Polyamorous Vs. Polygamous: What's The Difference?

When it comes to romantic relationships, people across the globe have different preferences. However, whenever this topic is discussed, most people — especially in the Western world — tend to think of a monogamous relationship. Mind Body Green explains that monogamy is the most dominant approach to love and partnership, so much so that the majority considers it the only way in which relationships work. This is far from reality, as throughout the world, cultural and religious practices, together with individual preferences, allow people to approach romantic relationships differently, i.e. by being involved with more than one person. The worldwide percentage of such unions, however, is still low and tends to be regional (via Pew Research).

In the United States, having a relationship with more than one person was criminalized in 1882 (via Pew Research), but in the contemporary world, where there is no such restriction, people are gradually opening up to the idea of having more than one partner. Per a survey conducted among 1,300 American adults, 32 percent said that, to some extent, their ideal relationship would be non-monogamous. 

Meanwhile, millennials, who comprise 43 percent of the population, are likely to be inclined towards having more than one romantic partner (via You Gov America). Speaking of being romantically involved with more than one person, two terms — polyamory and polygamy — are used to describe such arrangements. But they often leave people confused and end up being used interchangeably. In reality, however, each is quite different from the other.

What is polyamory all about?

One of the words often used in academic and non-academic discourses to describe the relationship between one person and multiple partners is polyamory. Per Healthline, polyamory refers to the act of being in an intimate relationship with more than one person simultaneously. This type of relationship is intimate and intentional, and while this might seem like cheating to many people, partners involved in such an arrangement are aware of each other's presence. 

A polyamorous relationship only becomes successful when all partners involved agree to adhere to the principles of honesty, integrity, and communication (via WebMD). Another misconception about polyamorous relationships is that those involved suffer from commitment phobia. Conversely, polyamorous people might not subscribe to traditional relationship milestones like marriage or cohabitation, but they could be, nonetheless, committed to each other, per WebMD.

Akin to that, as opposed to the myth that polyamory is all about having sex with multiple partners, those involved in such an arrangement could be completely focused on developing loving and intimate relationships, too.

What does a polygamous relationship look like?

As the therapy platform BetterHelp explains, unlike polyamory, where people are involved in a romantic relationship with more than one partner, a polygamous person (often a male) is married to more than one person (often females). In many countries, including the United States, getting married to more than one person is illegal. Any person found violating the law is liable to be imprisoned, fined, or both, depending on the legalities stipulated by the state where the offender is living (via HG legal resources). 

Since polygamy is often based on religious beliefs or cultural practices, it is still unofficially found in certain parts of the population despite being illegal. Rough statistics from 2017 reveal that about 50,000-100,000 Americans — predominantly belonging to Muslim and fundamentalist Mormon families — lived in a polygamous relationship (via The Daily Beast). Just like monogamous or polyamorous relations, polygamous people also follow certain rules.

For instance, in this type of marriage, the husband is traditionally responsible for fulfilling the emotional, physical, and often financial needs of all the wives he takes as well as the children he shares with them (via BetterHelp). Since more and more women have started working and having careers, however, this aspect of polygamy needs more research.