Many traditional couples see the benefits of trying an open relationship, but their interest doesn’t always lead to action. A recent study about Americans’ attitudes towards nonmonogamy in their personal lives sheds some light on why open relationships seem so uncommon despite their rising popularity.
An Open Relationship
Every open relationship looks a little different. Priorities shift, partners change, and terms are regularly being updated based on the feedback of its members. Most open relationships fall under the umbrella of polyamory. If we define monogamy as two people who are seeing each other exclusively, polyamory is just any other relationship format you can imagine.
It’s worth noting that a relationship is only open if all parties are aware and consent to being open. If you’re seeing other people while your partner thinks you’re exclusive, you’re just cheating, jeopardizing your partners’ health, and being a jerk. Real open relationships--and most of their positive side effects--rely on honesty, flexibility, and communication.
Dating can be daunting for people who prefer open relationships because monogamy has been the cultural default for centuries. However, YouGov’s recent study suggests attitudes towards ethical nonmonogamy are changing across the United States.
Ideal Relationships Aren’t All Monogamous
A randomized study of over 1,300 Americans from January 2020 shows that the movement towards opening relationships is gaining traction. This research is particularly interesting because it included questions about the participant’s ideal relationship instead of relying solely on personal history. It strives to measure people’s openness to polyamory, regardless of their current relationship status.
Monogamy has been the only relationship option for decades. However, even still, only 56% of respondents claimed that monogamy was their ideal relationship style, with about three in ten Americans preferring some kind of nonmonogamy. That’s an impressive statistic for a culture that seems to endorse strict monogamy and condemn extramarital relations.
Despite polyamory’s underdog status, its popularity among young people is overwhelming. Less than half of millennials reported that their ideal relationship would be monogamous, which dwindles when compared to the nearly 70% of baby boomers who endorsed monogamy. After being champions for the queer community and female sexuality, it follows that people between the ages of 20 and 38 are considering alternative relationship styles in their own lives.
But Many Don’t Take The Leap
Despite the collective curiosity, we seem married to monogamy. Nearly three-quarters of the respondents classified their current relationship as monogamous. The intrigue around open relationships may have risen in the past four years, but the number of monogamous relationships has held steadfast.
People have been coupling for hundreds of years. For generations, marriage was sold as a vital part of the American Dream, especially to women. In recent years, social norms about the nuclear family have relaxed, but monogamy is often seen as the default option for successful relationships.
It can be intimidating to change your relationship style if you’ve been a couple for a long time, but if you’re curious, fortune favors the bold. Almost one-quarter of current monogamists would consider opening their relationship if their significant other broached the topic. Sometimes, the only thing preventing inquisitive couples from exploring their relationship together is a shared shyness.
If you’re one of the thousands of Americans considering an open relationship, an easy first step is to create an ongoing dialogue with your partner about the terms of your relationship. That might start as little guidelines, e.g., Friday is date night, they do the dishes, birthdays deserve presents, etc. Practicing better communication will empower everyone in your relationship to be honest about what they want, and the goals you set can guide you as your partnership evolves.