I was the partner that needed convincing to open up our relationship to ethical non-monogamy. And now, all-in-all, I think ethical non-monogamy is AWESOME and totally worth the extra effort.
My boyfriend and I have now been together for six years, happily non-monogamous. Here’s how I got my head around the idea of opening up our relationship…
What to read…
The book that I found most helpful, like a balm to my terrified soul, was Sex at Dawn. It’s an incredibly interesting treatise on human sexuality, with the thesis that the human species, like basically all other primates, is not actually monogamous. I read it, and thought, “Oh, well, that is totally reasonable.” In addition to presenting evidence that humans are not monogamous, it makes a case for the physiological benefits of non-monogamy.
My one complaint with the book is that I felt it ended a little weakly. One of the last chapters (the very last one, if I recall) is focused much more strongly on how non-monogamy hugely benefits men physiologically. I felt pretty irritated that a book so egalitarian throughout would end with, “hey, you should be non-monogamous because it’s good for your male partner.” As a woman reading it, I thought “Just what I needed. Another person telling me that I should do something I don’t want to do, for the good of a man. Greeeeeeaaat.” If you skip the last chapter, however, it is an absolutely fabulous book.
However, it doesn’t offer much in the way of practical advice. Once I read Sex at Dawn, I was on board with the idea, but I was at a loss for the best way to implement it. For that, I turned to The Ethical Slut. The Ethical Slut has all kinds of advice and exercises for individuals and couples who want to be non-monogamous ethically. The communication techniques it teaches are so useful and valuable that I sometimes want to force it on my monogamous friends. It taught me that I had been using “I statements” wrong for years!
I found the comparison to friendship to be quite helpful
I have a large circle of friends with whom I am as close as my boyfriend. He pointed out that I could have strong feelings for more than one of them, so why not more than one romantic partner? Same with children. People have multiples of them, and I have always assumed you can love more than one!
Another thing that helped me was the realization that being monogamous doesn’t actually stop you from feeling jealous sometimes. When your boyfriend is visiting his ex for the weekend, you might feel jealous, even if nothing more than platonic is happening. The process of opening my relationship let me re-frame jealousy. Jealousy became an indication to me that I had some desire for my relationship that wasn’t being met. “Oh, I am feeling jealous that he is taking her to a fancy restaurant, because I would like him to take me to a fancy restaurant! I guess I will ask him to plan that for me!” The Ethical Slut helped tremendously with re-framing jealousy.
There were some big hurdles for me, emotionally
They were along the lines of “but he thinks she’s prettier/more interesting/better in some way than I am.” Which were quite nicely addressed via therapy, which I will recommend to anyone who will sit still long enough to listen.
But there were also some big benefits
Our sex life was AMAZING. One of the girls my boyfriend was seeing was multi-orgasmic. And the marathon skills he developed for her took me from my “one orgasm and go to sleep” contentedness to multi-orgasmic myself. So that was pretty cool.
Even better, I became very close friends with one of the girls he was seeing. To the point that even though he and she had an incredibly messy breakup, she and I are still good friends. I’m even going to be a bridesmaid in her wedding this spring!
Further, it forced me to start looking after my own emotional needs in a proactive way. I nurtured my friendships. I had more time to myself. It was awesome.
In addition to those benefits, it forced my boyfriend and I to have better relationship hygiene in general. We went on more dates, instead of just staying home and playing video games all the time. We were more appreciative of each other, kept better abreast of each other’s feelings, etc.
But, a word of caution
Open relationships require a level of commitment to communication that is sometimes uncomfortable. They don’t leave room for being passive about hurt feelings or conflicting desires. It’s nothing that people shouldn’t be practicing in their monogamous relationships, it’s just that non-monogamous relationships can get a lot messier a lot more quickly if you don’t scrupulously practice good, open, honest communication.
What are your pieces of advice for those thinking of becoming ethically non-monogamous?