Consensual non-monogamy, can it work?

consensual non-monogamy can it work

In western society, we tend to see monogamous relationships as the norm. Everything that deviates from that is not really accepted. If you want to be intimate with someone else, there’s something wrong in your relationship. It’s a shame really, because being allowed to step outside your relationship would give many the space to explore what they really want.

A monogamous relationship definitely has its advantages: there is a certain perceived security within your relationship, it is often less complex and if there are children, at least there is certainty about who the parents are. But whether you are in a monogamous or a consensual non-monogamous relationship (a relationship in which there is an agreement, consent, about having relationships with people other than your partner) doesn’t say anything about the quality of your relationship.

In fact, couples who are able to structure their non-monogamous relationship in a healthy way, actually have a very solid relationship. They communicate clearly, know what the expect of each other, pay attention to their own needs, talk about their feelings, are not afraid to be vulnerable and are more forgiving.

Monogamy v.s non-monogamy

When we say monogamous relationships, we mean relationships where the two partners are exclusive to each other. Both partners are expected to focus their intimacy, affection and sexuality solely on each other. Monogamy dominates the image we have when we grow up of what relationships look like. A monogamous relationship offers a certain security: you and I belong together. My children are yours. We know what to expect from each other. You and I depend on each other.

However, monogamy is not necessarily the norm in every part of the world. Especially when you look back at history, there are various forms of non-monogamy to be found. Non-monogamy describes many different kinds of relationships where exclusively isn’t limited to one partner, at least not in every way. There is a huge diversity of relationships that fall under the umbrella term ‘non-monogamy’. Some people describe their relationship as an open relationship, others identify more with polyamory. Some call themselves swingers, while others don’t like labels at all and just do what feels right in that moment; they can have intimate relationships with others if the opportunity presents itself for example, but don’t give each other permission to have sex with strangers. Some couples always have non-monogamous relationships, while others have phases where they sometimes focus on each other and sometimes on other people. In other words, there is a huge diversity when it comes to consensual non-monogamy.

Emotional monogamy

Everyone has a different interpretation of monogamy. It’s good for yourself and your partner to really think about what it means to you. One interpretation of monogamy is emotional monogamy; a situation where there is monogamy when it comes to feelings and emotional connections. There is only room for one emotional relationship. However, this doesn’t necessarily say something about the fulfilment of sexual needs. It’s possible to have a relationship where there is room for sexual freedom, but not for entering into an emotional relationship with another person.

Initiate a different form of relationship

Have you ever thought about what it would be like to be allowed to have sex with another person or flirt with anyone you like without your partner getting jealous? Or your partner having another lover as well? For many people, this sounds ridiculous, especially because we were taught to be monogamous. But for some people, this ignites a certain curiosity, and if you’re exploring your options together with your partner, you’re loyal to each other as well, right?

Especially now that we spend more time with our partners, our own needs suddenly come to the surface more often. Just try to have that conversation. No pressure, just in a curious and exploratory way.

What to keep in mind

Opening up your monogamous relationship is unfortunately not as simple as it sounds. It’s a complex situation where you have to be able to handle uncertainty well. You never really know how it’s going to work out. Many couples underestimate it. It doesn’t have to be rocket science, but if you’re looking at it from a naive standpoint, or if you’re in an unstable relationship, it can actually cost you your relationship.

A strong foundation is necessary

Keep this in mind: the foundation of your relationship needs to be solid. It’s okay to long for certain things that are missing, things you might be able to find with someone else, but you need to have a solid basis. Steady. Loving. From that position, giving each other more freedom to explore can be of added value to your relationship. The foundation you have might even become stronger: you can share this together. If you do it because you want to make your relationship better, because it doesn’t give you what you need right now, you have to work on your foundation first. If you do it to fix your relationship, because it doesn’t feel right, then you have to work on your relationship first. It rarely happens that an unstable foundation suddenly improves when you enter into other relationships.

Trial and error

It’s a process of trial and error where you will have to deal with some unpleasant or uncomfortable situations, so you can find out what you do and don’t want. It’s really important to talk about this with your partner. Before you do anything, talk about your expectations first. For most couples, finding the right balance is a fluctuating process that takes years. It’s also possible that you have a certain need, or that you’re okay with your partner having a certain need, but that your perspective changes after a while and you don’t agree with it anymore. Communication is key! If there is no communication, it can have a very negative impact on your relationship.

What are your needs?

Think about your own needs: do you want a second relationship? Do you want to have sexual experiences with others? Do you have sexual needs that your partner can’t completely fulfil? Do you need intimacy or deep conversations? Do you simply want to flirt and give in to the sexual attraction with someone else without damaging your relationship? There are many possible needs that could motivate you to explore new options. For some, those needs are very much about trying new things together, while others are about fulfilling your own needs. It’s okay if your motivation and your partner’s motivation aren’t the same. If your partner’s motivation bothers you, at least try to explore it with curiosity; why your partner feels that way, but also why it’s bothering you. Why would your needs, your motivation, be more valid than those of your partner?

Listen to your instinct

Stay true to yourself! Don’t do things just because your partner wants you to. Of course you can do it if you’re curious, but don’t cross your own boundaries. Listen to your instinct. It’s usually right, so use it. Your intuition or gut feeling is not the same as jealousy by the way. There’s a difference between healthy jealousy (an indication that there is something you don’t like about the situation) and more extreme forms of jealousy. The latter is almost always unfounded and destructive to your relationship. Don’t start a non-monogamous relationship in that case, unless you want to challenge yourself and want to learn how be less jealous. The other form of jealousy is healthy and you should give it space to exist, even though you chose to give your partner a bit more freedom.

Allowing each other to enjoy and love

In a perfect world, everyone would be able to shape their relationships they way they want to. For some, this entails a monogamous relationship where they focus all their love, sexuality and affection on their partner. For others it looks more like an open relationship. It would be amazing if we give everyone that freedom, even if we don’t always understand it from our own perspective. The idea that everyone is allowed to enjoy and love in their own way sounds so much more loving than what the world looks like right now.

Also read: Column: monogamy as the holy grail

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