What is Relationship Anarchy?
“A concept is a brick. It can be used to build a courthouse of reason. Or it can be thrown through the window.”
― Gilles Deleuze
The term "relationship anarchy", originally coined by Andie Nordgren, provides a new way of approaching relationships that are based on needs, wants, and desires rather than on socially mandated labels and expectations. This approach "encourages people to let their core values guide how they choose and craft their relationship commitments rather than relying on social norms to dictate what is right for you," says relationship coach, Dedeker Winston.
A few pillars of relationship anarchy are freedom, open and effective communication, and non-hierarchy. This philosophy essentially seeks to dissolve the differences between platonic friendship and sexual or romantic love in hopes that all relationships are treated equal.
Sociologist, Kesiena Boom notes that “practitioners of relationship anarchy see it as superfluous at best and harmful at worst to rank relationships in order of importance according to the presence of sex or romantic love, and they reject the prioritization of romance above friendship and the elevation of the monogamous couple above all else”.
Although there is no correct way to practice relationship anarchy, Nordgren outlines the following principles of relationship anarchy in an instructional manifesto to guide you through a relationship anarchist life:
1. Love is abundant, and every relationship is unique.
Love is not a limited resource. Love is abundant and ever flowing, therefore you have the capacity to love more than one person without it detracting from the love that you feel from each of your relationships. Every relationship that you have is an entirely new creation between its two (or more) parties and shouldn’t be ranked or compared - cherish the individual and your connection to them.
2. Respect that your partner is a ever-fluous person.
Your bond with someone does not give you the right to control or coerce them. You should respect their independence and self-determination. Your feelings, title, role, or history together does not mean you have the right to command and control your partner in a relationship. By staying away from entitlement and demands, you give your partner the choice to be in a relationship, and therefore can rely on a connection that is truly mutual. It isn’t love if we’re compromising parts of ourselves for others.
3. Your compass is driven by your relationship values.
Focus on what you want and need when it comes to how you will treat and be treated in relationships. Don't compromise on your needs and core values in order to try to keep a relationship that no longer serves you.
- What are your basic boundaries and expectations on all relationships?
- What kind of people would you like to spend your time with and why?
- How would you like your relationships to serve you?
4. Surrender to the unknown.
You can't predict everything. Being spontaneous in your connections - to express yourself without fear of punishments or burdened by restricting rules - is what gives life to relationships. Relate in ways that allow you to explore each other, instead of predicting what is expected and disappointed when expectations are not met.
5. Have trust.
Choose to assume that your partners want the best for you. When we approach our relationships with a bedrock of trust, we do not need to be constantly seeking validation that the other person is equally willing and engaged in the relationship. Building trust allows you and your partner the freedom to show up and take responsibility.
6. Commitments can be customized.
Relationship anarchy does not exclude commitment, instead it gives you the space to design your own commitments without the pressure of society's predetermined timeline of how relationships should be. “Do you want to have children together but never move in together? Do you want to get married but never have children? Do you want to maintain separate homes but be committed life partners? [...] You don't have to travel along the accepted "relationship escalator" of dating exclusively, moving in, getting married, and having children” (Boom, mbg). Start from a blank canvas and see what kind of commitments you want to create.
The How to Get Started with Adopting the Relational Anarchist Philosophy
Does all of this interest you but you're not sure how get started? Here are some tips:
1. Don’t assume. Communicate.
To prevent ourselves from assuming what our partners think or feel, we should always be in constant communication– in order to establish how things are going, not just when problems arise. Communication and collaborative action is the only way to break away from the norm, otherwise people fall into old patterns and can inadvertently hurt each other. Ask each other questions and be explicit!
2. Give yourself time to de-condition your biases.
Be mindful of the way in which society has emphasized monogamy (the assumption that standard monogamy is the only correct, moral, and desirable way to organize relationships) and how it can influence how you think relationships should be and how they must operate. Many will challenge the validity when you go against the norm, but stay aware of the assumptions you hold when it comes to love and work to remain authentic to what feels right for you.
3. Have the courage to be different.
Going against the norm of monogamous or heterosexist relationships can feel exhausting and difficult. But when you “fake it till you make it”, you’ll give yourself the confidence to push through, leaving you strong and inspired.
Relationship anarchy’s unique and free nature is not a bypass for the amount of work that goes into relationships. “Contrary to common misconceptions, relationship anarchy is not a justification for people to do whatever they want in relationships without consideration of other people's feelings, needs, desires, or boundaries," says therapist Anna Dow. Like any other relationship model, practicing relationship anarchy still requires proper determination, care, and responsibility in order to sustain healthy communication and trust within relationships.
Boom’s article mentions her interview with Josie Kearns, a queer woman with a wife and a girlfriend, who explains her approach to relationship anarchy as the following: “To me it means that my partners and I don’t control our relationships with other people — we set boundaries, but we don’t ask to enforce rules on each other. I find it much more meaningful to say, ‘I’m choosing to do this because I care about you and I know it will feel good to you,’ than to say, ‘I’m doing this because it obeys our rules.’
Blog post written by Yasmine Ross, Relationship Coach and edited by Angela Leong, Registered Clinical Counsellor.