An Interdisciplinary Approach to Analyzing Plural Relationships Sustainability in Society.
Interdisciplinary Studies XXXX; Section XXX
University of Texas #########
** Now I have made updates to the original paper. Some are just pointed out changes since it was written or injecting info that I had not considered ( some annoying binaries), that could be changed without rewriting.**
In our modern society, monogamy is the only lifestyle that is viewed as viable under current social, political, and economic conditions. I disagree with the ideology that there is no other viable relationship style other than monogamy. The census definition of family is “A group of two or more people who reside together and who are related by birth, marriage, or adoption” (Census.gov, 2011). Society today, though, does not necessarily qualify family using the strict definitions of the census, but rather as a mix family, kinship and household; related and unrelated. Understanding the phenomena of this definition of what makes a social grouping, I assert that plural relationships are viable. Within the scope of this paper I will seek to explain that while monogamy is the societal norm, plural relationships are a valid alternative relationship structure, that is sustainable and in need of the same recognition given to monogamous couples, because not doing so is an infringement of individuals who believe in the concept of plurality rights.
Plural relationships have been receiving a great deal of attention over the last few decades evident in the public polygamy (polygyny specifically) trials dealing with FDLS leaders and more recently polyamory (helping to fuel the negative ideologies of polygamy) with the Showtime series Polyamory: Married and Dating, Sisterwives and various articles in news sources. One notable article that sparked some controversy was the Slate article “Next step: We need to legalize polygamy. No joke.” in which the author ,Jillian Kennan, addresses that many view plural relationships in a less than positive light, partially because the only access people get to polygamous relationships regularly, are through scandals reported by the media that are not necessarily the norm for these relationships and expresses her opinion that committed plural relationships between adults ,18 and older, can be beneficial to women as long as they enter into them knowing the facts and of their own free will; essentially as long as they consent.
In an endeavor to explore this topic in an unbiased way, the principle of interdisciplinary research and thinking will be employed. This will help to reduce the chances of formulating a potential solution from one point of view that can easily be refuted due to another discipline having addressed this issue (Boix Mansilla, 2005). By using phenomena within western societal monogamy as a reference, we can compare plural relationships to monogamy. Doing this will help us to determine if the argument that polygamy, and by default polyamory, is bad for the individuals in the relationship (Badertscher & Finley, 2013). We will also be separating religious polygamy and its values, from the non-religious plural relationship structures. Once the differences in the styles have been determined, we can enter into a discussion of the plausibility of plural relationships having a recognized status in a monogamous society that is equal to that of other committed relationships; In this case, marriage. In essence the goal of this paper is to help people to see that plural relationships may have a place in a monogamous society, by looking at how society grows and changes and what the laws reach is in denying the legitimacy and therefore protection of those in plural relationships, rather than changing society from monogamy.
Sociology: Relationships effects of societal development
Sociology is a social science which studies society in varying context. For the purpose of this paper, research has been done examining society from many facets including as an entity that is living and organic (Lindgren, 2012, p. 47). The discipline of sociology creates a direction to examine societal norms in the United States in reference to the discussion of the lives of people’s and groups within society. Sociology will also contextualize what relationship are and how those social systems are relevant to society and the changes that have occurred in the context of family, relationships and marriages and how they affect society on individual levels and as a whole.
Psychology: Fulfilling self-interest
Psychology is often used for the treatment of mental health, but it can also be used to explain what motivates individuals in everyday life. A model that will be used to analyze individual choices is the” Investment Model ” (C. E. Rusbult, J.M. Martz, and C.R. Agnew, 1998) that will be used to discuss the reasons that people choose certain relationship structures. The investment model includes three factors: satisfaction, the quality of alternatives, and investments, that according to the Mikkelson and Pauley (2013) analysis of Rusbult and Bulik are determinates of committing to a relationship. Psychological insights allow individuals to understand how humans think and behave on individual levels, which relate to society due to the knowledge that individuals make up society, so their choices have a direct impact; and in relation, to plural relationships, understanding why certain individuals would choose that lifestyle.
Political Science: Why bigamy should not apply.
