How does non-monogamy work? A beginner’s guide


Non-monogamy is an umbrella term that covers a wide range of non-traditional relationship styles – from “monogamous” to polyamory to relationship anarchy and everything in between. It is not superior to monogamy, nor necessarily practiced by more enlightened or balanced people. It’s just a different way of approaching love and romance, one that moves away from the norms and values ​​associated with a traditional relationship.

Serial monogamy (AKA having one exclusive partner at a time) is how most relationships are portrayed in movies, TV shows, and books, and it’s the reason your grandma asks you relentlessly if you are “already installed”. We’ve been socialized to believe this is the gold standard of relationships: if you really love someone, then you wouldn’t like someone else. But what if your idea of ​​domestic bliss involves switching between getting pestered by strangers and then coming home to snuggle up with your primary partner?

Alternative relationship styles have always existed, but interest in them has grown rapidly since the pandemic. And while one of the UK’s largest family law firms reported a 95% increase in divorce applications last year, sex-positive dating apps like Feeld have also grown in popularity. But what exactly does a non-monogamous relationship entail? There is a common belief that they revolve around orgies and group sex (it does for me, because I’m a slut) but it’s just as much about shared schedules, time management and to feel more comfortable with difficult and honest conversations.

If you’re thinking of exploring other options but aren’t sure where to start, read on to learn more about how non-monogamous relationships work.

Determine what you want, then communicate it

Before you dip your toe — or any other end — into the world of non-monogamy, it’s important to figure out your boundaries and then immediately and clearly communicate them to your partner. It’s hard in a new relationship, because no one wants to call it a “serious conversation” while you’re still spontaneously having sex in a nightclub bathroom. But humans aren’t mind readers, and you’re doomed from the start if you don’t explain your limitations.

That said, the limits should have some level of flexibility. My previous six-year relationship started out as monogamous, but quickly turned into a monogamous arrangement involving partner swapping and group sex. Soon we were contributing to a Google document titled “Our Rules” with commandments such as “wash your sheets if you have anyone around” and “don’t mingle with mutual friends.” We have committed to having a sexual health check-up every three months, but even our rules for protection against STIs have evolved; “condoms for anything involving someone else” eventually morphed into “condoms for anything other than oral”.

In my current relationship, we have scheduled discussions where we talk about how we feel and if we are happy with the current parameters of the arrangement. People grow, relationships change; what worked yesterday might not work today or tomorrow.

Open a relationship VS start an open one

In my experience, it is easier to start a non-monogamous relationship than to open a monogamous relationship. It’s less alarming to hear that your partner is dating other people, if that’s how it’s always been. But opening a closed relationship takes a series of painful conversations followed by small, careful steps, and it can take years to get it right.

Janet Hardy, co-author of The ethical slut and author of 13 books on non-monogamy, told me how healthy starting a monogamous relationship could be. “There will almost always be a partner who is more adventurous in external relationships and one who is less so,” she says. “If you do it right, you end up with a person who feels a bit stretched and pushed, but within their tolerance, and a person who feels a bit constrained, but within their tolerance.

“So if everyone is a little unhappy, that’s a good sign you’re doing it right. If one person is happy and the other unhappy, that’s a good sign you’re wrong.

Own your emotions

There is a common misconception that people who practice non-monogamy are like emotional zombies who never feel insecure or jealous. That’s not true – the difference is that they’ve learned (or at least aspired to learn) the knowledge and tools that can help deal with jealousy in a productive way. It is practically impossible to control the initial feeling; you’re going to have a wobble, or as Hardy calls it, a “frozen moment.” My partner and I call them “blobby moments”.

Jealousy is a natural emotion: recognize it, feel it, and don’t try to push it away. “Be in control of your jealousy and figure out what you might need to feel safer,” says Ruby Rare, sex educator, author, and podcaster. “The times in my life when I’ve felt jealous in romantic relationships have been because I didn’t feel like I was getting the kind of reassurance and reassurance I needed to feel safe. .”

Hardy adds, “The initial jealousy starts to feel like a terrifying thunderstorm. And then, with practice, it becomes a gentle rain; you’ll still get wet, but it’ll be a lot less scary. She advises that when explaining your feelings, try to write “I” messages rather than “you” messages. “Don’t say ‘you’ did this,” Hardy says. “Say ‘I’m scared because when I see you do this I’m scared you’ll leave’, or ‘I’m mad because I thought we had a deal.’ This is an easier starting point than trying to assign blame.

Beware of the “New Relationship Energy”

One of the hardest parts of a non-monogamous relationship is what polysexuals call New Relationship Energy (NRE): the intoxicating emotional, physical, and sexual response you feel when you meet someone for the first time and that you quickly fall in love. It’s kind of like the delicious part after you hit MDMA, when your fists are clenched, your eyeballs are pointing north and there’s nothing in the world that matters but the next track the DJ cowardly. Obviously, it doesn’t feel good when your partner has this with someone else.

“They’re all bright and happy to bring that happy energy,” Hardy says. “It’s tough. You’re in the bathroom cleaning the cat box and he’s just got back from his date with someone still wearing makeup.

That means it’s the responsibility of the person with the shiny new relationship not to flaunt it. “It’s just plain rude to come home and say to your partner, ‘Wait until you hear about the great time I had with him,’ Hardy says, ‘especially in the beginning, when he’s not still feels insecure. Find someone else to lean on – your partner is not your cheerleader.

Rare is quick to point out the pitfalls of becoming overly consumed with the endorphin-soaked NRE experience. “NRE is a nice feeling,” she explains, “but also know that it’s an unsustainable way of feeling and you’re not going to feel that way forever. Don’t make big, life-changing decisions — like moving to another country or buying a house — during the height of the NRE. Wait for these feelings to subside.

Non-monogamy is a difficult path to follow, but a rewarding one if you’re willing to work on yourself. There are going to be conflicts and difficult times, but that is also the case for monogamists. Ultimately, it’s up to you to shape your relationships – and the world is full of potential when you put fewer limits on love.



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