This week on the podcast Ed and I dived into the issues of relationships and their boundaries. Having been asked, by a listener, to look at the concept of monogamy we expanded this idea to look at other common types of relationship that couples are now engaging in.
So having considered this, how would you describe your own relationship?
I know from working with many couples that often what people have and what people want or desire can be a very different thing. Yet, as a society we have settled on a model of monogamy as our social norm. Though most research suggests that a high percentage of people do have affairs though these are, in the main, hidden.
Where did monogamy come from?
Gamy comes from the Greek gamous meaning marriage. Monogamous means one marriage. In modern terms this would mean one partner. Monogamy in modern relationships also means to be faithful to that one partner. Which in turn means not to have sexual relationships or to be intimate with other people out side of the monogamous relationship.
Monogamy probably has its roots in the Abrahamic religions and was probably a socio-economic structure that enabled social organisation and control. Monogamy as a social structure creates social organisation and the development of laws, property rites and inheritance. Once there is a firm social structure the lineage of a family can be traced back to prehistory, following either the maternal or paternal line. The fact that we know in the UK who the next monarch will be is because there is a rule of law and a succession of family rites. However, all of the laws based in property and people all have their origin in the monogamous structure of society.
Serial Monogamy is when someone is faithful to an individual relationship while they are in it, yet they may choose to end a relationship and begin another one. Issues of separation and divorce raised another whole set of laws and rules to deal with changing rites of all those involved. It is probable that without monogamy and the subsequent social structure there would be no need for solicitors, lawyers and many of our courts.
Polygamy is a marriage with more than one person. Poly being the Greek word for many. This is usually one man with several female wives. It is rare to find one woman with several husbands. John Smith of the Mormon faith reputedly had up to 40 wives. In Islam, under both Shia and Sunni law, a man can have up to four wives. A woman having more than one husband is not allowed.
Polyamory, which is described as ‘consensual’ is to have loving, and often sexual relationships, with several people at the same time. This does not mean all at once but is having more than one ongoing relationship. In many Polyamorous relationships the various participant my never all meet. However, what occurs is all open and transparent so that all those involved understand what is happening. Those practising polyamory are often in one main relationship and have other relationships within, or around this.
Open relationship is when members of a main relationship have sexual relationships with other people though it may not have the same transparency as in a clearly polyamorous relationship. However it may include sex between three people, manage a trois or troism. Or there maybe multiple people involved, up to as many as are in an orgy.
Most animal species are polygamous except birds who often mate for life. As birds are directly descended from dinosaurs it may be that they were also monogamous and mated for life with the same partner.
Marriage had both a social and political function. Feuding families came to peace by joining together. Land disputes and empires were resolved and built on beneficial marriages.
Monogamy and reality
Research results vary a little but they indicate that fifty to sixty percent of people are unfaithful at sometime in their marriage or main relationship. Some genome research suggests that up to 30% of children may not belong to the father who is raising them as his own.
The selfish gene was described as the need of the individual to carryon their own genetic line therefore taking any opportunity on offer to reproduce. As we know that continuous breeding with a population, known as inbreeding, leads to a dilution of the available gene pool that can result in various genetic mutations. This happens in closed communities who for cultural or religious reason only allow for breeding with the limited group. As the strength of a species is dependent on cross fertilisation it would suggest that the selfish gene idea would support what we know about evolution.
Living alone in a committed relationship
I guess we need to shout our for the singletons. There is a growing trend for people to be in a faithful, monogamous relationship with another person who they do not live with. These people, usually termed singletons, maintain a serious ongoing relationship with a permanent partner but choose to have their own house or accommodation. The couple may spend time together in each other’s houses but also choose to be alone in their own space.
If are to take into account the whole gamut of relationships, many of which would have a sexual component, we should acknowledge the world of celibacy. The celibate is the person who chooses not to share themselves sexually with others. Celibates may have all kinds and varieties of relationships with all kinds of people. However they have, at some point, decided that these relationships will be non sexual and platonic. A platonic relationship is purely spiritual and not physical.
I guess there are many other sorts of relationships that could be added to this lists such as cyber sex and teledildonics. The issue is that whatever type of relationship you engage in they can mostly all be monogamous other than the poly relationships. Over all there is no rule and no book of words that will tell us the right from the wrong. It will always come back to ‘does it work for you?’ As long as each person involved agrees to and is happily engaged in what takes place.
So, however it works for you, enjoy your life and enjoy your relationship