October 26, 2013
Polyamory and self-denial
More often than not, non-monogamy leads to the demise of relationships, said Karen Ruskin, a Boston-area psychotherapist with more than two decades of experience in couples counseling. Instead of focusing on the primary relationship, partners are turning to others for fulfillment.
"Even if non-monogamy is consensual, it's still a distraction from dealing with each other," said Ruskin, author of "Dr. Karen's Marriage Manual."
"It all goes back to choice. Non-monogamy is choosing to be with someone else instead of being attentive to your spouse when the relationship is troubled."
One key will be whether there is still traction in society for the idea that self-denial (or at least self-discipline) can be essential to personal growth, moral accountability, and long-term fulfillment. Polyamory, as I understand its portrayal, is attractive because monogamy is hard. Exclusive and total self-giving to one person may be under strain in our modern practice of marriage, but it is at least still discernible in the concept. For polyamory to take hold as a legitimate alternative, we will take another (large) step back from the idea that self-denial in the structuring of our intimate relationships is ever a worthwhile aspiration.
In our society's emerging acceptance of same-sex relationships, I don't think that self-denial as a legitimate and relevant aspiration was rejected categorically, but its specific implication -- celibacy for gays and lesbians -- was deemed too costly. It's much more difficult for polyamorists to make the same claim about monogamy.
This doesn't mean that the legal treatment of polaymory will be different -- i.e., will courts or legislatures just choose a Lawrence-like shrug of the shoulders when faced with normative questions regarding the structure of consensual intimate relationships? -- but I think the arguments for distinction are available, and I think the path toward social acceptance will be slower.