Western people are now mostly polyamorous

Polyamory - a way out of the constraints of monogamy and destructive jealousy?

Herbert Csef


Polyamory is a non-monogamous relationship model, which is characterized by the fact that the people involved live love relationships with several people at the same time and that this happens with the full knowledge and consent of all partners involved. Love of freedom, tolerance, flexibility and responsibility enable Polyamory to succeed. The relationship persons involved need a high degree of maturity, great communication skills and emotional strength. Opponents of polyamory are jealousy and the claim to loyalty, possession and exclusivity associated with a monogamous ideal of love. Newer trends (neosexuality, metrosexuality, late modern worlds of relationships) should contribute to polyamory becoming one of the possible relationship models of the future.

Keywords: Polyamory, monogamy, jealousy, loyalty

Keywords: Polyamory, monogamy, jealousy, fidelity


Polyamory is a non-monogamous model for relationships that is characterized by the involved persons ’living in love relationships with more than one person at a time with full knowledge and approval of all partners.

Love of freedom, tolerance, flexibility, and responsibility are important prerequisites. The persons involved need a high level of maturity, good communication skills, and emotional strength. The archenemies of polyamory are jealous and the tenures and claims for faithfulness and exclusivity often related to a monogamous ideal of love.

Polyamory-promoting trends like neosexualities, metrosexuality, and postmodern relationships might contribute to polyamory as a possible future relationship model leading to a liberation from the constraints of monogamy.

Keywords: Polyamory, monogamy, jealousy, loyalty

Keywords: Polyamory, monogamy, jealousy, fidelity

Polyamory - a new relationship concept for the future?

Polyamory is a »promise to love many« (Klesse 2007). It is no coincidence that "Love without Limits" is the title of the first famous work by the Polyamory movement. It was published in 1992 by clinical psychologist Deborah Anapol. Polyamorous couples show the main characteristic that they live love relationships with several people at the same time and this with the full knowledge and consent of all partners involved. The polyamory contains a relationship concept that aims to loosen or remove the restrictions of the monogamous two-way relationship. This requires a love of freedom, tolerance, flexibility and responsibility (Lendt / Fischbach 2011). The Polyamory follows a tolerant and freedom-loving relationship model. It is mainly aimed for in the intellectual and urban living spaces of the western world. The protagonists were lovers like Rainer Maria Rilke and Lou Andreas-Salomé, Jean Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, Bertold Brecht and Helene Weigel, Virginia Woolf and Bertrand Russell. The great opportunity of polyamory lies in expanding the scope of desire and enabling freer forms of love in relationships: freedom and less coercion - less exercise of power, less dependence and less fear (Meritt et al 2005; Ravenscroft 2004).

Polyamory values ​​and ideals

Polyamory is a very demanding relationship model that requires a high degree of maturity, great communication skills, emotional strength, a lot of tolerance and great flexibility from the relationship people involved. This relationship model differs significantly from non-binding forms of sexual interaction, which are often confused with polyamory, such as promiscuity, one-night stands, sexual communication in swinger clubs or secret affairs and infidelities (McCullough / Hall 2003).

Loyalty, trust and responsibility are highly valued values ​​in the Polyamory relationship model. With regard to responsibility, a “responsible non monogamy” is represented in the Polyamory concept. The important value of loyalty is related to partnership-based communication and not to the ideal of monogamy with a corresponding claim to ownership and the ideal of exclusivity. In the polyamorous relationship model, fidelity primarily means honesty, commitment, loyalty, respect, equal communication, devotion and negotiating ethics in the sense of relationship consensus (Anapol 2012; Lano / Perry 1995).

