Your Secret is Safe with Me with Dr. Marie Murphy | Why Considering Non-Monogamy Might Not be Helpful

182: Why Considering Non-Monogamy Might Not be Helpful

Feb 28, 2024

In today’s episode of Your Secret is Safe with Me, we’re going to talk about a scenario in which people who are engaging in infidelity sometimes start to think that non-monogamy might be the answer to all of their problems.

And that scenario is this. A person will be in a committed relationship – maybe a marriage, maybe not – that is supposed to be monogamous. And they’re also cheating on their partner. And, on the one hand, they don’t really want to be in a sexual, romantic, or sexual/romantic relationship with their committed partner anymore. Hence the infidelity they’re engaging in! But they also value certain things about their relationship with their committed partner, and they don’t want to lose those things.

So it starts to seem like non-monogamy might be a great option! Maybe changing their committed, monogamous relationship to a non-monogamous one will allow them to have their stable, committed home life… and the freedom to explore other relationships, too.

And this COULD be a great solution. But it also might not be.

Because some folks don’t want to have a romantic/sexual partnership with their committed partner anymore at ALL. They don’t want their current committed partner to be their primary partner, and to be able to enjoy other relationships, too. They don’t really want to be in any kind of partnership with their current partner.

But they don’t want to have to actually tell their current partner that – or make any of the changes that would likely come with telling their partner that. And, they don’t want to lose the good things that come with their long-term committed relationship. Like stability, and continuity, and familiarity. Like the family ties. Like the sense of companionship they have with their committed partner.

And so pursuing some kind of non-monogamous relationship may start to seem like a GREAT option. But is it?

In this week’s episode of Your Secret is Safe with Me, I talk about why exploring non-monogamy COULD be a way to resolve your infidelity situation… and when why exploring non-monogamy may NOT going to be an effective way to resolve your infidelity situation. As non-monogamy becomes a more and more legitimate way to configure our relationships, it’s increasingly important to use discretion when we’re wondering if turning a monogamous relationship into a non-monogamous one will help us resolve our infidelity situation.


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What You’ll Learn from this Episode:

  • The specific reasons why non-monogamy can seem like a great idea if you’re in a committed relationship and you’re cheating on your partner.
  • Why some of the trendy ideas about the benefits of non-monogamous relationships may not be all that useful… and why attempting to figure out whether non-monogamy is “better” than monogamy may not help you much.
  • Why considering non-monogamy may not help you make decisions about your infidelity situation.
  • When to bust yourself on unhelpful thinking about non-monogamy: if you think your committed partner wouldn’t consider non-monogamy as an option, but you keep wondering if it might be, you might just be finding a way to distract yourself from making decisions about your relationships.

Listen to the Full Episode:


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Hi everyone, I’m Dr. Marie Murphy.  I’m a relationship coach and if you are engaging in anything you think counts as infidelity, I can help you deal with your feelings, clarify what you want, and make decisions about what you’re going to do.  No shame, no blame, no judgments.  Infidelity situations can present us with questions that seem really difficult to answer, and challenges that seem really hard to overcome.  But it is possible to approach your infidelity situation as a puzzle that can be solved, and it is possible to resolve your infidelity situation in a way that you feel really good about it.  And when you’re ready to get to work, I can help you do exactly that.  There are three ways we can work together.  You can join my secret society/group coaching program, You’re Not the Only One which includes an online library of my teachings, as well as group coaching calls that are held in a way that protects your privacy.  You can purchase the DIY version of You’re Not the Only One, which includes all of my powerful teachings and assignments, without the access to group coaching calls.  Or if you want my undivided attention, we can work together one-on-one via Zoom.  All of these options are great, they’re just great in different ways.  To learn more about these three ways you can have me as your coach, go to the services page of my website,


Today we’re going to talk about a specific example of when considering non-monogamy may be a red herring, or may be a seemingly great way of avoiding considering what you really want to do about a relationship.  But before we get into the details of that example, I want to make several things abundantly clear.


Number one: I am not for or against monogamy, or any particular ways that people practice it.

