What Is Ethical Non-Monogamy, and Could It Help Your Relationship?

By Relationships Australia

Infidelity in relationships can create devasting wounds between partners. But what if you and your partner were seeing and sleeping with other people as part of an honest, open and communicative arrangement that you’d established to enhance your relationship? We explain what ethical non-monogamy is, and explore whether it could work with your partner.  

The concept of ethical non-monogamy (ENM) – also known as consensual non-monogamy – has been in the spotlight recently, thanks to dating apps and many celebrities spruiking it on social media.  

ENM is the umbrella term for many open relationship styles, including polyamory, throuples, being monogam-ish, swinging, or even casual dating. Its very premise is focused on open and honest communication of emotional and sexual wants and needs, and that all people involved are aware of the rules of play when engaging in multiple relationships.  

The very idea of having multiple sexual partners is nothing new – the ancient Greeks had notoriously rampant sexual lives, filling all emotional and physical desires at any time with whomever they pleased. However, in these modern times, navigating a romantic life outside of monogamy can be rather tricky, mainly thanks to our deeply ingrained ideas of what relationships are ‘supposed’ to look like. However, with more non-traditional relationship dynamics gaining popularity, the first step is understanding. 

So, let’s dive in and find out what ENM is, what it is not, and why people choose it. 

What is ethical non-monogamy?

Ethical non-monogamy means that the relationship is not exclusive between two people and may involve having multiple sexual or romantic relationships with the consent of all parties involved. It is worth noting that to be ethical, a mutual agreement is typically reached beforehand. Clear communication and mutual agreement are key components of ENM relationships. 

This style of non-traditional relationship is based on the concept of using socially acceptable guidelines and ethically motivated tools – such as honesty, consideration, and communication – to cultivate a relationship built on the foundation of non-monogamy. At its core, though, ENM means not cheating or acting without the consent of your partner. 

Why do people choose ENM? 

Although this is a topic of increasing popularity, there is still a stigma around non-monogamy. It is important to remember that everyone is different – what may not work for some can work wonders for others. There are many reasons why people choose to be ethically non-monogamous, including meeting sexual needs, exploration of sexuality, variety, and/or a desire for personal growth and self-expansion through other people and relationships. For some people, ENM provides ground to reject traditional gender dynamics and heteronormative sexual scripts. 

According to a recent study, up to 20% of couples have experimented with ethical non monogamy, however, the number of people who are consistent in its practice is much lower. The irony is that the very qualities that enable couples to be successful in consensual non-monogamy are exactly the same characteristics that are required to make a monogamous relationship work – effective communication, low jealousy, and high trust. 

The challenges 

Non-monogamy may work for you if you feel like you’re not ‘the jealous type’. It’s not that non-monogamous people don’t feel jealousy, but if they are involved in an adaptive non-monogamous relationship, then it’s likely that they process these feelings differently. 

It is possible that you may struggle with possessiveness or jealousy when engaging in an ENM relationship. It is important to remember that this is okay, and that ENM is not for everyone. If you think you may struggle with knowing your partner is engaging in romantic or sexual acts with other parties, ENM may not be for you. 

Is an ethically non-monogamous relationship for me? 

If you are someone who has typically preferred a monogamous dynamic, ENM raises some interesting questions: Why is it that we put traditional relationship structures on such a pedestal when almost half of all marriages fail? Maybe we’re expecting too much. Is it reasonable to expect one partner be our best friend, stimulate us intellectually, and fulfil all of our sexual needs all at once? Could relying on different people to fulfil our different needs, even in non-sexual ways, lessen the strain on our relationships and make us happier? 

Regardless of how you view the answers to these questions, ethical non-monogamy offers important lessons. We can’t expect our partners to be fully responsible for our happiness – happiness is an internal construct. Communication and transparency are critical in all relationships. Healthy relationships require intention and effort and are the most likely to succeed when we have other friends or passions to rely upon.

Ultimately, only we have control of our own happiness, with or without a relationship. 

If these discussions raise a negative pattern or underlying concerns in your relationship, talking it out and finding a better resolution with a couples counsellor can be hugely beneficial. Relationships Australia NSW offers couples counselling to help you find ways to move forward.

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