Motivation and emotion/Book/2014/Monogamy motivation

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Motivation and monogamy:
What motivates monogamy?

Overview[edit | edit source]

Gray wolf pair

Monogamy is a type of intimate relationship where an individual is committed to only one partner or mate over their lives or over a period of time. This is in contrast to polygamy in which an individual has multiple partners over the same period. From an evolutionary perspective, due to the huge investment that female mammals have with producing offspring, it is beneficial for strong males to be polygamists and seek out other females for further reproduction. However, because of this, females are much more selective of their mates, only allowing the strongest and fittest to mate with them, which is why monogamy amongst mammals is rare [explain?][1].

It seems that ancient Greeks and Romans were the first to implement laws regarding monogamy, allowing men to only have one wife[factual?]. However, many were still allowed concubines and slaves as sexual partners. It is thought that by enforcing laws against polygamy, it would increase the chances of lower-ranking and other unimpressive males to acquire a wife [2]. Since then it was embraced by Christians which led to its spread and influence in the West. It seems in the past centuries Westerners have come to see monogamy as the norm and polygamy as a strange practice. Monogamy is different amongst males and females, with males thinking about and considering other relationships more than females which could be due to our male ancestor’s polygamist lifestyles[factual?]. However, women have also been known to desire multiple partners[factual?].

There are many theories regarding the psychology and motivation behind monogamy including attachment styles, satisfaction of the relationship, the duration of the relationship, and investment and the perception of costs and rewards. It can be difficult to describe the actual definition of monogamy, [grammar?] some definitions refer to monogamy being only about mating and sexual behaviour, other definitions refer to the social aspect such as marriage and partnership [3]. In regards to animals and human ancestors, monogamy is primarily about mating and reproduction, whereas modern humans form more social relationships and bonds between each other. Although most men are known to desire polygamist lifestyles, it may be possible to become more motivated to remain monogamist and faithful[factual?].

Laughing Dove pair in courtship dance - Flickr - Lip Kee

History[edit | edit source]

Although monogamy is a common practice for most birds, less than 3% of mammals stay with one partner over their lives [4]. This is because the process of pregnancy in mammals, such as internal gestation and lactation, makes it beneficial for males to leave the female to care for the offspring while they try to find more mates to produce more offspring [5]. Evolutionary advantages to monogamy, or pair-living, include the male protecting or safeguarding his mate, protection of his offspring, and the extra care that the young gain from being raised by two parents. Human, male ancestors were primarily polygamists, striving to mate with as many woman as possible to increase the chances of reproducing [6]. However, many men were not attractive or strong enough to possess more than one mate, and many women would prefer to be one of numerous wives to a strong male than the single wife of an unimpressive male[factual?].

Rua Kenana and four of his wives

Religion[edit | edit source]

Since then it seems that religion and war has had the strongest impact on whether people choose to live a life of polygamy or monogamy, and a difference was made in regards to reproduction, sex and marriage, with men claiming to be in a monogamist relationship with a wife, while still engaging in sexual activities with other women [7]. It is thought that laws regarding monogamy began in ancient Greece and Rome, where leaders were more invested in war and building large, well-funded armies. It was thought that by embracing a monogamist lifestyle men would join and fight for the promise of a wife, something that they could not accomplish in a polygamist society. It was a type of deal the influential men had to allow the lower men to marry in return for fighting wars and paying taxes [8]. The Christians then began to spread throughout the Roman Empire, and began to embrace monogamy and went on to spread the ideals throughout the Western world, which is why many Westerners view monogamy as the norm and polygamy as a strange and taboo practice. However, due to more recent religious groups such as Mormons, who occasionally practice in plural marriage, polygamy may slowly become more accepted in North America. A recent decision by a Utah court ruled that Utah’s ban on bigamy is unconstitutional and allowed 44 year old Kody Brown to remain married to his four wives, Meri, Janelle, Christine and Robyn with their seventeen children [9]. There are many other religions with rules and laws regarding monogamy and polygamy, however, due to the abundance of religions and their different versions and interpretations, there are many disagreements within the religions on whether the faith supports monogamy or condemns it.

