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What is Compulsory Monogamy Versus Intentional Monogamy?

by | Sep 20, 2023 | RELATIONSHIPS

A couple realizes they've engaged in compulsory monogamy mid bike ride.

Many people in romantic relationships may believe there are only two relationship structures: monogamous and open. Society and culture often promote that monogamous relationships are the ideal, which leads many people to believe that it is the only right or healthy way to be in relationship. This is known as compulsory monogamy and while can lead to happy relationships can also lead to a lifetime of feeling trapped or unhappy.


More and more couples are starting to explore non-monogamous relationship structures, such as polyamory and swinging. However you and your partner decide to operate within your relationship is for you to decide. There’s no right and no wrong—the most important factors are that you’re both in free agreement, have the same expectations, communicate honestly and respect each other. If you choose to be monogamous, you may be interested to learn that there are different forms of monogamy: compulsory and intentional.


What is Monogamy?


In its simplest meaning, monogamy refers to having only one partner at a time. In contrast polyamorygenerally refers to having multiple partners. The term monogamy is often used to apply to marriage, whereby a person has just one spouse, sexual relationships, where couples only have sexual relations with each other, and romantic relationships, where couples practice emotional monogamy.


What is Compulsory Monogamy?


Compulsory monogamy is the relationship structure most commonly promoted by popular culture and society. It’s also the form of monogamy that many couples go to by default, often unaware that they have other healthy options.


Compulsory monogamy is the stereotype of the perfect relationship: two people meeting, falling in love, fulfilling each other’s every need and living happily ever after.


What is Intentional Monogamy?


Couples in intentionally monogamous relationships typically practice monogamy with much more awareness of themselves and of their partners. Intentional monogamy allows couples to examine and define what monogamy means for them, and operate their romantic relationships with more insights and with healthy boundaries that each person agrees on.


For example, you may have a very different definition of cheating than your partner. Some people see flirting as infidelity, while others draw a hard line at sexual intercourse. People may have different definitions of emotional cheating. Being on the same page, whatever that page may be, helps both parties act in a way that is open and respectful to both their partner and themselves, as well as breaking down potential sources of conflict and misunderstanding.


Intentional monogamy can take various forms; each couple intentionally decides and agrees on their own relationship boundaries and expectations. It’s vital to always keep in mind that your relationship is exactly that — yours (and your partner’s). You don’t owe any reasons, explanations or justifications to anyone outside of your romantic relationship. Vitally, what other people think shouldn’t affect you, your partner, your relationship framework or overall relationship and life satisfaction.


It’s important for couples to discuss and decide together issues such as:

  • What constitutes monogamy?
  • What aspects of monogamy does each person value?
  • What actions are considered as cheating?
  • How should each person ensure their holistic needs are being met?
  • How can partners, either alone or within the couple, explore any kink-related desires?
  • How to explore sexual fantasies?
  • How should each partner deal with feelings of attraction toward others?
  • What makes each partner feel jealous?
  • How should each person process jealousy, both current and retroactive?
  • How should each person practice safe sex?


You should also remember that, as a couple, you can always re-visit agreements if they aren’t working for you or your partner.


Whatever way you and your partner decide to operate within a monogamous framework is up to you. You may, however, find it beneficial, after discussion and agreement, to take time to consciously undo any underlying thoughts of what monogamy is supposed to look like. Moving from compulsory monogamy to intentional monogamy. A chose relationship structure is a far more sustainable path.


Having sessions, either individually or jointly as a couple, with a trained sex and relationship therapist may be beneficial in helping you obtain the perfect romantic relationship for your needs and preferences.

Modern Intimacy is a group therapy practice, founded by renowned Psychologist and Sex Therapist, Dr. Kate Balestrieri. This inclusive blog is designed to provide a wealth of information and resources for mental health, relationships, and sexuality. Subscribe today to get the latest information from our expert contributors from all around the world.


Author Bio

Dr. Kate Balestrieri is a Licensed Psychologist (CA, FL, IL + NY), Certified Sex Therapist, Certified Sex Addiction Therapist, and PACT III trained Couples Therapist. She is the Founder of Modern Intimacy. Follow her on TikTok and IG @drkatebalestrieri and the Modern Intimacy team on IG @themodernintimacy.



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