Monogamous relationships definition

Monogamy: What Does It Mean?

Written by WebMD Editorial Contributors

In this Article

  • Other Names for Monogamy
  • What’s the Difference Between Monogamy and Polyamory?
  • How to Explore Monogamy with Your Partner
  • Signs That Monogamy Is a Problem

Monogamy is a relationship with only one partner at a time, rather than multiple partners. A monogamous relationship can be sexual or emotional, but it’s usually both. 

Many modern relationships are monogamous. But even if they want to be with just one partner, some people have trouble staying monogamous. This can lead to infidelity, separation, breakups, and divorce.

Studies in animals have shown that certain genes may be linked to monogamous behaviors. This could mean humans have evolved to prefer monogamy, seeking out one partner with whom we share most of our lifetime.

Other Names for Monogamy

You might also hear monogamy called:

  • Long-term relationship
  • Marriage
  • Matrimony
  • Partnership 

But these terms could also reflect more nontraditional arrangements, such as an open relationship, in which one or both members are not monogamous and have other sexual or romantic partners. The word “exclusivity” may be more accurate than “monogamy,” since it suggests that both partners are seeing only each other.

Terms like “faithful” or “loyal” can also describe a partner in a monogamous relationship who hasn’t been unfaithful to the other person.

What’s the Difference Between Monogamy and Polyamory?

Monogamy means exclusivity in a relationship. Many religions support and sometimes require monogamy. The US federal government and all 50 states require monogamous marriages.

Polyamory is having more than one sexual or romantic partner. Polygamy is having more than one spouse.

There are types of polygamy. Polygyny is when a man has more than one wife, and polyandry is when a woman has more than one husband. Neither type is legal in the US.

How to Explore Monogamy with Your Partner

If you want to have a monogamous relationship, talk about it with your partner.

To avoid confusion and uncertainty, you should both be able to lay out expectations about what you want from the relationship and what you’re comfortable with.  

Monogamous couples may sometimes want sexual encounters with other people. Polygamous partners may often long for a more committed, exclusive relationship. There’s no right answer, it’s important to talk about these issues so both partners can agree about what they want from one another. 

Signs That Monogamy Is a Problem

Sometimes, it will be clear that monogamy isn’t working from the beginning of a relationship. Other times, it may take years to understand the issue. These red flags may signal a problem:

  • One partner feels strongly about exploring other or multiple relationships
  • One partner has been unfaithful
  • The couple can’t agree on boundaries
  • One or both partners aren’t bothered by the thought of the other being with someone else
  • One or both partners feel limited or trapped 

These issues can often be resolved, either in couples’ therapy or alone, but they could also be signs that you need a change.

Monogamous Definition & Meaning - Merriam-Webster

mo·​nog·​a·​mous mə-ˈnä-gə-məs 

: relating to, characterized by, or practicing monogamy: having only one mate, spouse, or sexual partner at one time

… the beaver has several qualities that endear it to people: it is monogamous and lives in a family unit; it is gentle and clean; it is absolutely industrious. —Doug Hand

But for women who are not at risk for STDs because they are in mutually monogamous relationships, modern IUDs can be safe and very effective.—Kim Painter

There are many kinds of infidelity, but here we are talking about a sexual infidelity in monogamous marriage or a relationship that is tantamount to marriage.—Frank Pittman

monogamously adverb

Pairs usually mate monogamously for life … —Vincenzo Penteriani et al.

Did you know?

American marriage is by law monogamous; people are permitted to have only one spouse at a time. There are cultures with laws that permit marriage to more than one person at a time, or polygamy. Although the term polygamy may refer to polyandry (marriage to more than one man), it is more often used as a synonym for polygyny (marriage to more than one woman), which appears to have once been common in most of the world and is still found widely in some cultures.

Word History

First Known Use

1770, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler

The first known use of monogamous was in 1770

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“Monogamous. Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 17 Jan. 2023.

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5 types of relationships for those who are not suitable for monogamy

April 21, 2020 Relationship

You can always revise the rules, expand the boundaries, or even have a wedding with yourself.

There is a perception that the need to mate for life is just a social construct created during the transition from hunting and gathering to farming. And by nature, we strive to spread our genes as actively as possible. The more partners, the more genetic diversity and "sperm wars", which means that the species as a whole is stronger. nine0003

On the other hand, even in animals, everything is not just about sex. Pregnant females and offspring need to be taken care of, and here there is a need for partner support: after all, someone has to bring food and building materials for the nest. Some species stay together for a very short time, and some, such as swans, cannot live without each other.

As for people, it is difficult to say unequivocally whether we have an innate tendency to polygamy or monogamy. After all, we are biosocial beings. nine0003

Our wants and needs are a complex conglomeration of evolutionary goals, natural temperaments, emotional characteristics, cultural attitudes, and personal principles.

In practice, monogamy suits some, but makes others unhappy. Only you can choose how to build relationships. Here are a few alternatives to try (with the consent of other stakeholders, of course).