For example, the Qur’an, the primary religious scripture of Islam, states that you are allowed to marry more than one woman of your choosing, however, if you feel that you cannot treat them justly, then marry only one [10]. Many more women in Saudi Arabia are opting to choose to be secondary wives due to a shortage of men, and the better treatment from being a ‘new’ wife [11].

Johann Friedrich August Tischbein - The Queen of Sheba Kneeling before King Solomon

The Old Testament[edit | edit source]

The Old Testament of the Christian Bible also has many instances of important figures engaging in polygamy such as Moses (Exodus 2:21); (Exodus 18:1-6), Abraham (Genesis 16:3), Jacob (Genesis 29:15-28), and King Solomon was known to have had up to seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines (1 Kings 11:1-3). The Old Testament and the Jewish Torah also describes Rabbi Tarfon as having up to 300 wives due to famine and poor conditions [12]. If a husband was to die before conceiving an heir, it was an obligation for the brother of the deceased to marry the widow in a practice known as levirate (Deuteronomy 25:5-10).

The New Testament[edit | edit source]

It seems that polygamy was more condemned and monogamy encouraged during the intertestamental period where The New Testament was being written [13]. The New Testament includes passages such as, “…be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh” (Matthew 19:3-9) which some people interpret as the Christian God condemning polygamy. 1 Timothy 3:1-13 state that church officials such as priests or deacons, must remain worthy of respect, and faithful to their wives, which some say is only applicable to the church officials and not to them. Other verses such as 1 Corinthians 7:2 and Mark 10:7 passages include: “…each man should have his own wife, and each woman her own husband” and “…hold fast to his wife” which is more evidence in support of monogamy. Other instances such as the Protestant reformation, a division within Christianity, showed more support for monogamy and the opposition of polygamy [14]. However, because of the huge amounts of different religions and their schisms, scriptures, translations and interpretations, it is extremely difficult to say whether or not a religion supports or opposes monogamist relationships.

Motivational Theories[edit | edit source]

There are many theories of motivation that might be able to explain why people choose to be monogamists or stay with one partner.

Acquired Needs Theory[edit | edit source]

Acquired needs theory, also known as the three-need theory or the learned need theory, states that our needs are shaped by our experiences, social opportunities, demands, our own development and fall into three categories of needs: achievement, affiliation and power [15]. It is possible that an individual learns that monogamy is somehow a need that must be sought, for example, believing that happiness comes from staying faithful to one particular person, that it is the right thing to do, or by observing other couples such as parents and believing it is the right decision. It might be possible that some people see being in a monogamist relationship as an achievement; to resist other interests, staying strong and committed to their partner, and adhering to certain rules such as morals or religious law. Seeking affiliation through companionship, a harmonious relationship, and approval might also be motivation for an individual to remain with the one partner. Having power and control over another person may also be means to stay with one person.

Reactance Theory[edit | edit source]

There is also reactance theory which states that people often do the exact opposite of what they were told or expected to do. It was once thought that reactance theory explained a phenomenon known as the Romeo and Juliet effect where a couple would show more affection towards each other and be more inclined to stay with each other if their parental liberties were threatened, such as the pressure to have a child [16]. However, a revisit of the experiment studying the links between social opinions and the outcomes of the relationship found no evidence of the Romeo and Juliet effect [17]. Although, it may be possible that reactance theory may still play a part in motivating couples to stay together, for example, having friends or family try to convince an individual of the negative aspects of marriage may encourage them to be more inclined to marriage.


Investment Model[edit | edit source]

Another motivational theory that may explain monogamist behaviour is the investment model. The investment model claims that how committed to a person or a relationship we are depends on how much is invested in the relationship, how satisfied we are with the rewards and costs, and comparing to other, potential relationships [18]. Two experiments performed by Rusbult (1979) on university students looked at the perceived rewards, costs, and comparisons to alternative relationships, on satisfaction and commitment to a relationship. Rusbult found that decreases in relationship cost value increased relationship satisfaction and commitment. If people believe that they are giving and receiving an equal share of resources both positive and negative, it is likely that will be a successful relationship. However, attractive, alternative relationships were a predictor of lower satisfaction. People seem to be more committed to a relationship if they think that they do not have many, attractive alternatives outside of their relationship, and less committed if they believe they do [19].