Number two: I am not for or against non-monogamy, or any particular forms thereof.

Number three: I think some of the discussions about monogamy and non-monogamy that are “out there” are really good.  For instance, a couple of early episodes of this podcast featured guests talking about polyamory and non-monogamy, and I think both of those guests have really astute perspectives.  And I’m talking about episode number 10 with Magenta Brooks, and episode 31 with Susan Wenzel.  The conversation I had with Susan was great, but the sound quality of that episode is NOT great, so my apologies for that.  Anyway, there are some great perspectives on non-monogamy out there, to be sure.  AND I also think that some of the discussions of monogamy and non-monogamy are total drivel.  Which brings me to the fourth point that I want to make really clear.


Some of the popular critiques of monogamy that are floating around out there aren’t all that nuanced, or useful, in my opinion.  For instance, it's become somewhat trendy to argue that monogamy, or at least, lifelong monogamy, isn’t “natural.”  And this argument can sound really appealing for a lot of reasons!  If we’re having trouble in a long-term relationship that’s supposed to be monogamous, it can seem like a huge relief to say to ourselves, “Oh!  It just isn’t NATURAL for me to want to be in a relationship like this.  It isn’t natural for humans to be monogamous with the same person for years on end.”  Or as some people put it, humans are NATURALLY polyamorous – and for some folks, it seems like that kind of explains everything.  And to be fair, legitimizing the option of polyamory, or other forms of non-monogamy is REALLY important. 


But I don’t think whether monogamy is natural or not is the point.  I say a lot more about that in episode number 107, which is called, “Is monogamy (un)natural?”, but for today’s purposes, let me briefly say this.  Humans do all KINDS of things that are unnatural, and they don’t think twice about the unnaturalness of these acts.  Humans fly in airplanes.  That ain’t natural!  Humans eat Cheetos, and drink Diet Coke!  That shit ain’t natural!  I spend a good portion of my working days in front of a computer screen, which is exactly where I am right now as I am recording this podcast episode.  If “natural” refers to existing in nature, or coming from nature, or being caused by the natural world, what I am doing right now is definitely not natural.  Spending hours and hours a day in front of a computer screen might be about as unnatural as it gets.


But yet, I choose to do it anyway.  Some would argue that many of the choices we make as members of society are not really choices at all, and I think that’s important to consider.  But I’m not going to go all the way down that rabbit hole right now.  For now, I just want to point out that we humans do all kinds of things that could be considered very unnatural indeed, and often, we choose to do these things for reasons that we like.  So that brings me to the fifth thing I want to make really clear.


Rather than concerning ourselves excessively with questions about whether monogamy is natural or not, I think what matters is WHY we personally might choose a monogamous or non-monogamous approach to our relationships. 


Sometimes I hear people making very impassioned arguments as to why non-monogamy is fundamentally BETTER than monogamy, and that brings me to the sixth thing I want to make clear.  I don’t think that non-monogamy is better, in any fundamental or absolute way, than non-monogamy, and I disagree with people who say it is.  And I also don’t think that monogamy is better than non-monogamy!  What I’ve observed is that people experience pros and cons to both monogamy and non-monogamy, and that no matter how you choose to organize your relationships, that mode of organization will NOT solve all of your relationship problems.  I’ve observed that some people like monogamy well enough, even if they find there are things they don’t like about it, and some people like non-monogamy a lot, even if there are some things they don’t like about it. 


So with all of that said, I think that evaluating your preferences in regards to monogamy and non-monogamy can be a great thing to do.  And if you’re going to do that, being really curious about why you prefer one sort of arrangement over another is a really great thing to do.  And my opinion is that if you’re involved in any kind of infidelity situation, examining your relationship to monogamy and non-monogamy might be a good idea.  Infidelity situations CAN be useful occasions to seriously consider what you want in regards to monogamy or non-monogamy, especially if you’ve never thought much about this stuff before.  And just to be really explicit about something that’s very important to point out, a lot of people WANT to be in monogamous relationships.  Even if you are currently engaging in infidelity you may WANT to be in a monogamous relationship.  And I don’t see anything contradictory or problematic or hypocritical about that.  That could be a whole other podcast episode, but for now let me just say that it’s possible to want something as an ideal, and not be existing within that ideal. 


