Why are we hearing more and more about people opening their relationships? What does ethical non-monogamy (ENM) entail? Why would people want to explore this?
People open up their relationships for a variety of reasons. This can be partners having differences in libido, wanting to explore with different genders or seeking connection with others. Any reason someone has for changing their relationship structure is valid. But the process of opening a relationship can be extremely messy and potentially one of the hardest things you will do. This process involves communicating with your partner(s) about boundaries and insecurities, negotiating terms for the relationships, managing jealousy, and even more communication. A lot of the time, we don’t know what boundary to set until it’s crossed and we have a strong reaction.
“Monogamy is not a cure for Jealousy” (The Ethical Slut).
The first thing people tend to think about when hearing about someone who is polyamorous/non-monogamous/open/whatever they want to call it, is jealousy. We hear, “Wow, I’m too jealous, I could never do that”. Spoiler alert: monogamy isn’t a cure for jealousy.
Jealousy is one of those feelings that people avoid at all costs. But jealousy can be a secondary emotion. Underneath jealousy are questions like: “what if they leave me?”, “I bet they are prettier than me” and “am I not enough?” These questions are reactions. Jealousy is an emotion that we can learn coping skills for, just like all other emotions.
Many people in consensually alternative relationship structures struggle to find therapists who have experience working within these dynamics. It can be detrimental to any relationship for a therapist to judge a client’s lifestyle, not understand it, or give advice without taking the time to learn.
Being in a non-monogamous relationship or starting to create a consensually alternative relationship structure involves a huge amount of self exploration and vulnerability. Many discoveries can bring up past experiences that may have led someone to their ideas about relationships and jealousy today. Therapy can help you sift through and reframe these ideas to arrive at a new flexibility regarding relationship dynamics. Understanding where our ideas of compulsory monogamy come from can help us to undo the socialization that trained us. Many ideas about relationships are reinforced by society, media, fairy tales, and more. Some of these ideas may include the following: finding one person can solve all of your problems, you will be sexually compatible with the person you want to spend your whole life with, and if your partner wants to have sex with someone else it means you’re not enough. These are the ideas that shame people who want something different from the typical script.
There is no “normal”. We have the power to create any relationship structure we want, including intentional monogamy. Each relationship needs communication to create boundaries and agreements that suit their lifestyle. Through these means, anyone can have the exact relationship they want – beyond what we ever thought was possible.