Political science as a discipline will assist in the discussion on how laws and public policies relates to relationships and marriage, children and property in a monogamous society. Using the discipline of political science will contribute an understanding of public policies, political processes and behaviors that are involved in plural relationships. Some of the approaches that will be taken are looking at bigamy and how it relates to consenting plural marriages and addressing polyamorists and polygamists from a minority’s point of view( Lewis, 2011) and if marriage is a civil right of polyamorists who wish to be married to their partners and polygamists, that is being violated. Political science can help contextualize how plural relationships can be decriminalized on the marriage front and help us to understand the potential conflicts that would be faced in doing so.
Sociology: Relationships effects of societal development
There has been an interpretation that due to the decreased commonality of the “traditional” nuclear family structure, that the family structure has declined and in on the verge of collapse. I reject that ideology, on the basis that the definition of family has changed over time. Due to this knowledge it leads me to corroborate the hypothesis that families are yet again experiencing change in regards to form and meaning, in a combination of kin and non-kin (Bengtson, p 4). At its simplest form, the evolving definition of family is what plural relationships embody; not an overall change for the society to convert to, but a new way of structuring family that benefits its members.
Plural relationships have a bad reputation for being inherently abusive, a means to cheat without guilt, an easy way out of commitment and just in general bad for the well-being of the individuals. That can be true, but no truer than it is for monogamous relationships. Plural relationships are not for everyone, and I do not seek to argue that plural forms of structuring relationships should be the new norm for society, only that they should become a respected form for those who choose to live the lifestyle. For those who choose to engage in plural relationships, there are benefit that they see, both economically and socially. For now, I will focus on children of plural relationships.
When speaking on the terms of committed plural relationships, the idea of the potential harm it can cause children becomes the forefront argument. The first argument is usually the primary image that people have of plural relationships, parades of people coming in and out of your life on a regular basis and leaving impressions on the children or worse sordid individuals who can harm your children. In monogamous dating, single parents take care when dating; they often don’t want a stranger who they know little about being around their child. That is no different in the plural relationship dating realm. Going further with the idea of single parents raising children, these families usually experience a higher degree of economic vulnerability, due to relying on one income to provide for the parent and the child (ren) (Mclanahan, p 35). There is a higher probability that adults engaging in plural relationships will experience a decline in economic scarcity, poor parenting, and deficiency in social support. In regards to those who would want to be in plural relationships ( in terms of poly-fidelity and polygamy, or any other structure individuals may choose,) their family unit may combine financials obligation, splitting each obligation between each working adult so that each person pays an equal amount or so that each person pays in proportion to what they make. This provides more financial security. Quality of parenting is not a reference to single parents being bad parents, in fact many single parents do a well parenting solo, but they worry that the lack of time they have to devote to their children, because they have to work to provide the basic necessities. Some plural families feel that the children benefit, because if they decide to co-parent, using the example of a triad, there are 3 adults are there for the child to go to and be supported by. This also relates to expansion of social support. Adults have more than one partner, each partner may be able to relate to a certain aspect of that individual, whether hobby, preference of social interactions, sexual intimacy, etc. Children have a network of individuals that may be willing to care for and support them in various ways.
Another phenomenon that helps us to conceptualize plural relationships in a modern environment are couples who are in a relationship, do not live with each other’s but their social circles recognize them as being in a relationship, also known as LATs (Levin, p 228). The point that differentiates LATs from simply being a couple in the stage before marriage is that there are couples who live this way without any thoughts of marriage in mind. While there are short-term LATs that evolve into marriage, many LATS never reach that point (mutual decision) but still manage to comingle their lives and even financials. For example Sally and Joe are a long term LAT dyad. Sally has a son and she does not want to uproot him and separate from his friends, family or father (her ex-husband) (Levin, 135). So Joe and Sally live in two separate homes (in the purpose of this example in different cities that are easy driving distances (2 hours). Joe makes more money than Sally so he pays her rent and car payment and she pays his phone and electricity bill. On weekends Joe attends a family dinner at Sally’s dad’s house where he is considered a son. They have two separate groups of friends who know that they are together and respect that. Joe is there for Sally’s son, Ron, baseball games. Ron sees Joe as his other parent because Sally and Joe have been together since he was 5 (he is now 13, so he goes to Joe with many problems he has).
