Lifestyle

What is ethical non-monogamy and what should you do if you want to give it a try?


Should you open things up? (Picture: Getty/Metro.co.uk)

Monogamy is often associated with not just love, but fidelity and morality.

But, while exclusivity is a cornerstone of millions of relationships around the world, it is very possible to navigate a non-monogamous relationship with sensitivity, care, and love.

Here’s what you need to know…

What is ethical non-monogamy?

Non-monogamy is fairly self-explanatory – it means you’re not sexually exclusive in your relationship.

The ethical part refers to all parties having given their informed consent to open up their relationship.

‘Relationships like these have all the trust and emotional commitment of a monogamous relationship, but they are not sexually exclusive,’ Match’s dating expert, Hayley Quinn, tells Metro.co.uk. ‘Typically, partners will either agree to have full disclosure about their other intimate encounters or to have an “ask no questions” policy.

‘What’s important about these kinds of relationships is that both couples are on the same page, and agree openly to the terms of their relationship. For some people, finding real love will be about commitment in every sense of the word, but for others, a more open relationship will feel less restrictive and more fulfilling.’

Dr Laura Vowels, principal researcher and sex therapist at Blueheart, says ethical non-monogamy is an umbrella term under which can fall a range of different agreements and preferences.

As Dr Laura puts it, they can often (but not always) be narrowed down into three broad categories:

  • Open relationships – When individuals in a couple date or have sex with people outside the relationship.
  • Polyamory – When people have romantic relationships with more than one partner at once. These can be hierarchical (e.g. primary and secondary relationships) or non-hierarchical (all relationships are considered equal).
  • Swinging – Exchanging partners purely for sex.
Threesomes are an option, but not obligatory (Picture: Getty Images)

‘It’s essential that each partner is happy with the choice and wants to explore,’ Dr Laura explains, ‘otherwise it can be damaging to a partner if they feel like they’re being coerced.’

If opening up your love life sounds interesting, she says an arrangement like this could be for you if your relationship ‘feels safe and secure’ and the trust you share is strong.

‘Consensual non-monogamy is not meant to save your relationship,’ she adds. ‘Your primary relationship needs to be strong for it to work.’

She also says you’ll need to have first-rate communication skills because it’s hard enough with just two people, much less when even more people get involved.

So what should you do if you think ethical non-monogamy could be for you?

‘Remember that no matter what your definition of a committed relationship may be, it is important to be honest about your boundaries and what you want from a relationship with your partner,’ Hayley stipulates.

‘If it’s them explaining to you what they want, take some time to digest before agreeing or disagreeing and make the decision together.’

Dr Laura reiterates the importance of communication, and of both parties being absolutely sure this is something they want to try.

‘Although it might be overwhelming to sit down and talk about this with your partner,’ she says, ‘it’s the only way to discover if you have a shared desire to try it.

‘You should both go away and think about whether this is what you really want, as the consequences for your relationship may be severe if opening up your relationship is not done in the right way.

‘It is also extremely important to make sure that you’re both very clear on what the open relationship will look like. Many people who first open up their relationship haven’t fully discussed what the opening up will look like – for example, is it OK to just flirt? Can you go on a date and have romantic feelings for someone? Is a casual hook-up OK?’

She stresses that, when setting your boundaries, it’s really important to be clear and not assume that you’re both on the same page with anything, no matter how simple it may seem to you.

‘Consensual non-monogamy, when done right, can greatly enrich your relationship,’ she says, ‘but if you haven’t properly discussed details with your partner, it is very easy to get feelings hurt on both sides.’

‘And as always,’ she adds, ‘even if you agree to this type of relationship, then it’s fine to change your mind at any point.’

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Get in touch by emailing MetroLifestyleTeam@Metro.co.uk


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