Disclaimer: This ethical non-monogamy article provides valuable information for the reader; however, it is not a substitute for direct expert assistance. Seek help from a professional therapist or counselor for further information.
Is it possible to romantically love more than one person?
For years, we’ve believed that “no” is the answer to that question. Pop culture has ingrained in our minds the idea of a twin flame, soulmate, or other related concepts. People told us that you must only be with one partner in your whole life.
The idea of having multiple partners is even considered a mortal sin in the Roman Catholic religion. It’s stated in this verse: “Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.” (Matt. 5:27–28.)
But for couples engaging in ethical non-monogamy, they believe that love is not limited and should be shared with multiple partners. They don’t believe one person should “complete” you and that getting your romantic and sexual needs to different partners is okay.
We will be diving deep into ethical non-monogamy, from the types to tips. Find out if this arrangement fits your needs and preferences.
What is Ethical Non-Monogamy (ENM)?
Ethical non-monogamy, also known as ENM or consensual non-monogamy, is a relationship type wherein people involved have multiple romantic or sexual relationships. Unlike cheating, all parties are aware of the setup and have given informed consent to their respective partners.
ENM Relationship Types
Ethical non-monogamy comes in different forms, some of which we’ve listed below. If your current arrangement doesn’t fall into any type, remember that your relationship mustn’t fit a certain model to be valid.
Close V is an ethical non-monogamous relationship wherein two people are romantic and intimate with the same person but not with each other.
Think of it as a love triangle you usually see in shows and films. There’s the center person (also known as the hinge of the v), then two people are vying for the center person’s affection.
The only difference between this setup and the typical love triangle is that the two individuals aren’t fighting over the center person but are in a relationship with that person. They’re also friends most of the time and, at times, live together with the center person.
2Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT)
The Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT) allows you to be intimate with people outside of the main relationship but doesn’t allow you to share details of the setup with your primary partner.
Unlike other types, there’s less communication in a DADT arrangement, so some beginners to ethical non-monogamy choose this to prevent those “awkward” conversations.
However, not having constant communication about each other’s side relationships can be harmful in the long run. How would you know if you’re still on the same page with your partner if they’re not sharing anything with you? How would you set up ground rules if one of the main rules involves not being transparent with one another?
But it’s up to you and your lover. If you see DADT as the best arrangement in your current situation, go for it. Just be prepared for the consequences of a non-transparent ENM relationship.
3Kitchen Table Poly
Kitchen Table Poly is a setup where a group of people has a romantic or sexual relationship with one another. It’s like having a “circle of lovers.” However, the intensity or nature of each person’s relationship with other people in the group differs.
For example, you’re the main person in this arrangement and dating three people. Those three people may have 2 other partners, two of whom you’ve had a romantic relationship, while you’re friends with the others.
We get that even with the example, it does sound confusing. The bottom line is that in this arrangement, your partner and partners can get along and even share dinner together, hence the “kitchen table” term.
Monogamish is an ENM relationship in which a couple is allowed to have outside sexual relationships but are romantically monogamous. This means they cannot fall in love with their secondary partners. Most side affairs are also brief and don’t affect the main relationship. For example, a married couple can hook up with other people on their business trips.
For this type, couples aren’t exclusive to one another and are allowed to have multiple sexual partners. Unlike other ENM relationships on this list, it doesn’t have a distinct structure or ground rules. However, it’s encouraged that people in open relationships should be transparent with their affairs to their main partners.
Polyamory is when a person has multiple romantic relationships at the same time. All parties involved are aware of the other partners and are informed about the important details of the relationship. This isn’t like an open relationship where couples can have casual partners. In this one, love is involved. It comes in different types, such as the following:
Solo Polyamory – A person doesn’t have a primary partner but is dating multiple people. This works well for people who enjoy poly-relationships but still want to live independently.
Polyfidelity – A relationship wherein a group of people are romantically and sexually involved with one another. They’re only committed to the people in the group and aren’t dating anyone outside of it.