1. Polygamy

In polygamy, one of the partners is in a relationship with several people. nine0003

Polygamous marriages, namely polygamy (polygyny), are practiced in various cultures, for example, in Muslim, as well as in some African societies. Polyandry (polyandry) is less common, but it also exists among national minorities that preserve traditions. For example, the Tibetans of Nepal and some tribes in India.

From adultery, in which one of the spouses has other relationships or a secret second family, polygamy is distinguished by openness, public approval and regulation. nine0003

A man in a polygynous marriage is expected to take care of his wives and be faithful to them. There is no provision for promiscuity. The fantasy "if I were a sultan" has its downside - obligations. Many researchers consider wealth a prerequisite for polygamy.

As a rule, polygamy is closely associated with certain religious and national traditions of a particular society, so it is recommended only to those who feel their connection with a particular tradition as a possible format of relations. It is usually about marriage. In the secular version, romantic and sexual relationships with multiple people would be more of an open marriage or polyamory. nine0003

It is also important to note that classical polygamy involves an imbalance of opportunity. Someone alone, usually a man, has more rights. He may have several wives, while they are expected to be committed only to the husband.

2. Polyamory

In modern Western culture, the romantic idea that everyone is destined for their soulmate is popular. And serial monogamy, consisting of cycles of falling in love - exclusive relationship - parting, becomes a way to find this soul mate. At the same time, a new love or a strong attraction to someone on the side usually means either the collapse of intimacy, or a life of lies and suffering. nine0003

However, is it necessary to part ways with a loved one if you develop romantic feelings for someone else? Proponents of polyamory say no.

In terms of polyamory, it is legal to love more than one person. The main condition is transparency, that is, the consent and approval of all participants.

If a person wants to maintain the principles of polyamory without turning his behavior into ordinary cheating, he informs the potential partner about this approach in advance. If new variables appear in a relationship that was previously exclusive, this should also be said. nine0003

More than two people are involved in a polyamorous relationship, but how they are related to each other depends on the individual case. For example, Person A may be in a sexual and romantic relationship with Persons B and C. In this case, B and C are aware of each other's existence, but there is nothing between them. It is also possible that B and C have a connection with each other. Or there is a separate partner.

It is difficult to list all possible variations. The main principle is the awareness of all participants. nine0003

3. Open relationship

This is a union between two people who remain a permanent couple, but at the same time allow the possibility of sexual relations with others.

An open relationship differs from polyamory in that in this case there is a main couple who may not let their other partners know about all the details.

Another possible difference is attitudes towards romantic feelings. As a rule, members of a couple do not consider it possible to fall in love with someone else, otherwise such a relationship will already become polyamorous. nine0003

An open relationship can be established from the beginning, even at the stage when two people begin to meet and discuss things that are important to them. Someone, on the contrary, decides to switch to this format after many years of monogamous marriage. This gives such couples the opportunity to get new sexual sensations without giving up a permanent partner or family. At the same time, two people continue to maintain a priority emotional attachment to each other.

4. Friendship with privileges

A slightly clumsy translation of friendship with benefits describes a situation that can also be described as "friendship".

Such relationships simply do not contain a romantic component and do not imply the creation of a family. Such people do everything that ordinary friends do, they just have sex.

The expression "relationship without obligation" is also sometimes used, but it must be understood correctly. Actually, we have quite a lot of obligations to our friends: to support them in difficult situations, to trust, to be honest. Even if there is a sexual component in friendships, these things do not go away. However, lovers-friends do not have the same obligations that couples have, and the boundaries in friendship are usually stricter. nine0003

Such relationships are suitable for those who know how to share sex and romantic feelings. However, they assume a certain risk: if one is more emotional than the other, there will be trouble.

5. Loneliness, or sologamy

Loneliness has a bad reputation, and many consider it their main fear. However, suffering from loneliness and being alone are not at all the same thing. Feeling unwanted and not feeling connected to another person can be both in marriage and with a bunch of sexual partners. Whereas loneliness gives a lot of freedom for self-development, allowing you to do exactly what you want. nine0003

In this case, your personal space, material resources and time belong only to you.

Remember, the main character of the film “Girls” said: “I decided not to get married at all. One is calmer. I want to eat halva, I want gingerbread." Considering how often domestic disagreements become a problem, this does not sound so naive.

If you feel good alone, the only thing that can prevent you from enjoying this state is public opinion. However, sociologists are increasingly noting that loneliness today is no longer treated with prejudice. There was even such a phenomenon as sologamy - marriage with oneself. If the passport is not stamped, you can arrange a holiday and take an oath to yourself, as thousands of people around the world have already done. nine0003

However, it is not necessary to arrange such public performances. To become a conscious loner, it is enough to simply abandon the mindset of finding and building new relationships. At least until you change your mind (it might never happen, but so what?).