The polyamory relationship model has two powerful adversaries: the ideal of monogamy and jealousy. Monogamy is conveyed through values, norms and instructions for action. Jealousy, on the other hand, impresses as a strongly emotional-affective phenomenon that very often develops a great deal of destructiveness. According to Helen Fisher (2005), every third female murder victim in the USA is killed by a partner or ex-partner. Disappointed love, sexual infidelity, jealousy, and abandonment are the main reasons for this. In the review by Aldridge and Browne (2003) of 22 empirical studies on "spousal homicide" it was found that 37% of all female murder victims in Great Britain were killed by their current or former intimate partner. Precisely because of the great emotional and affective potency of the phenomenon of jealousy, the future development of polyamory will depend heavily on whether jealousy and the factors on which it is based can be overcome. In this respect, jealousy could be the touchstone or litmus test for the resilience of polyamorous relationships.

Jealousy - an antagonist of the polyamory

Every form of jealousy represents an emotional and affectively colored expression of life that can be meaningful, well-founded and also understandable (Baumgart 1985; Bornemann 1986). The long-lived myth of "jealousy as a token of love" and the widespread opinion that in a partner relationship "something cannot be right" if this passion does not ignite testify to the meaningfulness of this feeling. The forensically competent physician von Schumann (1975) apostrophizes these views as follows: »Jealousy is inherent in every person who can be described psychologically as normal. However, the boundary between 'still normal' and 'already pathological' is fluid and sometimes depends on subjective assessments. The complete absence of jealous sensations must be assessed as pathological ”(p. 287). In his book "The Human Passions", the psychoanalyst Kutter (1978) also advocates the affirmation of passions "with anger and zeal". There you can read: "Suppressed passions make sick, affirmed passions and passions controlled by the ego bleed through life" (p. 121).

Over time, partner relationships are more or less often exposed to partner crises, which can be associated with jealousy (Schnarch 2008). The conflict issues relevant to jealousy in partner relationships are infidelity, affair or extramarital relationships, attachment and dependency, as well as the ambivalence of the desire for separation and fear of separation (Kutter 1994; Pflüger 1982). According to Bornemann (1987), about 72% of all heterosexuals who are married or live in a long-term relationship have sexual contact with a third person during this relationship. In the literature review by Clement (2012) it is about 50% of married men and 25% of married women. The frequency of sexual infidelity is higher in unmarried couples in all studies. "Adultery" or "fling" are conditions that encourage jealousy to occur. They can lead to serious partner crises or to separation. Separation experiences, in turn, often trigger psychological disorders or psychosomatic illnesses. Whether an "affair" as a "slip" is quickly forgiven and forgotten or leads to an unmanageable crisis depends on the quality of the respective partner relationship (Csef 1984). The desire to bond, the claim to exclusivity, the partner's experience of self-worth, mutual tolerance and the degree of aggressiveness have an influence on how this experience is processed (Grammer 1994; Csef 1990).

The following four manifestations of jealousy can be differentiated:

  • "Well-founded" jealousy (appropriate and empathetic feeling when the occasion arises)

  • pathological jealousy (sensitive but inadequate affect, rigid tendencies to persist)

  • Jealousy

  • Jealousy paranoia

The subtype he described as "justified or justified jealousy" was aptly named "creative jealousy" by Buddeberg (1986). It is likely to be the most common form. It is empathetic and presumably justified in terms of the relationship constellations. A positive force is inherent in her after change and the form of relationship and reorientation. A partner crisis triggered by creative jealousy can mean the chance for a new beginning or a positive change in the partner relationship. The dynamics of the relationship partners entangled in a triangular relationship (Csef 1985) enables us to further orientate ourselves with regard to the individual forms of jealousy.

The following questions are revealing: Does the third person exist in the imagination of the jealous or as a real relationship partner? What is the relationship of the jealous to the rival? What is the relationship of the partner to the rival and to what extent is the desire between the two reciprocal? Did the three persons of the relationship triangle meet each other alive and what was the significance of erotic-sexual communication in these encounters?