Interdependence Theory[edit | edit source]

This model is also closely related to the interdependence theory which is part of social exchange theories that study how people’s perception of the rewards and costs of a relationship predict satisfaction. Interdependence theory looks at four types of rewards and costs in a relationship:

Emotional[edit | edit source]

Emotional: Looks at all the positive and negative feelings and emotions that arise from relationships[grammar?]. The closer the relationship, the more invested couples are in emotional costs and rewards. For example, the attitude of one party may negatively affect the emotional well-being of the other party which would count as emotional costs.

Social[edit | edit source]

Social: Examines the rewards and costs of one party’s impact on the other’s social aspects. For example, one partner may prevent the other from seeing their friends, which may be a huge social cost.

Instrumental:[edit | edit source]

Instrumental: Looks at activities and tasks in a relationship such as household chores and other obligations[grammar?]. A primary instrumental cost would be one of the parties never doing any cleaning around the house, leaving the other party to clean up instead.

Opportunities:[edit | edit source]

Opportunity: Which involves looking at the opportunities that arise from being in the particular relationship[grammar?]. For example, opportunities such as job offers, more friends, or anything else that might not have been present outside of the relationship [20].

Weighing up the rewards and costs of a relationship in these four areas may help to decide if the outcomes to a relationship is positive or negative or if the relationship is worth having or not.

Lesbian Couple togetherness in bed 02.jpg

Psychology of Monogamy[edit | edit source]

Many psychological studies regarding marriage stability focus on three aspects:

Satisfaction[edit | edit source]

When people fall in love and get married, a wave of positive emotions and feelings are increased and they begin to see many of their partner’s attributes as their own and in concepts of themselves which is known as self-expansion. Through this, people become more aware and learn new things about themselves and their partners, which facilitates the self-expansion and increases marital satisfaction [21]. However, it is possible that the self-expansion will slow down over time leading to a more unsatisfying marriage.

Duration[edit | edit source]

Studies that have looked at long-lasting marriages, and satisfied couples found that the duration of a relationship can be determined by the balance of positive and negative interactions [22]. Couples who can productively and calmly face the inevitable conflict, or use humor and approach the conflict in a gentle manner are less likely to fight and end the relationship. A study [23] found that happy, long-lasting couples agree in the following:

  • Partner is best friend
  • Comfortable with partner as a person
  • Marriage is a long term commitment
  • Agree with the same aims and goals
  • Partner becomes more interested/ing
  • And both parties wanting the relationship to succeed.

Attachment[edit | edit source]

Attachment theory is the inclination to seek a closeness or connection to another, and to feel positive emotions in their presence and negative emotions in their absence. It is also how we act in relationships when we perceive harm, threats or separation from our partners [24]. A study found that the three attachment styles, secure, avoidant and anxious/ambivalent, are related to how an individual experiences love, and perceives working models of themselves and their relationships [25].

Gender Differences[edit | edit source]


Men[edit | edit source]

