Relationships look different for every person and vary among cultures. In many cultures, marriage and monogamy are expected and represent the norms of the culture. Monogamy is the commitment to be in an emotional and/or physical relationship with one person without being in other relationships at the same time. Monogamy is generally considered desirable and is typically expected by partners in a romantic relationship.
Serial monogamy is a term used to refer to people who follow a pattern of frequently entering committed relationships for short periods of time (generally a few months). Then, after a break-up, they quickly enter into another committed relationship. The serial monogamist is not ‘cheating’ on their partners but rather jumping from one relationship to another.
This is different than a serial dater. A serial dater is a person who frequently goes on dates with new partners but does not want a committed relationship. A serial monogamist desires and seeks out the relationship but does not stay in the same relationship for more than a few months at a time. After the break-up, they quickly seek out a new partner and start the cycle over again.
Signs of a Serial Monogamist
Many people can think of someone they know who may be a serial monogamist. This person always seems to have a new partner and is very serious with all of them at the time of the relationship. Some other signs of serial monogamy include the following:
- A history of many serious relationships
- Falling “in love” quickly
- Feeling uncomfortable when not having a partner
- Making life decisions with the partner quickly
- Being “clingy” to their partner
- Focusing all their attention on the new relationships
- A history of villainizing ex-partners or frequently comparing partners to ex-partners
While these signs alone do not indicate a person is a serial monogamist, they may help to identify a pattern of serial monogamy.
Why Do People Engage in Serial Monogamy?
People who engage in serial monogamy may be described as ‘addicted to love.’ However, it’s more accurate to say they are addicted to the high of a new relationship. New relationships involve excitement, fun, and lust that is less common in older relationships. It is often called the “honeymoon phase.” During this phase, the new partner can ‘do no wrong,’ and the new relationship is exciting and thrilling.
This excitement activates the reward center in the brain. This reward center releases dopamine in the brain bringing feelings of happiness and euphoria. This is the same area of the brain that is activated with drug and gambling addictions. For this reason, serial monogamy is often described as a ‘love addiction.’ A person becomes addicted to the ‘high’ of a new relationship, and when the excitement wears off, they move on to the next relationship in search of the next ‘high.’
Is Serial Monogamy Harmful?
Being in a committed, monogamous relationship is considered a standard expectation in Western culture and many other societies worldwide. So, what is the big deal if a person jumps from one relationship to the next every few months?
The harm of serial monogamy can harm both the serial monogamist and their partners. The partner likely feels a strong connection with the serial monogamist and believes the relationship will last forever, or at least for years to come. However, as the couple encounters (unavoidable) challenges to their relationship, or the newness of the relationship wears off, the serial monogamist will quickly break up with their partner. Of course, this leaves the partner feeling abandoned and hurt, often reluctant to engage with a new partner.
Changing partners every couple of months is harmful to the serial monogamist as well. It takes time to fully get to know someone and open up to them emotionally. By leaving relationships when the excitement wears off, the serial monogamist does not fully allow others into their lives or feel the effects of a secure relationship. For some, this is a protective strategy that allows the serial monogamist to avoid getting hurt and keeps the person from fully committing emotionally and allowing others to know and love them.
Many serial monogamists make big life decisions quickly when they enter into their new relationships. They may make significant changes lives such as moving in with their partner, changing locations or jobs, or spending less time with their family and friends. These changes further fuel the excitement they experience from the new relationship. When these relationships end, this disrupts both partners’ lives and can be costly and challenging to adjust back.
Another risk of serial monogamy, which may not be obvious, is the increased risk of sexually transmitted infections (STIs). While people often associate this risk with people who have frequent partners or cheat on their partners, it is less evident with a person who engages in serial monogamy. Studies have found that serial monogamist and their partners are at higher risk of transmitting STIs due to the frequent changes of partners and the long-dormant period of some infections.
Changing the Pattern of Serial Monogamy
The first step to changing a pattern of serial monogamy is to identify the pattern. If you suspect that you may be a serial monogamist, write down a list of past relationships and the timeframe of each one. Note the reasons the relationship ended and which partner ended the relationship. Notice any patterns that may emerge. Identifying a pattern of serial monogamy can help to make changes by addressing the underlying issues.
Noticing the pattern of wanting to end the relationship as soon as conflict arises or when the ‘high’ wears off may help confront the problem. The urge to break up when conflict arises may be a defense mechanism to avoid conflict and confrontation. Learning healthy communication strategies, boundaries, and conflict resolution strategies can help work through the challenging times that inevitably come up in all relationships.
Addressing the underlying issues of serial monogamy may require help from a mental health professional. A therapist can help you to process and identify the patterns and the origins of these patterns. Early attachment issues may play a role in the pattern as well as addictive tendencies. A therapist can help to process and change the patterns.
Serial monogamy may harm both parties in a relationship. The pattern carries risks of an increased possibility of STI diagnosis, limited emotional connection with romantic partners, and a lack of stability. Serial monogamy can impact a person’s mental health as they struggle to connect with others and maintain a stable, healthy relationship. The cycle disrupts the lives of the serial monogamist and their partners.
Therefore, if you suspect that you may be a serial monogamist, it’s best to try and identify your behavior patterns when engaging in a relationship, and modify those behaviors that often result in sudden breakups. Changing these patterns may likely require understanding the underlying issues that caused them with the help of professional therapist.
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- Mercer, C. H., Aicken, C. R. H., Tanton, C., Estcourt, C. S., Brook, M. G., Keane, F., & Cassell, J. A. (2013). Serial Monogamy and Biologic Concurrency: Measurement of the Gaps Between Sexual Partners to Inform Targeted Strategies. American Journal of Epidemiology, 178(2), 249–259. https://doi.org/10.1093/aje/kws467
- Cramer, P. (2015). Understanding Defense Mechanisms. Psychodynamic Psychiatry, 43(4), 523–552. https://doi.org/10.1521/pdps.2015.43.4.523