The individual forms of jealousy with regard to these questions - despite flowing transitions - are as follows:

In "justified" or "justified" jealousy, there is a reciprocal real relationship between the jealous' partner and the rival. The fears of loss and the insult of the jealous person are empathetic and well-founded. He / she lives in the danger of losing a relationship that is very meaningful and valuable to him / her, of being cheated or betrayed. However, there are considerable variations, depending on how impaired the self-esteem of the jealous person is, i.e. how sickly, sensitive and vulnerable he / she is, how much he / she is possessive, how dependent he / she feels. It is also important whether the jealous person knows the "third party" or has already met him / her.

Psychodynamics of jealousy with regard to sexuality and couple relationships

As already mentioned, fear of loss and impaired self-esteem play a central role in jealousy (Csef 1997a). If, for example, a patient is impaired in their sexual function after an operation or as part of the underlying disease or if they consider themselves to be less lovable and attractive, it depends crucially on the partner whether the patient can cope with and overcome this uncertainty. However, if the partner stirs up the fear of loss, then jealousy can be provoked.

Representatives of psychoanalysis such as Freud (1919, 1922), Kutter (1978), Fenichel (1935) or Lutz (1982) see the roots of jealousy in unresolved triangular relationships during childhood and in the conflicts, feelings and affects that arise from them. The conflicting constellation between father, mother and child - the famous oedipal situation - often leads to jealousy or rivalry. Almost all people go through this three-way situation and are decisively shaped by it, since triangular relationships are always a source of conflicts, disappointments and hurts. Almost no one is spared being the “excluded third party”. The painful experience that one's own wishes are denied and the mother turns instead to the father or one of the siblings, leaves its mark on the soul of almost every child. We almost all know the feeling of not being loved, of being disadvantaged, of falling short, of being rejected or rejected from our own childhood. Kutter (1978) speaks of the “primary offense of the child” and “early suffering”. They leave a wound in every child that never heals completely and the more painful and humiliating these insults were, the deeper it is. This "early suffering" arouses the same feelings that torment every jealous person: pain, mortification, humiliation, loneliness, abandonment, not being loved. The consequences of this are anger, hatred and aggressive-destructive behavior out of an often blindly furious feeling of revenge. Freud has already repeatedly emphasized that we humans are at the mercy of suffering from love relationships and that the wounds from loss of love and being abandoned can be very deep. In "The Uneasiness in Culture" (1930) he writes: "We are never more unprotected against suffering than when we love, never more helplessly unhappy than when we have lost the object we love" (p. 214). The experience of the jealous person is essentially characterized by low self-esteem, easy vulnerability (“narcissistic wound”), fear of loss and separation as well as a high claim to possession of the partner. He is therefore doubly in a bind: The wounds or scars from his past are big on him; the painful experiences of being abandoned or left alone, of rejection, rejection, mortification and humiliation were particularly serious in his childhood; in this respect he is easily insulted - "narcissistically insultable"; at the same time he has a pronounced fear of loss, feels threatened and is suspicious. The jealous person lives in an extreme tension between the unresolved suffering of the past and the supposedly impending loss in the future. His behavior often becomes so affective, irrational and destructive that he brings about exactly what he fears. Herein lies the tragedy of the jealous: fear of loss and mortification drive him into hatred, vindictiveness, controlling the partner and destructive behavior, which provokes the separation that he so strongly fears.

This is particularly the case with severely dysfunctional couple constellations. It is not uncommon for physical violence to be involved, and deep insults and humiliations make it difficult for the couple to rapprochement. The affects act as "regulators" of the love relationship (Csef 2003). Sexual rejection, disorders of the sexual function or years of "sexual silence" then often intensify the attacks of jealousy. The sexual dissatisfaction of a very dysfunctional couple is additionally burdened by frustrated and repeatedly failing sexuality, so that finally the vicious circle of jealousy increases and can lead to escalations (Csef 2005).