Men have always been seen as having a strong sex drive which most hypothesise is due to our ancestors and their need to reproduce[factual?]. Male mammals are built and designed to impregnate as many women as possible in their lifetimes to increase the population of the species. Due to the huge commitment women have in carrying and birthing a child, it is more beneficial for the male to seek out other mates rather than the female [26]. Although Western culture is heavily influenced by Christianity, more and more people are questioning whether or not we are a monogamist species and that perhaps it is more beneficial to be with multiple partners [27]. However, there are also many people who believe that monogamy is something that makes us human and separates us from animals [28]. It is believed that Western men go into relationships with beliefs and myths regarding monogamy such as the negative stigma that comes with those who cheat, and that a continuous love for their partners will result in everlasting sexual gratification. However, this might not last and men may begin to try to increase the passion and “spice up” their sex life after approximately three months during the storming period when couples begin to become emotionally attached [29][30]. Although they may be extremely attached and in love with their partners, some men may not leave them, but still feel the urge to satisfy their sexual desires with other women while maintaining a loving relationship with their partner. It is possible for men to be in love with only one partner, however it is unlikely that they will be also be sexually attracted with only one[factual?]. Reasons for men staying in a monogamist relationship could be for parental purposes, belief that it is unfair for the other party, love and companionship, or for their own gain and status, for example married men are seen as healthier than unmarried men [31], more responsible, more mature and better adjusted, which can have a huge impact on employment and promotional opportunities [32].


Women[edit | edit source]

As discussed earlier, the gestation period of female mammals is one of the primary causes of polygamy in males and monogamy in females. Due to the commitment of carrying and birthing a child, it is beneficial for the female to become pregnant by one strong, intelligent man and care for his child only [33]. The possibility of having a strong, intelligent child is not the only reason for women to prefer monogamy; women also need the strong males to protect them and their children and acquire more resources to increase their chances of survival [34]. Women of child-bearing age also have a biological clock, or an increase in maternal instincts, which makes them crave children before their body is unable to carry a child [35]. This could be another reason why women desire a strong, intelligent man to marry, for their genes, protection and other resources, such as food or financial security [36]. Women are known to be much more relationship oriented than men, most likely due to the strong relationship and bond mothers have with their children. This relational attitude could be another reason women like to form strong, romantic relationships with a partner. As with men, married women also seem more responsible, mature and organised, this may potentially impact other life aspects such as employment. Although women seem to long for a man to start a family with, it is also possible, and quite common, for women to desire other sexual partners and live a polygamist lifestyle [37].

Romantik (5876670653).jpg

Can We Be More Monogamous?[edit | edit source]

It may be possible to become more of a monogamist, or have more positive feelings and faith in a relationship by exploring some of the theories behind motivation. The investment model and interdependence theory, also known as social exchange theory, discuss how most relationship success is based off the perception of costs and rewards in several different areas such as emotion and social. Couples that showed low levels of relationship dependence were more likely to end in divorce [38]. To have a successful relationship, it is advisable to go through the rewards and costs of the four areas, emotional, social, instrumental and opportunities, and weigh up the negative and positive outcomes. If you feel that the relationship is costing more than it is rewarding, it is possible that the relationship might fail [39]. The other psychological aspects of a relationship, such as satisfaction, duration and attachment, can also have an effect on the feelings towards a relationship. A study [40] found that relationships were successful when both couples had the same views on many aspects of the partnership such as being each- others best friend, agreeing that marriage is a long-term commitment, have the same aims and goals, such as children, finding the other partner interesting, and both wanting the relationship to succeed. There is no right or wrong when it comes to monogamy and polygamy, every person and couple feel differently about the situation. However you feel about it, it seems the most important aspect of being motivated to stay with one person is to have the same aims, goals, equal perceptions of costs and rewards, and to be treated equally.

