By Danielle Poyser *This piece originally appeared on The Dating Dispatch
Relationships are hard. Relationships with one person are hard. And for some of us, imagining having two, three, maybe even four partners could give us a headache. For others, it is a sense of liberation, a way to engage in multiple forms of intimacy with people of the same or different sexualities, genders, and personality types.
For those who are interested in engaging in multiple partnerships, ethical non-monogamous relationships can allow these individuals a way to safely and respectfully cultivate meaningful relationships with those around them. However, just because you are doing just fine with your one partner, doesn’t mean you can’t learn a thing or two (or three) from the principles ethical non-monogamous relationships have to offer.
Ethical non-monogamy is an overarching term that includes other types of non-monogamous relationships such as open relationships, polyamorous relationships, and monogamish relationships. They all have slightly different definitions, but one thing they all have in common is a commitment to open communication, a desire for a greater sense of intimacy with others, and the ability to see their partner not only as their own, but as someone with potentially different needs and the desire to fulfill them.
They all have slightly different definitions, but one thing they all have in common is a commitment to open communication, a desire for a greater sense of intimacy with others, and the ability to see their partner not only as their own, but as someone with potentially different needs and the desire to fulfill them.
It sounds too good to be true because maybe it is. These are simply the guiding principles to these relationships’ styles, and it is not to say that everyone in an ethical non-monogamous relationship is always actively following these principles very well, but the intention is there. And I for one, would like to steal a few of them.
Opening the door to radically honest communication
A pivotal aspect of ethically non-monogamous relationships, open and honest communication with your partner can help to establish a reoccurring and safe space for discussion. For these relationship styles to work, all parties have to be willing to engage in a continuous conversation about the reality of their sex and relationship life, both in and outside of their relationship.
It can feel like a lot of work (and sometimes it is), but when you feel open to engaging in the conversation surrounding the rationale as to why you wish to have relationships with other people and the benefits it brings to your joint partnership, it can begin to feel easier to speak up about what it is you need from another within the other spaces of your relationship.
...[I]t can begin to feel easier to speak up about what it is you need from another within the other spaces of your relationship.
Things that once felt tasking or even annoying to continue to bring up are finally allowed to come to the light within this space of open communication. It could be something as small as saying that you wish your partner would cook dinner for the two of you more, or offer to take you on more spontaneous date nights — or as big as saying you are having issues struggling with your mental or physical health, and need your partner to support you. In a space where you are met with open arms as opposed to judgmental comments about the issues you are battling, it can feel more welcoming to share the un-shareable.
Things that once felt tasking or even annoying to continue to bring up are finally allowed to come to the light within this space of open communication.
Each partnership, each relationship is going to need different things to be successful. Ethical non-monogamy is inherently aware of that. It allows you to rewrite the narrative for what it means to be in your relationship — not anyone else's. Within this framework, it allows one to say as a partner: I can be enough, but I cannot be everyone and everything; nor should we expect each other to be. It is not to say that one should have no expectations of their partners, but rather they should be more forgiving of the work and responsibility each person has to bring to the table; asking themselves: "if I was in their shoes, would I too be able to succeed, or am I inherently setting my relationship up for failure?"
I can be enough, but I cannot be everyone and everything; nor should we expect each other to be.
Finding what you need, elsewhere
We expect our partners to be our best friends, our lovers, our dog walkers, our taking out the trash in the morning because we are tired-ers. But in doing so, we diminish the ability for them to be who they really are: Our companions. Our equals. Our persons, who as amazing and, wonderful as they may be, should not be responsible for always taking on the emotional labor of another person alongside themselves — and we, as their loved ones, should be more forgiving of their inability to do so.
With that in mind, we can begin to restore the aspects of our relationships that might have been missing elsewhere. We can stop fighting about the fact that our partners don’t love to go to the movies with us and watch horror films, or don’t want to wake up at 6:00 a.m. to join the local bike club, or go to the farmer’s market — and we can simply love them. Not as we wish they were. Not as the person we had hoped they would become, but as themselves. They're messy, sleeping in till noon, crazy, lovable selves.
...We can simply love them. Not as we wish they were. Not as the person we had hoped they would become, but as themselves.
Re-thinking what "partner" means
It’s not an easy task. No one said it would be, but by reimagining the idea we have of our partners in our head we are allowing them the space to show us how they truly want to be seen. It can be easy to get caught up in the everyday reality of life and miss sight of the people right in front of us, resulting in issues surrounding communication, respect, and even intimacy. It can be hard to always think of your partner as sexy when you see them more as a handyman or a housemaid than a partner (unless that’s your thing).
However, taking a page from ethical non-monogamy can help us to rewire our brains in order to cultivate a deeper and wider sense of intimacy between you and the people you are in relations with. By re-calibrating the image we hold of our partners in our mind, and see them not as the parents to our children or the behind the scene changers of our light bulbs we can begin to restore the lost sense of intimacy we all experience throughout our relationships.
Intimacy comes in many different shapes and forms within a relationship, whether that be through sex, or compassion, or through simply spending a small moment together before bed or at breakfast to notice and acknowledge the other person around you. But they are all important, and a lack of intimacy in one aspect of your life can lead to major struggles in the others, such as with your family or friends. Learning how to establish a better sense of intimacy, within a wider view of the subject — as the presence of powerful connections between one person and/or another — can be something that is easily transferable to and important in all relationships. And is something we could all use a little bit more of.
In all, what we can learn from ethical non-monogamous relationships is not that we should all open our relationships to have sex with other people, but rather that we should restructure the way we define our relationships in the first place — and to rework what it means to be intimate with others and ourselves. In doing so, our relationships can become more than just about learning how to fulfill someone else's wants or desires, but how to strengthen our capabilities for patience, allowance, and understanding for the people we care about most. Which at the end of the day, is a lesson each one of us could learn to take to the bank.
Danielle Poyser is a writer who is interested in exploring the intersections between health, language, sex and sexuality within queer and BIPOC communities. In addition to being a writer, she is also a community evaluation consultant, content manager, and mom to one very cute & curious fur baby named Kitt. You can find her on Instagram @theimmigrantsdaughter and on her sex and relationships blog, The Dating Dispatch.