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I recently met this great guy and we really hit it off. He says he’s in an open relationship. I’ve always been monogamous and feel completely clueless about this. Help!

co-written by Sadie Villeneuve

First things first, the terms open relationship and consensual non-monogamy (CNM) are often used interchangeably[i], as an umbrella term for various models of relationship.  These relationships like monogamy come with pros and cons, jealousy, the need for safe sex practices and cheating.

When finding out that this guy you hit it off with was in an open relationship, the first couple of thoughts that may have passed through your mind were open relationship? What’s that? Nonmogamwhatttt?!

Open relationships or CNMs are often viewed as out of the ordinary[ii] and illegitimate[iii].  Growing up we are presented with images of princes falling in love with princesses who live happily ever after just the two of them. Hetero-monogamous relationships are often pushed as “the norm” in our society.

Unlike monogamy which comes with what could be called default rules, expectations and social norms[iv], CNM relationships have the opportunity to negotiate an agreement where parameters are set to ensure relationships not only flourish[v], but all parties have their needs and desires met as well as feeling safe[vi]. These relationships are grounded on communication, trust and the ability of all partners to be able to convey their needs, concerns or desires openly at any time. CNM relationships can be nonexclusive sexually, emotionally or a combination of both[vii], depending on the model. The three most common models of CNM are:

  • Swinging: Couples who swing engage in extra-dyadic sex in the presence of their partner in a social setting/party. This form of relationship is strictly sexual in nature, not romantic or emotional [viii].
  • Open relationships: Couples are emotionally and romantically exclusive to each other, while allowing for secondary lovers strictly for sexual relationships[ix]. A large degree of autonomy exists within this type of relationship.
  • Polyamorous: Polyamorous relationships are often regarded more positively than swinging or open relationships; as the relationships are more then just sex – they are romantic and emotional in nature as well[x]. Polyamorous couples may have parallel relationships, with many “one and onlys”[xi].

Individuals in these relationships understand and agree they are non-monogamous.

Jealousy can become the big green monster of any relationship. Many would consider it a certainty in CNM relationships, however it is no more prevalent than in monogamous relationships[xii]. Jealousy can be a healthy relationship experience, bringing a couple closer together. This emotion often speaks to uncertainty an individual may be feeling or the inability to express an emotion, rather than the actions of the partner[xiii]. Jealousy management and communication is useful for CNM and monogamous relationships alike [xiv].

A positive CNM relationship facilitates dialogue and communication among partners to maximize mutual gain[xv]; promoting individual growth[xvi], autonomy, confidence and self-expression[xvii]. Individuals who engage in consensual non-monogamy often report improved lives, a high degree of openness, happiness and overall satisfaction[xviii]. CNM relationships allow for individuals to choose partners that can meet specifics such as sexual variety, instead of relying on one partner.

Like any positive relationship, a positive CNM relationship is based on trust, sharing and communication. Individuals partaking in CNM relationships will often spend a lengthy amount of time discussing STI testing, sexual history and health before engaging in any sexual acts fostering safer sex practices[xix]. Condoms are less likely to be used incorrectly as there is a mutual respect for all parties involved[xx].

Cheating whether in a monogamous or non-monogamous relationship can be defined in a similar manner: disrespecting or breaking implicit or explicit rules of the relationship structure[xxi]. CNM relationships view the transgression from communication, openness, emotional attachment and connection[xxii], as cheating. While individuals in monogamous relationships tend to focus on sexual infidelity and extra dyadic sex with others as cheating.

So, is it for you? That’s the question of the hour!

In order for a CNM relationship to work, you must be willing to communicate what you are looking for, your desires, any concerns you may have as well as being 100% honest. Ask yourself a few tough questions:

  • What are my expectations of a loving relationship?
  • How much security do I need to feel safe?
  • Do I need to be the “one and only” or can I share?
  • What pushes or provokes my jealousy and insecurity[xxiii]?

Don’t be afraid to “this great guy” to clarify any questions/concerns you may have! CNM is all about communication. Just like any relationship, CNM relationships are not always easy but they can be very rewarding. Spark conversation about what your goals, desires and boundaries are, and perhaps you’ll find yourself moving away from the default assumptions we often have about relationships and love[xxiv].

There are lots of great resources aimed at newcomers such as yourself such as www.morethantwo.com, and “The Ethical Slut” by Easton & Hardy as well as a large number of support groups and social networks avaliable to learn more.

No matter your decision, it’s just that – your decision – do what’s right for you!


