What Is an Egalitarian Relationship?

So yesterday I was exploring new blogs and I ran across a blog written by a polyamorous, skeptical, atheist family. Needless to say, I was pretty excited. This sounded super interesting, and I’d never heard this particular perspective before. I needed to read all their backentries RIGHT NOW.


But then I got to this article, which was about 3 posts in, and I just couldn’t stomach anymore. The basic premise of this article is that “polyamory is not inherently egalitarian, but all egalitarian relationships must be polyamorous, or at least merely de facto monogamous (and open).” Then I got to this article, whose main point was that ” To be monogamous would be to say to Gina “if you develop a sexual or romantic interest in someone other than me, I want you to ignore or suppress those feelings,” because exploring them would hurt me.  Put simpler, it would be saying “If you get what you want, that is bad for me.”  Monogamy, like all rules in a relationship, sets the two partners against each other.  For one to gain, the other must lose.” 


I was a little incensed. I happen to be monogamous, and not just an accidental monogamy, but the kind of monogamy that was agreed upon by both partners so that neither one of us would get hurt. According to these people, my partner and I are being selfish and limiting, pitting ourselves against each other, because we’re willing to not hurt the other person. The logic here is ridiculous. There ARE some instances in which partners have differing interests and desires. There ARE some instances in which “if you get what you want, that is bad for me”. To take a very clear example, in some instances, that would be rape (if one partner wants sex and the other doesn’t, it would be very bad for them to give their partner what they want). This model of relationships seems to circulate around the idea that there is no compromise in relationships, that we don’t sometimes give up things that we want in order to keep our relationship happy and healthy. 


This does not of course mean that we don’t love our partner if we sometimes ask them not to do something they’d like. It means that we are balancing our own mental and emotional needs against the desires of our partner. Because there are in fact TWO people in a relationship, and we have to look out for BOTH of those people in a relationship. This kind of rhetoric is extremely harmful because it asks individuals to ignore their feelings and desires so that their partner can be happy. Want to know where else that kind of rhetoric exists? Rape culture. It invalidates your feelings, and means that you don’t get to ask for anything. 


You DO get to ask for things in relationships. You DON’T have to be entirely “selfless”, because if you were then your partner would not be getting the happiest version of you possible. Every relationship has these instances of give and take, where one partner might desire something and the other might be hurt by it. If it’s a healthy relationship, they then discuss it and try to decide which course of action leads to the most happiness in the relationship. For example, in my relationship right now I’ve been struggling with some memories of bad relationships in the past. I’ve asked my boyfriend to stop doing certain things that are a little bit triggering to me. He may really desire those things, but he has stopped doing them because my trauma is a bigger harm to our relationship than his desire. Or a more mundane example, I hate the sound of people chewing, so if he’s eating and I’m not, I ask him to turn on the TV so that I can’t hear it. And he does, even if he may want to converse with me while he’s eating, because it’s really not hard for him and it means something to me.


But there are certain instances where it falls out the other way. I had a boyfriend in the past who told me that he was uncomfortable with me swing dancing because I was with other guys. Swing dancing brought me a GREAT deal of joy though, and I had already made certain compromises about what I would do with certain other people to keep his anxieties more settled, and we talked about it to keep both of us feeling comfortable. In that case, the balance swung the other way.


And sometimes, you can’t figure out the balance. Each individual thinks that their side is more important. For this writer, perhaps the freedom to have sex outside the relationship is HUGELY important in their ability to feel happy and fulfilled in life, and they simply can’t survive without it. Their partner might be incredibly hurt by it, and feel betrayed and alone and unwanted. In those cases, it might simply mean that the individuals are incompatible. However just because one individual can only imagine a life where everyone would want to give complete untethered freedom to their partner and want that complete freedom for themselves, does not mean that’s the only way to be egalitarian. Letting both partners have a say in what they do is egalitarian. His version of “egalitarian” is just as one sided as a single partner demanding that the other stay locked in the house. It’s simply the other direction. It’s holding your partner a slave to the idea of “freedom” even when that idea hurts them, and saying that if they can’t accept this abstract notion of freedom, they don’t love you. It invalidates your partner’s choices and ability to gauge for themselves what their level of emotional tolerance is for certain things.


Asking your partner to ignore their feelings so that you can pay attention to your own feelings is NOT egalitarian. A relationship that balances the feelings of both partners IS egaliatarian. It might be open, it might not be. That depends on the weight of the feelings of those involved. But the idea that we should ignore when we feel hurt, unwanted, vulnerable, betrayed, alone, jealous, or any other feeling you might get when your partner is with someone else is extremely invalidating, and ignores one half of the relationship. It promotes the idea that freedom is more important than respect for those you love. And that is NOT a healthy idea.


It is NOT inherently selfish to ask your partner to stop doing something that is hurting you. It IS inherently selfish for your partner to expect you to ignore those feelings of hurt if they’re having a good time.