Hierarchical Polyamory – It’s more structured compared to the other types. A person may have primary, secondary, and tertiary partners. Their time, attention, and affection will be given to the primary partner, while others may get less. That doesn’t mean the person doesn’t care about their secondary and tertiary partnerships. It’s just that they’ll be prioritizing their primary lovers more than anyone else in the hierarchy.
Non-Hierarchical Polyamory – For this type, everyone is equal in the relationship. Each lover would have equal time, attention, and affection.
This ENM relationship involves four people who are dating one another. There are quads wherein everyone is in love with each other. At the same time, there are cases where a person in a quad is only in a relationship with two people in the group and is friends with the other person in the group.
Relationship Anarchy isn’t exclusive to ethical non-monogamy; monogamous couples can also adhere to the philosophy of this relationship type. Couples aren’t bound by traditional rules and relationship roles in this setup. There’s no hierarchy or distinct partnership prescriptions as opposed to most monogamous and consensual non-monogamous relationships.
Swinging is an ethical non-monogamous relationship wherein married couples have sex with other married couples; sometimes, they practice wife/husband swapping. Most of the time, swingers have short-lived affairs and aren’t romantically invested in their side partners.
10Throuple or Triad
This ENM relationship involves three people having a romantic and intimate connection. This is different from a threesome, as a threesome is a sexual practice involving three people. On the other hand, people in throuples are committed to their other two partners. Some have threesomes, and others prefer having one-on-one plays with their respective partners.
Common Reasons Why People Go With ENM
Most people think that ethical non-monogamy is nothing but a “complicated mess.” They assume these setups are established by unhappy couples afraid of being alone, so they would rather skew the relationship dynamic to work in their favor.
However, that’s not the case for most non-monogamous couples. They’re not having an ENM relationship as a last resort to their marriage or relationship. They want this setup because of the following reasons:
1They want to understand themselves on a deeper level.
Being in an ENM relationship forces you out of your comfort zone, which is why some people practice ethical non-monogamy for personal growth. They believe that being in multiple relationships helps them figure out who they are and their preferences in relationships. It also helps them have new experiences they previously weren’t able to try because their main partners weren’t into it.
2They’re more fulfilled when sharing love with multiple people.
Some people in ethical non-monogamy relationships believe that romantically loving more than one person is possible. Some even say they have “infinite capacity for love,” and being in a traditional monogamous relationship keeps them from expressing that love.
3They want to explore their sexual selves and enjoy different things in the bedroom.
Another common reason why people go for ENM relationships is that they want to learn further about their sexual selves.
They believe that being in a monogamous relationship is an obstacle to their erotic exploration, especially if their primary lovers aren’t into the sexual things they’re interested in. By getting into a non-monogamous relationship, they’ll be able to satisfy those desires and still be able to go home to the one they actually love.
4They don’t want to pressure their partner to meet all of their needs and vice versa.
People engage in this arrangement because they believe that their partners can’t meet all of their needs, and that’s okay. Having multiple partners can satisfy their needs and desires without putting pressure on their main partners to meet all of those needs.
For example, as mentioned in the previous point, some people want to be more sexually adventurous. Having secondary partners helps them achieve that, especially if their primary partners are not into kinky activities.
How to Engage in Ethical Non-Monogamy
As you’ve learned the different ethical non-monogamy types and why people use this setup, you’re probably thinking of trying ENM. Maybe you’ve found yourself attracted to more than two people or want to spice up your dating life.
Whatever your reason is, remember that getting into an ethical non-monogamous relationship can be messy if you engage it recklessly. You must tread carefully to minimize the conflict and further heartbreak that all parties may experience when practicing this arrangement. Below are some of the things you should take note of before getting into an ENM relationship.
1Figure out if ethical non-monogamy is right for you.
Before you start your journey in consensual non-monogamy, it’s important to take some time to reflect.
