What We Can Learn from Non-Monogamy

Polyamory can seem like a daunting, radical relationship model for those of us who have only ever learned about or engaged in monogamous relationships. But there is a lot we can learn from consensual non-monogamy that we can apply to any relationship model to help strengthen & enrich it. Even if you know polyamory isn’t for you, here are 4 lessons you can take from a non-monogamous relationship model & use in your own relationship:

(And, if you haven’t explored non-monogamy, but are interested in learning, here are four things that may help you figure out if it’s right for you and your partner[s]!):

1. Communication is key

Healthy non-monogamous relationships function based off of communication. What are the parameters? How can each partner engage in relationships with others without violating boundaries? What’s on the table? What’s off limits?

Open relationships can cover a wide variety of relationship models, and it’s up to the partners to discuss and decide together what they are comfortable with. Will you be in multiple committed relationships? Will you and your partner have other partners in common? Is it just physical outside of your relationship?

Without the necessary communication, feelings would be overlooked and partners wouldn’t have the foundation needed to keep the relationship safe, consensual, and enjoyable.

If your needs or desires aren’t being met in your relationship, the best way to deal with it, is to get it out in the open. Talk to your partner(s), express what you need, what you desire, and come up with some creative solutions on how you can get it! You don’t need to open your relationship if that’s not something you’re comfortable with, but keeping communication as a main pillar of your relationship can help you make sure the needs of all partners are met while keeping the trust & strength of the relationship intact.

2. Attraction isn’t limited

Being in a monogamous relationship doesn’t automatically eliminate any attraction for others that you may have. And that doesn’t make your relationship with your partner any less significant! Even if you love your partner, are attracted to them, you may still find yourself attracted to someone new! And that doesn’t diminish your attraction for your partner. It’s completely common to feel attraction to more than one person, and it’s nothing to be ashamed about!  Feeling attraction outside of your relationship doesn’t have to be a threat to your relationship–instead, it should be expected! Feeling it doesn’t mean you’re going to act on it, regardless of your relationship orientation. 

3. Not all needs can be met in one relationship

Expecting one person to meet 100% of your needs can put a lot of pressure on your partner and add stress in your relationship. Desire & needs are different for every person–and your partners might not match yours all the time!

Instead of sacrificing needs you have because your partner can’t meet them (or vice versa) take some time to think and talk through your needs with your partner. See what they can give, what you can give, and identify the needs that aren’t met in your relationship. From there, explore about other ways you might be able to meet those needs, whether it’s from other platonic relationships, or from opening your relationship.

Accepting that your partner cannot meet all of your needs (and that you can’t meet all of your partners needs) can be a difficult realization, but it’s an important one! Addressing that can help take unfair pressure off of your relationship & allow you and your partner to have an open, honest discussion about your needs. Not being able to have one person meet 100% of your needs doesn’t make your relationship any less significant! It just means that you’re going to have to work out alternative ways to meet them. All partnerships include this in some way–some of us just talk about it more than others!

It might feel uncomfortable to let your partner know that they aren’t meeting your needs, but opening the conversation so that both of you can have an honest discussion of your relationship needs can help you strengthen your trust & communication. And taking the time to come up with alternative solutions with your partner will reassure them that they are a significant part of your life & an important component to your needs. If this conversation feels hard, try including all the wonderful ways your partner does meet your needs! Acknowledging strengths in the relationship is just as important as addressing needs that aren’t being met.

4. It’s all about trust

Many monogamous couples are wary of non-monogamy and non-monogamy is sometimes labeled as an excuse to cheat on their partner without consequences. Consensual non-monogamy is not that at all, and involves a lot of trust. It’s based in communication, with each partner expressing their needs & desires first, and discussing the parameters of the open relationship first before exploring it.

Rather than being the violation of trust that infidelity is, non-monogamy is based in trust. You trust your partner to hear your needs, to respect the agreed upon parameters and to explore needs without decreasing the significance of your relationship. Without trust, non-monogamy can’t function.

Blog authors all hold positions at the Gender & Sexuality Therapy Collective (G&STC). For more information about our therapists and services please contact us.