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Klieman, D. G. (1977). Monogamy in Mammals. The Quarterly Review of Biology, Vol. 52, No. 1, Pp. 39-69. PMID: 857268.
  2. Alexander, R. D. (1987). The Biology of Moral Systems. Foundations of Human Behaviour. Transaction Publishers. ISBN 020236948X.
  3. Carter, C. S., DeVries, A. C., & Getz, L. L. (1995). Physiological Substrates of Mammalian Monogamy: The Prairie Vole Model. Neuroscience and Biobehavioural Reviews, Vol. 19, No. 2, pp. 303-614. PMID: 7630584.
  4. Klieman, D. G. (1977). Monogamy in Mammals. The Quarterly Review of Biology, Vol. 52, No. 1, Pp. 39-69. PMID: 857268.
  5. Opie, C., Atkinson, D. Q., Dunbar, R. I. M., & Shultz, S. (2013). Male infanticide leads to social monogamy in primates. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, Vol. 110, No. 33, Pp. 13328-13332. Doi: 10.1073/pnas.1307903110.
  6. Price, M. (2011). Why We Think Monogamy Is Normal. From Darwin to Eternity. Evolutionary moral psychology. Retrieved from
  7. Betzig, L. (1995). Medieval Monogamy. Journal of Family History, Vol. 20, No. 2, pp. 181-216. Retrieved from
  8. Price, M. (2011). Why We Think Monogamy Is Normal. From Darwin to Eternity. Evolutionary moral psychology. Retrieved from
  9. Brown vs. Buhman, 947 F. Supp 2d 1170. (2013).
  10. Al-Nisa. Quran 3:4, Sahih International. Retrieved from
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  12. Freeman, T. (n.d.). Why Does Torah Allow Polygamy? Retrieved from
  13. Instone-Brewer, D. (2002). Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible: The Social and Literary Context. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing. ISBN 0802849431
  14. Luther, M. De Wette II, ibid. pp. 329-330.
  15. McClelland, D. C., (1961). The Achieving Society. Free Press, New York
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  17. Sinclair, H. C., Hood, K. B., & Wright, B. L. (2014). Revisiting the Romeo and Juliet Effect. Re-examining the Links Between Social Network Opinions and Romantic Relationship Outcomes. Social Psychology, Vol. 45, No. 3, pp. 170-178. Doi: 10.1027/1864-9335/a000181.
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  21. Aron, A., Norman, C. C., Aron, E. N., & Lewandowski, G. (2002). Shared participation in self-expanding activities: Positive effects on experienced marital quality. Understanding Marriage: Developments in the Study of Couple Interaction, pp. 177-194. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521803705.
  22. Gottman, J. M., Coan, J., Carrere, S., & Swanson, C. (1998). Predicting Mental Marital Happiness and Stability from Newlywed Interactions. Journal of Marriage and Family, Vol. 60, No. 1, pp. 5-22. Doi: 10.2307/353438.
  23. Lauer, J., & Lauer, R. H. (1986). ‘Til Death Do Us Part: How Couples Stay Together. Haworth Press. ISBN 0866566015.
  24. Waters, E., Corcoran, D., & Anafarta, M. (2005). Attachment, Other Relationships, and the Theory that All Good Things Go Together. Human Development. Doi: 10.1159/000083217.
  25. Hazan, C., & Shaver, P. (1987). Romantic Love Conceptualized as an Attachment Process. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol. 52, No. 3, pp. 511-524. PMID: 3572722.
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  27. Engber, D. (2012). Are Humans Monogamous or Polygamous? Retrieved from
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  32. Jordan, A. H., & Zitek, E. M. (2012). Marital Status Bias in Perceptions of Empolyees. Basic and Applied Social Psychology, Vol. 34, pp. 474-481. Doi: 10.1080/01973533.
  33. Klieman, D. G. (1977). Monogamy in Mammals. The Quarterly Review of Biology, Vol. 52, No. 1, Pp. 39-69. PMID: 857268.
  34. Buss, D. M., & Schmitt, D. P. (1993). Sexual Strategies Theory: An Evolutionary Perspective on Human Mating. Psychological Review, Vol. 100, No. 2, pp. 204-232. PMID: 8483982.
  35. Lewin, E. (n.d.). Is your biological clock ticking? Retrieved from
  36. Woods, J. (2012). What do women want? To be married, of course. Retrieved from
  37. Ley, D. J. (2010). Women who Stray. Higamous hogamous, women aren’t truly monogamous. Retrieved from
  38. Kurdek, L. A. (1993). Predicting Marital Dissolution: A 5-year prospective longitudinal study of newlywed couples. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol. 64, pp. 221-242.
  39. Wang, E. (2004). Social Exchange Theory Applied To Romantic Relationships. Retrieved from
  40. Lauer, J., & Lauer, R. H. (1986). ‘Til Death Do Us Part: How Couples Stay Together. Haworth Press. ISBN 0866566015.

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