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Beyond the Dyad: a Review of the Novel Insights Gained From Studying Consensual Non-monogamy



Purpose of Review The purpose of this review is to highlight the major advancements in our understanding of consensually non-monogamous (CNM) relationships—or intimate relationships between three or more people who are non-exclusive sexually and/or emotionally. We aim to review key insights from research on the benefits (i.e., diversification of need fulfillment) and challenges (i.e., continued stigma) of CNM relationships and how research on CNM highlights some limitations of the existing theories of relationships. Recent Findings The last two decades have seen a trend towards increasing diversity of family structures. Although monogamy remains the most common relationship structure, CNM relationships are increasing in prevalence and in interest to both lay people and researchers. Recent research has begun to uncover novel insights into who is more likely to be drawn to and engage in CNM, how CNM relationships compare to monogamous relationships, and the potential benefits and challenges of engaging in CNM relationships. Summary While people in CNM relationships still experience stigma, for those who desire such relationships, CNM can be a viable and healthy alternative to monogamy, and may even help people meet more of their needs through diversifying need fulfillment across multiple partners. Despite this, many existing relationship theories are not inclusive of CNM relationship experiences and aspects of existing theories of positive relationships and sexuality may not extend to people in CNM relationships. Moving forward it is important to consider whether our concepts and measures are inclusive to people in diverse relationships, including those in CNM relationships.
Beyond the Dyad: a Review of the Novel Insights Gained From
Studying Consensual Non-monogamy
Rhonda N. Balzarini
&Amy Muise
Accepted: 5 November 2020
#Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2020
Purpose of Review The purpose of this review is to highlight the major advancements in our understanding of consensually non-
monogamous (CNM) relationshipsor intimate relationships between three or more people who are non-exclusive sexuallyand/
or emotionally. We aim to review key insights from research on the benefits (i.e., diversification of need fulfillment) and
challenges (i.e., continued stigma) of CNM relationships and how research on CNM highlights some limitations of the existing
theories of relationships.
Recent Findings The last two decades have seen a trend towards increasing diversity of family structures. Although monogamy
remains the most common relationship structure, CNM relationships are increasing in prevalence and in interest to both lay
people and researchers. Recent research has begun to uncover novel insights into who is more likely to be drawn to and engage in
CNM, how CNM relationships compare to monogamous relationships, and the potential benefits and challenges of engaging in
CNM relationships.
Summary While people in CNM relationships still experience stigma, for those who desire such relationships, CNM can be a
viable and healthy alternative to monogamy, and may even help people meet more of their needs through diversifying need
fulfillment across multiple partners. Despite this, many existing relationship theories are not inclusive of CNM relationship
experiences and aspects of existing theories of positive relationships and sexuality may not extend to people in CNM relation-
ships. Moving forward it is important to consider whether our concepts and measures are inclusive to people in diverse
relationships, including those in CNM relationships.
Keywords Consensual non-monogamy .Romantic relationships .Sexuality .Need fulfillment .Relationship quality .Stigma
The last two decades have seen rapid changes in Western
families, with a trend towards increasing diversity of fam-
ily structures. Longer life spans [1], along with increases
in inter-racial, inter-religious, and same-sex marriages [2],
and steep fertility declines [3,4] are only a few of the
social trends that are increasing the diversity of families
and relationships. However, the nuclear monogamous
family remains a powerful normative ideal in much of
the Western world [5,6], and people who do not follow
this pattern may be considered deviant or not even fami-
lies at all [7,8]. While monogamy remains the most com-
mon romantic relationship arrangement in most parts of
the world, consensual non-monogamy (CNM)or inti-
mate relationships between three or more people who
are non-exclusive sexually and/or emotionally [9,10]
is increasingly prevalent and becoming more visible in
mainstream media and in societies as well [11]. In fact,
public interest in CNM relationships has increased dra-
matically in recent years, with searches for information
on polyamorous relationships, one type of CNM relation-
by Google in 2017 [12]. Increased interest in CNM is
apparent not only in rising Google searches ([12]; also
see [13]) but also in heightened media attention, with
shows like You Me and Herand Unicornland,as well
as the inclusion of polyamory as a relationship orientation
This article is part of the Topical Collection on Female Sexual
Dysfunction and Disorders
*Rhonda N. Balzarini;
Department of Psychology, Texas State University, San
Marcos, TX 78666, USA
Department of Psychology, York University, Toronto, ON, Canada
Current Sexual Health Reports
on the popular dating website OKCupid [14],andinmore
researchers examining the prevalence and outcomes of
CNM arrangements [11,15].
Over the past decade, research on CNM relationships has
gained a greater presence in relationship and sexuality re-
search [16] and has begun to uncover novel insights into
who is more likely to be drawn to and engage in CNM, how
CNM relationships compare to monogamous relationships,
and the potential detriments (e.g., stigma) and benefits (e.g.,
diversified need fulfillment) of engaging in CNM relation-
ships. This research suggests that for those who desire such
relationships, CNM can be a viable and healthy alternative to
monogamy (e.g., it can be just as satisfying as a monogamous
relationship; [15,17]), and having multiple simultaneous re-
lationships can help people meet more of their fundamental
needs (e.g., [1820]). The purpose of this review is to high-
light the major advancements in our understanding of CNM
relationships based on the most recent work in the field, dis-
cuss the ways in which insights from research on CNM rela-
tionships raise questions about the inclusivity of relationship
theories (e.g., commitment being equated with monogamy or
exclusivity), and challenge the boundary conditions of
existing theories (e.g., attachment theory; [21]). Through this
review and identification of novel advancements in the field,
we provide a summary of the current research on CNM rela-
tionships and discuss directions for future work.
Prevalence and Engagement in CNM
Past research suggests that a non-trivial number of people
have engaged in or are interested in CNM relationships. For
example, research using nationally representative samples of
people from the USA and Canada has shown that approxi-
mately 46% of individuals report currently being in a CNM
relationship [22,23]. And, far more people have experience
with or interest in CNM, with more than 20% of Americans
indicating previous participation in some form of CNM in
their lifetime [23] and with CNM sexual experiences (e.g., a
threesome) emerging as the most common sexual fantasy peo-
ple report [24]. Furthermore, the prevalence of experience
with CNM is even higher among people who identify as bi-
sexual, with approximately 33% reporting previous participa-
tion in CNM [23].
