Most of us may know someone who could be classified as a “serial monogamist,’’ or a person who always seems to be in a relationship.
Serial monogamy is quite common. It’s typical for people to go through phases of “perpetual dating” from time to time. Many dislike being single and enter new relationships shortly after their previous relationship has ended.
Although not always a bad thing, serial monogamy can sometimes be a sign of a deeper underlying issue, such as:
- fear of abandonment
- low self-esteem
- codependent tendencies
A pattern of serial monogamy can become unhealthy if you’re:
- prone to toxic relationships
- not giving yourself enough time to grieve a breakup
- a person who enjoys solitude and being single
But if you think you might be slipping into unhealthy habits and tendencies caused by serial monogamy, it’s possible to work through underlying issues and break the cycle.
A serial monogamist is a person who moves from one romantic relationship to another very quickly, spending as little time single as possible.
Some serial monogamists might have short-lived relationships, while others might have long-term relationships. The determining factor is that you’re seldom single.
Because it’s a colloquial term, the definition is a little flexible. There’s currently no official consensus on how many relationships you need to go through before you’re considered a serial monogamist.
Faithfulness vs. cheating
As the term “monogamist” suggests, serial monogamists are generally faithful to their partners. But the term is also sometimes applied to people who cheat on their partners while relationship-jumping, too.
Is it bad to be a serial monogamist?
It’s not always a bad thing to be a serial monogamist. But sometimes, this pattern can be a sign of psychological or emotional difficulty.
A deeper issue might be at play if you find single life upsetting or overly difficult or feel the impulse to leave and start new relationships quickly.
Serial monogamy may look different from person to person. For example, some serial monogamists might have long-lasting relationships but struggle to stay single. Others might date someone for only a few weeks or months at a time, frequently dating new people.
Potential signs of serial monogamy can include:
- struggling to stay single
- difficulties with self-esteem, boredom, or loneliness when single
- inability to leave a relationship without a new potential partner lined up
- feeling easily bored or restless in relationships
- looking for a new relationship as soon as your current one ends (or just before a breakup)
- relationships quickly becoming very serious or intense
While preferring to be in a relationship or dating a lot might not always be wrong, many factors can lead someone to become a serial monogamist.
Fear of commitment
Not every serial monogamist is necessarily afraid of commitment. Some may thrive in relationships because of commitment and faithfulness.
Some serial monogamists who have difficulties with commitment might exit relationships quickly once they become too serious, entering new ones to avoid being alone.
Trauma, including childhood trauma, can lead to several relationship difficulties in adulthood.
Sometimes, unresolved trauma can manifest as challenges in handling conflict or communicating with a partner. This may cause a person to adopt patterns of serial monogamy.
Some people might struggle to feel worthy unless they’re in a relationship. People with low self-worth may believe that their single status is a sign of their inadequacy, and the attention of a partner might help them feel more worthy.
Some serial monogamists might self-sabotage perfectly good relationships because the stability feels uncomfortable to them. In this case, you might feel bored or restless in steady relationships and prefer drama and volatility over stability.
Black-and-white thinking in relationships is when someone either thinks of a person as irredeemably bad or entirely perfect. This can lead to instability in relationships, especially if you break up with someone at the first sign of a flaw or fall in love with someone quickly because they seem “perfect” to them.
Someone with perfectionist tendencies might abandon relationships at the first sign of difficulty or doubt and move on to the next one.
Being a serial monogamist does not necessarily mean you have a mental disorder. But the symptoms of certain mental health conditions might make someone more prone to serial monogamy and relationship instability.
Borderline personality disorder (BPD)
Not everyone with borderline personality disorder (BPD) becomes a serial monogamist, but some of the symptoms of BPD can lead to serial monogamy.
Some characteristics of BPD might cause you to feel uncomfortable single, which can lead to serial monogamy, including:
- fear of abandonment
- identity disturbances, including low self-image
- patterns of unstable or intense relationships
- black-and-white thinking
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) can lead to difficulties in relationships for some people.
One OCD theme is relationship OCD, where obsessions and compulsions can revolve around doubting your relationship or partner. People with this condition might have obsessive thoughts about whether:
- you really love them
- they really love you
- they’re good enough for you (and vice versa)
- you’re treating them right
- your needs are being met fully
- they will leave you or you them
This can lead to instability in relationships. In particular, you might make irrational decisions when it comes to ending and beginning relationships.
Dating one person after another is not always a problem in and of itself. But a pattern of serial monogamy can pose some issues.
Grieving previous relationships
When a relationship ends, it can be extremely hurtful. Even if your relationship ended amicably, you might find that you need time to process your feelings. After all, it is a loss.
Processing this loss is essential because it allows you to grow from the experience. You may not have ample time to fully grieve and process the loss of one relationship if you immediately become involved in another.
Not grieving or processing fully could cause emotional problems later on.
Neglecting other relationships
Serial monogamists might neglect non-romantic relationships, especially if you tend to get into many short-lived relationships.
New romantic relationships tend to be time- and energy-consuming, and this might leave little space for platonic friendships, familial relationships, and other relationships.
If you’re using romantic relationships to numb or mask underlying issues, it may be more challenging to work through those issues.
Giving yourself time to process feelings of loneliness and inadequacy can eventually help you deal with whatever it is that’s making you feel that way.
If you feel the need to jump into relationships constantly, you might hastily commit to someone who isn’t a good fit for you, leading to an unfulfilling (or potentially damaging) relationship. You might get into toxic or abusive relationships because you’re afraid of being alone.
Learning to be alone
Learning to enjoy your solitude and singledom can be challenging but rewarding. Being single can be a great opportunity to focus your time and energy on:
- non-romantic relationships
- working through feelings of discomfort and loneliness
Identifying your patterns of behavior is a good first step in breaking the cycle. Being aware of your behavior and patterns in your relationships can be the key to changing them.
If you have a fear of being single, try to consider where this might come from:
- What relationships did you see as examples growing up?
- Do you think being single will reflect badly on you?
- How do you think about your loved ones and acquaintances who are single?
- How do you handle loneliness?
Therapy can be a helpful tool in breaking the cycle of serial monogamy, especially if it stems from a deep-seated issue or a mental health condition.
There’s nothing wrong with being a serial monogamist in and of itself. But sometimes, becoming stuck in a pattern of serial monogamy can be a sign of emotional difficulties or even a mental health condition.
If you think you might be a serial monogamist and want to break this pattern, many resources can help. Some areas of healing you may want to focus on might be:
- learning new relational skills
- setting boundaries
- healthy communication
- building self-esteem
Listening to podcasts like “Solo: The Single Person’s Guide To A Remarkable Life” and “A Single Thing” can be fun, beneficial pathways to learning how to love and appreciate the single life.
If you prefer reading, there are numerous books on the topic of relationships and abandonment, including:
- “The Abandonment Recovery Workbook: Guidance through the Five Stages of Healing from Abandonment, Heartbreak, and Loss” by Susan Anderson
- “Love Me, Don’t Leave Me: Overcoming Fear of Abandonment and Building Lasting, Loving Relationships” by Michelle Skeen
- “The Unexpected Joy of Being Single: Locating Happily-Single Serenity” by Catherine Gray
Therapy can also be a very useful tool for changing relationship patterns. If you’re ready to find a therapist, you can visit Psych Central’s guide to mental health support.