With non-monogamy of all kinds becoming less taboo, from swinging to polyamory to open relationships, there’s a lot to learn out there from some really amazing sources. Even if you’re not interested in going down that road right now, there’s a lot that monogamous folks can learn from teachings around open relationships.
Just about any source for information on swinging, polyamory, open relationships, or any other non-monogamous relationship configuration emphasizes one thing as the foundation for solid relationships, and that’s communication. Obviously, communication isn’t just for poly people!
Communication is something we all do every single day, in so many ways, from the time we wake up until we go to sleep at night. It’s pretty easy to just fall into communication patterns and assume that you and your partner are on the same page. Even if you feel like your communication game is pretty strong, I’d encourage you to think about some of the following and see if there’s anything that you can take away from my suggestions. Can’t hurt to try, right?
In my opinion, communicating effectively is about 30% speaking and 70% listening. Research has shown that actively listening — even to things like a standard recounting of your partner’s day — builds trust and intimacy.
In the beginning of a relationship, that often feels a lot easier. You’re just getting to know someone new, so of course you’re going to pay attention. But don’t stop just because it’s been a few months, years, or even decades.
If making a conscious effort to give your partner positive attention is a comparatively simple way to improve communication and strengthen intimacy, then how do we do it? Personally, I try to treat dinner with my partner like a date in one very important way: We both put our phones away and focus on conversation with each other for those 30-60 minutes. That’s it. But it’s 30-60 minutes where you’re definitely hearing and being heard.
The takeaway: Don’t stop paying attention.
Relationship by Design
One of the chief complaints about monogamy from folks who prefer a poly, open, or swinging configuration is that it’s considered the default. Monogamy is treated as the automatic next step after meeting someone you like, often to be followed with marriage, kids, and a white picket fence (unless you spent all your money on avocado toast).
But it doesn’t have to be that way — even if you do choose monogamy.
What monogamy means to you might actually be different from what it means to other people. When people who choose a non-monogamous relationship structure complain about monogamy, it’s often a complaint about some of the toxic relationship norms that we are socialized to believe are normal, like possessive jealousy, controlling behavior, or denial of sexual feelings or interest outside the monogamous couple.
So what’s the antidote to toxic relationship habits? Awareness and communication. Knowing what you want, knowing what’s healthy for you and your partner, and creating a safe zone to express those needs is so important.
For example, my monogamy means that I don’t have sex (hand sex, oral sex, PIV, etc.) outside my relationship. It doesn’t mean that we don’t cultivate emotional intimacy in friendships, regardless of the gender of our friends. It doesn’t mean that my partner and I don’t go out without the other person. It definitely doesn’t keep me from attending conferences where play and flirting happens — it just has an effect on what I participate in. And it certainly doesn’t mean that I don’t support my poly-/swinging/non-mono friends. We don’t deal in rules so much as we deal in boundaries and mutual respect and caring.
If you are monogamous, you still get to decide what that means for you.
How We Can Handle Jealousy
Jealousy doesn’t simply disappear because you’ve decided that you want to open up your relationship (or any other decision you might make outside of monogamy). It’s not magicked away.
While it’s not easy, there are some things you can do to deal with jealousy. I think the most important thing is to accept that jealousy can happen in any kind of relationship, and it’s not something you need to ignore or to force yourself not to feel. Recognizing that you feel jealous means that you have a choice about how you’re going to respond to that feeling.
A good response might be journaling about it and taking some time to feel without reacting to anyone else. You might be able to talk to your partner about it (in a non-accusatory manner), or to a supportive and even-keeled friend.
Experiencing jealousy is completely natural. Healthy responses to jealousy take time to develop, but there is absolutely hope of changing your thoughts and behaviors.
I hope this has given you something to think about, regardless of your relationship orientation and preferences. There are so many ways to have a relationship — there’s no reason not to design yours to fit you and your partner(s), regardless of how you choose to label it.