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Ethical non-monogamy – an introduction

In Community and Relationship, Love, Sex and Sexuality by Jenna TrostleLeave a Comment

There are many ways to relate both openly and with integrity. Is ethical non-monogamy for you?

What is ethical non-monogamy?

Ethical non-monogamy (ENM) is a growing trend in society. ENM involves people having some sort of relationship with more than one person at a time, and where all people involved are aware that the other relationships are occurring. There are many types of ENM; open relationships, swinging, polyamory, and relationship anarchy. These  are the broader categories that people usually use to describe ways in which to have more than one consensual intimate connection. These categories outline how the people in these relationships relate to other people, and whether they focus on the emotional or sexual aspects of being with others.

ENM is gaining popularity

Recent studies suggest that up to one in five people under the age of 30 has had some experience with ENM. The media is also capitalising on the sudden popularity. Various television programs and movies exploring storylines where the protagonist doesn’t ultimately have to choose between one partner and another, but can figure out a way to be with both. There is a growing number of books and websites devoted to helping people open up their relationships, or communicate their needs with their partners. Many businesses recognise that people are wanting options other than traditional monogamy, and tailoring their business models to support ENM.

Every ENM relationship is different

Not everyone feels naturally monogamous, but this doesn’t mean people necessarily want to cheat on their partners. This can sometimes lead to situations where people aren’t getting their needs met and feel trapped. However, with clear communication, many people find that they can have more than one person in their life romantically and/or sexually. As long as they know about each other, the experience can be satisfying and enriching for all parties involved. Each ENM relationship looks different, because there’s no set blueprint for how to explore relating outside the monogamous/cheating bounds. That often leads to people thinking that they’re doing ENM wrong, when in fact they’re just figuring out what works for them.

The challenges of ENM

Many people don’t feel like they can be ethically non-monogamous because they’re worried about feeling jealous if their partner starts dating someone else. Ethically non-monogamous people still often feel jealousy, but they tend to approach it as an emotion that doesn’t need to dominate their relationships. Jealousy can often be triggered when someone feels insecure in themselves or insecure in their position in the relationship. By deeply exploring their fears, and talking about them with their partners or counsellors, people can often shift their jealousy or transform it into compersion. Compersion is the opposite of jealousy; it’s the feeling of being happy that someone you love is experiencing things that bring them joy.

Communication is key

The most important part of being in an ENM relationship is communicating. Talking with partners about what everyone wants and needs is vital. Being able to navigate boundaries, rules, and agreements can mean the difference between a healthy and an unhealthy relationship.

Boundaries are a person’s limit for what they are comfortable with, or are prepared to accept.

Rules are limits people put on other people so that they can control what happens around them.

Agreements are negotiations made between people designed to honour their boundaries.

Communicating your needs is very important. Being able to reflect on where feelings are coming from can help you own your feelings. From there you can take responsibility for your emotions.

What’s your take on ENM?

Ultimately, you’re the only person who can figure out if being in an ethically non-monogamous relationship is something that you feel comfortable doing. If you do feel attraction to more than one person, it’s not necessarily a sign that your relationship is failing or you don’t love your partner enough. Perhaps you just have the capacity to care about more than one person at a time. If that resonates, the internet can be a great way to explore. Figure out what kind of relating appeals to you.

There are hundreds of resources online for polyamorous people, swingers, people in open-relationships, and relationship anarchists. Start off slowly. Figure out what you want, and how to communicate your wants with the people you want to explore with. You’re not alone in this journey. And it’s OK to be non-monogamous, when it’s approached with the knowledge of all parties involved.

About the author

Jenna Trostle

Jenna Trostle runs a relationship counselling business in Melbourne for nonconformists, and has been polyamorous for the majority of her adult life.

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