Jealousy and polyamory

In the classic literature on polyamory, the subject of jealousy occupies a central role. In the standard work "Polyamory - The New Love Without Limits" by Deborah Anapol (1997), jealousy is assigned a key function, it is referred to as the "gatekeeper" of the relationship. In the polyamory model one does not give oneself to the illusion that there are jealousless or jealous-free love relationships. So it is not about the absence of jealousy, but about dealing constructively with jealousy with the aim of counteracting the right to property and exclusivity on which jealousy is based (Kipnis 2004; Veenemans 2011). It is recognized in principle that the mixture of feelings of jealousy conveys important needs and communicative functions. Dealing with jealousy and dealing with it communicatively should expose basic feelings and needs of the love relationship. In the polyamory literature, jealousy is described figuratively like an onion that should be carefully examined and perceived layer by layer. In each new layer, feelings, fears or needs of the love relationship are revealed. The book by Deborah Anapol with the title "Compersion: Meditations on Using Jealousy as a Path to Unconditional Love" interprets coping with jealousy as a way to "unconditional love".

Polyamory-promoting trends and developments: »Neosexualities« and »late modern worlds of relationships«

The modern change in the forms of relationships and sexual life brought with it developmental tendencies (Csef 1997b; Matthiesen 1997), which encourage the tendency towards polyamorous relationships, especially among the urban population. The clearest findings on this came from the Hamburg-Leipzig three-generation study (Schmidt et al 2006). In this elaborate study, relational and sexual science approaches were combined in order to examine traditional as well as non-conventional forms of partnership. 776 men and women of three generations from Hamburg and Leipzig were interviewed. They were 30, 45 or 66 years old at the time of the survey. An attempt was made to understand the change in relationship biographies and relationship forms in order to analyze sexual behavior and the status of sexuality.The title of the accompanying book publication "Spätmoderne relationshipworlds" (Schmidt et al 2006) indicates a fundamental change in relationships: all non-marital forms of coexistence, both heterosexual, bisexual and homosexual, are increasing significantly in the urban population. If marriages are entered into at all, they are entered into later and are more likely to be prematurely divorced. The predominant relationship model is that of "serial monogamy". Most people continue to look for steady partner relationships - with or without a marriage certificate. These usually do not last for a lifetime, but for a certain length of time, so that on average the people examined had seven to eight long-term partner relationships. Lifelong monogamy under the motto "Until death do you part" is becoming increasingly rare (Mitchell 2004). The proportion of non-marital relationships has increased significantly. Affairs and affairs are evidently increasing (Schmidt et al 2006).

The results of the Hamburg-Leipzig study are supplemented by the current data from the Federal Statistical Office. According to this, less than half of German citizens live in traditional families. Only about 42% of children and adolescents spend their entire childhood and adolescence with their biological parents (figures from www.destatis.de). This is due to the high proportion of singles, single parents, children of divorce and blended families.

The German sex researcher Volkmar Sigusch describes with "neosexualities" or "neosexual revolution" a developmental tendency of sexual, intimate and gender forms, which brings with it new freedom and scope, but also new constraints. Overall, there is a greater variety of sexual variations than before. Polyamory is one of these numerous variations. Sigusch was recently asked about the future of sexuality in an interview. He answered:

“In addition to classic marriage, there will be other forms, one of which is already peeking out, polyamory, much love. So, you're with a woman, and your wife doesn't mind another woman joining. She also brings her boyfriend in. Suddenly you realize - my God, you can't just love one person, you can love several people at the same time. "And:" With an intelligent couple, it should be possible for the man or the woman to find satisfaction outside of the Looking for partnership. Always with consideration for the partner, i.e. in openness, but still discreet. You got married when you were 25, you are now 45 and you might find a regulation like that. «(Sigusch 2011).

