Non-Monogamy Relationship Styles

With speaking about relationships, the last couple weeks, I felt it appropriate to end this week talking about non-monogamy. This was a decision based on some of what I had been writing combined with ideas friends have proposed and a couple comments on a singular post. I want to make it clear that I do not advocate for any specific type of relationship, it is something I am still navigating. I still have the storybook fantasy of finding someone to spend my life with, even though I realize it is a fantasy and also an ideal that is implanted by society. I do not agree with the line of thought that monogamy is a modern invention, there is a lot of historical proof that shows humans have pair bonded long before the church and its influence of marriage and commitment. So, let’s see what we can turn up in this article.

The focus of this article will be the distinction between open relationships versus polyamorous relationships. To do that we need to establish some definitions and groundwork to help clear the waters, as it were. Psychology Today published an article titled Seven Forms of Non-Monogamous Relationships.  They are defined as Cheating, Polygamy, Open, Swinging, Monogamish, Polyamory/Polyfidelity, and Relationship Anarchy. Obviously the two we are focusing on are in this list, but the others do bear some consideration. Monogamish is a term that Dan Savage help popularize, and while is a form of non-monogamy, still holds to some tenants of monogamy. The difference is that is still has aspects of an open relationship with more strictures in place. They could be things like only a one-night stand is allowed or only while one partner is out of town. Polygamy bears a special note of definitions; it is simply a relationship or marriage of more than two people. Polygyny is a one of its forms and where a man marries and is committed to multiple women, at the same time. No partners are sought outside the union, unless they are to become a new additions to the unit. You can read more about Relationship Anarchy on the link above. With these in mind let’s move on to the topics of focus.

An open relationship is loosely defined as consensual non-monogamous relationships based on a committed couple.It essentially means that both partners in a relationship agree to sexual relationships with other people. This is not the same as polyamory, the reason is based on the fact that in an open relationship, there still is a committed couple. They simply agree to not be exclusive with one another. The previous article I wrote did speak to how gay men who are in committed relationships do advertise as an “open relationship,” often times without prior knowledge or consent of their partner. This in fact is cheating and still considered a non-monogamous relationship. The foundation of it being a committed relationship does not change, only the function of being allowed to include outside partners under specific guidelines that have been addressed. People who identify as an open relationship say that it can be group play that includes both partners, could be sex with friends or strangers, engaging in a specific kink that the other partner may not share, or variations on them. The point is that it is based on a committed relationship dynamic where communication and ground rules are important. You must be clear in your communications and understandings or it may lead to tension and issues later.

A polyamorous relationship is loosely defined, by Merriam Webster, as “the state or practice of having more than one open romantic relationship at a time.” Others would go a step further and say that it is a  relationship style that allows people to openly conduct multiple sexual and/or romantic relationshipssimultaneously. The core difference is there is no one set committed couple that this is based off of. It allows multiple people to engage and interact openly and consciously of the fact there is no exclusive nature to the dynamic. Typically, all participants are aware of and agree to this. That doesn’t mean that you cannot revisit the same partner multiple times, it only means that the intimacy shared is during those sessions and doesn’t require a deeper connection. That also doesn’t mean that a large group of people can’t continue to create and emotional connections with those involved and maintain relations, therein. In fact, in polyamorous relationships this is called polyfidelity. Attachments can even form by those affected by the poly relationship and are often called polyaffective. The article linked above goes into better descriptions of those aspects.

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At first glance, you are probably sitting there and saying that you don’t see a difference and I agree that it can be a bit convoluted in trying to understand the differences. Let’s try an easier way without all of the technical terms. An open relationship is something a couple usually decides to do or try. It could be done for a way to spice up the love life, allow for pleasure to be sought in a relationship where one person cannot provide it anymore, maybe due to medical concerns or etc.,  but both still have a committed love for one another, or to offset for a particular fetish or kink one person has and the other cannot accommodate. Most would say that polyamory is a lifestyle for them, they simply aren’t hardwired to be with only one person. They could argue it isn’t a biological choice for them. As such, they will never have just one person they settle down with. Poly people may even develop a small circle of ‘friends’ that they rotate between due to trust and feeling safe, but it isn’t exclusionary. They are free to move to others at any time.

As I haven’t dated in almost seventeen years, I don’t advocate for any specific side. I think emotionally, each of us has different needs at different times. Those needs evolve as we mature and can change with the people we meet and learn more about. What is important is what works for you and communication with those you come into contact with, no matter your relationship needs. Discuss expectations with your partners, let them know where you are coming from and listen to them. It is not a one and done communication style, you have to have that revolving doorway. Life is to be lived and experienced, without it you will never know what you like or dislike. Do it responsively, as with all things.

2 thoughts on “Non-Monogamy Relationship Styles

  1. While that is one difference between open relationships and polyamory in practice, I feel like I should clarify the primary difference between them in intent: open relationships is a broad category, and polyamory is one specific type of open relationship style. With polyamory, the emphasis tends to be on loving multiple people and forming multiple relationships; many people who have open relationships but do not describe themselves as polyamorous do so because they are sexually open but not emotionally open, so for example, they may have casual sex but not date their secondary sexual partners. I am polyamorous and I am very committed to the long-term future with both my two primary nesting partners; both my relationships are open, both sexually and emotionally. If I were to stop being with one of them, it would be as devastating as a divorce. Others I know identify as “solo polyam”, and do not combine households with their partners, preferring to have separate living space and finances despite dating many lovers. Still others identify as “ambiamorous” and say they would be (and have been in the past) just as happy monogamous as polyamorous. Open relationships can mean swinging, or being half-open (if one partner is “saturated” with only one person but the other wants more), or casual sex with a “no feelings” rule, or a “one penis policy” (where both halves of a heterosexual couple are free to date women but not other men)… the list goes on.


    1. The intent of the article is not to be all encompassing but an introduction to the differences. Thank you for sharing your experiences. Also remember that your experiences and definitions are not everyone’s. This is why I only did an introduction. Perhaps you would be interested, instead, of being part of an interview format where you discuss your perspectives of the two.


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