Either you have a friend — or you are that friend — who seems to be swept up in one serious relationship after another. This pattern, which sex therapist Tom Murray, Ph.D., defines as having multiple long-term relationships with little wait time in between, is called serial monogamy. Society tells daters they’re “supposed to be totally monogamous, so we differentiate serial monogamy as having one [deep relationship] at a time versus one partner for life,” Murray says.
However, serial monogamy is often confused with serial dating, and there’s a very distinct difference between the two. Serial monogamists are in a union with one person while serial daters can be seeing many people at once or jumping from fling to fling (looking at you, Taylor Swift). Another misconception is that serial monogamists are always faithful, but they can cheat or have another potential lover lined up in the wake of a breakup. After spending a decade in four long-term relationships, I’m here to spill the pros and cons of serial monogamists.
They have a mature approach to intimacy.
Because serial monogamists are invested and dedicated, they don’t tend to play games (or god forbid, ghost). It’s natural for them to put their S.O. first. “Serial monogamists [are able] to consider the other person in addition to their needs and willing to be accountable and take on the responsibility for their relationship,” says Jane Greer, Ph.D., author of “What About Me? Stop Selfishness From Ruining Your Relationship.”
In the past seven years, Harmony, 24, has had five boyfriends and spent only three months solo. “I’ve learned a lot about how to love another person unconditionally and what I need in a long-term partnership,” she says.
They believe communication is key.
No couple can survive without vulnerable conversations (even when they’re a little too honest). Courting a handful of people — all with their own specific desires, behaviors, and backgrounds — has taught serial monogamists how to be open and understanding. “They listen, care, and make changes to keep their relationships going,” says Greer.
They have skills in the sack.
Serial monogamists tend to have a lower number than single people, but that doesn’t mean they’re amateurs. “Having many sexual partners doesn’t automatically translate into being an excellent lover,” Murray says. “The most important factor is cultivating a culture of curiosity.” Serial monogamists tend to be good in bed because “they have this desire to want to be sexually sophisticated and share feedback with [their partners] about what would pleasure them,” he says.
They stick around through the rough stuff.
Relationships aren’t all roses and rainbows. They take a lot of patience and hard work. “You have to go through the rocky patches,” says Rob, 25, who has had serious girlfriends consistently since he was in high school. “It’s like when you’re running a marathon — yeah, it was really fucking tough, but you feel amazing afterward. A relationship needs that kind of effort.”
When arguments occur, serial monogamists don’t throw in the towel easily. “In order to keep a relationship going, they have to learn how to compromise or [the other person] will leave,” says Greer.
They can be hopeless romantics.
Serial monogamists often experience deep, passionate feelings — and they’re not afraid to show it. They’re very dedicated and bend over backwards to make their S.O. feel special.
“I fall head over heels pretty quickly,” Rob says. “Once you’re my person, you get all of my attention. I will always care about you and be invested in you.” This is because serial monogamists are constantly hitting the love drug — dopamine — which spikes when they have a crush. They maintain this high through romantic gestures that validate their feelings of love.
They are afraid of being alone.
Some serial monogamists struggle with insecurity and use their relationships as a way to prove their worth or a crutch to avoid riding solo. “A potential disadvantage [of serial monogamy] is when an individual pursues relationships in an attempt to grapple with loneliness and not because they are genuinely interested in the other person,” says psychotherapist Todd Baratz. “[For a serial monogamist], the best line of defense is to be mindful about who they become while in a relationship and also what happens when they are single. [They need to] learn about the ways in which they connect, disconnect, give, and receive love.”
They can be codependent.
Too much reliance on a partner can stunt the development of an identity. There’s some truth to the cliché that people should discover themselves before they make room for someone else.
“If someone is bouncing around from relationship to relationship, it can be a little tough to give themselves the time and attention that they deserve,” says Rob. “They should still be able to find stability, happiness, pleasure, and spiritual satisfaction through things that are not a traditional monogamous relationship.”
To prevent this pattern, Greer suggests serial monogamists strengthen self-confidence and explore activities on their own. “Branch out from the relationship and only having one lane in life,” she says.
They love being in love.
It’s easy to fall for the idea of a partner instead of the reality. “The truth is that serial monogamists are more committed to relationships than they are to the relationship itself,” says Adina Mahalli, MSW, a certified relationship expert and mental health consultant.
To counteract this, Greer advises them to date around and get a feel for what they like and dislike before making anything official. “[It’s helpful for them to] go out with a few people and give themselves the chance to feel confident that they’re choosing to be with a person because they really want to be, not because they want to be in a relationship,” she says.
They hunt for the next best thing.
“Think about serial monogamy as this constant pursuit of wanting an upgrade,” says Murray. If they feel like there’s something missing in the relationship, serial monogamists will start to search for it elsewhere.
Rob agrees. “My temptation [to look at other potential partners] was never sexual; it was always like, ‘What kind of relationship could I have with this person? And how would it be different from my current relationship?’” This perspective can lead to cheating. At the end of the relationship, instead of breaking up, serial monogamists are sometimes unfaithful with hopes of having the next relationship lined up before ending their current one.
They continue to make the same mistakes.
Getting into a new relationship immediately after a breakup doesn’t allow serial monogamists enough time to process what they learned from it. This carry-on baggage can cause a repeat of past errors. “That absolutely happens because there’s not enough time to emotionally decompress and clear out the unresolved conflicts from the previous relationship,” says Greer.
Some serial monogamists look at their next beau as a second chance to fix what went wrong before. A healthier approach, according to Greer, is for them to focus less on their partner’s flaws and instead, do some self-reflection about how they could improve from their own faults.