Types of Consensual Non-monogamous Relationships
Traditionally, when we think of romantic relationships we often think of the relationship involving two people who are solely and exclusively committed to each other. However, consensual non-monogamy allows people to push past those boundaries and allow couples to explore a relationship that works for both individuals.
Consensual non-monogamy implies that all parties are aware and willfully consent to the non-exclusive nature of their relationship dynamic. With that said, there is not one right way to practice consensual non-monogamy. In fact there are many different types of consensual non-monogamous relationships, meaning that a variety of different relationship models fall under the broad definition of it. Although there are many types of non-monogamous relationships, what they all have in common is that everyone involved gives consent to being in that type of relationship.
Similar to consensual non-monogamy, polyamory can be practiced in many different ways and may involve a long-term commitment to more than one person simultaneously. For example, in one model, several people are all in a relationship together. Another model involves a couple who are each committed to each other as well as additional partners of their own. Or one person in a relationship may be poly and have numerous partners, but their partners might not want or have any other partners themselves.
This type of non-monogamous relationship style allows partners the freedom to have multiple romantic and sexual relationships at the same time, however you don’t need to be in a relationship to practice polyamory. A single individual may also share similar relational practices.
Generally when speaking of consensually non-monogamous relationships, open relationships is used as an umbrella term for couples who are “open” to sexual contact with others. Unlike polyamory, open relationships do not generally involve a commitment to the parties outside of the two-person relationship. This relationship model is most known for partners being able to pursue outside connections, but are usually conducted under the premise that the primary, two-person relationship is the most prioritized.
More of an approach rather than a relationship structure, relationship anarchy, is rooted in the premise that all forms of relationships are treated equally. An individual won't necessarily view a romantic relationship as more important than a friendship, they won’t prioritize lovers or romantic relationships above their friends or family, and they may not even categorize their relationships as strictly platonic, romantic, and/or sexual.
Relationship anarchy explicitly rejects assumed hierarchies between different kinds of relationships and erases the distinction between partner and non-partner. This model is centered around personal freedom and autonomy, and where people often refuse to define the relationship in any way.
Developed by writer Dan Savage, monogamish is the term for couples who are primarily monogamous but occasionally take part in outside sexual relationships based on their own personal set of boundaries. For example, some couples may allow only one-night stands or only specific kinds of sexual activity is allowed with outside partners, or only when people are traveling or not at home etc. People who are monogamish tend to focus on outside sexual encounters only, not romantic connections with others besides their partner.
“I choose to be with you. I may have sex with other people, but I choose to put you first".
Often confused with polyamory, polygamy is seen mostly as a biblical or religious practice, where one person has multiple spouses. Most commonly seen in a marriage consisting of one husband and multiple wives, who are each sexually exclusive with the husband. Whereas, polyandry—a marriage consisting of one wife to multiple husbands—is far more rare, as marriages between one woman and multiple men have received less social, political, and cultural acceptance than polygamous relationships.
Most broadly, swinging involves committed couples consensually exchanging partners specifically for sexual purposes. According to Sheff from Psychology Today, swinging “began as the practice of “wife-swapping” among U.S. Air Force pilots after World War II”. Now swinging is sometimes practiced within specific swinging clubs or parties where the purpose is for couples to meet other couples, or even singles. Other times swinging can take place anywhere between an agreement amongst strangers to an arrangement with old friends.
These are just a few relationship models where consensual relationships can manifest. It is important to keep in mind that every relationship is different and should be communicated and treated with respect in order to fit the individual and couple’s needs.
Blog post written by Yasmine Ross, Certified Relationship Coach and Content Writer at An Elegant Mind Counselling in Vancouver.