International study finds consensual nonmonogamy can be ‘healthy’ relationship option

Illustration by Scott Woods

Holding Hands

A new international study has found no evidence that consensual nonmonogamy (CNM) impacts life satisfaction or relationship quality with the primary partners in a romantically involved couple. On the contrary, the study demonstrated only positive outcomes and provides new evidence that CNM can be a healthy, viable relationship option.

The findings, published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science, were discovered by Samantha Joel, an Assistant Professor in Western’s Department of Psychology, and her collaborators at York University and the University of Utah.

Joel examines how people make the decisions that grow or break apart their romantic relationships and how those decision strategies are linked to relationship, well-being, and health outcomes.

For the study, believed to be the first of its kind, Joel and her collaborators recruited people who were interested in CNM — but had not yet engaged in it — and observed them over a two-month period as they ‘opened up’ their relationships.

“We found no differences in relationship quality or well-being before versus after people opened up,” says Joel, who serves as director of Western’s Relationships Decisions Lab. “There were also no differences found when we compared people who did versus those who did not open up their relationship over the course of the study.”

Joel says these findings challenge conventional wisdom about the decision to open up a relationship.

“CNM relationships and those who practice them are often stigmatized,” explains Joel. “Monogamous relationships are generally assumed to be of higher quality than non-monogamous ones, even among CNM individuals.”

According to the study, those who engaged in CNM experienced significant increases in sexual satisfaction, particularly if they did so with the explicit goal of addressing sexual incompatibilities within their relationships.

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