This can easily be placed in the concept of plural relationships. This example will use a polyamorous “V” setup that is a Male- Female-Male configuration similar to polyandry; difference is that there is no claim to marriage. Enter David, he is Sally’s other primary partner and Joe’s metamour (meaning they have no relationship other than possibly friendship). Keeping to the above example, everything will remain the same but adjusted the financials to everyone supporting themselves. David lives in the same city as Sally but they have been together for 3 years. Sally spends time with David during the week, as does Ron, and on the weekend she spends time with Joe, though David comes to Ron’s baseball games and the family dinners.
In the above example, it seems as though adding additional people to a dyad is easy, which it is, but that does not guarantee a relationship(s) to have any type of stability. This is where the general monogamous population has trouble understanding how plural relationships work. There is a term called processing in the polyamorous community. This term is a more complex form of communicating with your partners. It surpasses the basics such as “I’m ok with that” or “No, I am not ok with that”. In many cases it can take hours for groups to get through discussing everyone’s feeling on how the relationships are working and how to better plan and account for everyone’s feeling, needs, wants, and plan date nights and outings. Plural relationships are complicated in the fact that there is more complexity when you deviate from a dyad. They require maturity on an emotional level, a willingness to understand that your partner may have other obligations, an ability to transcend and include your ego, to uphold your boundaries but be flexible without compromising yourself, empathy, organization (you may need a planner/calendar to keep track of everyone’s availability) and responsibility/ self-accountability (Amaroux, n.p). Without those qualities you would have a difficult time navigating a plural relationship, though it’s not impossible.
While many have this belief that plural relationships are a way to cheat but not feel bad about it, they tend to lack an understanding that while plural relationships can add an air of freedom to the person, it increases that responsibility that person has to take for their actions. This is why plural relationships are not for everyone, but for the people who want to engage in them, there are many benefits that are attractive and make the hard work worth it. The above monogamous society is inclusive of other relationships styles.
Psychology: Fulfilling self-interest
In the introduction of this paper, I brought out that there are benefits that motivate individuals to choose a relationship style and when to engage in a relationship with others. But do those benefits outweigh the stigma that is attached to plural relationships and the discrimination that many polygamist and polyamorist are faced with? By examining plural relationships in the context of the Investment model, it is simpler understand why individuals will go against societal norms to feel fulfilled in their personal relationships.
Remember that satisfaction, the quality of alternatives, and investments, are determinants of an individual’s commitment to a relationship. To better understand the model, it is prudent to understand what is meant by the terms. Satisfaction speaks in regards to an appraisal of the positive and negative association of the aspects of a relationship. Satisfaction is a central determinant in relationship commitment because quite simply the extent that a person’s needs are or are not being met are elements of seeking alternatives in the first place and reexamining their investments. In respect to plural relationships quality of alternatives speak on the appeal of relationships outside of the original/primary relationship, if such a relationship existed prior to a plural dynamic. Investments refer to the time, energy (both physical and emotional), social status, property/possession and self-identity that a person expends and the determining if the values of these investments would be diminished if there is a decision to seek alternatives.
For many participants in plural relationships maintaining a sense of self is important (Barker, p 77). It helps individuals to recognize who they are outside of the boundaries that society has drawn. The norm of Western society is that 1) sexual relationships should be between one man and one woman ( The legal definition of marriage has been adjusted to accept gay relationships, though many still struggle in individual areas, since this paper was first written.), 2) monogamous, though one or both parties may crave for outside influence on the relationship but never physically seek it, and 3) with the man in the role of the active or dominate partner and the woman in the passive or submissive role. This compulsory view of heterosexuality and relationships is no longer applicable. It puts forth the notions that gender roles, relationship involvement, relationship structures are fixed, when societies history has shown us that that is not the case. It seems then that plural relationships viability is demonstrated in its capacity to provide individuals in a postmodern world with intimacy and security, especially in the terms of polyamory, providing an atmosphere of equality in love, trust, desire, compatibility, and choice (Barker, p 78).