Sigusch reveals himself to be a proponent of polyamory and sees it already increasingly being realized in the modern urban world of western countries. The classic form of the heterosexual couple relationship as marriage is expanded to include numerous love and sexual variations:

“The triangular father-mother-child triad, the epitome of the family two generations ago, has culturally faded to an unimaginable degree. Marriage and family are in fact separate from each other. There are now singles and single parents, long-term relationships with love but without sexual intercourse, extremely complicated intimate relationships with three or more actors, abstinence and partner swapping, one-night stands, Let's party, call-in, vacuum pumps and love parades as well as a myriad ( ›Pseudo-perverse productions‹, of which the unforgettable Eberhard Schorsch spoke. All old perversions have now been electronically dispersed and partially demonized - with the exception of pedosexuality, which is still taboo (Sigusch 2005 b, p. 16).

Contrary development tendency: The new trend towards monogamous loyalty among young people

Interestingly, there is an opposing trend in the younger generation, which is likely to prevent polyamory from becoming more widespread. Since 1970, repeated surveys of young people have shown that they have an increased tendency towards monogamous fidelity and that they feel connected to the ideal of romantic love. Schmidt's (1993) studies of youth sexuality already showed that boys' commitment to loyalty increased from 56% in 1970 to 89% in 1990. In 1990, girls were even attached to the ideal of loyalty at 95%. This sustained advocacy of sexual fidelity is also evident among the younger generation in the new studies on youth sexuality. The Federal Center for Health Education has supported the project "Sexual and social relationships between 17 and 18-year-old women and men" (Matthiesen 2011), in which this loyalty tendency continues to be clearly reflected. An opposite development can be seen in studies of adult men and women in midlife, in which the ideal of loyalty is far less represented. This shows the fidelity-infidelity paradox repeatedly described in sexual research: the lived sexual reality clearly falls short of the fidelity ideal that is held up high. Taught better by lived experience, this ideal is abandoned by many people in old age. This is underlined by the cited studies on sexual fidelity or infidelity, according to which 50-70% (depending on the survey rate and study) of adults were themselves sexually unfaithful by mid-life (Clement 2012). This reality of sexual behavior confirms the tendency towards "serial monogamy" described above.

Who is capable of polyamory?

If one reads the work of the sex researchers Volkmar Sigusch and Gunter Schmidt cited above, as well as the data from the Federal Statistical Office, the trend is obviously in the direction that polyamorous sexual behavior is becoming more common. However, this happens in a socio-sociological and individual psychological context. It is very clear that polyamorous sexual behavior occurs more frequently in urban living spaces and in certain occupational groups (see literature on metrosexuality). In addition to these sociological and socio-political factors, there are also individual psychological factors. A high tendency to jealousy, a strict monogamous ideal of loyalty, a high claim to property and exclusivity are predictors of individual psychology that tend to oppose polyamory. Sociologically, in view of the high monogamous ideal of loyalty, the current generation of young people must question whether the pendulum is not swinging back here, in the sense that after the sexual revolution in the post-68s, the sexual permissiveness propagated at the time is now with the successors Generation is partially revised in a countermovement.


The polyamory is an important current model of relationships that is important in the multitude of variations in love and sexual life. Presumably there will be opposing trends that are generation-specific. With regard to polyamory, today's young people show different values ​​and attitudes than their own parents. Presumably, Sigusch's prognoses in his concept of neosexualities (Sigusch 2005 a) are likely to be confirmed in the fact that there will be greater diversity, more variations and a side by side or opposition of different forms of love and sexuality. Sigusch speaks correctly of the "dissociation of the sexual".


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About the author

Herbert Csef

Herbert Csef, University Professor of Psychosomatics, Psychoanalyst, Specialist in Psychosomatic Medicine and Psychotherapy, Head of the Psychosomatic Department in the Medical Clinic and Polyclinic II, Center for Internal Medicine (Oberdürrbacher Straße 6) and Head of the Interdisciplinary Psychosomatic Day Clinic (Josef-Schneider-Straße 2 ), both at the University Hospital Würzburg (97080 Würzburg).