Discussing monogamy, non-monogamy, and alternative relationships
For centuries, monogamy has been the expected norm for our romantic relationships, but is it really the only option? Nowadays, more couples are considering non-monogamous arrangements and open relationships. Leonie and her partner Tom are having this very conversation.
What is monogamy?
Monogamy is the dynamic of having a sexual relationship with a single partner or one sexual relationship at a time. For Leonie and Tom, this has meant forming a loving relationship and living together with their dog Rocko. Recently, Leonie and her partner Tom have been talking about opening up their relationship, but she can’t help feeling uncomfortable. What did it mean that they wanted a shared girlfriend? What would people think?
Leonie sat cross legged on her sofa, bracing for her call with her relationship coach, Mollie. All week she’d been anxious and just as she drifted into her thoughts, Leonie felt the phone vibrate.
Mollie: Hello Leo, how are you? What’s new since we last spoke?
Leonie: I don’t know...so...ok. You know how a couple weeks ago I was telling you that I wanted to explore my sexuality? I’ve been interested in being with other people for a while now, but I didn’t want to sacrifice the love and security I have with Tom. He means everything to me. At the same time, we’ve been together for five years and we both want to continue to grow in our relationship.
When I spoke with him about this last week he was super into the idea of bringing in a third person. This response surprised me and I couldn’t help wondering if it was weird that we wanted a non-monogamous relationship?
For me, opening our relationship is about experimentation, not dissatisfaction. As you know, I realized I was bisexual a couple years ago, but I’ve never been with a woman. I feel like I’m not being honest with myself about my desires. I told Tom that I’d like to be able to explore within the safety of our relationship and he admitted he’d like to invite new partners into our dynamic. Funnily enough -- when he said that, I felt insecure. Am I not enough for him? Total double standard. But I get it...While I can’t speak for him, let’s be real: I was the second woman he’d ever been with.
With all that considered: we have amazing sex. We have a solid connection. We are best friends. Are we crazy to want something different?
Mollie: There is more than one way to have a healthy relationship. In fact, a study between the University of Utah, York University, and Western University found that consensual non-monogamy is a healthy option and that those who engaged in consensual non-monogamy reported increased sexual satisfaction.
There are many alternatives to monogamous relationships. For example:
- Swinging: This means committed couples meet other couples and consensually switch sexual partners.
- Monogamish: In this situation, a couple is primarily monogamous, but sets their own boundaries about what other non-monogamous acts or relationships are allowed.
- Polyamory: This option is more open, allowing multiple partners and sex acts with the knowledge and consent of all people.
The point is this: no matter what kind of relationship you build, the keys are consent and communication. With open relationships this is especially important because they are navigating extra challenges, according to research done by Prof. Ronald Rogge at the University of Rochester.
You both need to be clear about what you want and why before you embark on these new dynamics. You must be comfortable setting clear boundaries.
Also, just because you try something doesn’t mean you can’t change your mind.
Leonie: That sounds great, but this won’t stop people from judging us. They’ll assume we’re in a dysfunctional relationship and that we’re just in denial. Ugh. Maybe we should just get a girlfriend in secret? But I don’t want to make it seem like we’re doing something dirty.
Or maybe we shouldn’t change our relationship at all. I don’t want to risk breaking our relationship. We have something really good! What if I’m just being selfish?
Mollie: If your relationship is truly solid and healthy, then you’ll be able to problem solve whatever challenge comes your way. Let’s take it step by step.
Yes, there is prejudice against non-traditional relationships. There’s no denying that the world is framed around the couple, as Simon(e) van Saarloos talks about in her book Playing Monogamy. If you’re single, the perception is that you should be looking to be in a couple and if you’re inviting other people into your relationship then people think you are desperate to save it.
The reality is that every relationship is unique and as long as constant communication and consent are present, many arrangements are possible.
How about we consider making baby steps?
- Open up the relationship for one occasion and discuss how it was for each of you.
- Discuss how it felt and any insecurities that were triggered for you.
- Discuss what worked for each of you. Did it fulfill the needs you had? Would you do it again? The same way? Differently?
By checking in repeatedly, you’ll be able to go a little further each time and slowly find the right dynamic for your needs.
Leonie: That’s good advice. I’ll talk to Tom to see what he thinks!