When most of us think of romantic human relationships, two people come to mind. Some members of the animal kingdom—including humans — are simply meant to be with one mate, right? 

Maybe not. 

Monogamy is absolutely the most common and popular relationship structure for people, but research has shown it might not have always been that way. 

Plus, it’s estimated that about 16 million people in the United States are in a non-monogamous relationship. It’s not just something to consider for entertainment value anymore. It’s a way of life for many people, and it’s important to take a closer look at that. 

Have We Always Been Monogamous? 

Read any history book and you’ll see your fair share of monogamous relationships. However, if you go back far enough, you’re likely to see a cultural shift. 

Some scientists believe that monogamy between humans has only been the norm for the past 1,000 years. Some of their research suggests that monogamy emerged in certain ancestral groups so males could protect their infants and the mothers of those children. 

Today, there isn’t enough definitive information to determine whether humans are supposed to be monogamous or not. However, some evidence suggests that we are biologically more inclined to be with one partner. 

What’s the Appeal of Polygamy?

Polygamous lifestyles have been portrayed in movies and television shows, and we’ve even seen a glimpse into the “reality” of some, thanks to shows like Sister Wives. But, again, it’s more than a source of entertainment. 

Some people enter into polygamous living because of their religion or culture. Perhaps the most commonly known religion that allows “plural marriage” in the U.S. is Mormonism. However, there are plenty of other groups that allow for nuclear families with multiple husbands and/or wives. 

silhouette of a woman with a dark sunset sky behind herBeyond religion and culture, some people enter into polygamous relationships for other benefits. Some see it as a way to build a small, intimate community. That’s especially important when there are children involved. If one parent gets sick or dies, the others are still able to raise their children. 

Polygamy can also help to boost social interaction and cooperation, sometimes making it easier for children within those families to integrate into a social society very easily. 

Simply put, there’s a built-in support system when you’re involved in a non-monogamous relationship and you want to start a family with those people. 

Non-Monogamy Without Marriage

There are plenty of non-monogamous couples who specifically choose not to get married or have children. While it might not ever be as common as monogamous relationships, people in these situations often tout plenty of personal benefits. 

Being in a non-monogamous relationship gives you autonomy over your own body. It can help you feel more in control. It can also take some of the pressure away from committing to one person, which some people have a hard time with. Plus, in most cases, partners agree on rules and boundaries within these relationships, so no one’s feelings get hurt, and no one is disrespected. 

16 million people make up 4% of the American population. That’s a sizable number of people who aren’t monogamous. While it’s certainly not the most popular relationship style in the country, it’s more common in other tribal parts of the world.

We might have different reasons for being non-monogamous today than they did 1,000 years ago. But, it can still be a healthy, viable option for the right people. 

Before you decide whether non-monogamy is right for you, do your research. Talk to your partner about it, if applicable, in couples therapy. Most importantly, consider reaching out to determine why you’re really interested in a multi-partner relationship.