I could go on and on about that, but I won’t.  And before I go any further, I just want to slip in a really important sidenote.  I really should be talking about monogamies, plural, and non-monogamies, plural.  There are many different ways of being “monogamous”!  People define and experience monogamy in a range of ways.  Monogamy is not a monolith!  And of course, non-monogamy isn’t either!  There are many different ways of doing non-monogamy.  That’s really important to recognize, and, today I am going to talk about monogamy and non-monogamy using THAT language, because it’s a little simpler than continuously referring to the diversity within these categories of experiences.  But there IS diversity within these ways of approaching, or organizing relationships, and let us not forget that.


Having said all of this, today I am going to talk about a common situation in which folks sometimes consider transitioning their relationship from a monogamous to a non-monogamous one.  And I’m going to talk about why transitioning to non-monogamy in this kind of situation may not actually solve for what you’re trying to solve for.


So here’s what the situation looks like.  A client of mine will be married, or in a committed partnership, that’s supposed to be monogamous.  And they’re involved with someone else, or have been involved with someone else, and they’re interested in being able to pursue a relationship with a particular person, or they’re interested in being able to have the kind of romantic or sexual relationship they want to have with someone other than their committed partner.  And they’re pretty sure that they don’t want to be in a romantic or sexual or romantic/sexual relationship with their current partner.  But they care about their partner or their spouse, and they value certain aspects of their relationship with them a lot.  And their committed relationship, in their estimation, isn’t terrible.  It just isn’t much of a romantic partnership.  It might be a really good friendship, or it might be a really good roommate relationship, or it might be a really functional family relationship.  But that’s not what the person who we’re focusing on in this example wants.  They want passion.  They want intimacy.  They want a different form of connection.  They want to be having sex with someone they’re really excited about having sex with.  They want to be able to have a relationship with someone they’re EXCITED about.


But.  They also don’t want to lose the good stuff that they have with their spouse or their partner.  They also might not like the idea of GETTING DIVORCED, or splitting up.  A lot of people fear that if they don’t stay married to their spouse, or don’t stay partnered with their partner, they won’t be able to have much of a relationship with them at all in the future.  And that really scares some people.  Especially if there are kids involved.  When there are kids involved, a lot of folks really worry about disrupting the family dynamic by changing their relationship with their kids’ other parent.


On top of all of that, there are other layers, too.  As I’ve talked about before on this podcast, many people think that it is a really good idea to prioritize preserving a marriage above all else.  That’s one of our normative assumptions about marriage that is kind of baked into our collective understanding of how things are.  If you get married, it’s better to stay married than to not stay married.  Right?

Now the interesting thing is that this notion sometimes appears in ways that may strike us as obviously oppressive – like, oh, I have to stay married to this person who I REALLY don’t want to be married to anymore, but everyone will shun me if I get divorced.  Or something like that.  But this idea also appears in ways that may seem totally benign, or at least innocuous.  And what that sometimes looks like is somebody saying, “Well, my spouse and I really good partners in some respects, and we don’t hate each other, so why don’t we preserve the marriage, and just give each other the option to explore other relationships?”  To a lot of people, that sounds like a win.  It seems like a way for everybody to get what they want and be happy.


This is where some folks say, aha!  I know what to do!  My partner and I can stay together, but we’ll just have a non-monogamous relationship.  Maybe we can keep everything more or less as it is, but we can just allow each other to have other experiences with other people.  Sometimes people get the idea that staying with their partner, and just relieving themselves of the expectation of monogamy, will be the solution to all their problems.


And it MIGHT be.  My point today is not that switching to a non-monogamous relationship with your committed partner can never be the right course of action for you.  Please understand that.


