Relationships: We need to talk! | Lifestyle | DW | 31.01.2021

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Relationships: We need to talk!

Is polyamory the better relationship option? Has monogamy failed? Both concepts are total nonsense! Happiness and unhappiness can be found everywhere.

Man in bed with a sleeping woman on each side

Monogamy or polyamory — good communication is vital for all types of relationship

Anna and Jonathan are a couple. But Anna also loves Johannes and sleeps with him ... and with a few others, too. Jonathan also had a second steady relationship until recently.

And Johannes has been with his girlfriend for 10 years, and the two have been engaged for some time. No one is doing anything secretly here. Everyone knows about each other and even knows each other.

Anna, Jonathan and Johannes live polyamorous lives, which means they have several romantic relationships in parallel. And they all agree that this is only possible if they talk to each other consistently and openly. There are no secrets here.

Those who have tried to be secretive and have cheated on their partners regularly pass through Uwe Mallin's office. They either were caught or their guilty consciences drove them to this psychotherapist's couch. Every second German is said to have cheated on his or her partner, according to public surveys.

"By nature, humans are polygamous," explained Mallin. Monogamy is a cultural ideal. An ideal to which most of us are very attached. Yet many succumb, every now and then, to the temptation of breaking out of the confines of exclusive togetherness.

Symbolbild Polyamory

Monogamy is a culturally created idea

Has monogamy collapsed?

On the tables at a polyamory meeting in the western German city of Cologne lie flyers that say something about "relationship anarchists," making it sound as if polyamory is a resistance movement.

Erik is 35. He studied psychology and has had both monogamous and polyamorous partnerships. "My longest relationship lasted about a year and a half, " he says.

Could it be that the quality of a relationship has less to do with its underlying beliefs and more to do with the ability of the individuals involved to truly engage with each other?

Mallin suspects that those in polyamorous relationships often lack the will and ability to commit.

"When a relationship becomes close, intimate and committed, there is often an escape reflex," he said. A monogamous relationship is tight, he explains, and you have to be able to deal with that.

Indeed, there are those for whom polyamory fits the bill, because it legitimizes the inability to engage more deeply with one person.

"I don't feel ready for a really committed relationship with marriage and children," Erik admits.

Symbolbild Partnersuche

Honesty and constant communication are key in any relationship

Polyamory not a free-for-all

Polyamory doesn't mean everyone just does what they want. Anna, Jonathan and Johannes not only tell each other about their other loves, but also talk about their fears and jealousies. Johannes keeps asking himself if what he and his girlfriend are doing is good for him. He doesn't dogmatically pursue one concept or the other. He has actually never heard the term polyamory until just now.

"When I realize I'm not doing well, I express that," he says. "And I've asked for the right to say no to certain things my girlfriend wants to do."

So far, however, he has not exercised that right. Johannes says he would live monogamously if that ever became important to his girlfriend. The fact that the two not only discuss everything with each other, but also show consideration for each other's needs means they are growing closer, Johannes says.

Acknowledging personal needs

Anna and Jonathan have experienced firsthand how important it is, especially in a polyamorous relationship, to keep an eye on one's own needs and desires.

Jonathan's second girlfriend moved to town from France for two months in the spring. During this time, Anna withdrew to a large extent and let the other woman take precedence. Over the course of those two months, Jonathan and Anna had very little contact — too little to be able to really participate in each other's lives.

"There have been a few situations when I wished Jonathan was there," Anna admits. She didn't say anything to him at the time. And Jonathan was with his other girlfriend, who demanded his full attention. Now the two talk of something that's been lost — the closeness, perhaps the unquestioning commitment to each other.

Jonathan broke up with his second girlfriend after the two months. He and Anna now talk much more and about everything.

"In my opinion, that's the secret of any relationship, whether polyamorous or monogamous," Jonathan says.

"It's nice that we are not just giving up," Anna says.

A pair on the phone in bed

Polyamorous people in particular need an especially well-developed ability to communicate

Psychologist and psychotherapist Gisela Wolf says that polyamorous people in particular need a very well-developed ability to communicate. For such a partnership to work, everyone must feel really comfortable.

"You can be just as happy or unhappy in a polyamorous relationship as in a monogamous partnership," Wolf said. That's why the only thing left for everyone to do is to look inward and ask themselves: What do I need to be happy?

These inner views should be shared with partners, regardless of the relationship style.

"Secrets are what often make us sick," said Wolf.

Watch video 00:59

First "polyamorous" marriage in Colombia

Seeking honesty

Perhaps that's what monogamous couples can learn from polyamorists: how to talks openly and honestly with one another, even about the unpleasant things.

According to a survey by the online dating portal Parship, however, only 40% of customers consider absolute honesty to be the most important factor in a successful relationship.

Being honest with oneself may require even more courage. After all, it may come to light that a rigidly monogamous person is actually yearning for sexual freedom. And the convinced polyamorist may discover that he would rather have his wife all to himself.

At the end of the day, if you don't have the courage to be honest, you could lose your relationship or you could lose yourself.

This article has been adapted to English from a piece published in September 2015. For this reason, some content or relationships mentioned may have changed.

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