Polyamorous Relationships

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There was a time when the concept of open marriage was met by most couples with nervous giggles and uncomfortable pauses. Dating other women or men, after all, wasn't that type of sexual exploration reserved for the swinging hippies from the 60's or the key party couples of the 1970's?

Well, yes and no. Since the advent of the sexual revolution in the latter part of the 20th century, more and more people have entertained the thought of (and some even acting on) extramarital relations - with the consent of their spouse.

The term itself can mean many things to different people, but it is generally defined as a marriage or committed relationship in which the partners agree that each other may have romantic pursuits outside the primary relationship without it being considered cheating, adultery, or infidelity. And while there are different styles of open marriage, one that is growing in popularity is polyamory - the desire to have more than one extramarital affair at any given time, provided there is agreement between partners.1

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The Age of Polyamory

Stemming from the Greek (poly - meaning many) and Latin (amor or love) languages, polyamory has become an increasingly popular pursuit for couples who have become stuck in their day-to-day lives. While they still may love their spouse, and need the stability and security a traditional marriage provides, they strive for something more fulfilling physically and emotionally outside their traditional routine sexless marriage.

Even though polyamory may be gaining greater acceptance in today's Western society for both sexes, it is anything but new. Thousands of years ago in ancient Mesopotamia monogamy may have been the social norm, however many men practiced polygny (the taking of multiple wives). According to an article in Alternet, author Anna Pulley chronicles a number of instances throughout history when polyamory was accepted.2

For instance, Philip II of Macedon had eight wives, while Persian King Darius was known to have several wives, but also kept a "stable" of 360 royal concubines! Other polygny communities can be traced back to ancient Greece, the Middle East, Hindu India, and China. In Yunnan province in China, the Mosuo tribe practice "zoo hun" which means walking marriage. Unlike our notion of marriage, couples don't live together, and sexual intercourse is permitted with whomever you wish based on mutual affection. And according to Pulley, the farming communities in Nepal once (and some may still) took pleasure in polyandry which is the concept of one wife and many husbands because monogamy can be more financially difficult!2

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Polyamory Today

In her new book, "The State of Affairs: Rethinking Infidelity," relationship guru Ester Perel dedicates an entire chapter to various forms of "consensual non-monogamy" as a way for couples to grapple with the dichotomies of having their cake and eating it too. This puts a whole new layer to trying to find the perfect married man...or two.

In her December 2017 review of Perel's book, New Yorker contributing author Zoe Heller highlights how Perel praises what she calls "romantic pluralists" for trying to balance our need for security, togetherness and stability with the desire for adventure, autonomy and novelty.3

In the same article, Perel cites the so-called swingers who have chosen to be what sex columnist Dan Savage calls "monogamish," as well those who have branched out into "triads," "quads," and "polyamorous pods." Yikes.

For our purposes, let's keep things relatively simple. First, there needs to be a recognition and acknowledgement by both parties in a relationship that they are open to reaching out to multiple external partners, what some would call married dating. And for a variety of reasons, this disposition to "opening" their marriage is not only embraced by the married man (no surprise there), it is becoming increasingly appealing to married women as well. And let's not leave out bi-sexual or homosexual men seeking other males polyamorously.

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Adult Dating, and Married Affairs

New York Magazine has published an interesting article by Alyssa Giacobbe that outlines how more married women are engaging in extramarital affairs without suffering the same backlash they may have experienced a generation ago. In it, Giacobbe cites data from the Kinsey Institute at the University of Indiana, as well as the National Opinion Research Centre's 2013 General Social Survey, that women are cheating at almost the same rate as men, and that reports of cheating housewives having affairs has risen almost 40%.4

So, let's look at a few basic reasons why these societal shifts are occurring.

Changing Face of Marriage

Historically, women married men for a variety of reasons: economic security, continuing the family lines through marriage, and in earlier times, for survival. Today, women make up almost half of our workforce and have become "breadwinners" in their own right. While there remains an inherent need for security and stability within the home, there is less emphasis on economic need to justify marriage. This is where the pleasure factor comes in. According to Perel, in this age of personal entitlement, modern couples tend to marry for companionship over economic enterprise and infidelity has become a form of self-discovery.3

Easier Access to Discreet Encounters

Adult dating has never been more convenient - married dating websites, social media affairs apps, online portals for the lonely housewife or neglected husband, sexting - have all become part of our daily culture and social fabric. The ability to discreetly and privately connect with like-minded souls has never been greater and will continue to proliferate in this technological age.

Generational Shift of Sexual Mores in the Western World

While North Americans may not be as sensually free-spirited as our European cousins, social trends are transforming in North America. Yes, we still place great value on the institution of marriage, but women's views on marriage and happiness are experiencing a seismic shift. According to Dr. Helen Fisher in her work, "Anatomy of Love: A Natural History of Mating, Marriage and Why We Stay" (as cited in the New York Magazine article above), "It is about choice. Women now are more aware of the alternatives to monogamy and more inclined to demand to have all their needs met. That's because happiness is such an important part of marriage. Fewer women are marrying out of need; instead, they're marrying to please themselves. But that also means when they're dissatisfied with something they feel justified to go elsewhere." With the proliferation of polyamorous relationships, women have additional means to discover the level of satisfaction they desire - without the need to stray.

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