But here’s the little problem that I see coming up pretty regularly.  Some of the folks I talk to who care about their spouse, but want to have the opportunity to explore other relationships, don’t want to be romantically partnered with their spouse AT ALL anymore.  They don’t want to have their spouse as their primary romantic or sexual partner, and then have relationships with other people TOO.  They’re totally done with their sexual and/or romantic relationship with their spouse, or partner.  So it’s not that they really want to be in a non-monogamous relationship with that person.  They don’t want to be in any kind of romantic relationship at ALL with that person.


But they’re concerned about telling their partner that.  They’re concerned about the upheaval that might come with separation or divorce.  They’re concerned that if they pursue separation or divorce, they’ll jeopardize the possibility of having a civil familial relationship with their future ex-spouse in the future.


And when people get really freaked out by thinking about what might happen if they were to separate or divorce, considering non-monogamy can seem like a really convenient way to not have to deal with any of that.  When someone cares a great deal about their spouse or partner, considering having a non-monogamous relationship with them can seem like the PERFECT way to not have to deal with exiting the relationship.  It can seem like a really great way to preserve the marriage, or the committed relationship, which many of us take for granted is an unequivocally good thing, or at least, is better than NOT preserving the marriage.


And this is interesting, because on the one hand, I think that you have every right to want to preserve a long-term committed relationship – whether or not you change things about or within it as you do so.  I want to make it clear that I think there can be really great reasons to value continuity, or to want a certain sort of continuity in your life. 


BUT I also think it’s really important to consider that “preserving the marriage” or maintaining the committed relationship may not be necessary!  You may be able to transform your committed relationship into something EVEN BETTER than it currently is by allowing the committed romantic partnership piece of it to come to an end.  You can be great friends with someone and not be married to them anymore.  You can have a great familial relationship with someone, and not be partnered with them anymore.  You can be great co-parents with someone without being married to them anymore, or without being committed to them in that sort of way anymore.  So in other words, if there are aspects of your relationship with your spouse or partner that you don’t want to lose, you don’t HAVE to lose them – even if you change your relationship in some ways that could be considered pretty significant.


Now sometimes people say, well, what if I want to stay married to my spouse, and just make it explicit that there’s no romantic or sexual component to our relationship?  What if we aren’t even really shooting for non-monogamy – what if we’re shooting for being roommates who just happen to be technically married?


You can TOTALLY do that if you want to.  Of course you can.  There are a million different ways of being married, or being in a committed partnership with someone, and you can do your relationship any way you want to.  And for some people, this works out great.  Meaning, you stay technically married, but you change your understanding of what that means to you in significant ways – and your relationship may end up looking like what many people might consider a close friendship, or a familial relationship, or a roommate relationship.  Or whatever.  There is immense diversity in the ways in which people live out their marriages, or committed partnerships, and for some people, it’s really important to remain married even if the marriage doesn’t include things that a lot of people think should come with marriage – such as romance, or sex, or certain kinds of connection and intimacy.


So you can stay married for any reasons that you like, and you can live out your marriage in whatever ways you like.  It’s important to recognize that.


But the point that I’m making today is that there’s a big difference between choosing to stay married and choosing to change the terms and conditions of your marriage for reasons that you really like, and attempting to make staying married work by changing the terms and conditions of your marriage for reasons that might not help you get more of what you want in the long run.  It’s not unreasonable to be apprehensive about leaving a long-term committed relationship, and all of the life changes that might come with that.  It’s not unreasonable to be terrified of telling your partner or your spouse that you don’t want to be partnered with them anymore.  That’s totally fair.  But making decisions in the service of trying to avoid things you think will be hard or unpleasant will generate different outcomes than making decisions in the service of going after what you really want will generate.


Even if you and your spouse or partner are really great roommates, you might not want to be their roommate anymore.  And you don’t have to want to be their roommate anymore!  If you do, that’s fine – it is of course possible that you DO want to be your spouse’s roommate forever.  But that’s not the important point for today.  The important point for today is that you do not have to want to do that.  You don’t have to figure out a way to stay married to someone just because the two of you get along great in some respects, and just because you care about them immensely.


What I see with a lot of my clients who are entertaining the non-monogamy option is that, upon closely examining things, they really want to be able to have a very different kind of relationship than the one they currently have with their spouse or their partner.  It’s not that they want to keep that relationship and add to it, it’s that they want something totally different, but they’re concerned about what might come with deciding to act on this desire.