Importantly, CNM is an umbrella term for various non-
monogamous relationship agreements that differ based on the
degree to which sexual and emotional needs are consensually
fulfilled outside of a romantic dyad [16]. The three types of
CNM relationships that are often delineated are swinging, open,
and polyamorous relationships [15,25,26]. Swinging relation-
ships involve temporarily swapping or exchanging partners
among couples, often in the context of a specific social event
[26,27]. Open relationships involve extradyadic sex without
love and without a romantic partners participation [16,26,
28,29]. Polyamorous relationships permit loving more than
one person, and typically consist of multiple, emotionally close
relationships [16,26]. Although CNM affords emotional and
sexual connections with multiple partners simultaneously, poly-
amory tends to involve close emotional with additional partners
than swinging and open relationships, which tend to be primar-
ily about sexual openness [5,15,30,31].People in CNM rela-
tionships often have their own unique agreements with partners
and CNM relationship can take on many different structures,
but one of the most common configurations, at least for people
in polyamorous relationships, is a primary-secondary relation-
ship configuration [17,32]. In this configuration, a primary
relationship is between two partners who typically share house-
hold finances, live together, and who are married, and relation-
ships with partners beyond the primary relationship are often
referred to as secondary, non-primary, or tertiary partners [17,
27,33]. Although less research has examined the configura-
tions of people in open and swinging relationships, because
these relationships primarily involve extradyadic sexual en-
counters, they often follow a similar structure with one partner
serving as a primary partner and the other(s) as non-primary
(e.g., [34,35]).
Challenges of Deviating Beyond the Dyad:
Stigma Towards CNM Relationships
Despite the growing prevalence, people in CNM relationships
are stigmatized [36]. For example, 2643% of people in poly-
amorous relationships report experiences of stigma and dis-
crimination [37]. To illustrate how pervasive this is, in a series
of studies [9], monogamous targets were rated more positively
than people in CNM relationships in relationship-relevant and
relationship-irrelevant domains. That is, monogamous cou-
ples were perceived to not only be more trustworthy and pas-
sionate but also to be more likely to pay their taxes on time, to
floss their teeth, and to walk their dog [9]. However, some
forms of CNM, specifically polyamory, are viewed more fa-
vorably than other forms, such as swinging or open relation-
ships [26,38]. One reason that has been proposed for why
people in CNM relationships continue to face stigma is be-
cause these relationships are associated with greater perceived
promiscuity and likelihood of having sexually transmitted in-
fections (STIs). In fact, research suggests that attitudes to-
wards people in CNM relationships are related to the percep-
tion that people in CNM relationships will spread STIs (e.g.,
among polyamorists, see [39]; and CNM more broadly, see
[9]). Indeed, in a study [38] examining stigma towards people
in the differing types of CNM compared to monogamists
showed that people in monogamous relationships are per-
ceived to be the least promiscuous and to have the lowest
STI rates while swingers were perceived as the most, and
Curr Sex Health Rep
those in polyamorous andopen relationships were in-between.
Results also suggest that stigma towards people in CNM rela-
tionships was partially attributed to the perception of STI risk
but not to perceptions of promiscuitysuggesting stigmatiza-
tion towards people in CNM relationships, in part, was a func-
tion of perceptions of STI risk.Notwithstanding these percep-
tions, people in CNM relationships are less likely to contract a
sexually transmitted infection than people who identify as
monogamous (see [40] for a review), and CNM individuals
are more likely to engage in safer sex practices (e.g., using
condoms and getting tested for STIs) than people in monoga-
mous relationships [41,42]. Part of the reason for these dif-
ferences is that while people in CNM relationships might en-
gage in sex with multiple partners, all partners are aware of the
arrangement and can have an open discussion about their sex-
ual health and extradyadic engagement. In the USA, 2025%
of people in monogamous relationships engaged in extramar-
ital sex [4345] and people who are in monogamous relation-
ships are less likely to practice safer sex in these encounters
than CNM individuals [40,41,46]. Therefore, with infidelity
occurring in a reliable minority of romantic relationships, ap-
prehension about CNM relationships and concern about STI
risk might be overblown while concern for STI risk among
people in monogamous relationships may be understated.
This idea is consistent with recent findings that suggest that
monogamy might be less effective at preventing STIs than
expected (see [40,41]).
Stigma about CNM relationships also extends to the idea
that opening up a relationship or having multiple romantic or
sexual partners indicates that an existing or primary relation-
ship is unsatisfying. However, a growing body of research
suggests that people in CNM relationships are as equally sat-
isfied with and committed to their relationships as individuals
in monogamous relationships [15], and there is evidence that
individuals in CNM relationships report higher sexual satis-
faction and passion [47] and lower jealousy [48,49] than
monogamists. Although there is growing evidence that people
in CNM relationships report at least as much relationship
quality on average as monogamous couples, CNM arrange-
ments involve multiple partners and relationship and sexual
outcomes across partner can differ. Recent research has found
some differences between primary and secondary partners.
For example, individuals in polyamorous relationships report
being more satisfied with, committed to, and invested in their
relationships with primary partners compared to secondary
partners, but, they report higher sexual frequency [17,33],
greater sexual satisfaction [47], and met sexual ideals [50]
with their secondary partner compared to their primary part-
ner. Research comparing reports for polyamorous partners to
monogamous partners suggests that reports for primary part-
ners in polyamorous relationships often mirror reports for mo-
nogamous partners. More specifically, a study comparing re-
ports for polyamorous partners to monogamous partners
found that reports for primary partners and monogamous part-
ners do not differ with regard to commitment or investments,
but people in polyamorous relationships tend to report higher
sexual frequency, more stigma (e.g., less acceptance from
friends and family), and stigma management (e.g., maintain-
ing relationships in secrecy) with secondary partners com-
pared to reports for monogamous partners [17].
