If you apply the "grass is always greener" theory to poly and consensually non-monogamous relationships, it might seem like everyone would constantly be unsatisfied. They would be thinking about what they don't have in one relationship and what they do have with another person. But yet, people have very happy poly and non-monogamous relationships. And new study published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships shows why that might be the case. In what they're dubbing a "spillover" effect, researchers recently found that for consensually non-monogamous couples, being satisfied in one relationship can "spill" over into another.
There were actually two studies that looked at 1,054 individuals in consensual non-monogamous relationships. In the first study, they found that those who were more sexually fulfilled in their primary relationship also experienced greater relationship satisfaction in their secondary relationship. The second study was a little more complicated. Researchers looked at how satisfaction in a secondary relationship affected the primary connection. They found that men who were more sexually fulfilled in a secondary partnership also reported higher satisfaction with a primary patter, but women who were more sexually fulfilled with a secondary partner were less satisfied with their primary partner.
But overall, it seemed like the "spillover" effect was a positive one — satisfaction in one relationship translated into satisfaction in another. The interesting thing was that researchers thought this might extend outside of non-monogamous relationships.
"I am not sure about masturbation or getting sexual needs fulfilled in other ways that do not violate a monogamous commitment (i.e., porn for couples)," Amy Muise, an assistant professor at York University and corresponding author of the study, tells Bustle. "I could see that at times this could help people get certain needs met so could maintain satisfaction in the relationship, but in some of these activities could detract from satisfaction if there is not openness about them or acceptance in the relationship. It is something that would be great to investigate further." But could the connection go even further — beyond sex?
Beyond Sexual Satisfaction
The researchers thought that there was some indication that this "spillover" effect could apply in other areas. "In terms of monogamous relationships — I have been thinking about this more broadly, like whether having non-romantic relationships (friends, family) who are communal/fulfil needs could be associated with more satisfaction in a romantic relationship and vice versa," Muise says.
It makes a lot of sense. You often hear that you can't get all of your needs met by one person and that it's good to keep strong friendships even when you're in a relationship — that feels like the "spillover" effect in action. Having strong friendships or family connections can make our relationship with our partner feel more satisfying, because anything we would need but not actually get from them, we're getting from someone else. It helps you from keeping an unrealistic set of expectations about the relationship. But if you're having those needs met by other relationships in your life — even if they're not romantic ones — you may feel more satisfied.
Poly and consensually non-monogamous relationships might not be for everyone, but the "spillover" effect could possibly apply more generally. While more research needs to be done, it seems like satisfaction breeds satisfaction — and that sounds like a good thing.