Fellow Marriage and Family Therapist Rhea Orion said it best when she stated that consensual non-monogamy (also known as ethical non-monogamy) is:
Not for Everyone
Not against the Law
Not a threat to monogamous relationships
Not a “sex addiction”
Not just about sex
Not against the law
Not “avoiding commitment”
Not “an attachment disorder”
Only enthusiastically consented
As you can see, a lot of things have been thought to be true when it comes to relationships that don’t fit the mold of monogamy. I know some of these beliefs can create a lot of shame when it comes to “coming out” as poly or open.
A study in 2016 by the Kinsey Institute showed that 1 out of 5 Americans have engaged in some form of consensual non-monogamy(CNM), and each year the number grows as the idea becomes more commonly known. Despite the statistics many relationship therapists are trained through a “heteronormative” and “traditional” lens; Straight, cis, married/committed to one member of the opposite gender. Finding a safe, skilled, educated relationship therapist is a huge challenge within the community. Research has shown in several studies that couples therapists historically have told a folks engaging in consensual non-monogamy relationships to “choose between one partner or another” These issues create a lot of shame for folks in unique relationships, making it difficult to “come out”. Many of my own clients through the years feel they are forced hide their relationship with family and friends out of fear their relationship will not be accepted.
As a relationship therapist, I do believe part of my job is to educate folks in an effort to remove the stigma. Throughout the next couple of blogs I will dive into a few narrow beliefs and myths about consensual non-monogamy along with discussing what it actually is.
First off, this is what consensual non-monogamy is:
Consensual non-monogamy(CNM) is an umbrella term that describes relationships where all parties have agreed upon, with full communication and consent, to engage in sexual and/or romantic connections with multiple people.
- Polyamory: loving more than one person intimately, authentically, and genuinely with honesty to all partners
- Swinging: sexual relationships without romantic intent
- “Monogamish”: Open relationship where two people are each other’s primary partner
- Any of the vast variety of relationship shapes and sizes with multiple partners
The whole idea behind CONSENSUAL non-monogamy is that all parties are consenting to the relationship and have agreed to it’s rules. Given that CNM relationships have rules, just like any “traditional” relationship, it brings me to the first myth that is commonly spread:
Consensual non-monogamy means I can never cheat
FALSE. All healthy relationships have rules to create safety within the relationship and for consensual non-monogamy to work, everyone must know about everyone else and agree to rules defined within the relationship. This knowledge is so each partner can come to an informed decision on if to engage in the relationship.
You can cheat within a CNM relationship. Cheating means lying, deception, and breaking rules agreed on within your relationship. Doing this can create issues because it is a betrayal of trust. It is important you fully understand rules and talk to your partner(s) before you make any decision to have a sexual or romantic relationship with anyone else.
Stay tuned for more to come!
DR. RHEA ORION modern families counseling. (November 2019). Retrieved from http://www.rheaorion.com/.
Henrich, R., & Trawinsky, C. Social and relationship challenges facing polyamorous clients. Sexual and Relationship Therapy. 2016.
Orion, Rhea. A Therapist’s Guide to Consensual Nonmonogamy: Polyamory, Swinging, and Open Marriage. Routledge, 2018.
Taormino. Opening up: a guide to creating and sustaining open relationships. Cleis Press, 2008.
Veaux, Franklin, and Eve Rickert. More than Two: a Practical Guide to Ethical Polyamory. Thorntree Press, 2014.