The Ethics of Monogamous Relationships

by Kathryn Rateliff Barr Google

    The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines a monogamous relationship as two people who only have sex with each other. This describes the relationship many promise to have, but not what many actually do, according to a 2002 study published in the “Journal of Couple and Relationship Therapy.” In looking at the ethics of monogamous relationships, you do well to consider how capable you are of living up to your agreement.

    Strict Monogamy -- The Reality

    Approximately 50 to 60 percent of married men and 45 to 55 percent of married women have cheated on a spouse, according to researchers Joan D. Atwood and Limor Schwartz for the “Journal of Couple and Relationship Therapy” study. Atwood and Schwartz report that about half of those who cheat end up at the therapist office because of it. Many of them probably intended to be monogamous but violated the agreement during the course of the relationship. The reasons for infidelity vary, but the result is the same -- one or both people in a relationship violated a partner’s trust.

    Serial Monogamy

    Many individuals who don’t cheat engage in serial monogamy, a series of exclusive relationships that last a limited time, according to Aaron Ben-Zeev, an expert on relationship emotions, in his article “Is Serial Monogamy Worth Pursuing?” for "Psychology Today." You find someone you love, you commit yourself to an exclusive relationship, and you move on when it’s over. Ethically, serial monogamy might provide a more honest monogamous option for some because they acknowledge that love can come to an end with one person without condemning you to a life of loneliness without a loving partner. Serial monogamy allows for romantic excitement, enjoyment and variety and provides some stability and exclusivity in a socially acceptable lifestyle.

    Monogamy Lite

    Dubbed as “The New Monogamy” or “Monogamy Lite,” some couples allow for extramarital sex and negotiate the terms with their partners, according to sex and couples therapist Stephen Snyder in a “Psychology Today” article titled “Monogamy Lite.” Each couple makes a conscious choice about how they will handle sexual and emotional fidelity, according to psychologist Tammy Nelson in her book “The New Monogamy: Redefining Your Relationship After Infidelity.” You make an open agreement with your partner about how, when and with whom you might engage in extramarital sex and emotionally committed, loving relationships. You also agree that your main priority and stability comes from your monogamous partner. Nelson claims that the negotiated agreement allows couples to be more open and honest with each other and accepts that you can become sexually and emotionally attracted to someone who isn’t your spouse.

    Authenticity and Honesty

    Regardless of which of the three options appeal to you, you must consider your spouse. Breaking your agreements creates pain and feelings of betrayal, and the relationship may end as a result. Consider what you promise to do and how you live it out. Be honest with your partner and seek professional help if you and your spouse can’t work things through alone.

    About the Author

    Rev. Kathryn Rateliff Barr has taught birth, parenting, vaccinations and alternative medicine classes since 1994. She is a pastoral family counselor and has parented birth, step, adopted and foster children. She holds bachelor's degrees in English and history from Centenary College of Louisiana. Studies include midwifery, naturopathy and other alternative therapies.

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