During a recent conversation with a friend, I was asked what trust looks like in my relationship. As a strictly monogamous person, she had trouble understanding the difference between infidelity and non-monogamy.
Ethical Non Monogamy and Trust: How to Make it Work
You see, when people discover that I’m in an ethical non-monogamous relationship with my husband, they lean in, a little more curious and hella skeptical. Luckily, I’ve had these conversations enough to know where the doubts tend to lie: monogamy programming, insecurity, and fear – all of which can be experienced separately or subsequently.
One of the greatest misconceptions about non-monogamy is that it plays as an infinite get-out-of-jail-free-card. In truth, ethical non-monogamy (ENM), by its very nature, offers exactly the opposite. No misconducts are committed against the relationship because knowledge and consent are ubiquitous.
Ethical non-monogamy is not a one-size-fits-all relationship structure. It is a spectrum, ranging from monogamish to polyamorous. Regardless of where any of us fall on the ENM scale, trust and integrity are fundamental to our relationships’ success, as they are foundational elements for emotional safety and wellbeing.
But how do we maintain these things?
How can we uphold integrity and trust when the person we love is having relations with others?
How to Practice Ethical Non Monogamy
This may feel like broken record advice but having open and honest communication with your partner is quite literally the only way to create transparency, and therefore establish parameters and trust.
Being open about our emotional and physical needs is paramount to our individual happiness.
This information helps us gauge whether a partner is compatible, while simultaneously permitting that partner to fulfill their responsibilities within the relationship. When applied to ENM relationships, this also impacts the parameters in which that relationship exists.
People who are in an ethical non-monogamous relationship negotiate and establish certain parameters that respect the boundaries and needs of those involved.
By negotiating parameters, each partner can move forward with clarity and ease. If any new situations arise that have not been previously discussed, intentionally putting time aside to address them together will maintain the emotional integrity of the relationship. Additionally, check-ins are frequent, and renegotiations are expected.
Here is what some parameter-setting questions look like:
- Is the current relationship the primary relationship?
- Or are you pursuing multiple relationships that are of equal priority?
- What counts as infidelity in this relationship?
- Are you and your partner looking to keep the relationship emotionally exclusive, but sexually open? What does your open relationship look like in terms of emotional and physical availability to each other versus others?
- Are there certain sexual or emotional boundaries required?
- How often can sex with other people occur? Is there a limit to the number of partners you and your partner can pursue? Are sleepovers allowed? Are certain people, occasions, or places off limits?
- How much do you and your partner(s) share with each other?
- Do you and your partner prefer a don’t-ask-don’t-tell ENM relationship? If not, what details do you feel you should disclose versus not (if any)?
- What non-negotiable measures will be taken to ensure the sexual safety and pregnancy prevention of all parties.
- Who do you want knowing (or not knowing) about your ENM relationship?
Especially when you’re first opening your relationship, it’s important to establish boundaries around who you disclose this information to. Having other people’s voices or opinions in your head while trying to find your bearings in this new territory can be super distracting. Ensure you prioritize a level of discretion that feels comfortable for the both of you.
The Green Monster: Ethical Non-Monogamy Jealousy
Jealousy is an unpleasant, albeit inevitable emotion. The pain it conjures prevents people from even considering ethical non-monogamy as a viable option for their relationship.
But what if I told you that jealousy can be a tool to get to know yourself better and increase the connection between you and your partner?
Jealousy can be a sign of low self-esteem or mistrust in your partner. Reflecting on your own self-worth may be beneficial, as it can reveal underlying preconceptions that may be hindering your ability to pursue the relationship structure you truly desire.
If your self-esteem is intact, but you still experience jealousy, I recommend looking at the quality of your relationship.
As mentioned in my previous article on jealousy, start paying attention to your partner’s attitudes and behaviors. Notice if they go out of their way to put you in emotionally compromising situations, or whether they exhibit toxic behaviors that provoke jealousy. These are signs of an emotionally unsafe relationship and should be addressed.
If, in fact, your jealousy is conceived from an internal source, it is time to practice self-awareness and compersion.
Compersion: The Antithesis to Jealousy
Compersion is when you feel joy over your partner’s positive experiences, even when they do not involve or benefit you; it is the antithesis to jealousy.
In other words, you are happy because they are happy.
Compersion requires awareness and intention and demands a level of “fact-checking” to weed out stories we tell ourselves that support our insecurities and fears. Compersion is a strain of selfless gratitude that serves as an empowerment device, allowing us to take stock of negative and positive feelings, and choosing which to lean into.
By practicing compersion, we choose to remain openhearted and wholehearted. Compersion is self-empowering but also an acknowledgement of our partners’ autonomy. It is a radical form of love for the self and love for others.
Ethical Non Monogamy Books: Open Up with These Resources
It’s understandable that opening a relationship can feel overwhelming. It’s not like our culture is handing out manuals on the subject. In saying that, it isn’t impossible to make this work, in fact, many people are living their best lives in ethical non-monogamous relationships.
When we are aligned with our partner(s) and stand in the integrity of those relationships, the foundation in which to build becomes firmer.
As someone who’s been through the ropes – and continues to learn every day – trust starts with curiosity and conversations. To get the ball rolling, I want to share my go-to resources. These offer tangible tools, clear pathways, and validation.
Please note that this list is not comprehensive. This is simply a great place to start and a beautiful reminder that who you love and how you love is no one’s business but yours and the people you share your heart and body with.
- The Ethical Slut: A Practical Guide to Polyamory, Open Relationships, and Other Freedoms in Sex and Love by Dossie Easton and Janet Hardy
- Opening Up: A Guide to Creating and Sustaining Open Relationships by Tristan Taormino
- Designer Relationships: A Guide to Happy Monogamy, Positive Polyamory, and Optimistic Open Relationships by Mark Michaels and Patricia Johnson
- Open Smarter Course by Dr. Zhana
Quean Mo is a sex and relationship blogger, with a leaning towards kink, ethical sex tourism, and her cuckquean lifestyle. Her passion is creating space for people to accept their desires and find freedom through self-discovery. She is based on the Côte d’Azur with her French husband, where they’re always plotting their next adventure.