For some the alternatives to plural relationships are to stay in monogamous relationships that are stagnant and that are not fulfilling their need to grow as individual. Some individuals look at the complexity in plural relationships and feel that they are putting themselves at risk of being alone if they try to enter into this lifestyle, but often they end up exposing what they tried to hide from. To engage in a plural relationship, individuals must learn or at least be willing to learn as they go that love is not necessarily limited; that your partner loving someone else does mean they love you less and that they will feel jealousy and that it is up to them to learn how to handle it in a manner that allows the relationship(s) to flourish (Emberger, p. 3).
In plural relationships, satisfaction with the relationship can be determined by compersion, happiness with your partners’ happiness with another person; the physical representation of the heart opening itself up to pleasure and appreciation of their partners being treated well and benefiting mutually from the intimate relationship (Ferrer, pp 54-5). It should also be noted that entering into non-monogamy does not necessarily mean that a relationship is lacking (Melby, p 5). By investing in compersion, a person opens themselves to a path of self-enlightenment, or getting to know ones-self (Ferrer, p 55) Often we come across fears ad insecurities that we never knew we would had.
Political Science: Why bigamy should not apply.
With the negative outlook that has been given to most Americans via media reports on some sects of the Fundamentalist Mormon community, in regards to polygamy, no one can be blamed for thinking that plural relationships are vile and inherently abusive. I acknowledge the fact that there has been abuse, but it must also be remembered that many of these instances of abuse that are being put forth are not the only side polygamy, even in the Fundamentalist Mormon communities. Some of the common views of polygamy are that one or more wives are treated better economically, children often fight for their father’s attention, and children and/or wives are being physically, sexually or emotionally abused (Al-Krenawi, Graham, Al-Kremawi, p 453). As previously said before, the fact that these abuses happen, should not mean that it always happens in every situation.
In 2008, an anonymous tip about a sixteen year old girl being physically and sexually abused, lead to 486 children being taken from their parents because community concern that the culture of polygamy was allowing children to be abused and young girls being forced to spiritually marry older men. (White, 447) This is a more recent account. A similar situation in 1953 showed a different view of the public opinion when people were able to see children being torn from their parents and recognizing that this was not the proper way to go about helping the victims( White. 449).Yes these type of abuses do happen in marginalized communities, especially those where people are raised to understand that their core values are looked down upon by those outside of their community and that they could potentially cause them harm and destroy their family, but this is what happens when a culture is only seen by the bad that is shown openly. The problems with the way these cases are handle is that many believe that the entire culture is abusive and the only way to protect individuals from it is, to separate families. But apply the same logic to non-polygamous communities. One family in one neighborhood has allegations of child abuse, so every child in that neighborhood is taken from their parents. Reason this seems so absurd is only because they aren’t fundamentalist which society has seen perceptions pointing to the fact that these communities are abusive. It’s important to remember that beliefs don’t dictate whether a relationship style is abusive. It’s the people who participate in the relationship that determine if that particular relationship will be abusive.
If law enforcement sought to prosecute polygamist just because they have multiple wives/husbands then it would be a critical waste of resources that could go to prosecuting actual criminals. In Utah and Arizona they have strict laws prohibiting polygamy, but that does not prevent it from being practiced. Instead law enforcement focuses its attention on crimes that people may be committing, it just so happens that the perpetrator is a polygamist (White, p 453). They focus on polygamy cases only when it has been noted that there is abuse, domestic violence and fraud. I agree that this is the most prudent way of dealing with the abuse in polygamy. Instead of focusing on the way people decide to style there family, whether because of religion, culture or personal preference, focus on the real issues at hand. Treat the cases of abuse, neglect, and fraud not as a polygamist problem, because when that is done it is coloring all plural relationships in a dark shadow. It became less about protecting the individual and more about placing personal preference on someone else’s life.
There are many polygamist out there in the United States that aren’t in the public eye because they aren’t fundamentalists or in large communities showing that it’s not the relationship style, it’s not the religion and it’s not the belief, it’s the people and the forced secrecy that create the problem.
