How to Avoid Toxic Monogamy

Monogamy works, but our society sets us up for failure.

When we look at the origins of monogamy, it paints a completely different picture than what we are practicing today. At its core, monogamy refers to lifelong mate pairing. This means choosing a partner to be there to help you navigate life and find success. Monogamy started out having nothing to do with sex or sexual fidelity. It was an economic and social partnership. Unfortunately, things started to shift in the 1800s. Some point to the Industrial Revolution as setting us down the path we are on today. With people moving from more rural to urban areas, women entering the workforce, the desire for fewer children, and non-monogamous groups popping up across the country, this is when we really started combining monogamy and sexual fidelity into one unified concept. We eventually then tied love to sex and once we did this, marriage, monogamy, and sex became one. So as a brief recap, as a society, we went from monogamy meaning solely pair bonding to monogamy focusing heavily on the connection between love and sex.

Disclaimer: I think this is a good time to point out that I am pro monogamy. As a sex and relationship therapist, I am pro all kinds of relationships that take place between consenting adults. Unfortunately, our society tends to disagree with me, and thus whenever someone goes about critiquing monogamy, people start to feel threatened and shut down. So for those of you reading this who are practicing monogamy, I want you to know that this article is not aimed to discredit your relationship, but more so to provide you input and strategies on how to create a sustainable, monogamous relationship. Okay, back to the post!

When we look at monogamy today, it paints a completely different picture, First of all, almost everyone enters this world with the notion that monogamy is the only viable option when it comes to creating a healthy relationship (because this is not a post focusing on consensual non-monogamy, I will refrain from talking about all the misconceptions surrounding it). Our culture promotes the idea of "couples privilege." This is the concept that emphasizes coupling to make sure you are living a fulfilling life. It is the (often unconscious) idea that committed, emotionally, and sexually intimate relationships are fundamentally more important than other types of relationships. In a monogamous society, popular social mores cast unmarried adults as immature or somehow defective, and a marriage/monogamous partnership has become one of the few remaining hallmarks of “true adulthood.” Being single, although a perfectly healthy relationship style, means that you are either faulty or in a waiting period until you find your "perfect" person. When you think about it, did you ever have a choice growing up or did everything from movies to religion to literature lead you down the path of choosing monogamy?

Unfortunately, monogamy is on the path to becoming toxic at its core. Is seems our entire world has turned finding love and partnership into a race towards marriage. Monogamy today promotes competition and comparison over compassion. It makes us form these rigid standards of what it means to be successful and these expectations set us up to fail over and over again. It is almost like we are just cogs in the monogamy promoting machine just moving along in this world without a say. Thankfully, monogamy is not for everyone. Close to 5% of the global population practices non-monogamy with a majority of them finding success with it. That fact in and of itself displays that there is more than one way of having a successful relationship, unlike what toxic monogamy wants you to believe. But this is a post about how to avoid the pitfalls of toxic monogamy. So enough talk about how we got here. Let's focus on how to move forward successfully with monogamy.

Explore if monogamy is for you.

Unless you were raised in an extremely sex positive culture, monogamy was presented as the only viable option for you to engage in when it comes to relationships. What about all od the other perfectly healthy and normal relationship styles out there? The freedom of relationship anarchy is just as healthy as monogamy, folx. So let's engage in some reflection. Ask yourself if you ever chose to be monogamous or if it something that was thrust upon you? Challenge yourself as to why you want to be monogamous. If your answer is something like, "Well, it is all I know," then do some more examining.

Explore compatibility when dating.

Compatability is more than just physical and sexual attraction. It is about shared values, effective communication, honesty, humor, fluidity, conflict resolution, personal freedom, and many, many more things that are unique to you. There is no one way to have a relationship. For example, some people may not want to text you every minute of every day, while others will. Does this mean you stop talking to the person? Figure out what works for you. My partner and I had to figure out a good flow for us saying what we needed and the other one understanding it so that we could move forward together. Remember, we date to be seen and heard, not liked. If we try to do the latter, sustainability will be tough.

Boundary setting

Personal boundaries are how we survive in this world. What these boundaries are is a good place to start, but the "why" behind boundary setting is the most important piece. Boundaries are meant for you, not your partner. For example, your partner is allowed to be friends with whomever they want to be friends with, no matter if it is a co-worker of the same gender or an ex-partner. If you set a boundary saying that your partner can't be friends with people from their past, you are inadvertently stating ownership over your partner. This is a bigger problem and a sign that there is a lack of trust in your relationship. Also, you are allowed to challenge your partner's restrictions. Building a healthy monogamous relationship involves trust and honesty. In the aforementioned case, try validating your partner and then informing them that what they desire may not be healthy for you and that there is a deeper conversation that needs to be had.

Talk about monogamy

This one is pretty simple: Length of time, finding the person on a dating app, or having sex with them does not determine monogamy. Having the conversation and determining what it looks like for both of you helps determine monogamy.

Have sex before determining monogamy.

This is also another simple one. Sexual compatibility is important in a relationship. Do you two like to have the same kinds of sex? Do you have the same kind of desires? If not, are you willing to try and explore? What does exploration look like? There are many questions and conversations that need to be had before determining monogamy status. For more questions relating to intimacy, make sure you check out my list of intimacy questions.

Listen, monogamy is hard. The goal of this post was to give you a leg up when searching for that person who you want to be with for longer than a few months. It is easy to start a monogamous relationship, but sustaining it is difficult. Exploring what is the best option for you is essential for this to succeed. When we get into a relationship with someone our lives should get bigger and better, not smaller and restrictive. So go out and explore! Have fun, and know that there are many, many, many people in this world. Finding one that shares the same interests as you will not be as hard and you think.


Cleveland Sex Therapy is owned by Matt Lachman, a licensed mental health therapist who specializes in working with individuals, couples, and polyam folx on their concerns relating to sexuality, intimacy, and overall sexual health. The goal of Cleveland Sex Therapy is to promote inclusivity and nurture sex positivity. For more information, feel free to contact him at