Since Open House: The Great gender Experiment aired, I have been asked if I am against monogamy. I am not for or against any relationship style – I am pro-choice. But the only way people can make a choice is if they know what the options are for relationships.
Humans have only been mostly monogamous for about the past 1000 years. Some scientists believe this was because males were protecting their progeny from other males who would kill the children to mate with the mothers. Others believe it was because of the move to patrilineal societies where inheritance was passed down the male line. Humans do not naturally mate with the same person for life – this is a social construction.
As society has become more focused on the nuclear family, monogamy has become more difficult to sustain; hence the 42 per cent divorce rate and the decrease in people marrying in the first place.
The relationship advice we’d traditionally receive from family and friends now often takes a back seat in favor of connections on the internet with people who like the things we do, believe the things we believe and do things as we do them. Therefore, we are exposed to far fewer dissenting ideas and advice that’s far less varied. To put it simply, the emotional skills we would have historically learned in larger communities to get along with people who are different from ourselves are not learned at home.
We learn what we see growing up and what we see becomes our normal. If our monogamous parents never talk about sex, love, or demonstrate any affection, then that is the model we adopt if only by osmosis. Many of us don’t question our understanding of emotions, relationships, coping and sex until our lives are in a mess. Some of us continue to assume that our way is the one true way, and spend time trying to convince others to conform.
So, what does all this have to do with watching some people open up their relationships sexually on the telly? That’s simple: you learn about difference and choice by seeing it. Couples on the show are seeking to open their relationships for different reasons. Some have chosen to do so because they have always wanted to have more sexual variety in their relationships, and they see the possibility of enriching their committed partnership by opening it up, with consent.
Others want more emotion or romance in their relationships and don’t expect their partner to meet all their needs. All of the contestants had fantasies about what this would be like and none of them had the information and skills they needed to make the process a smooth one, prior to the show.
The series highlights how infrequently typical monogamous couples talk about sex in a way that leads to getting desires met, and how many people don’t even know what they desire. Too often, people are missing the skills needed to have the best relationships and to make those relationships last. On the show and in my consulting room, I highlight skills, teach them, and give people the opportunity to practice them.
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Emotional skills – like knowing how to soothe yourself when things are really upsetting and intense or knowing how to compartmentalise when it is appropriate and then how to express your emotions when it is convenient to – are essential to daily life, no matter what type of relationship you choose or if you choose to have a relationship at all. The first essential skill is self-awareness: to move forward, you must be aware of your own issues, responses, strengths, and weaknesses.
Relationships are meant to have lots of joy in them. Choosing to explore consensual non-monogamy increases the opportunities for joy when you have the tools to make it work. Ultimately, it is our ability to be self-aware, and our emotional, social and communication skills that help us to create and maintain all types of relationships – whether they include sex or not.
Working on yourself, sharpening your skills, and learning to take accountability are all pre-requisites to incredible relationships that last – be they monogamous or non-monogamous ones. We do things to maintain our bodies and to maintain our careers – if we want to excel in our relationships, we need to do the work on them as well. Ultimately, we need to normalize getting help for our relationships if we want to reverse the trend of dissatisfaction and divorce.
Whether you choose to have open relationships or a more traditional one, prioritize gaining the skills to make them outstanding for all partners.
Dr. Lori Beth Bisbey is a psychologist and intimacy and sex coach on Open House: The Great Sex Experiment
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.