New Realities Of Love: Is Ethical Non-Monogamy For Real?

March 20, 2023
Written By:
Written By:
March 20, 2023

What is ENM? ENM, Ethical Non-Monogamy… Wait what?

It seems like new generations are finding new ways to love. In a world where swiping right and sliding into DMs have become the new norm, our ideas of relationships are taking a turn down a less-traveled road. This seems to be confusing people all across the globe, who can’t seem to wrap their head around the idea that there may be different types of relationships that are equally as valid as your traditional monogamist couple.

But wait, how could this be? If being in a relationship, being a couple, mating for life, literally is about two people committing to each other! It’s the way it is, the way it’s always been! Anything else is just a phase, it’s an experiment. A poor excuse for not being able to commit or resist one’s urges. It’s selfish even!

… Or is it?

Non-monogamy is not as recent as we might think

Contrary to popular belief, monogamy is a relatively young concept in the grand scheme of human history. Seriously, we’re not kidding. You might be shocked to learn that this beloved institution has only been around for roughly 1,000 years. We were at least. You see, before the rise of monogamous culture, various societies practised forms of non-monogamy, and we’re not just talking about ancient Greek parties where lust would run as rampant as wine.

Countless ancient, and not so ancient, civilizations practised non-monogamy

In ancient Rome, both men and women engaged in extra-marital relationships with the understanding that they would not disrupt the sanctity of marriage or family life. During pre-colonial Africa the Maasai people practised polyandry, meaning a woman would have multiple husbands who were usually brothers. The Ashanti of Ghana practised polygyny, where a man would have multiple wives. The Celts were very open and free in their sexual behaviour, both men and women engaged in relationships with multiple partners. Albeit with restrictions depending on certain social norms and expectations.

Some forms of non-monogamy are still practised today. Although perhaps not as predominantly as they used to, due to external influences. The Himalayan Na people follow a matrilineal system and practice a form of non-monogamous relationship where women can have multiple partners throughout their lives, as well as men. There isn’t really a formal institution of marriage and relationships are based on mutual consent and affection. Doesn’t sound too bad if you ask us! Kids are then raised by the mothers and their families. The Mosuo, an ethnic group in China, practice a unique form of relationship known as “visiting marriages.” Women have the freedom to choose and change partners as they wish, without any social stigma. Men will visit their partners at night, and return to their families during the day.

The list goes on, but you get the idea. Non-monogamy is nothing new. Even Plato believed that children should be raised by six people, making a strong case for non-monogamous parenting structures.

Monogamy came about as a social construct

As society evolved, so did our relationship structures. Basically, as societies got larger, social organization became a lot more complex. While we’ll spare you the sociology lesson, there were many cultural, social, economic, religious, and political factors that contributed to the rise of monogamy as the normative relationship structure. Stuff like sharing resources, controlling populations, social ranks, and keeping diseases in check, just to name a few.

From ‘free love’ in the 60s to today’s ENM

Fast forward to the 1960s, when the free love movement emerged as a response to the restrictive norms of the time. But unlike the “anything goes” attitude of the 60s, today’s non-monogamous relationships are about personal growth rather than the rejection of traditional norms. Nowadays, there is a lot more intentionality associated with non-monogamy. This shift is evident in the growing popularity of ENM and polyamory relationships, emphasizing the importance of clear boundaries, consent, and mutual understanding.

dreamers like scenen non monogamy
Source: cottonbro studio

Don’t get non-monogamy wrong… Beyond the misconceptions and stigmas

Now that we’re situated in history, let’s get’s situated in the present. Non-monogamy and polyamory relationships get quite a bad rep. Partly due to the fact there is a lot of misinformation going around. So much is misunderstood within this type of relationship psychology, that before judging it’s often best to examine our conceived idea of what something is… And what something isn’t.

