Steps to live Consensual Non-Monogamy without drama

May 13, 2023

Therapist doing online therapy Telehealth

In recent years, there has been a significant rise in the number of couples involved in non-monogamous relationships, mainly due to rising knowledge and acceptance of diversity in different relationship patterns.

Some people consider monogamy too challenging or unnatural, finding it difficult to be in a committed relationship or have sexual interaction with just one person for all time. However, non-monogamy has its own challenges too.

If you are considering having a relationship that is not monogamous, you may be curious about how common non-monogamy is and what precisely non-monogamy includes. Additionally, working with a qualified relationship therapist could help set boundaries and navigate your relationships.

What is Non-Monogamy?

Non-monogamy, or consensual non-monogamy (CNM), is a relationship style where both partners agree to have other romantic and/or sexual partners with the knowledge and consent of everyone involved.

However, non-monogamy happens on a spectrum, including a variety of relationship styles depending on the preferences of the people involved in them:

Polyamory: having several romantic and/or sexual partners

Hierarchical polyamory: having romantic relationships and sexual interactions outside the relationship while keeping that relationship a priority

Polyfidelity: relationships in which three or more people form a closed romantic partnership

Open relationships: sexually non-monogamous relationships in which partners actively agree to have other romantic and/or sexual partners

Swinging: having sexual relationships with other couples

Multi-partner relationships: relationships involving three or more partners in which a sexual relationship does not exist between all of the persons involved

Hybrid relationships: relationships in which one partner is non-monogamous, and the other is monogamous.

How Common is Non-Monogamy?

Studies show that about 5 percent of Americans are in consensual, non-monogamous relationships. According to a 2016 Kinsley Institute study, about one in five Americans have been involved in some form of consensual non-monogamous relationship (open relationships, polyamory, or swinging) in their lifetime.

In 2021, they did more research and found that one in six people in the U.S. would prefer to engage in polyamorous partnerships, while 1 in 9 are actively involved in such relationships.

Other research has discovered increase in non-monogamy, particularly among certain groups such as queer and non-heterosexual people, who may be more prone to participate in non-traditional relationship forms.

It’s important to remember that the real number of people who practice consensual non-monogamy is likely larger than reported by research. This might be because the cultural stigma and biases surrounding non-monogamous partnerships force people to keep their relationship preferences and status secret.

The Challenges of Non-Monogamous Relationships

Deciding to live in a non-monogamous relationship has its challenges, though. Monogamy has long been seen as a defining social norm in our culture and non-monogamous relationships are still stigmatized. From a young age, many of us have been taught that being in a relationship with more than one person at a time is not right. Still, research shows that 15–20 percent of married couples in the U.S. cheat on their partners.

Many people find it challenging to commit to permanent emotional and sexual exclusivity. They make every effort to make their monogamous relationships or marriages work. Still, they eventually pursue extramarital affairs, causing harm to everyone involved.

Consensual, non-monogamous relationships can also be difficult on a personal level. Being involved with multiple intimate partners requires much effort to overcome jealousy, establish boundaries, and create a sense of safety.

Still, research shows that open, non-monogamous relationships are just as satisfactory as monogamous relationships.

The Importance of Honesty in Non-Monogamous Relationships

There is one aspect that all non-monogamous relationships have in common, regardless of the type you are in. They are open about their non-exclusivity. An open relationship can only function if it is founded on honesty.

Similarly, an open relationship does not imply adultery, manipulation, or a lack of commitment. For example, you may believe that you desire an open relationship but actually have commitment difficulties or battle with intimacy issues that you don’t know how to handle.

In non-monogamy, open communication and regular check-ins on boundaries, safety, expectations, and norms are vital. In addition, honesty can help create a supportive environment for each other by being vulnerable, working through jealousy, resentment, and sadness that may surface at any time, and acknowledging each other’s feelings.

Setting Boundaries in Non-Monogamous Relationships

Non-monogamy requires the same rules and boundaries as any other partnership to protect everyone’s emotional safety. to ensure that everyone involved feels safe and comfortable.

Establishing a mutually agreed-upon set of rules and boundaries is crucial to ensuring all parties feel comfortable. If you are experiencing any discomfort or emotional pain, do not hesitate to communicate it to the concerned person.

Relationship Counseling for Non-Monogamy

Counseling for open relationships and non-monogamy may help you develop empathy and have greater understanding with your partners, learn to communicate your needs and feelings, and be vulnerable. This may help you strengthen your relationships, regardless of the type of non-monogamy relationship you are in. Let’s connect soon so we can set up a consultation.

Filippo M. Forni, LMFT is an individual and couples therapist in Los Angeles, CA. His goal is to provide high-quality and effective goal-oriented therapy services to the Los Angeles and Century City community. He has extensive training in sexuality and multiculturalism and serves as an adjunct professor at Pepperdine University Graduate School of Education and Psychology.