People choose to practice non-monogamy for many different reasons, but my decision to practice non-monogamy 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, mostly because from my experience, the vast majority of people I have spoken with understand them to be over-flowing with anxiety, insecurity, lack of connection, miscommunication and lacking in 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 when it comes to their ability to maintain healthy romantic and sexual relationships is both assumptive and inaccurate. My personal experience has more frequently than not embodied the exact opposite.
I experience all three of these emotional struggles on a regular basis and a main reason for my being able to continue a relationship that has felt healthy, supportive, comfortable and safe is because of non-monogamy. This isn’t the case for everyone, and 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 past trauma and how I relate it to my romantic and sexual interactions.
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Here are four ways being in an open relationship have helped me feel more secure and comfortable in my relationship:
- It helps me trust that my partner is with me because they are actively choosing to be and not due to apathy to leave, fear of being alone, or any other reason. When I know my partner has the freedom to explore being with other people, them remaining in this relationship with me and working continually to build and improve it feels like more of an active choice, than how I might otherwise perceive it. Similarly, it allows me to share experiences with other people I am interested in. This helps me reflect on why I have chosen to make non-monogamy an important part of my It also allows me to question why this person is important enough to me, for me to give them so much of my energy, and whether I want to be in the relationship I am in. Non-monogamy pushes me to engage in a continual process to make the decision that I am committed rather than leaving this decision to be a one-time thing, or infrequently visited thought. This process, while time-consuming at moments, has helped me feel more confident in my choice to be in the relationship I am in.
- It allows me to explore my relationship with myself and my relationship with the world around me outside of the romantic relationship I am in.
Non-monogamy has helped me work on defining myself more clearly outside of my relationships. It has allowed me to grow in ways that I feel are important for me, even if they are not important for my relationship or for my partner. Being able to do this more easily decreases the pressure I have 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.
- It has increased communication between myself and my partner, and both of us have benefited from that greatly. Experiencing each other in this way has pushed my partner and I to increase the amount and depth of our communication in a way that 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.
- It allows my partner and I to build our relationship around mutual respect and appreciation rather than ideas that often dominate conversations around relationships like 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 internalized messages I have learned from the larger culture I am a part of. Sharing my partner with others, and us allowing each other to have this type of freedom has helped me to redefine my understanding of romance in a way that feels more comfortable, healthier, and safer to my needs.
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If you are interested in non-monogamy, but aren’t sure where to start, here are some suggestions that would have helped me in the beginning, and are still helpful reminders today:
- Communication is key. Even if it is clumsy and confusing, awkward or embarrassing, this needs to be a continuous and mutual effort.
- Take time to clearly set boundaries and name insecurities.
- Be open to the idea of change regarding how your relationship is defined, what your boundaries are, and responding to new or previously unnamed insecurities of you and your partner.
- Allow yourself to feel your feelings, even if they do not seem rational or fair. It is 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 it’s not for everyone and that it doesn’t have to be. If you are uncomfortable, or become disinterested, don’t hesitate to say something!
Writer’s Note: I want to take a moment to acknowledge that while this is a piece about non-monogamy, it has grown out of my own experiences, which is to say that it won’t include all experiences of non-monogamy or non-monogamy in all its forms. The type of open relationships I am interested in for my own life right now is one that does not include those practices which involve shared living spaces between myself and my partner, either of us having another partner we are committed to, or sharing partners. While these are all wonderful options for many folks and speaks to their truths and needs, this is just not my personal preference, and so I don’t mean to intentionally exclude these perspectives, but am instead hesitant to speak to experiences I have not had. I experience non-monogamy through a committed, open relationship that I share with another person that allows each of us to comfortably and consensually engage in romantic and sexual interactions with others outside of our relationship.
I say this to raise the point that this article may not be as applicable to other forms of non-monogamy that I am unfamiliar with, and that while this unfamiliarity gives my perspective certain limitations of my ability to discuss them, 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.
[Feature Image: A fair skin individual with short dark hair under a red basketball cap to the back stands outdoors smiling in a grey t-shirt with yellow writing. Source: Flickr.com/Crystal_BMT]