What You Should Know About Nonmonogamy (Even If You’re Monogamous)
When you hear the term “nonmonogamy” what do you think? Does it make you feel tense or threatened? Does it make you curious? Do you feel confused? Don’t worry – there are no wrong answers. Nonmonogamy is something that is starting to become more mainstream, but many folks don’t really understand what nonmonogamy can mean other than infidelity. Obviously, infidelity is a huge betrayal, but all nonmonogamy isn’t necessarily cheating. Nonmonogamy can cover a wide variety of relationship structures.
For the purposes of this article, we’ll be talking about ethical nonmonogamy – a nonmonogamous relationship structure where all parties involved are informed and consenting (rather than someone who is cheating, where not all parties are informed).
Nonmonogamy isn’t right for everyone, but there are things everyone, including monogamous folks, can learn from relationship structures unlike theirs.
You may have also heard the word “polyamory” used in addition to or in place of nonmonogamy. While they are similar concepts, there is a difference between nonmonogamy and polyamory. Nonmonogamy is a type of relationship structure that allows for participants to have more than one intimate relationship at a time. This is an umbrella term that can include polyamory, but it can also include things like swinging or more casual encounters where there is less emotional intimacy. Polyamory, on the other hand, is the ability to fall in love or be emotionally intimate with multiple people at the same time. Just as some folks are more comfortable in a monogamous relationship with one partner, some people prefer having multiple partners. It’s just a preference!
Nonmonogamy has become a more popular topic, perhaps because as a society we’re becoming more accepting of people loving who they want to love in the wake of LGBTQ+ marriage equality in the US. With this increased popularity is more easily available information about nonmonogamy. Even if you’re monogamous, there are still helpful things that we can learn from nonmonogamy and apply to our relationships, whatever form they take.
Here are some important things that anyone can learn from nonmonogamy:
Attraction is human
Just because you’re in a monogamous relationship with someone doesn’t mean that you’ll never find anyone attractive again. Although there can be a feeling of security that comes from thinking your partner only has eyes for you, it’s not really realistic that you or your partner will never find yourself attracted to anyone else. It’s important to remember that it’s okay to experience attraction – it’s human nature. If experiencing attraction to someone outside of your relationship is uncomfortable for you, that can be a good jumping-off point to explore why.
What feelings does the situation bring up? What are you feeling in your body? Where are those sensations? How can you soothe yourself? What do you want your partner to know about what you’re feeling?
Communication is essential
Many people wonder to themselves how nonmonogamous relationship structures work, and a big part of the answer is communication. Nonmonogamy is something that will naturally bring up a lot of intense emotions – jealousy, joy, shame, curiosity, freedom, fear, overwhelm, loneliness, etc – and it’s important to be able to talk about those feelings with your partner. However, nonmonogamy isn’t the only relationship structure that brings up those kinds of emotions – many monogamous relationships and even platonic relationships can bring up these feelings. It’s helpful to any kind of relationship to improve your communication skills. Learning how to communicate effectively can help build a sense of trust in your relationship, whatever the structure is.
People aren’t possessions
One big aspect of monogamy is the idea that you “belong” to your partner and vice versa. While this isn’t representative of every monogamous relationship, it’s common enough that it’s seen as relatively normal. However, even if you’re in a monogamous relationship, your partner isn’t “yours” – they are their own person with their own agency and own ability to set their boundaries. Feeling possessive over someone you care about isn’t something to be ashamed of, but it is important to recognize that feeling something and acting on it are different. When these feelings come up, it’s a great opportunity to bring it up in your relationship.
One person can’t meet all your needs
Do you know how you have friends that you hang out with for different reasons? You might have a friend that is more adventurous, or a friend that is a great listener, or a friend who knows your whole backstory so you don’t have to explain it. The point is, different relationships meet different needs. The same can be true of romantic relationships. You might have a romantic relationship that is built around sharing a home or raising kids together, but there are other needs that you have that your partner just won’t be able to meet. That’s not a knock on your partner, but it’s impossible for one person to meet every single need of their partner. Expecting them to sets them up to fail and it sets you up to feel disappointed or resentful.