I love you, and you, and you: What is a Non-Monogamous Relationship?

Monogamy has always been a benchmark of what a healthy, successful, traditional relationship is made of, but times are changing  Society as a whole is beginning to be exposed to different forms of relationships, and exploring the definition of non-traditional relationships, including those which expand beyond monogamy.  You may wonder what exactly non-monogamous means outside of the literal definition, or what it looks like to those involved.


So, let’s get two basic definitions down. These major distinctions are important to understand.


  1. Open -- your relationship is mostly monogamous, meaning you are in a committed relationship but choose to be involved with others. You have rules/expectations about when it is acceptable or the appropriate time to expand your physical relationship with others, either with or without your main partner. You are in a primary relationship with your significant other and the other people you each choose to be involved with sexually are always considered secondary. You are not emotionally committed to anyone other than your significant other.


  1. Polyamory -- you are engaged in several committed relationships with other people. There may be a relationship hierarchy, or you may have all of these relationships be of equal importance in your life. You may decide to be open and have sexual experiences with other people outside of your multiple committed relationships, or you may choose to be closed and be in a polyfidelity type of relationship structure.  


There are no set rules for what these relationships look like. It is up to each couple to define what it means to them, and what is allowed within the constructs of their union. Some believe in fluidity, others have set parameters.


There are relationships that start out as non-monogamous, others evolve into it.


It is important to remember that non-monogamy is not a quick fix for a (possibly broken or struggling) relationship. If you feel like monogamy is the only reason why your relationship is not working for both you and your partner, that’s likely not true. There could be underlying issues which could be exacerbated by opening the union up to a sexual relationship with more people. Being in an open and/or polyamorous relationship requires a lot of trust and honesty (with both yourself and your partner), communication and commitment. You need to have a strong healthy foundation for your relationship before you consider changing the type of relationship it is. Feelings can easily get hurt, people can feel left out-- be sure to ask your partner how they are feeling. Be cautious of your feelings too, and those your partner may hesitate to express.


It is important to check-in with yourself to make sure that the structure of a monogamous or non-monogamous relationship actually works for you, and makes you happy. You may say “yes” to your significant other because you want to make them happy, and then wind up with a relationship that does not work for you. Sometimes you may also need to try different types of relationships to understand how you really feel about monogamy vs. non-monogamy.


And for those of you out in the dating world, it can be challenging to understand what people really mean when they present themselves as being in a non-monogamous relationship. It’s ok to ask questions and look for clarification. Your sexual health and identity are your choice and responsibility. You have the right to ask for the information you need.


Here are a couple of helpful resources if you’re looking for more clarification.






And as always, don’t hesitate to reach out and talk to someone if you are feeling overwhelmed or don’t know where to go from here. Whether one-on-one or in a group therapy setting, hearing other people discuss their relationships can help refine your perspective.

Vanessa Spooner, Psy.D.