Are People In Monogamous Relationships More Satisfied?

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It is a widely held belief that people in sexually monogamous relationships are happier and healthier than their non-monogamous counterparts. For instance, when asked to describe the benefits of monogamy, most people say that being sexually exclusive promotes trust, meaningfulness, and commitment [1]. But is this the case in reality? Are monogamous couples really the most emotionally fulfilled and committed to one another? According to a new study published in the Journal of Counseling Psychology, the association between monogamy and relationship outcomes depends upon the partners’ level of attachment anxiety.

In this study, researchers recruited 582 women and 415 men involved in same-sex relationships of at least two months duration [2]. Participants completed a pencil-and-paper survey via mail that inquired about characteristics of their relationship, including whether they were sexually exclusive, as well as how satisfied and committed they were to their current partner. Participants also completed a measure of romantic attachment that assessed how they typically approach sex and love.

As discussed in previous articles, people have different attachment patterns when it comes to developing and maintaining romantic relationships. For example, some people are securely attached and are very confident in their partner’s love, while others are anxiously attached and are worried about being abandoned. The researchers predicted that individuals who were more anxiously attached would be happier in monogamous relationships because they may find the prospect of their partner having other sexual relationships threatening.

Consistent with this idea, for participants with moderate to high levels of attachment anxiety (i.e., people who feel relatively insecure in their relationships and fear that their partner may leave), being sexually monogamous was associated with higher levels of relationship satisfaction and commitment. In contrast, for individuals with low levels of attachment anxiety (i.e., people who were not afraid of being abandoned), sexual exclusivity had no association with relationship satisfaction or commitment.

These findings tell us that among people who feel somewhat insecure when it comes to relationships, a monogamy agreement may be a good idea as a way of providing some form of reassurance that their partner isn’t going anywhere. However, for people who are more securely attached, there may be somewhat less to gain from a monogamy agreement in terms of how the partners feel about one another.

In short, these results suggest that monogamy may not be universally beneficial to everyone and instead of arguing that everyone “should” act one way or another in relationships, we are probably better served by letting people select the type of relationship that’s right for them.

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

[2] Mohr, J. J., Selterman, D., & Fassinger, R. E. (2013). Romantic attachment and relationship functioning in same-sex couples. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 60, 72-82.

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