Though Kurtz made an incorrect assumption the group marriage is important to all bisexuals he did make a point, that orientation could allow for people to construct their own forms of marriage.” Same sex marriage has in a way showed that the legality of plural relationships, where everyone involved knows about each other and consent (the opposite of bigamy), is possible if it can be proved that there is a real and substantial benefit to public health, morals, safety etc. of the general welfare (Ashbee, p 106).
Now that it has been determined that fundamentall, there are not many differences between plural relationship that result in some form of marriage, whether polygamy or group marriage, we need to understand why people feel the need to be able to claim that they are legally married to their partners. The LGBT marriage equality movement has outlined the reason people want to have legal standing for their unions. Marriage Equality USA has created a concise list of reason people would want or need to have a legal backing to their unions. These: include the ability to see your partner during hospitalization or make medical decisions for them; because often the medical power of attorney is looked over in favor of family, the right to be treated as an economic unit, protection of assets when one spouse dies, protection of children in the event of one parents death by avoiding being separated from family( Marriage equality USA, n.p).
According to Lewis the constitution was written to protect minority rights and cited this as a justification for the type of government we now have (p 365). Here I argue that if there is a group of people that want to marry and retain benefit the government provides, that should not be taken away simply because the individual’s relationship style does not fit within the societal norms. When comparing monogamy and plural relationships the only difference is that one has more individuals, but it is not up to the government to determine if a person can love more than one person and be in a relationship with them.
Integration and discussion – How can plural relationships work in a work in a monogamous society?
Plural relationships are a valid relationship structure. While they are often more difficult only because of the fact that there are more individuals involved, it does not make them any less sustainable or worthy of legal recognition in marital terms. Just like with monogamy if someone does not feel that they are prepared for marriage or want the responsibility of marriage, etc., individuals will not get married. They can remain together, but just many never see the usefulness of marriage. Addressing another issue from the naysayer perspective, I assert that if the marriage fails, it’s not greater disaster than that a monogamous marriage falling apart.
By legalizing plural marriages, you allow the individuals in the relationship to receive the same benefits that monogamous heterosexual couples receive; yet with more than two people in the marriage how do you make sure that all bases are covered. It is as simple as redefining terms found in the discipline of political science. The census definition of a married couple is now, a husband (one man) and wife (one woman) enumerated by law as the same household with or without children, and the steps of legal marriage (census.gov, n.p). As of now the general steps to obtaining a valid and legal marriage include: 1) obtaining a marriage license from you county clerk and paying the fees, 2) being at least 18 years of age or having parental consent if younger, 3) proof of vaccination in some states, 4) proof of dissolution of all prior marriages, 5) ability to consent to the marriage, 6) proof that you are not a close relative of the potential spouse, 7) in some states, you must have a blood test to determine if you have STDs that are disclosed to your partner,8) complete your states waiting period 9) perform the ceremony with a valid officiate and witnesses 10) record the marriage license with the state, and 11) consummate the marriage. The text of Repko defines “redefinition” as modifying concepts to achieve a new meaning or understanding ( Repko, p 336). So therefore the new definition of a married group would be, husband(s),wife (ves,) or partner(s) enumerated by law as the same household with or without children. To understand how plural relationship could potentially be eased into the current framework of marriage, I will outline how the current steps in the marriage process along with additional steps will allow for plural relationships that are registered.
All steps can remain the same, but starting at step 8, I will make adjustments. At this step, any “group” wishing to engage in a plural marriage would present a document or contract, signed and dated by all parties involved, with a witness, which outlines the agreements to the relationship. This is a fair and equal measure because the law already outlines these basic structures for monogamy, but plural relationships vary from group to group. By having all members agree to the terms in which their marriage will operate, in the event of questioning or divorce a document will exist outlining the agreements each person has made for this event. This document would include the following areas:
- The intentions of the relationship- In this section each couple must discuss each individual’s intention for their union; a precursor for their vows, written and legally binding.
- The agreements- In this section all agreements that the group makes in regard to this union must be recorded. Keep in mind this document is a general outline, like the current policies in for marriage; it should encompass every individuals expectations and what they agree on.
Suggested topics in this section are:
- Veto power- Outline if this is allowed and how it can be used.