Ask yourself, is having multiple consensual partners the right path for you? Can you provide time, effort, and money for all of your partners? Do you get easily jealous and resentful with your lover when they’re interacting with the opposite/same sex? If you have a partner, are they okay with transitioning into a non-monogamous setup? Are you ready to sacrifice your current relationship in case your current partner doesn’t want to be non-monogamous?
Getting an ethical non-monogamous relationship can be exciting and fulfilling, but along with the pros are the cons. We’re not limited in giving love, but time and money are finite resources. Don’t forget the emotional labor you may need in dealing with multiple partners. Think also about your friends, family, work, and personal projects— Is your heart and mind able to accommodate multiple partners considering your current situation?
Don’t rush this process. We get you can also always go back to a monogamous arrangement if things didn’t work out in the end. However, it’s best to save yourself from potential heartbreak if you know firsthand that ENM isn’t the right setup.
2When introducing this arrangement to your partner, be clear with your expectations and boundaries.
When introducing ENM to your partner, you should be careful and clear. Let them know your intentions and reasons why you want to try this setup. Avoid statements making them think they’re not enough or that this is simply an excuse to cheat on them; expect heartbreak in that case. You can also introduce ENM by educating about it; share the blogs, vlogs, forums, and other resources.
Sharing your expectations and boundaries in an ENM relationship is vital. You can tell your partner the specific setup you’re planning to engage in (such as closed V or triad) and the activities you’re not going to try with secondary partners (for example, penetrative sex, public display of affection, etc.)
You can also consult a relationship or sex therapist with a background or knowledge in ENM to help determine if this setup is a step toward a healthier relationship.
Remember that your partner might still go against this arrangement even if you did everything right. In that case, you have three options.
First, you can break up with them and find a partner that accepts ENM. Second, you can be patient and try to persuade them in the future about this setup. Lastly, you can forget about practicing ethical non-monogamy and retain the relationship. It’s up to you to decide. Just make sure to not force or guilt-trip into saying yes. Your partner should give enthusiastic and informed consent.
3Establish ground rules.
Once you and your partner have decided to try this setup, start establishing the ground rules. This ensures a harmonious dynamic in the relationship and that all of the activities you’ll be doing align with each other’s desires and limits.
We recommend putting everything into writing to avoid being gaslighted by your partner in the future in case they break one of the rules. For example, your partner may say, “I did not say that! We’re just having fun cruising; I don’t think that’s part of the rule book…” when there’s a verbal agreement that having one-on-one vacations with a secondary partner is not allowed.
Ground rules may include but are not limited to the following:
- People Who Are Off-Limits – Talk about the types of people you and your partner shouldn’t be secondary partners. For instance, coworkers, mutual friends, clients, exes, and condo neighbors are not allowed to join your ENM relationship.
- Physical Boundaries – Establish the intimate activities you and your partner can do with their secondary partners.
- Emotional Boundaries – How deep can the emotional connection be? Are you both allowed to fall in love with your secondary partners, or should you be more on the sexual side?
- Date-Related Limits – Discuss the date-related activities you and your primary lover shouldn’t do with your secondary partners. For instance, having solo vacations with a secondary partner is not allowed.
4Planning is a must.
After establishing the ground rules, creating a plan, such as a date or a meetup schedule, is essential.
How much time will you spend with your primary and secondary partners? Are you going to meet your primary partner on Saturdays while your secondary is on Sundays? How would you spend love-related holidays such as Valentine’s Day? What’s the budget for your primary and secondary dates? These are some of the things that you should include in the plan.
We recommend creating a separate plan first. After that, both of you shall present these plans and make the necessary adjustments.
5Expect to spend more money and emotional labor.
You’ve set the rules. You’ve got the finalized plan. As you venture into ethical non-monogamy, setting realistic expectations on this setup is important. As mentioned earlier, love is a finite resource, not time and money. There’s also more mental and emotional load when engaging with multiple partners. By setting these expectations beforehand, you’ll be sparing yourself from disappointment if the setup isn’t as fun as you initially thought.
6Explore this relationship with transparency and accountability.
