What Is Functional Monogamy?

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Hi Page,

I’ve seen you use the term “functional monogamy” several times in your writing now. I think I know what it means, but I’m not sure. Care to explain? What is functional monogamy?

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Basically, functional monogamy is a term that describes the behavior of a person having one romantic and/or sexual partner at a time. A person can be functionally monogamous permanently or only occasionally. And they can be functionally monogamous regardless of their preferred relationship style (or lack thereof).

A monogamous person can certainly be functionally monogamous (but not necessarily). And so can a polyamorous or ambiamorous person.

Functional Monogamy for the Monogamous

A person who prefers monogamy and never participates in consensually non-monogamous relationships can certainly be functionally monogamous. And monogamous people are usually presumed to be functionally monogamous.

If for some reason, however, they or their partner violates their monogamous agreement and cheats, they would then be functionally non-monogamous — nonconsensually and unethically, sure. (And how hurtful.) But they would no longer be practicing functional monogamy, at least not until an affair or affairs ceased and both parties were once again exclusive.

How long this could take depends on a number of factors and the nature of the cheating (one-night stand, string of affairs with strangers, an ongoing romance, etc.).

It’s worth noting, however, that some couples navigate those situations and are able to return to functional monogamy and renewed trust after an affair.

Functional Monogamy for the Polyamorous

Additionally, a polyamorous person could also be functionally monogamous if they were in a situation where neither they nor their partner had other partners.

This can be for a number of reasons — sometimes polyamorous people will end up with a monogamous partner who makes monogamy a stipulation of having a relationship with them, and so they agree to see no one else.

Other times, additional suitable partners simply aren’t available.

And a person who is polyamorous can also opt to simply have one relationship (for however long they choose) because they have other life stuff going on.

Functional Monogamy for the Ambiamorous

And finally, there are ambiamorous folks who don’t have a strong preference for monogamy or non-monogamy and are able to do either, depending on the particular circumstances.

Functional monogamy and functional non-monogamy are particularly helpful descriptors for an ambiamorous person who doesn’t strongly identify with either relationship style but wants to describe their current status without giving the impression that it’s permanent or comprehensive.

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Anyway, the reason “functional” is helpful as a modifier is because just because a person has a preferred relationship style (whether mono, poly, or ambi), it doesn’t mean that their relationships are currently taking that form. “Functional” describes current situational behavior and not orientation or preference.

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Have a question about a post? Maybe need some advice about a relationship or situation? Write me. I love getting messages from you.

Your letter and my answer might be featured in Advice Friend. I regularly change identifying details and/or completely rewrite letters to preserve anonymity.

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Books by Page Turner:

Dealing with Difficult Metamours

A Geek’s Guide to Unicorn Ranching

Poly Land: My Brutally Honest Adventures in Polyamory 

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