Learn about The Hierarchy of Dating and Relationships (and how to Transition as a Couple)
in the Coaching Workbooks:
I'm A Man, That's My Job and I'm A Woman, It's My Time
Couples in Transition:
Monogamy and Non-monogamy
By Frank Kermit
Couples who are experiencing a transition in the status of their relationship may sometimes look to explore new ways of redefining their sex lives by experimenting with the boundaries of sexual permissions. This includes couples who are monogamous that are interested in exploring the terrain of the swinger lifestyle, as well as, couples who were previously non-monogamous in some way, that now want to stop any extra-circular sexual activities with others and be monogamous.
Transitioning from monogamy to non-monogamy or from non-monogamy to monogamy is not always simple process. It can be challenging, because the rules for each kind of relationship are different. The mindset for monogamists is different than the mindset of non-monogamists. Also, each relationship structure faces risk factors that are not always thought of ahead of time.
The main 2 rules of monogamy are
(1) you only have sex with one person and
(2) you never do anything that could potentially threaten rule #1.
Where this gets complicated is trying to identify what exactly is a threat to monogamy. Are using sex toys, watching pornography or contact with ex-lovers threats to being monogamous? You will learn to identify which are threats to your monogamy by communicating with your partner, and finding out where your partner is comfortable. Each individual has particular boundaries, and the goal is to find a common ground about what each partner feels comfortable with while at the same time not enforcing rules that might be too constrictive which could lead to any resentment.
In non-monogamous relationships the main 2 rules are
(1) you can structure any kind of sexual permissions you and your partner both agree on and
(2) you have to make sure that you find likeminded new partners that are capable of respecting your rules.
Where this gets complicated is for the two partners to figure out what sexual permissions to agree too. It does not matter where you and your partner draw your lines in regards to sexual permissions to engage in activities with others. As long as you and your partner agree to the stipulations, it is no one else’s business.
One couple may believe kissing and heavy petting with others is fine, but not intercourse. Another couple may only engage in sex with a single woman, but not engage with sex with another man or another couple. Another couple may only allow for group sex activates, but not allow for either individual of the couple to have sex with others if both partners cannot be present.
Some couples may also take a lax attitude towards using condoms and encourage bareback penetration. It is no one’s business as long as you and your partner agree, and that you deal with other adults who consent to those rules.
In either case, whether monogamy or non-monogamy, it is important to keep in mind that what seems like a good idea in discussion, may in fact not be a good idea in practice. For monogamy; In theory, never spending any time away from your partner which includes turning down invitations to take part in a boys’ night out, or for your cousin’s bachelorette party may seem like the right thing to do as a means to help preserve and protect the monogamy of your relationship. After all, if you eliminate any potential threats to your monogamy, you are better able to keep your monogamy intact.
However, such restrictive rules may be too confining for some people, and could also be interpreted as emotionally abusive by people outside of the couple, which may result in more social hardships for the couple when having to explain why various invitations get turned down. In addition to this, there is the consideration that one or both members of the couple may even start to feel suffocated and held back in the relationship which also leads to social hardships between the couple.
For non-monogamy; In theory, who your partner may decide to get sexual with outside of your primary bond should be of little concern for you, because the sex is strictly recreational and is not a threat to your relationship.
However, if your partner is uncomfortable with the way you enjoy yourself with your new lover, especially if your new lover is capable of enduring certain sexual experiences that your partner does not have the stamina for, it can cause great levels of jealousy to muster.
Another side effect that many people who experiment with non-monogamy tend not to be aware of: when a problem exists between how your partner relates to their new lover turns sour and they start fighting, it will actually have an effect on your own primary relationship.
Few people going into it realize that when your partner breaks up with one of their lovers, it can feel like you and your partner may be experiencing the effects of a divorce as well…and you may not have even been involved in the relationship that ended!
But neither relationship structure is better than the other. It is up to the couple to find the relationship structure that best works to meet their particular emotional needs and that also helps them keep what is important to them in the relationship.
Simply put, you and your partner must look at what you both VALUE about the relationship structure that you are currently in, and to find ways to maintain what you VALUE about it, while at the same time find a balance with being able to explore.
Both lifestyles, monogamous and non-monogamous, have their positive points and their negative attributes.
Monogamy has fewer rules to understand, paternity of children is predictable, there are less people to take into consideration and there is little risk of sexual transmitted infections.
However it is easier to take your partner for granted as you are not reminded of how much others may desire your partner, the restrictive rules may lead to resentment if either person starts to feel too constricted and monogamy requires work to keep building the relationship to continually be able to address each other’s emotional and sexual needs, as neither of you has the opportunity to have those needs addressed elsewhere.
Non-monogamy lets the couple negotiate ways to keep sexual variety a priority in the relationship, gives the couple a chance to explore fantasies and experiences that being with just one partner could not fulfill, and can be a means to quash any incentive for infidelity or abandonment. Having a non-monogamous relationship can alleviate one partner from being asked to please the second partner in ways that that the second partner simply has no interest in. The first partner can have those experiences fulfilled by someone else, and help the second partner not feel guilty for not being interested in participating with the first partner.
However whenever you involve new people into your existing love life, you also invite their personal issues. The people you may choose to associate with may not care as much about your primary relationship as you do. Sexual accidents like a condom breaking can force a couple to be very mindful of the dangers that safe sex is supposed to protect from, and you may also have to contend with your lover’s other lovers in ways you did not fully appreciate until it is too late.
Commitment to your commitment is the key element in ANY transition a couple is going through. The decision to do whatever it takes to work it out and stay together
It may take a long time to figure out how strict a monogamy you need to feel secure, or how freely open a non-monogamous relationship you can handle.
In that time of experimenting, you must both prepare yourselves to forgive each other for the hurt you will each feel from the mistakes you both may make, and the unexpected consequences your new relationship rules may bring about.
You may likely miss out on some major events that you later regret not taking part in because you were trying to establish a means of respect for your monogamy. You may end up going too far in your experimentation with non-monogamy and crossing a line that your partner and you were not clear on.
Remember that this is just as much a learning journey as any, and your commitment to commitment may be the only thing that reminds you of why you entered the transition to begin with…to find a new way of staying together.