Writer’s Note: I want to acknowledge that while this is a piece about non-monogamy, it has grown out of my own experiences. As such, it won’t include all experiences of non-monogamy, such as sharing living spaces, having another committed partner in addition to a “primary” partner, or sharing partners. While those forms of non-monogamy are just as valid and have just as much potential to be healthy, safe, and comfortable as the ones I explore here, they just aren’t my personal preference. I don’t mean to exclude these perspectives but am hesitant to speak to experiences I haven’t had.
People choose to practice non-monogamy for many different reasons. My decision to practice it has revolved around my needs for safety and comfort in my romantic relationships. This seems to surprise a lot of people when I share this.
The vast majority of people I’ve spoken with understand non-monogamy to be overflowing with anxiety, insecurity, lack of connection, miscommunication, and lack of commitment. This common perception of non-monogamy as something that is not for people who struggle with anxiety, are recovering from trauma, or are insecure in relationships is both assumptive and inaccurate. My personal experience has, more frequently than not, embodied the exact opposite.
As someone who struggles with anxiety, trauma, and insecurity on a regular basis, a main reason I’m able to continue building a relationship that feels healthy, supportive, comfortable, and safe is because of non-monogamy. This isn’t the case for everyone, and it may not be the case for me for the rest of my life. But for now, non-monogamy has been an incredibly useful tool that has helped me work through some of my insecurities and calmed many of my anxieties around not being “enough”. It has helped me deal with how my past trauma relates to my romantic and sexual interactions.
Here are four ways being in an open relationship has helped me feel more secure and comfortable in my relationship.
1. Non-monogamy allows me to know my partner is choosing me, day after day.
Non-monogamy helps me trust that my partner is with me because they’re actively choosing to be, not due to apathy, fear of being alone, or another reason. When I know my partner has the freedom to explore being with other people, the fact that they remain in our relationship and work continually to build on and improve it feels like our commitment is chosen rather than established through the rote comfort of routine.
Similarly, because I’m able to pursue others in addition to my partner, non-monogamy allows me to continually reflect on the reasons why my partner is important enough for me to give them so much of my energy. Non-monogamy pushes me to engage in a continual process of reaffirming my commitment to my partner, rather than such thoughts being a one-time or rarely-considered process.
2. Non-monogamy allows me to explore my relationship with myself and the wider world outside of the partnership I’m in.
Non-monogamy has helped me work on defining myself more clearly outside of my relationships. It has allowed me to grow in ways I feel are important for me, even if they’re not as outwardly important for my relationship or for my partner.
Being able to do this more easily decreases the pressure I’ve put on relationships in the past to be more than they should or can be. It reminds me that I can’t and probably shouldn’t be everything my partner needs, and that this is healthy — that even if I can’t give my partner everything they need, I am still enough.
More Radical Reads: Worth and Desire: 4 Emotions I Still Work Through While Practicing Non-Monogamy
3. Non-monogamy has improved the communication between me and my partner.
Experiencing each other through the framework of non-monogamy has pushed me and my partner to increase the amount and depth of our communication in a way I think may not have been necessary or possible had we not decided to practice non-monogamy. With so many different scenarios, emotions, and past experiences to maneuver, open communication has been key for both of us feeling comfortable.
4. Non-monogamy allows for building our relationship around mutual respect and appreciation rather than ownership and obligation.
A few months after my partner and I defined our relationship as non-monogamous, I realized that many of my previous relationships — and much of the reasoning for not wanting to be non-monogamous in the past — came from internalized ideas of ownership between partners. This isn’t to say that all monogamous relationships reflect this, but this was something I had subconsciously brought into romantic spaces before.
Being in an open relationship has allowed me to reflect on messages I’ve learned and internalized from the larger culture. Sharing my partner with others, and allowing each other to have this type of freedom, has helped me redefine my understanding of romance in a way that feels more comfortable, healthier, and safer for my needs.
More Radical Reads: 10 Ways To Know When Love Isn’t Love: “Stay Away From People Who Make You Feel Like You’re Hard to Love”
Tips for Those Interested in Non-Monogamy
If you’re interested in non-monogamy, but aren’t sure where to start, here are some suggestions that would have helped me in the beginning. They’re still helpful reminders today.
Communication is key. Even if it’s clumsy and confusing, awkward or embarrassing, this needs to be a continuous and mutual effort.
Take time to clearly set boundaries and name insecurities. Also be open to the fact that how your relationship is defined and what your boundaries are may very well change over time in response to your needs and wants. There may be new or previously unnamed insecurities involving you and your partner that are important to validate and address.
Allow yourself to feel your feelings, even if they don’t seem rational or fair. It’s important to do this so that you can acknowledge them and work through them before acting on them or deciding not to do so.
And finally, remember that non-monogamy is not for everyone, nor does it have to be. If you’re uncomfortable, or become disinterested, don’t hesitate to say something!
[Feature Image: Photo of a smiling person with short dark hair standing outside in front of a green leafy tree. They are wearing a grey t-shirt with yellow writing, a backwards red snapback hat, and sunglasses. Source: Flickr.com/Crystal_BMT]