Every nearly-non-monogamous couple I've worked with has missed this one critical step and I just can't go one without addressing it.
We can't start a conversation about non-monogamy without understanding monogamy.
I know you think you understand it. Almost every couple I work with thinks they have a working definition of monogamy. But so far, NONE of my couples have ever talked about specifically what monogamy means in their relationship.
None. Zero. Zip.
We walk through life in partnerships with this (pretty big) gap in clarity about what we expect from each other. This is a problem.
Most of us assume we mean the same thing when we say we're monogamous- but all too often we don't. Here are some of the many areas I have seen people face extreme misunderstandings about monogamy.
What does "monogamy" mean to you?
Check out the questions below to start examining your own working definition of monogamy. If you haven't talked about these things in your relationship, please do before talking about opening things up.
Plenty of folks will say kissing other people is off limits. But many of them make exceptions for same-sex kissing (if they are straight) r opposite-sex kissing (when they are gay). They tell me it "doesn't count."
There are also plenty of cultures where kissing is the norm. Not just international cultures, but friend circles, families, and spaces based on tradition can be the norm. Kissing cheeks, hands, faces, or lips... it "doesn't count" because it's not erotic.
Which may be the case, but how do you know when kissing is and isn't erotic for someone? When is kissing okay in your relationship? When do you share it with others?
This is the big one where I see people get into trouble. Some of my couples don't touch other adults- ever. But most hug friends, or might hold hands with friends.
Some even snuggle with people they care about and I've seen it become a problem for partners- when it hasn't been discussed.
I'm always surprised when I bring up dancing with other people. Some folks are very sensitive about sharing intimate dancing with others. Others love to grind on a dance floor with strangers but would never dream of slow dancing with anyone but their partner.
If you've never talked about what monogamous touch means to you, now's a great time to start.
Are there special secrets you share with others? Do you have certain closeness or fondness for people outside your romantic relationship? What do you do when those feelings and friendships arise?
Are there certain pieces of information you want to keep private between you and your partner? Odds are, there's something they know about you that you'd prefer kept between you. How can they meet your privacy expectations if you don't tell them?
Many of the monogamous couples I work with have unsaid expectations about spaces they share with people outside their relationship. Do you enter a bedroom alone with a friend's spouse? Will you travel alone with people your partner might find threatening?
If we're not clear about what kinds of spaces or behaviors indicate intimacy with our partners it becomes very easy for them to misstep.
Sex with other people
This seems like the most obvious topic to cover, and is usually where people begin to define non-monogamy. But many of the people I've worked with have sex with other people and still define their relationships as monogamous.
Some of them have shared partners and experiences. I once had a client say, "If we're all present, then it's within the confines of our marriage bed."
And similar to kissing (above) many of them have caveats for non-emotive sex, or sex with people of other genders. I've had many straight couples tell me they don't view lesbian sex as threatening or "real sex" and therefore it "doesn't count."
I'm not suggesting one definition of monogamy should (or could) work for everyone here. But I am certain clarity about your own and your partner's definitions is a helpful discussion to have before exploring non-monogamy.
Gina Senarighi, MS, MA, CPC is a sex educator and relationship coach specializing in polyamory, open relationships, jealousy, LGBTQ issues and infidelity.
She can help you:
- rediscover passion in long-term relationships
- repair trust after infidelity or dishonesty
- move past jealousy, insecurity or codependent patterns
- open your relationship or practice polyamory with care
- resolve sexual dysfunction and disconnect
- break unhealthy communication patterns in your relationship
Contact her for a free consultation to see if working with her is right for you.