Monogamy Agreements Are a Thing — and Relationship Experts Think You Should Make One

Yes, even if you think you're on the same page about what constitutes cheating in your monogamous relationship.

couple signing monogamy agreement

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A married friend of mine told me that she and her partner recently made a 'monogamy agreement' — and now I'm wondering if I should do the same. I trust my partner wholeheartedly and feel like we're on the same page about how we define cheating in our relationship, so I don't want to seem paranoid. Do we need one? What should be covered in the agreement exactly? —One Man Gal


First of all, it isn't paranoid to ask your partner to create a monogamy agreement — it's smart. Typically, couples who practice non-monogamy outline in detail what non-monogamous activities are considered OK in the coupledom. One of the strengths of these types of relationships is it there is a tendency to talk through all of the possibilities of where things could go wrong and very clearly outline the boundaries. This is where monogamous couples have a lot to learn from their non-monogamous counterparts.

Now, more and more monogamous couples in long-term relationships or marriages are catching on, and choosing to create monogamy agreements. These agreements outline, in writing, how monogamy is defined in your particular relationship. By outlining all the different nuances and categories where things could go wrong, they are attempting to preemptively avoid cheating (however they define it) and keep the lines of communication open.

These agreements are not legal and binding but a commitment between two romantic partners that should be fluid and evolve over time as you evolve.

Why make a monogamy agreement?

There are many benefits to these agreements. Putting your monogamous agreement in writing requires the two of you to have deep discussions, define what is monogamy to each of you, and get clarity on how the two of you will define it in your relationship. This type of high-level communication can help avoid problems in the future and strengthen the bond between the two of you.

The clarity that is provided by these discussions and an agreement like this can really help you to be clear about making boundaries with other people. Even if you don't want a relationship that resembles Daphne and Cameron's in The White Lotus, a monogamy agreement can help couples avoid sneaky more subtle behaviors. Not to mention, it could allow the two of you to enjoy certain behaviors that you might not have shared together without the clarity of what defines monogamy in your relationship.

For example, one couple I know is sexually exclusive but allow one another to flirt via text or messaging. This couple finds it very exciting to share the flirtations they are having with other people with each other. This has added to the excitement in their relationship.

The Making of a Monogamy Agreement

In order to create a monogamy agreement, you need to sit down with your partner and have some serious conversations.

To begin with, ask each other how you define monogamy. What is most important about monogamy to each of you? That also involves discussing cheating. Get specific about what exactly constitutes cheating and what might be grounds for a break up? It's important to be upfront about what is most important to you and to your partner in your monogamy agreement.

In writing the agreement here are some categories to consider: 

Sexual contact. Sex is usually the line most monogamous couples do not cross with others. But it's also important to talk about the “everything but category”. It may feel uncomfortable, but it's important to get specific: Is it OK to have any sexual contact with a person outside your relationship within your agreement? If so, what behaviors are acceptable and which ones break the agreement? Is kissing with another person OK? Oral sex? Making out? touching? Dry humping?

Affection. Is it OK to be physically affectionate with someone outside of your relationship? Is your partner OK with you holding hands with another person? Sitting on someone else’s lap? What crosses the line?

Social media. Where is the line when it comes to social media interactions? Are private messages with an ex OK? What about someone who is flirting with you? Is it OK to 'like' someone else’s sexy photos or comment on them on Instagram?

Flirting. Is it OK to flirt with someone else? Is there a difference between in person versus text message or social media? What crosses the line for you and your partner?

Emotional intimacy. This tends to be a particularly fuzzy area for most couples in general. It is also the slippery slope where most affairs begin. Creating emotional intimacy with someone outside of your relationship, especially someone who you might be attracted to, opens a door. Confiding in someone else about problems in your relationship, sharing very emotionally vulnerable material or opening up about sexual issues create a connection and a bond that can turn into something more. Defining what it means to create emotional intimacy with another person outside of your relationship and understanding what each of you are comfortable with is helpful to avoid future pain.

Sexting. Is it OK to sext with someone outside of the relationship? If it is, do you need to share with your partner in advance? After it happened? What are the rules of engagement?

Pornography. What role does pornography play in your relationship? Are you OK with the other person engaging with pornography alone? During sex with you? If you are not OK, it is worthwhile to explore what issues make this feel threatening to you so your partner can better understand.

Sex workers. Is engaging with a paid sex worker acceptable in your relationship? What about interactive pornography? Are you OK with your partner engaging sexually with someone online?

Masturbation. Masturbation is a healthy part of adult sexuality. Some couples feel threatened by a partner masturbating without them. It is important to let your partner know what your expectations are and have discussions about masturbation and discuss if there any activities that feel like they break a bond between the two of you.

Illness incapacitation. If one of you were to be ill or injured and unable to participate in sexual activity, are you OK with your partner seeking sexual fulfillment elsewhere? If so, what are the rules of engagement?

Non-monogamy /ethical monogamy. Are you a couple who is considering non-monogamy or ethical monogamy? If you are not now how might you in the future? If you are someone who is going to want an open relationship in the future, this is important to discuss with your partner early on to see if that is a dealbreaker. Some couples change their agreements about this but it is important to have a thorough discussion before taking any action.

Monogamy Agreements Are Fluid

Monogamy agreements can change over time based on the needs and desires of each partner. Make a plan upfront for how often you want to reassess your agreement so no one feels intimidated to broach the subject.

While you should plan to assess your monogamy agreement on a regular basis to make sure you both feel good about it, needless to say, any time a significant issue or concern comes up you should both be ready and willing to revisit how you define things and what your agreement is in the relationship.

Both parties need to be flexible in their discussions but should never agree to something that truly does not feel right. As people grow and mature, as relationships evolve, needs change. The most important thing is that those needs and desires are discussed with the other person before acting on them.

How to Write a Monogamy Agreement

The best way to write a monogamy agreement is over time. Doing it in one sitting may make one or both partners feel that they have to make a fast decision about something that can have a long-standing impact on the relationship.

Having these discussions over time and putting it in writing is the best way to come up with an agreement that works for both people. If the two of you are working on an agreement and find yourself having a lot of conflict, you may want to work with a couples therapist to help you talk through it.

Ultimately, even if you think you know exactly how your partner feels, writing a monogamy agreement together can help promote really important, deep discussions and help to deepen your bond and strengthen your relationship.

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