Evidence has shown that a large amount of negative attitudes towards Consensual Non-monogamous (CNM) relationships are due to the fact that they have been deemed a deviation of social norms, where non-exclusivity acts as a ‘devil effect’ (tendency to judge people’s character negatively based on negative actions) (Grunt-Mejer & Campbell, 2016). Some studies have shown that individuals have the tendency to use their own relationship as a bias for how they’re attitudes about other relationships are formed (Cohen & Wilson, 2017). In other words, the normative structure of relationships is not changing because those in monogamous relationships are biased towards them, and since the majority of relationships are monogamous, there is no shift of attitudes towards CNM relationships. The Composite Attitude-Behavior Model (CAB)explains the link between behavior and attitude is that of habit, where spontaneous actions lead to automatic behavior that is often repeated. The habit then reflects a positive attitude to protect from any dissonance, and thus behavior is justified based on this solidification. In the case of CNM relationships, it seems as though the composite attitude-behavior model can account for how the habit of monogamy preserves negative attitudes towards relationships that are non-exclusive.
Changing attitudes towards CNM relationships to positive ones serve Utilitarian and Social Adjustment purposes; by increasing positive and open communication in relationships higher marital satisfaction has been reported (Cohen & Wilson, 2017). In other words, being open to non-exclusive relationships, allows individuals to benefit from increased satisfaction with their partner without punishment of being judged, making one feel more accepted and free. Such a consequence is likely to repeat itself due to the rewarding properties, hopefully becoming habitual. Thus the same way the CAB model explains why society is the way it is now – mostly monogamous – it can also predict how other behaviors can become habitual and strengthen certain attitudes—gearing towards CNM relationships. For example, a study set out to investigate how couples transition from an exclusive to non-exclusive relationship found that through increased communication the relationship improved and the individuals felt that they were less restricted and judged by their partner (Kimberly & Hans, 2015). Moreover, they even described perceiving their primary partner as more desirable (Shackelford, Welling, Memering, & Mogilski, 2015). It is important to note that the through the process there is jealousy and arguments that arise, to which the individuals are forced to problem solve and create boundaries with each other (Kimberly & Hans, 2015). Such behavior leads to the feeling of un-conditional love between the two partners, increasing martial satisfaction; “Rules were initially established as couples were transitioning into the swinging lifestyle, and were amended when unanticipated circumstances arose that either spouse experienced unpleasant. . . Success in this process both validated and reinforced open communication between spouses” (Kimberly & Hans, 2015). Through the lens of the CAB model, the habit of open-communication without the consequences, creates a recurrent behavior of openness which in turn “enhanced the level of trust with one’s primary partner” (Kimberly & Hans, 2015). Such communication, if prioritized, can create positive attitude towards CNM relationships, all the while satisfying the Utilitarian and Social aspects.
Different variables of Social Norms strengthen the direction between attitude and behavior acting as a moderator for the acceptance of CNM relationships. The belief that exclusivity is the appropriate behavior in relationships, increases the negative attitude towards non-exclusivity, decreasing the possibility of experimenting such structures. Social Norms are usually highly rooted in society and through the upbringing, and itself depends on two factors; that of the development of the self through social norms, and that of learning social norms through experience. In other words, the factor of the individuals who make up the social norms, and the factor of how experience molds the individual into behaving under the social norm. The latter is that of Direct Experience, where the individual encounters a certain experience and through that makes a judgement that guides future attitudes. In reference to CNM relationships it has been shown that individuals in marital structures that are not considered ‘normative’, have a higher positive attitude towards CNM relationships (Cohen, The Perceived Satisfaction Derived From Various Relationship Configurations, 2016). Therefore, direct experiences dictate how strongly an individual might feel about CNM relationships depending on whether or not they had experienced it. In-fact, a study suggested there to be lack of evidence that connected exclusivity and satisfaction; “Rather, it appears that any advantages that those in monogamous relationships may have are a result of the bias we have in favor of this structure” (Cohen, The Perceived Satisfaction Derived From Various Relationship Configurations, 2016), suggesting that the attitudes towards relationship status is more telling of marital satisfaction. In other words, that exclusivity itself does not render a relationship good or bad, but rather the people in it that do (decreasing the value of social norms on the future outcome). It has also been proposed that once an individual has such an experience, the attitude is more certain, stable and resistant to counter influences, suggesting that attitude strength can be biased on either end of the spectrum. This gives an insight as to why those in monogamous relationships may feel strongly against CNM relationships, further proving the composite attitude-behavior model on how habits behind attitudes leads to certain behaviors over others, including non-monogamous versus monogamous relationships.
