What if straight, monogamous, married relationships are not for everyone?

Why is your relationship set up how it is? Does it fit your and your partner(s) needs? Or are you inadvertently appeasing the demands of cultural expectations?

Where did you first learn about how relationships work?

Maybe by watching your parents. Maybe by watching your parents’ friends or your friend’s parents.

Maybe by listening to a pastor or another spiritual leader talk about how a sacred text describes relationships.

When and how did you decide how your relationship would work with your partner or partners?

Is this a question you have asked yourself? Why are my partner(s) and I the way we are? What traditions have we brought in from outside culture? If you have not thought about this too much, I won’t fault you. 

Here’s the secret: Many of us, including relationship therapists, never have.

Culture often has high expectations of how our relationships are supposed to function. Sometimes they serve us; sometimes, they don’t. But why?

In college, I got my first taste of rigid relationship rules from the conservative Christian church. I learned the only functional relationship would be monogamous, straight and married. Unless I wanted my relationship to fall apart, I would not live with a partner before getting married; if I didn’t want to go to hell, we wouldn’t have sex.

Now, this relationship model might work for some people. Research tells us that some people are very much monogamous. Some people truly are straight. Some people really do prefer to wait to move in together until marriage. And some people prefer to wait until marriage to have sex. What I learned does describe a way that some relationships work. However, it only represents how some relationships work; maybe not most. The jury is still out on how many people line up with the traditional approach to relationships. However, the number is lower than what we’d expect.

Here’s where I want to introduce you to relationship anarchy.

Relationship anarchy asks us a simple question: “What does my particular relationship particularly need to thrive?” It also tells us that the prescribed way of living in a relationship with a partner may only be the best fit for some relationships. And there may be a better fit for you.

I’d encourage you to explore why your relationship is how it is. Does it fit your and your partner(s) needs? Or are you appeasing the demands of our cultural system?

Here are some things to consider:

There are several reasons to enter marriage; financial, cultural, religious etc. If you are in a married relationship, ask yourself this: Why are you and your partner married? I pose the same question if you are in a relationship and not married.

Do you and your partner(s) travel together? All the time? Never? Why?

Do you and your partner(s) go to bed at the same time? Do you share a bed? Why? Why not?

Would you spend time with someone you are attracted to without your partner present? Would you be okay with it for your partner?

If you ask yourself these questions, you might answer the prompts with “Well, those are just the rules” or “That’s how it is in relationships. My girlfriend would never let me hang out with another girl while we’re together.” I would challenge you to refrain from settling for rules. Search for relational reasons. See if the reasons for these relational ways-of-being serve to enrich your relationship.

A relational reason for traveling together might be, “Well, we always travel together because we love to connect on vacations. And frankly, I get lonely if we’re apart.” A relational reason for traveling separately might be that you both enjoy the solo time. When your partner leaves for a trip, you get the house to yourself and love it.

As you explore the relational reasons your relationship is the way it is, you will surely find that some of the ways you run your relationship do line up with the particular needs of your specific relationship. However, I would not be surprised if you find some relational rigidity holding your relationship back more than enriching it.