Most of us have some idea in our mind about what a relationship looks like. For many people, this usually looks like monogamy: one person with one other person, and any outside sexual or romantic experiences is cheating. But there are many kinds of relationships that don’t involve monogamy, like polyamory or open relationships.
Some people like non-monogamous relationships. This means different things to different people, but usually it means that it’s okay to have romantic, intimate, or sexual relationships outside of the partnership.
Forms of non-monogamy
Non-monogamy can take different forms. A common umbrella term for non-monogamous relationships is “polyamory.” Polyamory means someone may have more than one partner. This happens with the knowledge and consent of all partners. However, how much people talk about other partners varies in each relationship. Below are some common types of non-monogamous relationships (in alphabetical order):
- Open relationships: A relationship or marriage where both people agree that other sexual partners are okay.
- Polygamy: Polygamy involves marrying more than one person at once.
- Polygamy is practiced and accepted in many societies around the world, but it is illegal in Canada.
- Swinging: Where a married couple has other sexual partners outside of their spouse. Usually the connection with any other partners is just sexual, and not emotional or romantic.
- Triad: A triad is a relationship with three people. Usually each of the three people are sexually and romantically involved with the others, though that does not have to be the case.
Why would you want to be non-monogamous?
Being non-monogamous can work really well for some people. There are lots of reasons for someone to choose these kinds of relationships. For example, polyamorous relationships may allow people to explore different parts of their sexuality. Also, some people in long-distance relationships may consider being in one while they are apart. Some other people are naturally drawn to non-monogamous relationships.
The reasons for being in a non-monogamous relationship vary greatly. If someone is in an open relationship, is a swinger, or has a triad relationship, it doesn’t mean that they don’t feel connected to their other partners. It also doesn’t mean they’ve failed at being in a monogamous relationship. As with most things, different situations work for different people!
How do I approach a non-monogamous relationship?
If two people have agreed to explore a non-monogamous relationship, they usually create some rules. These rules vary with each couple, but here are some to think about:
How much do we tell each other? Some people agree to tell each other everything: who their other partners are, when they’re meeting, and what they’re doing. Other people prefer to not know anything about what their partner is doing. And there are areas in between. For example, you could tell your partners that you’re meeting up with someone else, but not who it is. Each of these styles has pros and cons, and it’s up to you to decide what works best.
What can you do with other people? Some people decide that it’s okay to have sex but not to kiss. Others might decide that any activities where you exchange bodily fluids is off-limits. And some people have no limits at all.
Are there limits to who your partners can be? Sometimes people restrict how many times their partner can be with one person. Or they say no ex-partners and mutual friends.
Risks of non-monogamy
Jealousy can be a concern when people are thinking about having an open relationship. It’s important to check in with your partners often about how they feel. Some people might consider a “veto” card where either partner can close the relationship.
The risk of STIs (sexually transmitted infections) increases when you increase the number of sexual partners. If you use protection (like condoms, dental dams, and gloves) and get tested frequently, you can reduce this risk.
Consensual non-monogamy – Go Ask Alice
Information about consensual non-monogamous (CNM) relationships. Questions to ask before starting a CNM relationships.
Alternative Lifestyles Community Center (ALCC)
The ALCC holds regular discussion and teaching groups for a wide variety of lifestyles including BDSM, polyamory, and LGBT issues. These events are for ages 18+ and attendees are a wide range of ages.
Polyamory FAQs – More than Two
This article in a blog dedicated to polyamory talks about common myths and what polyamory, or having more than one romantic partner, actually looks like.