Society modeled to me throughout my life, and still to this day, that a relationship with a significant other looks a certain way. I was taught that there are milestones to be reached in a relationship: Things like holding hands, the first kiss, sex, moving in with each, meeting each others families, etc. You get the point. I was also taught that my partner should be the one and only and everything.
But somehow I wondered is that really possible?
What I’ve since found is that all of this is simply what was taught and modelled to me. My brain had no concept that it could look a different way. I had to learn through trial and error what could be possible and what fit more authentically with who I am as a person.
Being part of a same sex pairing and a non-monogamous relationship really turned me upside down. I had no clue what I was doing and I was learning from my partner as much as looking for my own examples of what this relationship could look like. The beauty of non-monogamy is that it can look any way you want, whatever works for you, but then that left it too wide open for me and I struggled to even know what was healthy.
For this reason, I’d like to offer some structure to those of you thinking of opening up your marriage/relationship or wanting to move into open type relationships. Often you will hear this referred to as ethical non-monogamy, but attaching the word ethical to non-monogamy seems to just be a way to get people to recognize the stigma attached to non-monogamy.
Here are some types of non-monogamous relationships:
- Open Relationship – Partners mutually consent to being romantically or sexually available to others.
- Polyamory – A style of open relating with the focus on love (amour) which may be closed or open to others (ie. triad relationship of three people who are closed to others).
- Anarchy – An individual with values in autonomy usually seeing themselves as single but dating multiple people with no hierarchy and each relationship (friend or romantic) holding equal importance.
- Polygamy – This typically involves a religious marriage where a man marries more than one woman and those women are monogamous to the man. (When a woman marries more than one man, it’s called polyandry.)
- Swingers – Couples or singles open to multiple sexual possibilities (e.g., partner swapping with other couples, threesomes, sex clubs, play parties, etc) with consent.
- Ambiamorous – Individuals who can be both monogamous as well as polyamorous.
This list is an ongoing work in progress as non-monogamy can look so many different ways.
Here are some key concepts to be aware of. These will be challenged consistently in a non-monogamous relationship. Keep in mind, these all also occur in monogamy but maybe won’t show up as often as it would with more people involved:
- Stigma – it’s very challenging to relate to others that have no concept of non-monogamy. The reaction you can receive from others can be very strong because they have attached their core value to monogamy.
- Legality – in North America it is illegal to be married to more than one person. Navigating legal papers can be confronting and also emotionally draining as you may not want anyone to be left out.
- Boundaries – you will be tested time and time again on what you are okay with vs. what have you been taught or conditioned to believe should exist in a relationship.
- Communication – your communication skills will be amped up in non-monogamy as you will need a lot of difficult conversations requiring honesty about where you are at, what are you okay with, what are you not okay with and why.
- Triggers – you will get triggered on so many different fronts, from believing you aren’t good enough to facing judgement from others.
- Capacity – it is true, the more people involved the more complicated things can get, and to be honest about what you can handle is vital to your ability to show up for the relationship.
Overall, the biggest lesson I learned from being in a non-monogamous relationship is that love truly is not limited. It was a tough lesson to learn but so worth it. I would often use the metaphor of having kids. When you have another child, does that mean you love one less than the other? No. The same applies to having more than one partner. Just because you have a partner that is open to love someone else, doesn’t mean they love you any less. The saying that “it takes a village to raise a child” is still true! The idea that a child could be born into a family with more than two parents, sounds amazing as does having three incomes contributing to a household. Non-monogamy is not for everyone, but it can open up so many possibilities if you are available to them.
For those wanting to learn more, relationship counselling and couples therapy in 2022 means breaking down norms and understanding regardless of the relationship, connection and communication are key. I’d be glad to meet with you and help you navigate all of these challenges and joys. Thrive also offers individual counselling, career counselling and even psychedelic integration therapy for those feeling called. We would be glad to help with anxiety, depression, trauma and the journey towards authenticity and wellbeing.