Let’s start with one of the biggest critiques towards non-monogamy…

Non-monogamy isn’t a free pass for cheating

For those who see non-monogamy as a license to cheat, think again! Just think. What is cheating? Cheating is about breaking agreements, and ethical non-monogamous relationships are built on open communication and explicit agreements between all parties. ENM and polyamory relationships are precisely about not cheating! In fact, the level of honesty and vulnerability required for successful ENM relationships might just put some monogamous partnerships to shame.

Non-monogamy is not about lack of commitment or an allergy to responsibility

Non-monogamous relationships demand a high level of responsibility and commitment from everyone involved. Maintaining multiple connections requires an ongoing investment in open communication, emotional support, and empathy, ensuring that all parties feel respected and cared for. It’s not always easy; it demands considering everyone’s feelings and acting accordingly. Emotional multitasking at its finest.

As non-monogamous individuals and relationships gain visibility, they often face judgment and exclusion from society. But the real issue isn’t how different these relationships are; it’s the judgment and misunderstanding that can leave people feeling left out and pushed aside.

We need to understand the diversity within non-monogamous relationship styles

From polyamory to open relationships, swinging to relationship anarchy, the world of non-monogamy is as diverse as the individuals who practice it. There are so many different types of relationships, how can you possibly use one umbrella to cover them all? Recognizing and celebrating this diversity is essential for dismantling stigmas and fostering a more inclusive and empathetic understanding of love and connection.

Different types of agreements work for different types of people. No two relationships are quite the same. From open marriages where couples can explore outside connections, to polyamory where multiple loving relationships coexist, and even swinging, where partners swap for fun, non-monogamy comes in a myriad of flavours. There are also solo polyamorists, who prioritize their autonomy, and relationship anarchists, who defy traditional relationship hierarchies altogether. The beauty of non-monogamy lies in its flexibility and adaptability, allowing each individual to design their love life in a way that feels authentic, genuine, and fulfilling.

As with everything, non-monogamy has its benefits and its challenges

Communication and responsibility are a must in ENM

In a world where communication is often lacking, non-monogamous relationships serve as a beacon of honesty, trust, and transparency. Navigating the complexities of multiple connections requires a higher level of emotional intelligence and self-awareness, fostering personal growth and resilience among all parties involved. There is no way around it really. If you’re not good at communication and responsibility, you’ll eventually get better out of practice.

The potential for personal growth and awareness in ENM is huge

For those willing to embrace the journey, non-monogamous relationships can lead to profound personal growth and self-discovery. Not that we’re saying this is the only way, or that it’s better than the path taken in a conventional relationship. Not at all. It’s simply a way and quite an efficient one. Engaging with different partners and exploring diverse relationship dynamics, can lead to individuals learning more about their own desires, boundaries, and emotional needs – empowering them to build healthier, more fulfilling connections.

woman climbing stairs
Source: Michal Pudelka

Navigating the complexities of non-monogamous relationships. Quite the task

It’s not all sunshine and roses though. While non-monogamy can be rewarding, it also comes with its fair share of challenges. As does anything in life. Balancing the emotional and practical needs of multiple partners can be demanding, and draining. You don’t just get up one day, and stop feeling jealousy, insecurity, and fear. They can easily present themselves. However, in ENM, it’s all about how you deal with these feelings. Focusing intently on open communication, empathy, and self-reflection, these obstacles can be transformed into opportunities for growth and deeper understanding.

And perhaps this is what many critics of non-monogamy don’t realize. Those who blindly dismiss ENM as an invalid and meaningless relationship structure, might not realize that contrary to what they may think, a lot of thought and intention goes into being in unconventional relationships.

The Personal and Psychological Dimensions of Non-Monogamy

Generally speaking, deviating from the norm requires a process of questioning. A process of deconstruction. Taking apart the boundaries of what we know, what we’ve been told, what has been and is, to build what could be. Non-monogamy is no different.

There is an absolute need for self-knowledge and introspection in non-monogamous relationships

Entering the world of ENM and unconventional relationships means you will need a strong sense of self and a willingness to engage in ongoing introspection. At least if you want to navigate this world healthily. You absolutely need to understand your own desires, fears, and emotional patterns. Only then can individuals build stronger, more authentic connections – both with themselves and with their partners.