The former suggests that the individual’s own psychology may dictate how susceptible they may be to certain social norms. Defensive Self-esteem is a factor that predicts a strong relationship between the attitude and the behavior depending on whether or not the individual has the tendency to defend one’s own self-evaluations. Those with high defensive self-esteems may be more vulnerable to negative self-perceptions brought on by conflicted attitudes with another individual. In terms of romantic relationships, those with high defensive self-esteem might be less inclined to indulge in open-conversations with their partners leading them to fall back on to behaviors that are most socially acceptable. Such a submissive behavior for the protection of one’s own self-esteem may cause an individual to fall into habits that are known to cause the least amount of conflict and most amount of ego protection. These behaviors that avoid conflict are usually associated to what is considered ‘normative’. In the context of CNM relationships, studies have shown that conflict is necessary in order for there to be resolution in the future, especially when transitioning from an exclusive to non-exclusive relationships (Kimberly & Hans, 2015). Boundaries and rules must be set and discussed through confrontational open-communication. An individual with high defensive self-esteem may have a harder time getting over such confrontations. The important thing to note is by changing these factors associated to social norms, one can feel more comfortable with discussing matters that might not be pleasant at first, and once resolved it can accomplish its utilitarian and social functions. The study that analyzed the transition made by couples from exclusive to non-exclusive relationship summarizes the process as “Overall, the model that emerged from the data reveals the script that swingers form to experience sexual variety while both managing jealousy and conducting boundary maintenance in a manner that enhances marital and sexual satisfaction” (Kimberly & Hans, 2015). In doing so, one can experience a different marital structure and create non-biased personal opinions on them, broadening the spectrum of social Norms to allow for CNM relationships.
Habits can be explained as the underlying factor under CNM relationships through the CAB model. By taking away from direct experience, as well as protection of the self-esteem, makes individuals vulnerable to forming habits that conform to social norms. Studies have even shown that perceived marital satisfaction has a weak tie to exclusivity (Cohen, The Perceived Satisfaction Derived From Various Relationship Configurations, 2016), begging the question on whether the ‘devil effect’ (Grunt-Mejer & Campbell, 2016) towards non-monogamy is justifiable. By applying the utilitarian and social adjustment forces to the modern bias towards CNM relationships, thus changing monogamous habits to new ones through open-communication, individuals can experience higher marital satisfaction.
Cohen, M. T. (2016). The Perceived Satisfaction Derived From Various Relationship Configurations. Journal of Relationships Research.
Cohen, M. T., & Wilson, K. (2017). Development of the Consensual Non-Monogamy Attitude Scale (CNAS). Sexuality & Culture.
Grunt-Mejer, K., & Campbell, C. (2016). Around Consensual Nonmonogamies: Assessing Attitudes. Journal Of Sex Research.
Kimberly, C., & Hans, J. D. (2015). From Fantasy to Reality: A Grounded Theory of Experiences in the Swinging Lifestyle. (S. S. Media, Ed.)
Kruger, D. J., Fisher, M. L., Edelstein, R. S., Chopik, W. J., Fitzgerald, C. J., & Strout, S. L. (2013). Was that Cheating? Perceptions Vary by Sex, Attachment Anxiety, and Behavior. Evolutionary Pyschology .
Shackelford, T. K., Welling, L. L., Memering, S. L., & Mogilski, J. K. (2015). Monogamy versus Consensual Non-Monogamy: Alternative Approaches to Pursuing a Strategically Pluralistic Mating Strategy. Arch Sex Behav.