Broadening Our Understanding of Need
One of the potential benefits of engaging in CNM relation-
ships is the diversification of need fulfillment across multiple
partners simultaneously. For example, in her book based on
her experiences as a couplestherapist, Esther Perel [51]talks
about how peoples expectations for their romantic relation-
ships have changed over time such that people now expect
their romantic partners to meet several higher order needs,
such as personal growth and emotional and sexual fulfillment.
Perels[51] ideas are in line with a model recently proposed
by Finkel and colleagues [52]the suffocation model of
marriagewhich argues that in Western culture, today rela-
tive to the past, people expect more from their relationships,
and although people who can meet these high expectations
can flourish, many people are not investing the time and en-
ergy to meet the high expectations they place on their relation-
ships. The authors describe this as climbing mount Maslow
without sufficient oxygenmeaning, people are aiming to
meet higher order need for fulfillment and self-actualization
without devoting the proper resources [52]. In response to this
model, Conley and Moors (2014, [53]) proposed that adopting
the tenets of CNM relationships and offloading some needs to
additional partners could help strengthen or oxygenate a
relationshipserving as one path towards greater need
Recent qualitative research with people in CNM relation-
ships found that the most cited benefit of CNM reported by
42% of the sample was diversified need fulfillment [54]. In
fact, in a study that followed people who were considering
opening up an existing relationship found that one reason
people seek out additional partners is to meet needs that are
unfulfilled in their current relationships [55]. In this study,
people who actually opened up to a CNM relationship (com-
pared to those who did not) reported greater sexual satisfaction
over the course of two months, and this was especially true if
they opened up their relationship to address sexual incompat-
ibilities with their primary partner [55]. Indeed, past research
has shown that relationships with primary partners are char-
acterized by more commitment, investments, and satisfaction
and greater communication than relationships with secondary
partners [17,33], and people tend to rate their primary part-
ners as more desirable long-term partners [56]. But,
Curr Sex Health Rep
relationships with secondary partners are characterized by a
greater percentage of time spent on sexual activity [17,33],
more eroticism [18], more passion, and greater sexual satis-
faction [47] and yet, secondary partners are considered less
desirable long-term mates [56]. Taken together, this work pro-
vides preliminary evidence that primary and secondary rela-
tionships may meet different needs, with secondary relation-
ships being characterized as more sexually fulfilling while
primary relationships might meet more emotional needs.
If individuals in CNM relationships can experience higher
need fulfillment through having their needs met across multi-
ple, simultaneous relationships, it is possible that the diversi-
fication of needs could be associated with feelings of satisfac-
tion in their relationships. Mitchell and colleagues [19]pro-
posed three different models to explain the role of need ful-
fillment in CNM relationships. The proposed models posit
that having needs met in one relationship could either (1)
detract from the relationship satisfaction in another, concur-
rent relationship (e.g., contrast model), (2) be associated with
greater satisfaction in another, concurrent relationship (e.g.,
additive model; [57]), or (3) be associated with greater satis-
faction in another relationship, but particularly when need
fulfillment in the initial relationship is low (e.g., compensation
model; [58]). Several studies have examined the effects of
need fulfillment in CNM relationships, but support for the
different models has been mixed. For example, Mitchell and
colleagues [19] found that the extent to which one partner met
apersons needs was unrelated to satisfaction or commitment
with another partner (inconsistent with the additive or contrast
models) and need fulfillment across various needs assessed
compensation effect as people in CNM relationships were
fulfilled by both partners). However, in a study [20]thatin-
vestigated sexual need fulfillment specifically, when a prima-
ry partner was more motivated to meet a persons sexual
needs, this was associated with greater sexual satisfaction with
their secondary partner (evidence for the additive model),
though greater sexual need fulfillment with a secondary part-
ner was associated with less satisfaction with a primary part-
ner (evidence for the contrast model). Similarly, a recent study
examining sexual and emotional need fulfillment [18]found
that when polyamorous individuals reported more eroticism
(i.e., feelings of arousal, passion, lust, sexual pleasure) with
their primary partners, they reported greater sexual satisfaction
with their secondary partner (evidence for the additive model)
though greater eroticism with a secondary partner was associ-
ated with less sexual satisfaction with a primary partner (evi-
dence for the contrast model). In contrast, ratings of one part-
ners nurturance (e.g., feelings of intimacy, warmth, and love)
were not associated with sexual satisfaction in other, concur-
rent relationships suggesting that loving, caring feelings with
one partner were not associated with sexual satisfaction with
the other partner [18].
The findings on need fulfillment across relationships sug-
gest that concurrent relationships can have null, negative, or
positive effects on each other, and thus, an important future
direction will be understanding when, and under what circum-
stances, relationships with concurrent partners benefit or de-
tract from relationship quality with the other. Although there
is limited research to draw on at this time, it might be the case
that certain qualities from a primary partner influence the abil-
ity to maximize the benefits of seeking out multiple, simulta-
neous relationships. For example, Muise and colleagues
(2019, [20]) found that when people in CNM relationships
had a primary partner who was more communal (e.g., moti-
vated to meet their needs), they were able to be more satisfied
in their secondary relationshipssuggesting that having a
communal primary partner (or other features of the primary)
can help people maximize the benefits of multiple concurrent
relationships. It also might be the case that people can mitigate
the detriments through their own actions. For example,
Mogilski and colleagues (2017, [56]) found that CNM partic-
ipants reported talking about their extra-dyadic sexual experi-
ences and downplaying these sexual experiences more often
with their primary partner compared to their secondary part-
ner, perhaps because sexual engagement is higher with this
partner and thus restricting information may help individuals
meet their needs while also maintaining their relationship with
their primary partner.
