Ethical Non-Monogamy – Opening up Your Relationship

March 31, 2023

Are You Questioning Whether Monogamy Works For You?

Ethical non-monogamy (ENM), has become more widely accepted and practiced in recent years.  If you’re considering entering into an ethically non-monogamous relationship, there are several things you should be aware of to ensure that you and your partners are on the same page and that everyone’s needs are being met.

There are three main types of non-monogamous relationships including polyamory, open relationships, and swinging, but often these terms are mixed up or used interchangeably. It’s important that you are really comfortable with the choice or choices you make and there is no persuasion or coercion from one partner to another. Give yourself plenty of time when making the decision whether to explore non-monogamy. Do as much research as possible to be informed and knowledgeable. Some suggested reading is given at the bottom of this article. 

Things to Consider Seriously when Choosing to be Ethically Non-Monogamous


communication in ethical non-monogamy

First and foremost, communication is key. In any relationship, but particularly in a non-monogamous one, it’s important to be open and honest about your feelings, needs, and boundaries.

This means having difficult conversations about jealousy, insecurity, and trust, as well as discussing how you will manage your time and emotional energy with multiple partners.
Jessica Fern, a psychotherapist, and relationship coach who has written extensively on the subject of ethical non-monogamy emphasises that polyamory is not just about having multiple partners, but about creating intentional relationships that prioritise communication, consent, and trust. In her book “Polysecure: Attachment, Trauma and Consensual Non-monogamy,” Fern explores the intersection of polyamory and attachment theory, arguing that understanding our attachment styles can help us create healthier and more fulfilling relationships.
Fern also emphasises the importance of self-awareness and self-care in polyamorous relationships. She suggests that individuals in polyamorous relationships take the time to reflect on their own needs, desires, and boundaries, and to prioritise their own emotional and physical well-being.

Ethical Non-Monogamy and Consent

Another important aspect to consider is consent. Ethical non-monogamy means that all parties involved have given their informed consent to engage in multiple relationships. It’s important to ensure that everyone involved is comfortable with the situation and has a clear understanding of the boundaries and expectations. Sometimes these boundaries might need to be clearly laid out in order that no confusion arises. Some relationships use written contracts, others are less formal – decide what works best for you by discussing your needs and reviewing this often. Do you both/all still feel the same way?

Emotional Impact of Non-monogamy

Jealousy and insecurity are natural human emotions, and they can be particularly challenging in a non-monogamous relationship. Be prepared to explore these emotions and to have strategies in place to manage them when they arise. It can be difficult to see a partner with someone else or to feel like you are not getting enough attention or love.

How will you feel and react if you suddenly feel jealous of your partner having a relationship outside of your own.

How can this be anticipated and prepared for in advance?

Power Dynamics Play a Role

Polyamorous relationships can involve multiple partners with varying degrees of emotional investment. This can lead to power imbalances or situations where one partner feels neglected or left out. For example, when a committed couple open up their relationship, they have ‘couple privilege’ and as such, they need to consider the feelings of the other person as well as their own. Be clear what your boundaries are when making new relationships.

Time Management

time management in ethical non-monogamy

A potential challenge of non-monogamy is time management. With multiple partners, it can be difficult to balance the time and attention that each partner deserves. It’s important to be mindful of everyone’s needs and to ensure that each partner feels valued and appreciated. Scheduling conflicts can arise, and it can be difficult to give each partner the time and attention they need. Disputes and difficulties can arise when a clear understanding of time isn’t set out and agreed.

Challenges from outside

Another potential challenge is societal stigma. Non-monogamous relationships are still not widely accepted in many parts of the world, and it’s important to be prepared to deal with judgment and discrimination from others. Family and friends might find your decision to have multiple partners difficult to understand if it challenges their own hard-wired beliefs. This can make it difficult to find supportive communities and may lead to feelings of isolation.

Compersion within Non-Monogamous Relationships

Many people in ENM relationships report that a key part of being in a non-monogamous relationship is enjoying or being part of their partner’s happiness with another partner. Compersion is a term often used in the context of non-monogamous relationships, and it refers to the feeling of joy or happiness that one experiences when their partner is experiencing pleasure or happiness with someone else. Essentially, compersion is the opposite of jealousy; it is the feeling of taking pleasure in seeing one’s partner happy, even when that happiness is not directly caused by the person experiencing compersion.

In non-monogamous relationships, it is common for individuals to have multiple romantic or sexual partners at the same time, which can sometimes lead to feelings of jealousy or insecurity. However, compersion is a way of experiencing positive emotions in response to the happiness of one’s partner, rather than feeling threatened or upset by their relationships with others.

Compersion can take many different forms, depending on the individuals involved and the nature of their relationships. For example, some people might feel compersion when their partner is on a date with someone else, or when their partner is having a sexual experience that they themselves are not a part of. Others might experience compersion when their partner shares stories or experiences with them about their other relationships.

Compersion in ethical non-monogamyDeepen your Emotional Relationships

Compersion is often seen as a sign of emotional maturity and a willingness to prioritise the happiness of one’s partner above one’s own insecurities or jealousies. It can be a powerful way of deepening emotional connections and fostering a sense of community and support within non-monogamous relationships.

Of course, it is important to note that compersion is not always easy to achieve, and it is not necessarily a requirement for non-monogamous relationships to be successful. It is natural for individuals to experience feelings of jealousy or insecurity at times, and it is important to communicate openly and honestly with one’s partners about these feelings. However, for those who are able to experience compersion, it can be a truly enriching and rewarding experience that enhances their relationships and brings them closer to their partners.


Communicating Needs and Setting Boundaries

Ultimately, entering into an ethically non-monogamous relationship requires careful consideration and communication. It’s important to be clear about your own needs and boundaries, as well as those of your partners and to regularly check in with their partners to ensure that everyone is feeling comfortable and fulfilled. With honesty, communication, and consent, non-monogamous relationships can be fulfilling and rewarding for all involved.

Talking to a Therapist to Support Your Journey to ENM

Sometimes it will feel necessary to discuss the relationships with a therapist who

can understand and support you while you navigate your feelings around ethical non-monogamy. If you feel you need some help, get in touch with Claire through this website. 

Claire has personal experience of ethical non-monogamy and a sex positive attitude towards working with clients at different stages of ENM. She understands the pitfalls and the difficult emotions that can arise and will support your understanding if newly entering ENM relationships or provide therapeutic support should difficulties arise.

Further Reading:

Polysecure: Attachment, Trauma and Consensual Nonmonogamy, – Jessica Fern

Opening Up, : A Guide to Creating and Sustaining Open Relationships – Tristan Taormino