Moreover, this process can help people to explore and express their identity, needs, and desires. It requires one to tune into themselves, and truly question not only what one wants, but also why they want it.

Non-monogamous relationships offer a unique opportunity for individuals to explore and express their identities, needs, and desires in ways that may not be possible within monogamous partnerships. This, in turn, leads to a more fulfilling and authentic expression of love, intimacy, and connection for those who open themselves up to that path.

Keep in mind, a journey of self-discovery doesn’t necessarily lead to non-monogamy

What we mean is: People who explore non-monogamy will undoubtedly have to question love and the way it’s expressed, given, and received in society. It’s the part where you explore and question your own identity, needs, and desires, which leads to a more fulfilling and authentic expression of love, intimacy, and connection. Not strictly the finding of non-monogamy. You might embark on a journey of self-discovery, and discover that monogamy is, in fact, the path for you. But you will arrive at that conclusion by embarking on the quest in the first place. Rather than following a structure blindly because the majority of society does so too.

In essence, what we’re trying to say is, personal growth should be central to any and all relationships. But unfortunately, they aren’t always. And in non-monogamous relationships, it is highly emphasized.

Personal growth and diverse expressions of love as a result of non-monogamy

Personal growth should be central in any relationship, monogamous or non-monogamous. Partners should support each other’s growth. Creating an evolving and expanding partnership, a fulfilling connection that goes beyond non-spoken conventional relationship rules.

It just so happens that ENM forces you to re-evaluate this continuously. Thus making it pretty impossible to not be engaged in a relationship that nurtures personal growth.

For many, non-monogamy can be a path to more authentic and fulfilling relationships. It makes you embrace diverse expressions of love and connection. Leading individuals to explore their wants and boundaries, ultimately creating stronger, more resilient partnerships that enrich their lives. Once again, this doesn’t mean that this is not the case with a conventional relationship, it should be too! At the end of the day, love should be love, and valid in whichever way it’s expressed so long as we’re not harming anybody.

couple hugging beach
Source: Elspeth Diederix

Let’s recognize the validity of diverse relationship styles

Just as there is no one-size-fits-all approach to life, there is no single “correct” way to structure a relationship. Monogamous and non-monogamous relationships can coexist, each offering unique benefits and challenges tailored to the individuals involved. Acknowledging and embracing this diversity creates a more inclusive and empathetic society. Which is something we’ve definitely been needing lately.

Unfortunately, some insist that ENM is diluting love, making it less important, and less meaningful. But non-monogamy does not diminish the value of love or threaten its very existence. It’s kind of the opposite! It celebrates it, in all its shapes and forms. It challenges the traditional notion that love is a finite resource and encourages a broader understanding of the many ways in which love can be expressed, experienced, and celebrated.

It’s a good thing, a healthy thing, to realize that there are different types of love out there that we should care for beyond our partners’! We should actively create a network of love and affection that includes friends, family, and partner(s), rather than focusing all our attention on a single person. Regardless of whether you reserve romantic love for an individual or for multiple people, it is important to maintain a balanced network of relationships.

If only we could welcome and accept the diverse expressions of love and affection found in both monogamous and non-monogamous relationships, we’d have a richer, more compassionate understanding of human connection. This is the very openness that we need in the world today. Encouraging growth, empathy, and understanding, which will ultimately benefit all forms of relationships. It’s a win-win. Love always wins guys.

What does the future of love and relationships look like?

As society continues to evolve, so too will our understanding of relationships and love. The same way that non-monogamy was completely normal before, and seems so strange to many nowadays. After all, we do love to be cyclical, don’t we? Shaking things up a little and poking the bear of tradition might just pave the way for a new era of love. One that better reflects the simple concept that different people want and need different things. Is that so hard to understand?

Subscribe to stay informed of everything in our world
“How did you two meet?” A commonly asked question couples face in contemporary social environments. While our parents have likely met through mutual connections, a significant share of modern love stories start with a digital Cupid in the shape of […]