Expanding Theories of Relationships
Theoretical Advancements
One of the unique benefits to studying CNM is that it informs
and can challenge the boundaries of our current relationship
theories. Indeed, scholars have recently argued that many the-
ories in the psychology of relationships and sexuality include
conceptualizations of relationship quality that have an implicit
assumption that monogamy is the most desirable relationship
style [47]. As such, most of the theories used to understand
and predict relationship processes have been tested with a
monogamous sample and it is not clear how these might ex-
tend to sample of people who are navigating multiple relation-
ships. There are two illustrative examples of this in the field of
relationship and sexual science. First, one of the standard ap-
proaches for assessing love in relationships involves asking
participants about their passionate and companionate love for
their partner [59,60]. However, this approach may inhibit
researchers from understanding passionate and companionate
love in polyamorous relationships. For example, the
Passionate Love Scale [60] includes the item Id get jealous
if I thought [my partner] were falling in love with someone
else.This item has a built-in assumption that more jealousy
about a third party is equivalent to more passionate love; how-
ever, researchers point out that this may not be true for
Curr Sex Health Rep
individuals in CNM relationships who may actually experi-
ence positive affect in response to a partner finding a new
relationship (i.e., people in polyamorous relationships may
feel positive emotions when a loved one pursues other rela-
tionships sexually or emotionally; e.g., [48,49,61,62]). As a
result of this assumption, participants who are in CNM rela-
tionships would score lower on passionate love due to lower
levels of reported jealousy despite experiences of passion with
partners (see [47]). To address these issues, recent research
has re-conceptualized the concepts of companionate and pas-
sionate love developing a measure that assesses eroticism and
nurturance and that is applicable to both those in monogamous
and CNM relationships [18].
Second, attachment theory is arguably among the most widely
studied theories of romantic relationships. Attachment theory
posits that romantic bonds are important sources of support,
emotional stability, and safety and that secure attachment comes
from repeated exposure to safe and supportive care [63]. A small,
but growing, body of research has found that individuals in CNM
relationships report high relationship quality, open communica-
tion, high levels of honesty, trust, and intimacy, and low levels of
jealousy (e.g., [17,33,48,56]), all qualities that are analogous
to those that characterize a secure attachment [64]. However, one
component that differs is relational exclusivityor the assump-
tion that pair bonding and love occurs among those who are
sexually and romantically exclusive with their partners. In fact,
sexual and romantic exclusivity are often conflated with ideas of
love among attachment theorists (e.g., [6567]). Therefore, ex-
amining attachment among people in CNM relationships and
across partners allows for novel theoretical testing of the bounds
of attachment theoryand other theoriesgiven that CNM re-
lationships afford people the opportunity to form deep emotional
and sexual bonds with more than one person. Indeed, despite the
theoretical assumptions (e.g., assuming pair bonds occur among
exclusive, romantic dyads), recent work suggests that people in
CNM relationships have similar attachment orientations with
each of their partners (though greater security was reported for
their primary partner) and report greater security [68] compared
to established norms among monogamist [21]. This work and
other works (e.g., evidence for diversifying need fulfillment; [51,
52]) beg the question of the built-in assumptions in our theories
while providing novel tests of the boundaries of existing theories.
Conclusions and Future Directions
The research on CNM to date suggests that a non-trivial
number of people are interested in or have experience
with CNM relationships, and that CNM relationships can
be a healthy and viable alternative for those who are in-
terested in relationships that extend beyond the monoga-
mous dyad. Past work suggests that engaging in CNM can
be associated with important benefits, such as the
opportunity to diversify need fulfillment across partners,
but also some challenges, such as enduring stigma and
misunderstandings. Despite the burgeoning research in
this area, many questions remain unanswered and are im-
portant future directions for researchers to pursue.
First, the bulk of the data on CNM relationships, as
with monogamous relationships, includes people who
are highly satisfied with their relationships. Therefore,
we have little information about people who experience
challenges with CNM or about people who have ended
CNM relationship. Due to the stigma around CNM rela-
tionships, an early goal of researchers seemed to be to
compare CNM relationships to monogamous relationship
to determine if engaging in CNM was, in fact, associated
with more negative relationship and personal outcomes.
Now that we have evidence that CNM relationships are
at least as satisfying as monogamous relationships and
can be a healthy, viable alternative for those who are
interested, future researchcouldexploremorenuanced
questions about the benefits and challenges of navigating
relationships with multiple partners. Recently, a group of
prominent CNM researchers have joined forces to develop
a Multi-partner Relationship Maintenance Strategies Scale
(MRMSS) that will assess how people who pursue multi-
partner romance (e.g., polyamory, open relationships,
swinging, plural marriage) regulate their own and their
partnerssexual and intimate interactions with other peo-
ple. The researchers seek to understand the practices that
help people resolve or agitate common sources of conflict
among romantic partners and rivals within multi-partner
relationships (e.g., jealousy, partner rivalry, disease trans-
mission, partner abandonment).Additionally, the growing
body of research on CNM has either utilized existing
scales that have been created with the implicit assumption
that monogamy is the most desirable relationship style
[47] or has had to create their own scales to more ade-
quately capture relational processes beyond the dyad (e.g.,
[18]). This is a limitation of much of the existing literature
that aspects of existing theories of positive relationships
and sexuality may not extend to people in CNM relation-
ships. Moving forward, it is important to think about
whether our concepts and measures are inclusive to peo-
ple in diverse relationships, including those in CNM rela-
tionships. This might mean stepping back and re-
examining how we ask about commitment (do we assume
commitment equates with monogamy?) and how we ask
about infidelity (do we assume any extradyadic relation-
ships are cheating?) and other major constructs of interest.
Therefore, there are opportunities for future research to
expand our understanding of relationship quality and
maintenance by re-considering the role of monogamy
and by testing whether tenets of CNM relationships have
broad implications for understanding need fulfillment.
Curr Sex Health Rep
Funding This work has been supported by a Mitacs Accelerate and
Elevate Grant awarded to Rhonda Balzarini and an Insight
Development Grant from the Social Science and Humanities Research
Council (SSHRC) awarded to Amy Muise and Rhonda Balzarini.
Compliance with Ethical Standards
Conflict of Interest Rhonda Balzarini declares the receipt of grants from
Mitacs and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council during
the preparation of this paper.
