the type of relationship they pursue, and some people blossom for a time while living one style, and then later change to a different style at a different stage of life.  There are no absolute answers here.  We are all different, and there are lots of different ways to meet our different needs.  No relationship style, by its nature alone, either precludes or guarantees “attachment security”**.

The truth is sometimes relationships fail, whether they’re monogamous, polyamorous, or somewhere in-between.  So let’s stop trying to prove that one way is better than the other.  Let’s support people to clarify and follow the paths that are right for them (not as we define it, but as they discover for themselves).

Imagine the possibility that virtually any relationship style is possible between consenting adults if they have the desire, skills, capacities and resources necessary to move forward.  So whatever path they choose, they will need to develop their relational skills, and the more complexity they add to their relationships, the more relationally skilled they will have to become.


*“Polyamory” refers to the practice of being open to love relationships with more than one person in an honest, open matter, in which all relationship participants are aware of and consent to the practice of being open.  This is distinguished from the practice of “cheating” in which not all partners are aware of and/or consenting to their partners’ “extracurricular” activities.

**“Attachment security” means that warm, fuzzy, safe feeling in relationship that says, “I am loved; I am connected; I can trust this relationship (or these relationships) to hold me in the ways I want or expect to be held.”

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About the Author

About the Author: Sonya Brewer, MA, is a body-centered psychotherapist, somatic coach and relationship specialist in Albany, CA, where she specializes in creative life and relationship design for “out the box” thinkers (and “feelers”). She loves helping quirky people find their creative voice and express their unique ways of being so that they can feel more alive, connected and authentic in their lives and relationships, while also bringing their gifts to the world. Sonya brings over twenty years of experience, backed by in-depth training in somatic psychology, relational psychotherapy, relationship therapy and somatic coaching as taught by Generative Somatics and the Strozzi Institute, as well as training in trauma recovery through the Sensorimotor Psychotherapy and Somatic Experiencing Institutes. Sonya's body-based work is also deeply influenced by a lifetime of experience as a dancer, years of mindfulness meditation practice, and training and experience as a professional bodyworker. To learn more, visit Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist #89901 .


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  1. Erin says:

    Thank you so much for this response, Sonya. I’m studying to be an LMFT and I plan to specialize in polyamorous relationships. While learning about EFT, I decided to look into whether or not there was any research on the effectiveness of EFT with consensually non-monogamous relationships and came across Sue Johnson’s blog post and several interviews in which she’s asked about open relationships. I was so disappointed to learn her stance on these types of relationships. Your response says everything I want to say better (and with more kindness) than I ever could.

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