Whether you’re already in a relationship, or want to start a new one (or two, or three), here are 10 tips on how you can make non-monogamy work for you.
By Simon Copland
Consensual non-monogamy and polyamory are gaining increasing attention and acceptance. With more stories appearing of those who are living in happy and fulfilling non-monogamous relationships, you may be wondering if this is something you’d like to try. But how do you do it?
1. There are multiple ways to do it, and none are better than the other
Many automatically assume a non-monogamous relationship equals polyamory (having multiple committed relationships at the same time). But this is not the only way to do it. Non-monogamy takes different forms; include but not limited to, polyamory, swinging, open relationships, dating around and going to sex/play parties as either an individual or couple. None of these are inherently better or worse than any other. Do some research and figure out what may be best for you and your partner(s) before you dive in.
2. Start with what makes you comfortable
We live in a society that treats monogamy as the only healthy way to form a relationship, with polling out of the United States showing only 25% of people find polyamory ‘morally acceptable’. It is natural, therefore, to feel uncomfortable or nervous when stepping outside society’s expectations. You can start by taking small steps that you and your partner(s) are comfortable with. This could include, for example, having joint dates with your existing partner and someone new, or starting solely with casual sex prior to making emotional connections. Figure out where you’re comfortable and launch off from there.
3. Be willing to push your own boundaries
While starting comfortably is important, pushing your boundaries is important as well. Consensual non-monogamy remains a social taboo, so engaging in it in any way will likely create some difficult moments. It’s good to accept that at the start and to embrace it as much as possible. By pushing yourself outside your comfort zone, you can gain new experiences and push your relationships to new and exciting frontiers.
4. Communication is key
Like any relationship, the key is communication. It’s important that you’re willing and able to talk with your partner(s) about your desires and expectations in an honest and open manner. Sometimes this can mean a lot of talking, as you negotiate your way through a multitude of feelings between and within multiple relationships. Ultimately this work pays off, helping you build the trust required to make your relationship(s) work.
5. Develop a relationship agreement
When you are ready to enter a non-monogamous relationship, you should sit down with your partner(s) and develop a relationship agreement. Agreements should cover whatever you feel is important – whether it is outlining when and how you tell your partner(s) about sexual and/or romantic encounters, rules about who you can and cannot have sex with, or other more practical things such as sleeping arrangements and organizing ‘date nights’. This agreement is the core to you establishing your boundaries – the things you are comfortable doing, and those you are not. It also sets out some basic rules, giving you an accountability measure if either you or your partner(s) cross a line.
6. Use the resources available to you
There are plenty of resources available to help you negotiate a non-monogamous relationship. The Ethical Slut by Janet Hardy and Dossie Easton is a good place to start, as it’s a one-stop shop for practical and reliable advice on how to negotiate the complexities of non-monogamous relationships. You do not have to re-invent the wheel. Use what is out there to make your relationship(s) work.
7. Accept the jealousy
Jealousy is an inevitable part of a non-monogamous relationship, but that does not mean it is a deal breaker. Just like any other feeling, jealousy is something you can manage and deal with when it occurs, as long as you’re prepared for it. If your partner is on a date and you know you’ll feel anxious, for example, take time out, surround yourself with friends or family, and then seek reassurance from your partner(s) as soon as possible to allow you to overcome it. Jealousy is natural, and not the end of the world. You will get through it.
8. It’s not inherently better
It’s easy to think that being polyamorous makes you more ‘enlightened’ than your friends and that somehow polyamory is inherently better than monogamy. It’s not. It’s just a different way to do a relationship, and one that should be just as accepted as monogamous relationships in our society. A non-monogamous relationship will not be inherently easier, or even necessarily better than your previous monogamous relationship. It is just different, and its success will depend on how important those differences are to you. If it doesn’t work for you, that is okay as well, as non-monogamy won’t be for everyone.
9. A break-up does not mean you failed
Non-monogamous relationships end just like monogamous relationships end. A break-up does not mean you’ve failed, nor than non-monogamy doesn’t work. It probably just means that relationship was not right for you. So as with any break-up, pick yourself up, brush yourself off, reassess, and continue on!
10. Enjoy it!
Finally, enjoy it! It is so easy to get bogged down in the logistics and complexities of non-monogamous relationships that you forget why you wanted to be in one in the first place. Whether it is the butterflies in your stomach when you create a new connection, the joy when you see the spark in your partner’s eyes as they’re falling for someone else, or the thrill of new sexual experiences, there is a lot about non-monogamy to enjoy. So if you decide to dive in, make the most of it!