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Curr Sex Health Rep
... Most existing relationship theories are not CNM-inclusive (Balzarini & Muise, 2020). ...
... Furthermore, existing counselling theories, research, and instruments informed by studies of heterosexual couples may be inappropriately applied to minority groups including people in CNM relationships (Balzarini & Muise, 2020;Shernoff, 2006). Cassidy and Wong (2018) highlighted how explorations of one's own attitudes and judgements regarding monogamy should be integrated into both graduate training and ongoing professional development for practicing clinicians to increase competence, reduce stigma, and promote social justice and culturally sensitive counselling. ...
... Contemporary theories of psychotherapy and graduate training programs may inadvertently reinforce harmful stereotypes by not adequately educating therapists about CNM or implying that monogamy is superior to CNM in all cases (Balzarini & Muise, 2020;Cassidy & Wong, 2018;Girard & Brownlee, 2015). Therefore, further research is required to better equip therapists for meeting the perceived needs of clients either practicing or interested in CNM. ...
Full-text available
This study used a mixed methods design to explore characteristics associated with attitudes towards counselling, and perceived priorities for therapists, among consensually non-monogamous (CNM) adults. Data were collected via an anonymous online survey from an international sample of 318 adults currently or previously interested or engaged in CNM. There were small to medium significant and positive correlations between accepting attitudes of CNM and both attitudes towards seeking counselling (ρ = .19, p = .003) and self-reported likelihood to seek relationship/partners/couples therapy for CNM-related concerns (ρ = .12, p = .029). There were no significant correlations between accepting attitudes of CNM and self-reported likelihood to seek individual therapy (ρ = .09, p = .114) or family therapy (ρ = .04, p = .514) for CNM-related concerns. Reflexive thematic analysis suggested (a) it is helpful for therapists to be non-judgmental, non-directive, and familiar with CNM; (b) it is unhelpful for therapists to pathologize CNM, be dismissive, or make assumptions; (c) it is important to consider attachment theory, how each relationship is unique, other types of diversities, and access to CNM-affirmative therapy; and (d) possible reasons for seeking therapy include concerns not related to CNM, discrimination and stigma, changes in relationships, communication issues, and issues regarding relationship quality. The results were integrated to assess convergence, and discussed. The results are formatted into two manuscripts: an empirical article and a summary of implications. There are numerous practical steps therapists can take to better support CNM clients, and reduce barriers they face when seeking counselling.
... Only two factors had eigenvalues greater than 1, therefore, we assumed that Polish version of COMPERSe differs from the original version. Five items (2,4,6,8,10) were considered for removal due to communality below the recommended 0.7 cutoff ideal value (Beavers et al., 2013). This included all items from Excitement for New Connections scale (ENC; 4, 8, 10), which at the same time had low loadings and simultaneously high cross-loadings with two remaining factors. ...
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Compersion is a positive emotion experienced in relation to one's partner's relationship(s) with other partner(s). Experiencing it is highly desired in communities practicing consensual non-monogamy (CNM), especially polyamory. This article presents the results of a study on compersion on Polish CNM individuals. The main goal of the study was to adapt to the Polish speaking population the COMPERSe (Classifying Our Metamour/Partner Emotional Response Scale; Flicker et al., 2021), the rst standardized quantitative scale designed to measure compersion. The analyzes were performed on data obtained from 211 individuals in CNM relationships and on comparative group of 169 people in monogamous relationships. The results of the factor analyzes suggested that the 3-factor model of the original COMPERSe version did not t well, leading to further revisions that resulted in a 7-item, 2-factor solution with excellent t, excellent internal consistency, strong divergent and convergent validity, and excellent test-retest stability. The CNM individuals were found to have higher scores on compersion and cognitive empathy and were also less jealous than the monogamous participants. Furthermore, polyamorous individuals experienced more compersion and less aversion to partner's autonomy than people in open relationships. It was also revealed that compersion indirectly predicted relationship satisfaction by decreasing jealousy and that compersion was, in turn, predicted by cognitive empathy. However, when polyamorous and open relationships were analyzed separately, compersion predicted relationship satisfaction directly, but only in polyamorous relationships; meanwhile, in open relationships, satisfaction was directly predicted by cognitive empathy.
... Mogilski et al. (2019) also found that those in CNM relationships were more confident that their primary (compared to secondary) partner would not engage in infidelity (i.e., extra-pair behavior that violates the bounds of their relationship agreement), were more distressed when thinking about that possibility, and mate guarded these partners more often. Other research has shown that within polyamorous relationships, people report more relationship quality (e.g., more commitment and better communication) with their primary partner, even though they spend more time on sexual activity with secondary partners (Balzarini et al., 2017;Balzarini & Muise, 2020). This suggests that those who are both monogamous and nonmonogamous maintain partnerships (e.g., primary relationships) that satisfy their relationship needs and desires. ...
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Evolutionary social science is having a renaissance. This volume showcases the empirical and theoretical advancements produced by the evolutionary study of romantic relationships. The editors assembled an international collection of contributors to trace how evolved psychological mechanisms shape strategic computation and behavior across the life span of a romantic partnership. Each chapter provides an overview of historic and contemporary research on the psychological mechanisms and processes underlying the initiation, maintenance, and dissolution of romantic relationships. Contributors discuss popular and cutting-edge methods for data analysis and theory development, critically analyze the state of evolutionary relationship science, and provide discerning recommendations for future research. The handbook integrates a broad range of topics (e.g., partner preference and selection, competition and conflict, jealousy and mate guarding, parenting, partner loss and divorce, and post-relationship affiliation) that are discussed alongside major sources of strategic variation in mating behavior, such as sex and gender diversity, developmental life history, neuroendocrine processes, technological advancement, and culture. Its content promises to enrich students’ and established researchers’ views on the current state of the discipline and should challenge a diverse cross-section of relationship scholars and clinicians to incorporate evolutionary theorizing into their professional work.