Loneliness does not necessarily equal asexuality. The people who choose it can go on dates and have sex, they just do not strive to build relationships and create a family. If you are an ideological loner, it is better to honestly warn people with whom you are planning something, so as not to hurt other people's feelings. nine0003


  • Polygamy — the “head of the family” has several wives or husbands, depending on gender. It is practiced mainly in traditional cultures.
  • Polyamory - more than two people are in a romantic and sexual relationship. Relations are equal, everyone is aware of this state of affairs and approves of it.
  • Open relationship - each in a couple with the approval of a partner can have sexual relations with someone else.
  • Friendship with privileges is the same as ordinary friendship. Only with sex.
  • Ideological loneliness, or sologamy — a conscious rejection of romantic and sometimes sexual relationships.

Monogamous marriage is not a wedge. But building a harmonious relationship even with one person is not so easy. So, when starting them at the same time with several, it is important to understand whether your resources are enough for this.

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how many partners do you need to be happy

Is polygamy natural or a sign of moral decline? Is it possible to choose one suitable person and live happily with him all his life? These questions are of great concern to modern society, especially in recent times. Increasingly, you can see articles and programs on how to build relationships with multiple partners. In America, there is even a whole TV show Sister Wives dedicated to the life of a huge family, which consists of one man and several women. And they get along quite well in this TV show - it turns out a kind of community where children have many mothers, brothers and sisters. nine0003

But how viable is such a story in today's society, and can anyone have such a family? After all, most people believe that there should be only one partner and loved one. And what do psychotherapists say if one of the partners in a monogamous relationship wants to bring another person into a couple?

How did monogamy come about?

Only some animals, including mammals, can be monogamous. Basically, polygamy is common in nature. This format increases the likelihood that a female will give birth to more cubs in her life. However, human civilization is arranged differently. nine0003

Many are simply bored in monogamous relationships, they want to entertain themselves in every possible way and begin to change partners one by one.

Over time, humanity has established moral standards, according to which patriarchal monogamy has been formed. That is, to be with one partner is the choice of society and individuals within this society. There is a huge possibility that without monogamy, there would be no society, because polygamy does not allow the creation of multiple established family units, and without this, it would be impossible to build a society for the last 2000 years. nine0003

Why are some people not ready to live in a monogamous relationship?

A person may refuse to accept monogamy due to individual characteristics of his character and behavior. Emotions, feelings, experiences, a desire for rebellion, or an unwillingness to get along with the norms imposed by society can turn on here. Many are simply bored in monogamous relationships, they want to entertain themselves in every possible way and begin to change partners one by one.

See also

First aid for anxiety attacks

Often, if a person realizes that monogamy is not for him, being in a relationship with one partner, he, not wanting to lose this partner, begins to persuade him to change the format of the relationship. For example, to make the relationship open, that is, with the possibility of changing sexual partners, or offers to take one or more people into the relationship. Often the second partner agrees, but even though all aspects of such a relationship are clearly stipulated, at some point one of the partners begins to feel jealous. In most cases, this leads to the separation of the initially established couple. The most interesting thing is that after such a breakup, the partner, who was originally for monogamy, becomes uninteresting in monogamous relationships - he is simply bored in them, lacks richness and adventure, he is overcome by inner emptiness. nine0003

Many find the necessary depth of relationship in multiple connections with different partners.

The problem of monogamy and cheating in such relationships is that people fail to build a relationship in a pair that fills them from the inside. A person is looking for internal fulfillment and realization with the help of external relations. Many find the necessary depth of relationship in multiple connections with different partners. But very often, external relations bring only anxiety and painful emotions, because a large number of partners do not fulfill the need for quality relationships. nine0003

It happens that a person chooses polygamy because of a mental disorder. For example, all personality disorders are related in one way or another to the violation of human relationships, and in some cases people are indiscriminate about relationships with partners precisely for this reason.

How does psychotherapy work with monogamous and polygamous families?

Psychotherapeutic work with polygamous and monogamous relationships has its own characteristics. In therapy with people who are in a monogamous family, the therapist works on the emotional and intimacy of the couple and on the personal problems they experience. Both people at this moment see each other and the psychotherapist helps them establish a connection and fix what is broken. nine0003

Relations with several partners in almost 100% of cases end in the jealousy of one of the members of such a family.

Usually people who turn to a psychologist with problems of polygamous relationships are in one of two situations. The first situation is when a person wants to leave a relationship in which there are already more than two partners. Usually it always happens because of jealousy. The second option is when a partner wants to bring another person into a relationship, and the other partner is completely unprepared for this. Very often, a woman turns out to be such an unprepared partner. If one partner continues to stand his ground, and the other is not ready to remain in a monogamous relationship, then separation or divorce is already being discussed in psychotherapy. If the second partner is ready for another person in the relationship, then the therapist is obliged to talk about all the consequences that this may lead to. nine0003

See also

What are cognitive distortions?

In fact, in this situation, a kind of vicious circle is obtained. Relations with several partners in almost 100% of cases end in the jealousy of one of the members of such a family. After that, the family breaks up, and all partners again face a choice: build a monogamous relationship or build a family again with several partners.

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