Communication is a vital factor in having a healthy ENM relationship. You must be comfortable talking about your thoughts and feelings in this setup.
For example, you feel jealous that your primary partner brought their secondary partner to a bowling alley, a place you’ve always wanted to go with your partner before. Your primary lover may not be breaking the rules, but it does sting on your end. Instead of being quiet about it, it’s best to talk with them and tell them how you want to share new experiences with your primary partner, too.
It’s also important to be an active listener when engaging in this relationship. Have regular check-ins with your partners and find out their thoughts and if adjustments in the setup are needed.
Also, remember that ethical non-monogamy isn’t an “anything goes” setup. You made ground rules for a reason. Expect to be accountable for your actions if you decide to break any of those rules.
7Remember that conflicts still happen in this setup.
Relationships, whether monogamous or non-monogamous, will always have ups and downs.
Someone might get jealous, and other partners may get bored. There may be behind-the-back discussions. Someone might want to return to a monogamous setup. These mentioned scenarios could happen.
What you can do is talk to your partner and listen to them— not just listening to prepare for a response, but actually understanding what they’re communicating. It’s also best to have an empathetic approach when resolving issues with your partner.
8Connect with people who are engaging in ENM.
Aside from reading articles and watching vlogs online, it’s best to connect with other people who are part of the ENM community. You can sign up for online forums or join ENM events. We also recommend reading books written by ethical non-monogamy relationship experts:
- The Ethical Slut: A Guide to Infinite Sexual Possibilities
- More Than Two: A Practical Guide to Ethical Polyamory
- Polysecure: Attachment, Trauma, and Consensual Nonmonogamy
- Opening Up: A Guide to Creating and Sustaining Open Relationships
Frequently Asked Questions
As you’ve learned the ins and out of ethical non-monogamous relationships, you’re now equipped with the basics. But for those who have questions about this arrangement, we’ve answered some common queries about ENM below.
1Is ethical non-monogamy a fancy word for cheating?
Nope, ENM and cheating are entirely different. Cheating is a one-sided non-consensual non-monogamy, wherein the cheater usually has ill intentions and isn’t transparent with their partners. It’s also unethical and can create serious emotional harm to the victim.
ENM is consensual. Everyone is aware of each other’s primary and secondary relationships. There are also ground rules when engaging in this practice, unlike cheating, wherein the full control is in the cheater.
2Do people in non-monogamous relationships get jealous?
Yes, jealousy can still happen even if you have multiple partners, just like any other type of relationship. However, you and your partners can quickly resolve this issue with thorough communication.
3My partner said she’ll break up with me because I wanted to get into ethical non-monogamy. What should I do?
When the relationship started, it was agreed upon that the setup was monogamous. Your partner didn’t sign up for an ENM relationship. Don’t expect them to be okay with this arrangement just because you’ve dated for months/years. It’s unfair that you are frustrated with them because they didn’t say yes to your non-monogamous desires and wanted out.
If you really want to engage in ENM, it’s best to let go of your partner and let them find someone that prefers monogamy. Don’t hold them back from having a healthy relationship they want and deserve. If you don’t want to leave the relationship, you can take the opposite path and go back to a monogamous setup.
4Are people in ethical non-monogamy relationships gay?
Nope, not everyone in an ENM setup is gay or bisexual. People of diverse gender identities engage in this practice.
5Are non-monogamous couples more prone to sexually transmitted infections?
One of the common misconceptions is that people in ENM relationships are most likely to contract a sexually transmitted infection. However, studies show their chances are similar to those of monogamous relationships. Also, there are more discussions about STIs and birth control in ENM relationships due to the setup compared to monogamous ones.
Before you close this guide, we want to remind everyone that ethical non-monogamy is not designed for everyone. We all have unique preferences when it comes to relationships.
If this setup isn’t something you want to venture in, it’s okay. You’re not missing out. Also, never force yourself into an ENM relationship because your partner wants to. It will never work if you’ve only been dragged into doing it. You deserve a relationship that fits within your needs, desires, and boundaries.