- Transparency- Outline a safe way to approach all partners about new information and all information each partner requires before the marriage begins. Remember, honesty and communication are extremely vital to plural relationship.
- Safe sex practices- This outlines the group’s requirement in reference to sexual practices.
- Processing- This is a reference for the intense discussion people who engage in plural relationships often have to determine the well-being, physical, emotional, and mental, of each individual. This will outline how it should be done, generally, to ensure everyone is heard.
- Communal Economics- How family finances and economics will be handled. Here the discussion of tax exemption should be had to determine that all claim exemptions that are appropriate and legal. Here a tax specialist may need to be consulted.
- Property- Here is suggested that each partner keeps their personal property before entering into the marriage separate, but any property obtained after the marriage be split between the individuals however they see fit; outlined in this section.
- Children- This section will outline the care of the children. Who will care for the children financially? Who will parent them? What befalls the children in the event of their legal guardian/adopted parent/ birth parents deaths? etc.
- Termination of the relationship – The terms of this is a summary of how all property, etc. will be divided in the case of divorce.
- Death- This outlines the sharing of property, child care, spousal care, etc. in the event of one or more spouse’s death.
This basic outline would provide a family with accurate protections that are legally documented. Just as you must insure that a copy of your marriage license is given to the county clerk, a copy of this marriage agreement should be sent in as well. Anytime changes need to be made, it should be done so, legally binding with a, lawyer, preferably, or witnessed outside the marriage present and a new copy must be reported. For taxes, it could be as simple as claiming “other relatives” that you live with full time, as long as they do not file jointly with anyone else. Essentially all should file separately but be able to claim exemptions. In the children portion of the marriage contract they should determine who would claim children for tax purposes, to prevent too many people from getting the exemption. Again taxes are something expressed in the marriage contract. Then enters step 9, where individuals complete a waiting period, where their contract will be validated by the courts to ensure all measures within legal frameworks. Then so on to step 10-12, 10) perform the ceremony with a valid officiate and witnesses 11) record the marriage license with the state, and 12) consummate the marriage ( This law should be looked at to address non sexual relationships and what we mean by consummating). Agreements and Contracts are not a foreign concept to plural relationships. Many who have these types of relationships already have them, whether orally discussed, documented but not necessarily validated with witnesses or lawyers, documented by creating a limited liability company, or with a will and power of attorney. An example of how this could work, for instance, is that Sally marries Joe and David moves in. So now the adults and the child all live together. They must then outline how they plan the relationship to work in general. General refers the basic rules they will live by. Now say David meets another person and they end up wanting to marry but his new partner does not want to be in his current relationship. David would then need to go through the same process with an addendum that is added to both relationship contracts, outlining his new roles in both relationships and the separation of his estate. This will be a lot of work, require time, possibly money, and definitely effort. This is one of the reasons plural marriage is not for everyone. There is a lot to consider and multiple lives in the balance.
Plural relationships are an immense topic that encompasses many disciplines. In the scope of this paper I looked at this relationship style from a societal perspective using the disciplines of sociology, psychology and political science (public policy), to determine if plural relationships are viable and if they could be recognized as legal units. Knowing that there are other factors to take into account, this could have been expanded more on the economic position, religious/ spiritual (or lack thereof) perspectives, and moral standpoint. As an introduction to this topic and a discussion based off of the predominate opposition that has been encountered, the direction this paper took appeared to be the best way to discuss viability of a relationship. Naysayers should understand what is going on in society today that could make a person who has not had any cultural, social, or religious view of plural relationship learn about them and engage in them. They must also understand what legal issues make these choices more difficult and if those blocks are truly justifiable. Something that I had not realized to the extent I gathered during this research is that people believe that plural relationships are completely different from monogamous relationships, when really both are relationships styles are on the same spectrum; just on different ends rather than two different spectrums. I believe that, that is where the confusion of plural relationships viability comes in. More research should be done on the differences of plural relationship to monogamous relationships to determine if they are fundamentally different or if it is merely structural difference that enhance certain aspects of plural relationships.
Sociology: Relationships effects of societal development
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