 

[i] Labriola, K (1999) Models of Open Relationships. Journal of Lesbian Studies (The Hawthrone Press, Inc) Vol. 3, No. ½, 1999, pp.217-225.

[ii] Grunt-Mejer, K,. Campbell, C,. (2015): Around Consenaul Nonmongamies: Assessing Attitudes Toward Non exclusive Relationships, The Journal of Sex Research, DOI: 10.1080/00224499.2015.1010193

[iii] Rubel, A.N., Borgaert, A.F. (2015) Consensual Nonmongamy: Psychological Well-Being and Relationship Quality Correlates. Journal of Sex Research, 52(9), 961-982,.

[iv] Veaux, F. (2012) What is poyamory? (edited by Eve Rickert) Copyright©2012 Franklin Veaux

[v] Rubel, A.N., Borgaert, A.F. (2015) Consensual Nonmongamy: Psychological Well-Being and Relationship Quality Correlates. Journal of Sex Research, 52(9), 961, 982,.

[vi] Grunt-Mejer, K,. Campbell, C,. (2015): Around Consenaul Nonmongamies: Assessing Attitudes Toward Non exclusive Relationships, The Journal of Sex Research, DOI: 10.1080/00224499.2015.1010193

[vii] Conley, T.D., Moors, A.C., Matsick, J.L., Zeigler, A. (2013). The fewer the merrier?: Assessing stigma surrounding consensually non-monogamous romantic relationships. Analysis of Social Issues and Public Policy, 13, 1-30.

[viii] Matsick, J.L., Conley, T.D., Zeigler, A., Moors, A.C., Rubin, J.D., (2014). Love and sex: Polyamorours relationships are perceived more favorably than swinging and open relationships. Psychology & Sexuality, Vol. 5, No.4, 339-348.

[ix] Rubel, A.N., Borgaert, A.F. (2015) Consensual Nonmongamy: Psychological Well-Being and Relationship Quality Correlates. Journal of Sex Research, 52(9), 961-982,.

[x] Grunt-Mejer, K,. Campbell, C,. (2015): Around Consenaul Nonmongamies:  Assessing Attitudes Toward Non exclusive Relationships, The Journal of Sex Research, DOI: 10.1080/00224499.2015.1010193

[xi] Grunt-Mejer, K,. Campbell, C,. (2015): Around Consenaul Nonmongamies: Assessing Attitudes Toward Non exclusive Relationships, The Journal of Sex Research, DOI: 10.1080/00224499.2015.1010193

[xii] Veaux, F. (2012) What is poyamory? (edited by Eve Rickert) Copyright©2012 Franklin Veaux

[xiii] Rubel, A.N., Borgaert, A.F. (2015) Consensual Nonmongamy: Psychological Well-Being and Relationship Quality Correlates. Journal of Sex Research, 52(9), 961-982,.

[xiv] Veaux, F. (2012) What is poyamory? (edited by Eve Rickert) Copyright©2012 Franklin Veaux

[xv] Mellesmoen, G., (2013). Open relationships get a bad rap. UWIRE text: p1.

[xvi] Moors, A., Chopkin, W., Edelstein, R., Conley, T., (2014). Consensual non-monogamy: Table for more then two, please. The inquisitive Mind. Vol. 6, Issue, 21.

[xvii] Rouse, R,. (2011). What is feels like…. to be polyamorous. Sunday Times, London England: p51.

[xviii] Rubel, A.N., Borgaert, A.F. (2015) Consensual Nonmongamy: Psychological Well-Being and Relationship Quality Correlates. Journal of Sex Research, 52(9), 961-982,

[xix] Veaux, F. (2012) What is poyamory? (edited by Eve Rickert) Copyright©2012 Franklin Veaux

[xx] Rubel, A.N., Borgaert, A.F. (2015) Consensual Nonmongamy: Psychological Well-Being and Relationship Quality Correlates. Journal of Sex Research, 52(9), 961-982,.

[xxi] Veaux, F. (2012) What is poyamory? (edited by Eve Rickert) Copyright©2012 Franklin Veaux

[xxii] Mellesmoen, G., (2013). Open relationships get a bad rap. UWIRE text: p1.

[xxiii] Labriola, K (1999) Models of Open Relationships. Journal of Lesbian Studies (The Hawthrone Press, Inc) Vol. 3, No. ½, 1999, pp.217-225.

[xxiv] Veaux, F. (2012) What is poyamory? (edited by Eve Rickert) Copyright©2012 Franklin Veaux