Promiscuity vs Monogamy by Denise A. Hoyt, LMFT

“Humans were never meant to mate for life” is a statement I sometimes hear quoted by individuals who are contemplating ending a relationship. They often cite the fact that the current divorce rate exceeds 50 percent, and associate the fact that we are biologically supposed to seek many partners – after all, that’s how chimpanzees behave, and we share 98% of the same DNA as chimpanzees.

According evolutionary psychologist David M. Buss at the University of Texas at Austin, we humans are not biologically ordained to choose monogamy. But Buss also points out that promiscuity is not a universal phenomenon in the world of animals and humans. Many mammals form monogamous pairs, and many humans do form lifelong relationships.

So maybe the real question is: Why do many couples go the distance? What makes their relationship last? Researchers have found several theories that involve the ability to communicate openly, mutual respect, shared common interests, and the ability to maintain a close friendship. Those behaviors tend to keep the relationship close even as sexual attraction decreases.

I have often hypothesized that one of the very foundational needs of every successful relationship is a shared value and belief system. Most of what I have observed about relationships that have ended in divorce was persons who had decided they could ‘change their partner’ or disregarded some very fundamental differences such as the meaning of family, priorities, politics, work ethic, and differences in spirituality. Couples who shared similar values, in my experience, were able to work through the tough spots that every marriage will face at some point in time.

Research doesn’t yet have all of the answers about what makes a successful and happy monogamous marriage. But one important fact about the ‘chimpanzee theory’ – I am not aware of any study that proves that not entering a monogamous relationship equals happiness. Both are going to have times of trial and frustration.