Stigma affects well-being of people in consensually non-monogamous relationships

A recent research study published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin has found that people in consensually non-monogamous (CNM) relationships face negative social stigma that affects their well-being.

Prior research has already established that people tend to view CNM relationships more negatively than monogamy. The new study surveyed 372 people in CNM relationships and found that roughly 40% of them reported experiencing negative stigma as a result of their relationship. Four themes emerged among those who reported experiencing stigma: expressions of discomfort or disapproval of their CNM relationship, loss of resources or threatening behavior, devaluation or diminishing of their character, and devaluation or diminishing of their relationship.

“People in consensually non-monogamous relationships do indeed report experiencing stigma in a variety of ways,” says lead author Elizabeth Mahar of the University of British Columbia. “Furthermore, this experienced stigma is associated with psychological distress.”

The study also examined the effects of this stigma on the well-being of people in CNM relationships. Surveying 383 participants, researchers found that experiencing negative stigma was related to increased psychological distress. This association was also connected to anticipated stigma (the extent to which people expect to be treated or thought of poorly) and internalized stigma (the degree to which people feel guilty about their CNM relationship).

“Previous research has found that people with marginalized identities (e.g., LGBTQ individuals) experience stigma in a variety of unique ways,” says Dr. Mahar. “We found a similar pattern for people in consensually non-monogamous relationships.”

It is worth noting that over one-fifth of Americans and Canadians report having been in a CNM relationship at some point in their lives. Dr. Mahar emphasizes the importance of being mindful of how we may be engaging in behaviors that negatively impact the well-being of people in CNM relationships. “Gaining a better understanding of stigma and how it is linked to well-being will make it possible to develop and implement interventions to effectively mitigate the harmful effects of minority stress for consensually non-monogamous people.”

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