Non- Monogamy. What is it and how can it work?

I was that little girl who grew up watching every princess movie and I longed for my “one true love.” Well a couple doses of hard reality have hit me and I am now questioning this conversation. It could be because I grew up in a divorced family and never really saw what a healthy love looked like or it could be that my understanding on the topic grew. But as I explore this idea further and ask other people I have to wonder, does monogamy exist or is just an idea we have formed because of what society has shown us?

To start, a non-monogamous relationship does not always equal polyamory (having multiple committed relationships at the same time). Non-monogamy can be done in different ways. Some are; polyamory, swinging, open relationships, dating around and going to sex/play parties as either an individual or couple. Non-monogamy is not just physical acts with other people. Sometimes you can be sexually intimate with someone and have another person whom you share emotional intimacy with. This is an example of non-monogamy.

It seems to me as though everyone is in non-monogamous relationships. I recently went to a workshop where couples came to seek other individuals to bring into the mix. I was extremely confused as to how you could be committed to someone yet want to explore intimacy with other people. As I started talking to people I discovered a new understanding of this non-monogamous stuff.

Whether you choose to be with just one person or explore relations with other people at the same time it’s all about finding what works for you. Some people find non-monogamy the same as cheating. Non-monogamy and cheating is not the same. Cheating is when you have clearly defined your monogamous relationship and then your partner physically abuses this dynamic. The trust between you and your partner is broken. Cheating is most commonly defined as the act of sex or any physical activity with another person. Cheating can be a blurry topic because some individuals consider sharing intimate moments or non-physical activity with another person as cheating. That’s why it’s very important to communicate what you both need and want so there are clear boundaries.

In a non-monogamous relationship there is still trust and honest communication between both parties. You have both clearly defined what you are to each other and you both agree that you can share moments with other people. Just like any other relationship, non-monogamous relationships take work. Before committing to a non-monogamous relationship it’s important to do some research and be very honest about what you are comfortable with. Here are some tips on how to ease into a non-monogamous relationship.

1. Start with baby steps.

Society treats monogamy as the only acceptable form of a relationship so it’s important to figure out what makes you comfortable, not everyone else. This can start by going on combined dates or having casual sex before emotionally committing. Do not rush into this and make sure you both are 100% ready to start this process.

2. Accept the jealously.

One major obstacle with non-monogamy is the chance of jealously. If you know you will become jealous when your partner is on a date, you should either not participate in this type of relationship or find a way to manage and accept it. Sometimes you can’t give your partner everything they need and that is okay. You also may have needs that they cannot meet.

3. Create an agreement.

It sounds strange but sitting down and outlining what you both want is very important. These agreements can range from setting a rule about both practicing condom usage with other partners to clearly stating who you can/cannot have sex with. By clearly defining what you both need the chances of becoming upset are less likely. Create a rule for what happens if these agreements get broken and come to a mutual understanding of each others desires. Also be aware that situations can occur and you may have to re-negotiate with your partner. It’s normal to keep coming back to these needs and re-evaluating them as time passes.

4. Communicate. Communicate.

This is so important in any relationship. You both have to honestly express your expectations and worries before diving into this. You need to be very honest with how this will make you feel and be patient when building this dynamic. It is also important to stay communicating throughout the process. This is what can lead to the breaking of trust and then it is not a consensual relationship. It can be scary telling your partner about your other relations but it’s important to always communicate when a situation occurs and build that trust. As we grow and explore what works for us our desires can change. If we are no longer happy in a non-monogamous relationship it is also important to communicate that.

5. Research and find a supportive community.

There are numerous guides and books to help you navigate what a non-monogamous relationship can be like. The Ethical Slut and Opening Up both discuss open relationships and give a helpful guide to people interested in this. There are also groups who can provide comfort and reassurance. Meetup.com is an online platform that connects you with other people/groups that participate in open relationships. Engaging in these communities can make you not feel alone in this.

Non-monogamous relationships are viewed as inhumane within society and there is a huge stigma around them. This stigma all starts with the movies and mainstream media. Society is most comfortable with two people falling in love, having children, and living happily ever after. This is the “right way” to live and is associated with the goodness of our character. If you do have multiple sexual/romantic partners in your life or do not follow this path, you can still be a trustworthy and good person.

At the end of the day if you are happy and enjoy your relationship with someone that is all that matters.

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