... The primary/secondary model is that of an already formed couple in which a third person is added to the relationship as a lover of one or both partners (Weitzman et al., 2009). The definition of a partner as "primary" is the result of numerous elements: cohabitation, marriage, sharing of expenses, and sharing of children (Balzarini & Muise, 2020). This model also includes another type of relationship: the poly/mono model, in which a partner is polyamorous while the other is exclusively monogamous (Taormino, 2008). ...
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Polyamory is an umbrella term denoting the practice of having multiple romantic and intimate relationships with the consent of everyone involved. Within a mononormative culture, becoming polyamorous may be associated with uncertainty and a feeling of being suspended. Moreover, the preferential attitude towards monogamy marginalises polyamory as indecent and corrupt, creating feelings of shame and social isolation. Our research explored the discursive construction of polyamory in Italy by identifying the strategies used to deal with such identity construction and social recognition issues. We conducted 15 semistructured interviews with people who defined themselves as polyamorous. Our discourse analysis identified a narrative that overturns the dominant hegemonic perspective; this narrative presented monogamy as a practice generating difficulties and problems and polyamory as a thoroughly satisfying and adequate relational modality. This narrative was constructed using six discursive strategies, allowing participants to achieve three discursive purposes. By naturalising polyamory and constructing it as a stable trait, participants essentialised polyamory; by providing a normative definition of polyamory and identifying with the polyamorous community, they set up the boundaries of polyamory; finally, by moralising polyamory and attributing transformative power to it, they valorised polyamory. Overall, the definition of a polyamorous order allows for the integration of polyamory into one’s life, even if polyamorists remain a minority group trapped in the public liminality brought about by a mononormative culture.
... There has been a growing interest in consensual non-monogamy from researchers, therapists, educators, and the public (Balzarini & Muise, 2020;Cardoso et al., 2021). Consensual non-monogamy encompasses an array of relationship configurations whereby partners mutually consent to have sexual and/or emotional relationships with other individuals (Rubel & Bogaert, 2015). ...
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Studies have shown that romantic partners in consensual non-monogamous (CNM) relationships are targets of stigmatization. However, little is known about the underlying mechanisms and the conditions under which such stigmatization occurs. In two experimental studies (combined N = 772), we asked participants to read the description of two partners in a relationship (monogamous vs. open relationship vs. polyamorous) and make a series of judgments about those partners. Overall results showed that CNM (vs. monogamous) partners were perceived as less trustworthy and as having more sexual health concerns (Studies 1 and 2), and as being less committed and less sexually satisfied (Study 2). Results from a conditional mediation analysis (Study 2) further showed that participants with negative attitudes toward consensual non-monogamy perceived CNM (vs. monogamous) partners as having less conservation and more openness to change values, which was then associated with more stigmatization. In contrast, participants with positive attitudes toward consensual non-monogamy perceived CNM (vs. monogamous) partners as having more openness to change values, which was then associated with less stigmatization. Taken together, these results extended the literature focused on prejudice, discrimination, and stigmatization of minority groups and highlighted key elements that can be used to buffer stigmatization.
... Nonetheless, we do not expect measurement of the ASI to be variant across other groups that represent diversity in gender, sexual orientations, and identities, or relationship structure based on the same rationale-the content of ambivalent sexism places primacy on the societal differences and intimate relations between men and women specifically, and thus the items have specific meaning and personal relevance for cisgender heterosexual people. Given our theorizing about the centrality of heterosexual intimacy and heteronormativity to sexist attitudes, we expect the ASI to be variant for people who identify as asexual or aromantic, transgender people and people whose gender or sexual identities are fluid, and people whose relationship structures do not mirror the prescriptions of sexism (e.g., people in consensually non-monogamous relationships or people who prefer singlehood; Balzarini & Muise, 2020;Pepping & MacDonald, 2019). Future research considering scale development or initiating grounded theory into the generalizable content of sexist attitudes should capitalize on the broad diversity of gender, sexuality, and relationship structures. ...
Full-text available
Ambivalent Sexism Theory (Glick & Fiske, 1996) has revolutionised understanding of sexism and generated a new way of examining sexist attitudes using the Ambivalent Sexism Inventory (ASI). One key goal in sexism research is to compare sexist attitudes across different groups, including people with different genders and sexual identities. Before doing so, researchers must be confident that the construct(s) they are comparing are invariant across groups. Given assumptions of heterosexuality, and the central role of heterosexual interdependence, we expected the ASI would be variant across people with different genders and sexual orientations. We conducted multigroup measurement invariance tests between heterosexual women, heterosexual men, lesbian women, and gay men (total N = 1614). Results indicated that hostile sexism and benevolent sexism emerged as separate, related, forms of sexism across groups (i.e., configural invariance was met), but item loadings and intercepts were not equivalent (i.e., loading and intercept invariance was not met). Accordingly, the ASI is not a suitable measurement tool to compare sexist attitudes across sexual minorities (lesbian women and gay men) and majorities (heterosexual women and men). We discuss implications for the centrality of heterosexual interdependence in ambivalent sexism, practical implications for the use of ASI, and we encourage researchers to develop new scales to assess sexism across diverse gender and sexual identities.
... Commitment might be broken down into separate constructs for dedication commitment (wanting to commit) and constraint commitment (feeling like you have to commit; Stanley et al., 2010). There are likely differences between married and cohabiting couples (e.g., Treter et al., 2020), and there may be differences in other forms of committed relationships (e.g., polyamorous and swinging couples; Balzarini & Muise, 2020). There are also likely a number of additional variables that might influence relationship quality trajectories for which we did not account (e.g., child temperament; Solmeyer & Feinberg, 2011). ...