4 thoughts on “What Is an Egalitarian Relationship?

  1. edgyhedgy says:

    It’s not the first time I’ve heard those feelings toward monogamy (that they’re selfish and limiting and and and and…). I feel like it’s actually a relatively prevalent notion and it makes me angry. I don’t know, I certainly respect the feelings of monogamy that other people have, I just know they’re not for me. Even in very healthy relationships I begin to feel a bit like a caged animal.

    To address that idea of suppression, I feel like that’s the number one way monogamous relationships go bad for me. I’ve never cheated on a partner, but it always made me angry. The relationships where, though we were monogamous, we were able to discuss attraction to other people openly were a lot more comfortable. I guess I feel like honesty is always more comfortable for people when it can be expressed in a safe space. When I express attraction to someone, it doesn’t mean I immediately want to go sleep with them. That’s a hard thing to explain to a partner.

    No matter what kind of relationship it is, suppressing emotions and feelings, especially the negative ones, is never okay. EVER.

  2. Barrett Vann says:

    Very well articulated. Ultimately, I do think it’s about honesty and communication, whether or not the relationship you’re in is monogamous. I have, in the past, been in relationships that have been open partially because of reasons of long-distance, and partially because multiple-partner sex is fun.

    One of these was really wonderful in that respect; when my partner told me that she usually identified as poly, I had an unexpectedly emotional reaction to that, just because at the time it was something new to me and unexpected. But she was really cool with it, and encouraged me to talk about why I was feeling what I was feeling, and we ended up agreeing that we could sleep with whomever we liked, as long as we always told each other about it. And it became really sexy and fun, getting to regale each other with stories of the sex we’d had.

    In another, I was much less interested in seeking sex outside of the relationship, but my partner went, well, if I can’t physically have sex with you because of the distance, I still am going to want to have sex with somebody. I was fine with that, because generally I don’t find sexual fidelity to be a big deal, but there were then occasions later when I expressed the fact that I would feel hurt if she did [fill in the blank], and discussion would be shut down by her going, ‘You already said you didn’t mind if I slept with other people, why are you making a big deal about this?’, which effectively shamed me into either putting up with it or feeling like I was making a deal about nothing.

    Which is to say! Yes, there are healthy ways to do monogamy/polygamy/open relationships, but good communication is key to all of them.

  3. […] What Is an Egalitarian Relationship? […]

  4. nadith says:

    hmm, I think that is a bit of a quandary. How do you define equal? I believe inherently they are speaking more to libertarian than egalitarian, but ti can go both ways. Is a slave and a master (not referring to dom relationships, but for some that is an equal concern) equal because they have an agreed upon relationship? Given your argument here that would suggest so.
    This is not to liken your relations or monogamy or polygamy to slavery, more to say that the argument seemed more arguing and there were a few seeming mis-steps, which may also have been in that couples post as well. The notion of being equal because you both agree to the circumstances is a bit awkward since one may very well have the upper-hand in the situation. What if your bf needed you in ways he couldn’t define and so compromised out of fear of losing that, what if his anxieties led him to compromise on all points, to allow your sex to be more rape because he never really wanted it. Again, not to say this is the case, but more to say when are people equal? Is it when they have the same liberties? When they are free to act in their own accord? Is it an acceptance of where we each and all are? Different people define it differently at different times.
    I actually hold a view somewhat akin to this couples, in that I consider a great deal of monogamous relationships to be neither equal nor freeing. I am a mite zealous though in my sense of love and appreciation. If i have a relationship with someone it is not for the relationship, nor for them, nor for myself, but each equally. While I can survive outside of the relationship though, the relationship is something uniquely created between us. I don’t believe it should be held in esteem or coveted for that though, nor above its creators.
    To that end and many others the line I feel for myself is when you project your reality on others. I love discussion and allowing exploration, but accepting that our graces, our problems, and our life are in our own hands and from our own being is more the key. That we can grow and that should I ask to impugn it on another, it would behoove me to work towards seeing through it rather than accepting it as a matter of nature and fact. Then ultimately it is up to each party and them together to decide what works best for each of them.
    Similarly then this all revolves around the notion that my relationship is to enable my self and my partner in a better and bountiful life. I prefer to help my partner see what they want, even should it lead away from me, because I love them, not having them. Which I think is more the crux this couple was speaking to. Monogamy as having is a bit of a slippery slope, much like your poke at the raping straw man. I do believe though that one can be monogamous and polyamorous and lone and free and equal, but not many people prefer not to do this favoring other paths and values.

    Ultimately I believe people like to rescue their choices and excuse their differences. I try not to begrudge people their actions or reactions and more to see where they are. I appreciate the intent to approach a more equal and appreciative setting, and that for them and in many styling monogamy can be conflicting. Naturally they apply this to all settings, which is vindicating for them, but offensive to those who are already feeling uneasy in one way or another about either notion. Part of the problem with newness and feeling things out is we are not as eloquent and more prone to reactions I believe.

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