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An Expert Shares How To Approach Ethical Non-Monogamy With Your Partner

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Relationships are tough, and they can get even tougher when there’s something you want to share with your partner, but you just aren’t quite sure how to. Whether it’s discussing your sexuality, setting healthy boundaries, or even opening up your relationship, all of it can be super anxiety-inducing. 

Now, if you’re reading this, you might’ve had thoughts about opening up your relationship. There can be all kinds of reasons for this, and it’s important to remember that it doesn’t impact the way you feel about your current partner. Monogamy isn’t for everyone, and that’s more than OK. 

Ethical Non-Monogamy is a blanket term that basically means your relationship doesn’t look like the typical relationship configuration of two individuals. There are all different kinds of non-monogamy, so it’s essential to ask yourself what exactly you’re looking for before you begin discussing it with your partner. 

And it’s possible that you might not even recognize all the different forms of ethical non-monogamy. Don’t worry, bestie — I chatted with Nicoletta Heidegger, MA, MEd, a Licensed MFT and sex therapist, as well as the host of the Sluts & Scholars podcast, to get all the answers,

Can you tell me more about Ethical Non-Monogamy? 

As we already covered, ethical non-monogamy means your relationship doesn’t look like the traditional two-person monogamous relationship, but there are many different forms of ethical non-monogamy. “There are many types of non-monogamy, so it is important to get clear on what kind of non-monogamy you are interested in (polyamory, open, monogamish, swinging/the lifestyle),” Heidegger tells Her Campus. 

“The term ‘ethical’ can be subjective, so many folks opt for saying consensual non-monogamy or just non-monogamy because, ideally, if we’re saying non-monogamy, it should have ethical and consensual built into it,” Heidegger says.

How should an individual go about bringing up opening a relationship with their partner?

This can feel like the scariest part, and it’s important to understand exactly what you’re asking for before you open up the conversation. “Going to a therapist who specializes in opening up/non-monogamy can be so helpful in you figuring out what you’re asking your partner for,” says Heidegger. 

Once you have that understanding, approach the conversation as you would any other topic, with respect and an openness to hear what your partner has to say.

If your partner agrees to open the relationship, what kind of boundaries should you be setting?

As with anything new, it’s important to set healthy boundaries so both you and your partner have an understanding of the situation moving forward. “There is no ‘should.’ There are many types of configurations and boundaries, and it is up to you to figure out what works for you,” says Heidegger. 

“Of course, there will be many thematic questions to consider, such as: What are your current coping tools with uncomfortable feelings? What is your attachment style? How do you handle jealousy? What kind of non-monogamy excites you, and why? Do you want to engage with others together and/or separately? How much do you want to know about your partner’s experiences? What is your way of checking in with each other?” explains Heidegger. Once you’re able to sort through those questions as a team, it’ll be a lot easier to set boundaries that work for both of you.

Heidegger also shared loads of resources to utilize that can help elevate the questions you have, whether that’s seeking out a sex therapist who specializes in non-monogamy, reading books on this topic such as Opening Up by Tristan Taormino, Polysecure by Jessica Fern, The Polyamory Paradox by Irene Morning, or Open Deeply by Kate Loree. Or, if you’re more of a podcast fan, you can check out Multiamory.

What steps should you take if your partner doesn’t want to open the relationship and you do?

The biggest fear can be that your partner might not react positively, so my biggest question for Heidegger is what to do if your partner is not down to open up the relationship. 

“It’s important to ask yourself these questions: Are they willing to support your exploration? Are they willing to explore these feelings and preferences with you? How crucial is opening up to your core values?” It’s totally valid if your partner isn’t on board with opening up the relationship, but then you have to explore the idea yourself and understand what’s best for you. 

Heidegger also recommends seeking out a sex therapist on your own where you can explore these feelings deeper with an expert. 

Is it possible to still have a committed and loving partnership under Ethical Non-Monogamy?

It seems like a huge concern for non-monogamy is the idea that you aren’t having the same type of loving partnership as a monogamous one. But Heidegger is here to debunk that idea.

“Absolutely it is! We live in a culture that has created a relational hierarchy, with traditional monogamy at the top. Yet, we also live in a culture with an increasing, over 60% divorce rate.” Heidegger says.

“Many people think that non-monogamy is somehow a lesser type of relationship — these relationships still receive a lot of shame and stigma. When done with intention, non-monogamy is a valid type of relationship that can be committed and loving. In fact, non-monogamy can force folks to become even closer, ask harder questions, do more insight and relationship work, put in more effort, and be more intentional,” says Heidegger. 

It can be difficult to talk to your partner about opening up the relationship, especially if you’re scared it might be detrimental to the partnership. As long as you approach the conversation with an idea of what you’re seeking from your partner and you can both set healthy boundaries that work for your relationship, there’s no reason to be scared. As Heidegger said, non-monogamy can oftentimes bring people closer, and we love that!

Avery Worley is a national writer for Her Campus. She has written across all verticals but takes a special interest in the wellness section, especially mental health, sex and relationships, and all things astrology. Beyond Her Campus, Avery attended New York University's Publishing Institute and is getting her Masters in Mass Communications from the University of Florida. When she isn't writing, you can find her exploring NYC with her latest romance novel in hand and relating way too much to "mirrorball" by Taylor Swift. If it's the fall, she's definitely rewatching Gilmore Girls.