Objective To provide a more comprehensive understanding of couple relationship satisfaction, commitment, and the dynamic between the two over the transition to parenthood. Background The transition to parenthood is an ideal time to concurrently study relationship satisfaction and commitment, as this period is filled with familial transitions such as less couple time, more domestic labor, and the formation of parent–child relationships. These familial transitions require significant investments that may constrain people from leaving relationships, potentially leading to diverging relationship satisfaction and commitment trajectories. Method We conducted dyadic latent class growth analyses (DLCGA), assessing variability in relationship satisfaction and commitment trajectories across six time-points (two prenatal) for 203 couples expecting their first child, through 12 months postpartum. Results We identified four couple classes for relationship satisfaction and three couple classes for relationship commitment. There were 46% of couples who retained high satisfaction and commitment and another 35% of couples who retained moderately high satisfaction and high commitment. Couples reporting lower attachment avoidance, higher relational self-expansion, and higher perceived partner commitment during pregnancy were more likely to be in classes that maintained high relationship satisfaction and commitment during the transition. Conclusion Our results contrast the prevailing narrative about relational declines during the transition to parenthood. Many couples retain high satisfaction and commitment into the first year of parenthood, with declines driven primarily by a minority of couples. Couples' commitment was particularly likely to be high and stable throughout the transition.
I use social exchange theory to contextualize relationship processes associated with relationship stability in asexual‐allosexual couples and to propose directions for future research. Social exchange theory suggests that asexual‐allosexual couples might experience varied relationship exchanges compared to other relationship types based on costs/benefits, equity, and available alternatives. These exchanges may also be influenced by differences in relationship commitment and power. I review literature on sexual desire, sexual frequency, willingness to engage in sexual behavior, asexual identity acceptance, and extradyadic behavior to examine how these relationship processes are associated with relationship maintenance for asexual‐allosexual couples. Such relationship processes are not necessarily unique to asexual‐allosexual couples, but partner expectations may be particularly different in asexual‐allosexual couples, thus altering their relationship exchanges. Further research may provide a nuanced understanding of asexual‐allosexual relationship maintenance, and recommendations for how to promote healthy interactions and relationship satisfaction in asexual‐allosexual couples.
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Emotional reactions to a partner’s extradyadic romantic interests are assumed to be negative and characterized by jealousy, an emotional state that arises over a perceived threat to one’s relationship. Yet, reactions may also be positive, and involve compersion, or taking joy in one’s partner’s pleasure in other sexual and relational encounters. Although some have argued that compersion is the opposite of jealousy, research suggests that compersion and jealousy may not be opposing constructs, despite being treated this way in both theoretical and empirical research. Using a convenience sample of polyamorous (N = 3530) and monogamous (N = 1358) individuals, we draw on theories of jealousy, emotional ambivalence, and emotional forecasting to examine people’s anticipated affective responses to hypothetical situations involving a partner’s extradyadic relations and assess whether experience with having a partner engage in extradyadic relations was associated with anticipating less jealousy and more compersion. Results suggest that people in polyamorous relationships report less jealousy and more compersion with their partners, and that personal experience involving a partner’s extradyadic romantic interests predicted more compersion and less jealousy, with experience predicting greater increases in compersion among monogamous than polyamorous participants. Finally, while anticipated compersion was associated with greater relationship satisfaction, neither jealousy nor ambivalence was associated with relationship satisfaction. These results further demonstrate that individuals can experience both positive and negative reactions to a partner’s extradyadic relations, both based on actual experience and projection of responses to future events, and that real-life experiences are important in anticipating these emotions.
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Open relationships are those in which individuals agree to participate in sexual and/or emotional and romantic interactions with more than one partner. Accurate estimates of the prevalence of open relationships, based on representative, unbiased samples, are few, and there are none from outside of the United States. We present findings from a nationally representative sample of 2,003 Canadian adults, administered in 2017 via an online questionnaire. Overall, 2.4% of all participants, and 4.0% of those currently in a relationship, reported currently being in an open relationship. One-fifth of participants reported prior engagement in an open relationship, and 12% reported open as their ideal relationship type. Men, compared with women, were more likely to report prior open relationship engagement and to identify open as their ideal relationship type. Younger participants were more likely both to engage in and to prefer open relationships. Relationship satisfaction did not differ significantly between monogamous and open relationships. Having a match between one's actual relationship type and one's preferred relationship type was associated with greater relationship satisfaction. Findings suggest that, while currently only a small proportion of the population is in an open relationship, interest in open relationships is higher, particularly among younger adults, and open appears to be a viable and important relationship type.
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Polyamory is the practice of having multiple emotionally close relationships that may or may not be sexual. Research concerning polyamory has just begun to determine how relationships among partners in polyamorous arrangements may vary. Most of the research assessing perceptions of polyamorous partners has focused on primary–secondary configurations; however, non-hierarchical configurations exist and can involve having multiple primary partners or having only non-primary partners. The current research is the first to examine perceptions of partners and relationship quality in various polyamorous configurations and compares results for each configuration to monogamous partners. Results from online convenience samples suggest that co-primary and non-primary configurations are common among polyamorous participants, with approximately 38% identifying with one of these configurations in 2013 and 55% in 2017. Furthermore, our results suggest that while relationships with partners in co-primary and non-primary structures still differ in some ways (e.g., investment, acceptance, secrecy, time spent having sex), they are closer to their ideals on several psychologically meaningful indicators of relationship quality (e.g., commitment and satisfaction). In other words, despite rejecting hierarchical primary–secondary labels, many of the same relationship qualities differ systematically among partners in non-hierarchical relationships. Furthermore, pseudo-primary partners and primary partners in these relationships are more comparable to monogamous partners than they are to secondary partners. We discuss how these results inform our understanding of polyamorous and monogamous relationships and suggest future directions based on these findings.
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Romantic partners provide both erotic and nurturing experiences, though these may emerge more strongly in different phases of a relationship. Unlike individuals in monogamous relationships, those in polyamorous relationships can pursue multiple romantic relationships simultaneously, potentially allowing them to experience higher levels of eroticism and nurturance. This research examined eroticism and nurturance among individuals in polyamorous and monogamous relationships. As expected, polyamorous participants experienced less eroticism but more nurturance in their relationships with their primary partner compared to secondary. Furthermore, people in polyamorous relationships reported more nurturance with primary partners and eroticism with secondary partners compared to people in monogamous relationships. These findings suggest that polyamory may provide a unique opportunity for individuals to experience both eroticism and nurturance simultaneously.
