Monogamy is an idealized relationship style. Its “all-or-nothing.” One slip up – one flirtation leading to a kiss, one sexual encounter, one Facebook message exchange gone to far and your perfect monogamous relationship is blown up.
This does not mean monogamy is somehow “unnatural” or “wrong” in terms of relationship styles. It does mean that how we think about monogamy as a culture needs some adjustment.
Likewise, I am not an “open relationship or nothing” type of girl. I have had open relationships. I have enjoyed some of them. And then after years of queer open relationships I found myself in love with a cis man (SHOCKING!!!) and we ended up monogam-ish . Now I am grateful for loving non-monogamously because it taught me a lot about what needs to go into a successful monogamous relationship.
Discuss Your Relationship Style Desires Up Front
After being non-monogamous for years (decades really) I do not presume that everyone has the same needs in a relationship as I do. From the start of a new relationship I talk about what I want and need in terms of relationship styles. When I met my current partner (going strong four years now) I was open about having been non-monogamous. He had always been monogamous (although he had been cheated on several times).
We spent the better part of the first year together discussing relationship style options. I took him to polyamory discussion groups. We hung out with friends who were non-monogamous, polygamous, slutty (a self-description), monogamous, and more. We talked about what each of us wanted and desired in a relationship. We talked about what we would want if we decided to date other people. We talked about my health (it is not great to say the least). We talked about time and emotional availability. All of this led us to decide how we wanted our relationship to work.
These discussions and the lack of assumption about each others relationship style allowed us to create a type of relationship which works for us. It is not dictated by cultural or parental expectations. It is not dictated by the other people who might want to date us. It is not dictated by ingrained social mores. It is a relationship designed for us, by us.
Extra-relationship Sex Does Not Have to be a Deal Breaker
One of the things I have noticed with a lot of monogamous friends is that a single incident of sex outside the primary relationship is a relationship ender. Sometimes the sex wasn’t even that big of a deal to either party but the cover up or lying and the expectation that one “should” end a relationship if the other party cheats created enough pressure that the couple broke up.
Loving non-monogamously taught me that sometimes cheating does not have to be a deal breaker. Everyone can be attracted to someone other than their primary partner. The longer you are with someone, the more likely this is to happen. It is a reality we all will face. Talk to your partner about the expectations around extra-relationship attractions.
Depending on how important monogamy is to you a cheating partner may be a reason to end the relationship. Think about why this is the case. What is it about your partner having sex with someone else that is so upsetting it requires ending a long-term relationship. Ask yourself, “If my partner slept with someone else, it is really worth a divorce, finding a new place to live, negotiating custody of the kids, and everything else that comes with a separation?” Only you can answer that for you.
For me, there are parameters I need a partner to stay within to make extra-relationship sex okay with me. My first rule has always been “Be Safe! Do not bring home a disease or a kid.” I have enough health stuff to deal with without having an STI. And I am not up for some unknown woman showing up in a few months with his kid.
We have other “rules” about seeing people. There are “home” and “away” rules. It is different if one of us is traveling for work and something happens. We have conditions if we play with someone together. Mostly we require talking about it before it happens. You will have to figure out what you need to be okay with your partner sleeping with someone else.
Having an open relationship or having prior experience with non-monogamy will not make you magically immune to jealousy. Jealousy is a basic human emotion. What non-monogamy taught me was how to deal with jealousy.
First, try and figure out why you are jealous. For me, it was often a personal insecurity or a boundary had been crossed. Identifying the root of the jealous feeling helps you deal with it. This will not necessarily make the jealous feelings go away. It will help you communicate about what you need.
Monogamous people can be jealous over non-sexual relationships. Your partner may have a “work wife” or “work boyfriend” you get jealous of. You might get jealous that he goes out with “his boys” every Saturday. You could be jealous that she spends all weekend on the couch playing Fortnight. The same idea applies to jealousy in these situations.
When we are jealous we can act poorly. We can lash out or put on unreasonable demands because our needs are not getting met. If you can take a minute to figure out if it a boundary which has been violated, or you are insecure, or you are feeling ignored, or your needs are not being met then you are in a better position to talk about what you and your partner need to address.
Calendars are Your Friend
Many non-monogamous folks love Google Calendar. The ability to schedule things and keep everyone on the same page is really useful in all relationships. Some families have a “family calendar” they keep in the kitchen (or elsewhere). However most monogamous couples without kids don’t use a shared calendar. This is a mistake!
You don’t want to miss important events. This can be a birthday or anniversary, a work party, a trip, or anything else. It can be a lot to track where your partner is supposed to be and what you need to prep for without a shared calendar.
Think about your birthday and anniversary. How many monogamous couples get in a fight because he forgot your anniversary or she forgot your mother’s birthday party? Having a shared calendar helps eliminate these issues.
My partner is a DJ and audio producer. Tracking his gigs and studio time is ridiculously hard when left to him mentioning these engagements to me and me remembering them (seriously, they all blend together at some point). I have an average for four medical appointments a month, only one or two I need him to attend with me. This is too much tracking without a shared calendar.
Regardless of your relationship style there are a few things we can all learn from non-monogamous folks. You need to make the rules for your relationship. Thinking about why you might want to be monogamous or non-monogamous will help you get the type of relationship you want.