Here's the thing, people.  You may want to be able to pursue relationships that are totally different from the one you have with your current spouse or partner.  You may really want to have the freedom to be unencumbered by any kind of romantic or romantic-ish commitment to your current spouse or partner.  You may really want the option of forming monogamous relationships with other people!  Sometimes people find these interesting ways of downplaying that desire, but you don’t need to do that.  It’s okay to prefer monogamy, even if your current relationship with monogamy is a little complicated. 


Or, you may want to live a non-monogamous life, but you may not want your current spouse or partner to be your primary romantic partner, within that equation!  In other words, you might want to extricate yourself from your current commitments to your current spouse or partner.  And that might be sad.  Especially if you care about them deeply, and feel great fondness and affection for them.  But just because you feel great fondness and affection for them does not mean you necessarily want to stay romantically partnered with them – even in a non-monogamous capacity.


So, for today’s purposes, here are the questions I want you to consider.  If you’ve been thinking that you might want to have a non-monogamous relationship with your current spouse or partner, WHY do you want that?  What would you gain from having a non-monogamous relationship with them, or what would you hope to gain?  And if you’ve also been considering leaving that relationship, why would you want to transition to a non-monogamous relationship, instead of extricating yourself from it?  Also, what would you get to avoid, or what do you think you would get to avoid, by pursuing a non-monogamous relationship with your current partner?


You might consider these questions and find that you really DO want a non-monogamous relationship with your current partner.  But you might consider these questions and realize that you’ve been trying to figure out a way to avoid something that you imagine might be really difficult.  Like getting divorced, perhaps.


Sometimes when I’m working with a client and we’re exploring these questions, they say something like, “Well, all of this is sort of beside the point, because I don’t think my current partner would even consider any kind of non-monogamous relationship anyway.” 


If you have been saying that to yourself, I want you to be aware of a few things.  The first is that at least to an extent, it’s important for you to get clear on what YOU want, regardless of what you think your partner might or might not want.  Do not let anticipating your partner’s preferences get in the way of clarifying your OWN preferences.  If what YOU want is some form of non-monogamy, it’s important to get clear on that and decide what you’re going to do in the service of that.  Don’t let thinking about your partner’s preferences distract you from deciding what you want. 


On the other hand, if you are as sure as you can be that your partner wouldn’t want any kind of a non-monogamous relationship with you, you may want to keep an eye on how much time you’re spending considering what it would be like to have a non-monogamous relationship with them.  If you’re pretty sure this wouldn’t be an option for them, but you’re still spending a fair amount of time wondering if it could somehow be possible for you to have a non-monogamous relationship with them, then what are you doing?  I’ll tell you what you MIGHT be doing.  You might be distracting yourself from the questions you’d get more juice out of considering.  For instance, you may be trying to avoid deciding whether you want to stay in your relationship with them at all.  Sometimes that’s what it all boils down to.  We can spend a LOT of time and energy asking ourselves the wrong questions.  So keep an eye on that.


As we wrap up for today I want to make sure to note that it's possible that you really DO want to consider having a non-monogamous relationship with your current spouse or partner.  The point of this episode is not to dissuade you from even thinking about that option, or that set of options.  Rather, the point of this episode is to put it on your radar that considering a non-monogamous relationship with your current partner MAY be a total red herring.  Be aware of that possibility, and be willing to bust yourself if this is what’s going on with you as you consider non-monogamy as an option.


All right everyone.  If you would like my help working through any aspect of your infidelity situation, and bringing your infidelity situation to a resolution that you feel great about, let’s get started.  There are three ways you can have me as your coach.  You can join my group coaching program, You’re Not the Only One, or you can purchase the DIY version of You’re Not the Only One, or we can work together one-on-one via Zoom.  To get started with one of these options, go to the services page of my website,  Why wait any longer to find some relief and a clear path forward?  The rest of your life is waiting for you.


Thank you all so much for listening!  Have a great week.  Bye for now.   



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