Different forms of consensual nonmonogamy, such as polyamory and swinging, have achieved greater prominence in daily conversation and representation in mass media. Although advocates recognize that the presence of additional people creates difficulties, the author argues that this greater complexity may lead to unavoidable instability. Drawing from classic work by Georg Simmel as well as modern research in the social sciences, James K. Beggan considers how the presence of a third person is what allows the formation of coalitions which then become part of the process that can break apart the triad. This paradox—explained with reference to game theory and social interdependence—represents the existential threat to the quest for consensual nonmonogamy. Beggan describes how psychological processes involving social comparison and gender and sexual orientation can limit the formation of certain types of coalitions which, in turn, influence which relationships can be expected to emerge in the context of consensual nonmonogamy. His analysis includes macro-level social issues related to establishing consensual nonmonogamy as a valid social identity and alternative to conventional marriage. Using insights from game theory, he suggests possible meta-solutions to coalition conflicts that emerge in triadic romantic and sexual relationships.
James K. Beggan is professor of sociology at the University of Louisville.
Chapter 1: The Terms of Consensual Nonmonogamy
Chapter 2: The History of Consensual Nonmonogamy
Chapter 3: Past Research on Consensual Nonmonogamy
Chapter 4: Polynomics: Consensual Nonmonogamy as Social Interdependence
Chapter 5: Infidelity as a Choice in a Prisoners’ Dilemma Game
Chapter 6: Triads in Consensual Nonmonogamy
Chapter 7: The Instability of Triads
Chapter 8: Social Comparison and Coalitions
Chapter 9: Sex, Sexual Orientation, and Coalitions
Chapter 10: Choosing Consensual Nonmonogamy in a Monogamous World
James Beggan provides a fascinating integration of two fields of study that have never before been brought together. By using game theory as the conceptual rationale for analyzing polyamory and other forms of open relationships, the author provides an important and novel framework for understanding what is rapidly becoming a legitimate and popular form of romantic and sexual expression. His focus on coalition formation in triads clarifies the challenges inherent in relationships that involve more than two people. His extensive and up-to-date literature review and historical analysis of consensual nonmonogamy will serve as a valuable reference for students, researchers, and therapists operating in a variety of disciplines.
James Beggan has provided a theoretically driven analysis of a clinically important topic. Managing romantic and sexual relationships among more than two people is relevant given the change in relationship configurations in today’s world. His approach, which is tied to sophisticated game theoretical ideas, is highly readable and will appeal to researchers, clinicians, and students in a number of fields. He illuminates how the success of consensually nonmonogamous relationships can be affected by social and psychological factors including social comparison processes among partners as well as their gender and sexual orientation. He also offers meaningful and helpful suggestions for how practitioners and therapists can work to resolve conflicts that originate in consensually nonmonogamous arrangements.