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Evolutionary psychological research has studied romantic jealousy extensively within monogamous relationships, but has largely ignored jealousy among partners who mutually consent to forming extra-pair relationships (i.e., consensual non-monogamy; CNM). We examined monogamous (n = 529) and CNM (n = 159) individuals’ reactions to imagining their romantic partner(s)’s extra-pair involvement. For each romantic partner, men and women completed measures of relationship jealousy and reacted to scenarios of their partner’s extra-pair emotional and sexual involvement. Scenarios prompted participants to indicate which type of involvement would be more distressing and more enjoyable. They also described whether or not participants had consented to their partner’s extradyadic relationship. Monogamous men were more distressed by a partner’s extradyadic sexual versus emotional involvement (and a partner’s emotional involvement was more enjoyable) whether the scenario was consensual or not. Monogamous women were more distressed by a partner’s emotional versus sexual involvement (and a partner’s sexual involvement was more enjoyable) for consensual, but not non-consensual, scenarios. There were no gender differences among CNM participants. Monogamous individuals reported greater emotional distress toward a partner’s imagined extradyadic involvement, whereas CNM individuals reported thinking about their partner’s extra-pair relationships more frequently. Monogamous (vs. CNM) individuals reported greater confidence that their partner would never cheat on them (i.e., enter another relationship without their consent), and CNM participants were more confident that their primary versus secondary partner would never cheat, although this effect was stronger among CNM women. Moreover, CNM participants rated that it was more important that their primary versus secondary partner did not cheat, and reported greater distress imagining that their primary versus secondary partner had cheated. Women in CNM relationships rated it more important that their partner did not cheat sexually than emotionally. Finally, we replicated previous research showing that monogamous individuals mate guard more than CNM individuals, who mate guard their primary versus secondary partner more frequently. Future directions for developing evolutionary and romantic relationship research on CNM are discussed.
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Previous research suggests that both monogamous and consensually non-monogamous (CNM) participants rate monogamous targets more positively. However, this pattern of stigma towards CNM relationships and the “halo effect” surrounding monogamy is at odds with the view that people typically favor members from their own groups over members of other groups. In the current research, we sought to re-examine the halo effect, using a more direct measure of stigma (i.e., desired social distance), in a methodological context that differentiates between the three most common types of CNM relationships. A convenience sample (N = 641) of individuals who self-identified as monogamous (n = 447), open (n = 80), polyamorous (n = 62), or swinger (n = 52) provided social distance ratings in response to these same relationship orientations in a counterbalanced order. Congruent with prior findings, CNM participants favored monogamous targets over CNM targets as a broad category (replicating the halo effect). However, results indicated this effect dissipated when participants were asked to differentiate between relationships they identify with, and other CNM relationships. Furthermore, supplementary findings suggest that monogamous targets were perceived to be the least promiscuous and were associated with the lowest perceived sexually transmitted infection (STI) rates, while swinger targets were perceived as the most promiscuous and were associated with the highest perceived STI rates. Consequently, our results imply social distance is partly attributable to the perception of STI risk, but not perceptions of promiscuity.
Consensual nonmonogamy (CNM) is an increasingly popular relationship option and a burgeoning topic within relationship science. However, retrospective designs have limited our ability to draw conclusions about the consequences of opening up a romantic relationship to other partners. In a longitudinal study, 233 individuals who were planning to engage in CNM, but who had not done so yet, were tracked over 2 months. We compared participants’ relational, sexual, and personal well-being before versus after opening up and between participants who did ( n = 155) versus did not ( n = 78) open up their relationships over the course of the study. Those who engaged in CNM experienced significant increases in sexual satisfaction, 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.
In the present study, we sought to understand whether people in polyamorous relationships have similar attachment orientations with each of their partners. Further, we examined the extent to which the attachment relationship with a given partner affects relationship quality both within that relationship and across concurrent romantic relationships. We recruited a community sample of 357 people engaged in polyamory with at least two concurrent romantic partners. People engaged in polyamory exhibited secure attachment with both of their partners (low in avoidance and anxiety); specifically, these scores were lower than established norms. In terms of within-relationship effects, avoidance and anxiety with a specific partner were linked with lower levels of relationship functioning (relationship satisfaction, sexual satisfaction, satisfaction with emotional and sexual agreements, and commitment) for that specific relationship. However, there was no association between avoidance and anxiety with one specific partner and the relationship functioning in a different, concurrent romantic relationship (i.e., cross-relationship effects). These findings suggest that individuals engaged in polyamory treat these relationships as distinct and independent from one another—forming attachments with each partner based on the specifics of that relationship. Understanding attachment processes in polyamorous relationships provides new directions for exploring the diversities of intimate partnering and theory expansion.
Some of the most emotionally powerful experiences result from the development, maintenance, and disruption of attachment relationships. In this article, I review several emerging themes and unresolved debates in the social-psychological study of adult attachment, including debates about the ways in which attachment-related functions shift over the course of development, what makes some people secure or insecure in their close relationships, consensual nonmonogamy, the evolutionary function of insecure attachment, and models of thriving through relationships.
What do Americans really want when it comes to sex? And is it possible for us to get what we want? Justin J. Lehmiller, one of the country's leading experts on human sexuality and author of the popular blog Sex and Psychology, has made it his career's ambition to answer these questions. He recently concluded the largest and most comprehensive scientific survey of Americans' sexual fantasies ever undertaken, a monumental two-year study involving more than 4,000 Americans from all walks of life, answering questions of unusual scope. Based on this study, Tell Me What You Want offers an unprecedented look into our fantasy worlds and what they reveal about us. It helps readers to better understand their own sexual desires and how to attain them within their relationships, but also to appreciate why the desires of their partners may be so incredibly different. If we only better understood the incredible diversity of human sexual desire and why this diversity exists in the first place, we would experience less distress, anxiety, and shame about our own sexual fantasies and better understand why our partners often have sexual proclivities that are so different from our own. Ultimately, this book will help readers to enhance their sex lives and to maintain more satisfying relationships and marriages in the future by breaking down barriers to discussing sexual fantasies and allowing them to become a part of readers' sexual realities.