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What is 'ethical non-monogamy'—and is it for you?

By Cai Antonio Published Jan 07, 2023 5:19 pm

We’re told that our romantic lives sum up to sharing it with one person until we die. We all know that, in one way or another, this idea doesn’t fit with all of us. Some of us choose to be on our own, while others choose to be with more than one person—the latter being more stigmatized than the former. 

We’ve all come across the querida films, the stereotypical cheating husband, the friend of a friend who slept with your friend’s boyfriend, and the girl who's been sleeping with her boyfriend’s best friend. And we’ve probably heard of (or might even have been) that one person who can’t seem to commit to one person.

We are made to fit into this idea of being with just one person and yet we continue to see the cracks in this monolithic idea of monogamy. For many, perhaps monogamy works. Perhaps, it is a relationship structure that aligns with their values and beliefs. For some, however, monogamy feels like a dead end.

At the other end of the spectrum of relationship dynamics, ethical non-monogamy (ENM) stands at the opposite of monogamy. ENM is an umbrella term that encompasses various relationship models that have to do with more than two people. Ranging from open relationships to relationship anarchy, ethical non-monogamy ultimately poses a viable alternative to monogamy. 

ENM can take the form of either non-hierarchical or hierarchical relationships. The former puts no specific priority over one relationship or the other, while the latter is ENM that delegates more importance to certain relationships.

The practice of ENM revolves around enthusiastic consent, open communication, and wholehearted trust. This is not to say that jealousy is removed from the picture. Jealousy is understood to be an emotion that is managed through communication and trust.

Navigating ENM ultimately begins with an open and inquisitive mind; a conscious decision to understand rather than to judge; and a willingness to explore, make mistakes, create resolutions, and carve your own pathway beyond what we thought was a dead end.

More than this, ENM is not the same as cheating. Where cheating is centered on deceit, ENM is hinged on trust and consent. Cheating can still happen in ENM relationships as it does in monogamous relationships. The presence of deceit whether it be in ENM or in monogamous relationships is what makes cheating occur.

Navigating ENM ultimately begins with an open and inquisitive mind; a conscious decision to understand rather than to judge; and a willingness to explore, make mistakes, create resolutions, and carve your own pathway beyond what we thought was a dead end. ENM may not be for everyone, the same way monogamy might not work for everyone. In the end, the importance lies in how we ultimately see ourselves within our relationships. Whether that be with one person or more, the relationship dynamic that is right for you is the one that you find fits you best.