Monogamy is our cultural default, and for many people, it’s their preferred relationship structure. But that doesn’t mean monogamous relationships are right for everybody.
Plenty of folks would be more satisfied in a non-monogamous relationship; in fact, 32% of Americans say their ideal relationship is non-monogamous to some degree, according to a 2020 YouGov poll.
Non-monogamy is an umbrella term used to describe any relationship style that is not romantically or sexually exclusive between two people. And unlike infidelity, everyone involved is fully aware of and consents to the dynamic.
Some of the main non-monogamous relationship structures you may have heard of include monogamish, swinging, open relationships and polyamory. (Here’s an explainer if you’d like to learn the differences between each.)
Perhaps you’ve been hearing more about non-monogamy of late — on a podcast, in the news, on social media, or in the plotline of your favourite TV show — and the concept intrigues you. Or maybe you don’t know much about it but are interested to find out more.
We asked non-monogamous folks to share some of the signs that this type of relationship might be the right fit for you. Here’s what to consider:
1. You feel stifled by monogamy.
Sarah Stroh, a non-monogamous writer who runs the @monogamish_me Instagram account, told HuffPost that when she was in monogamous relationships in the past, curtailing her desire to connect with other people “always felt like a sacrifice” and sometimes made her feel resentful toward her partners.
“To this day, I’m still not sure how much of the problem was limiting my connections with others and how much of it was that I couldn’t even talk about the fact that I had these desires without being accused of not loving my partner enough,” Stroh said. “I think the latter was the hardest part.”
2. You have a curious and adventurous spirit.
Non-monogamous people tend to be sensation-seeking and crave excitement and new experiences, polyamory educator Leanne Yau told HuffPost.
“They like being energised by learning new things, whether about themselves or other people,” said Yau, who uses she and they pronouns. “So someone who is energised by novelty, learning and self-discovery and things like that would be a really good fit for non-monogamy.”
Stroh said she’s long been curious about sexual exploration and that “non-monogamy allows for a lot more flexibility in this area.”
“In past relationships, I’ve suggested trying out threesomes and going to sex parties out of the desire to explore something new,” she said. “It never happened back then, but I’ve always been an adventurous person, and non-monogamy satisfies this need for adventure in a big way.”
3. You’re energised by connecting with other people.
Non-monogamy might be a good fit if you really enjoy making and nurturing connections with others in a romantic, sexual or platonic capacity, Yau said.
“If you just have a lot of energy to foster deep connection and intimacy with multiple people in whatever capacity, you probably have a good predisposition towards being in a non-monogamous relationship,” they said. “Because it does take a lot of time and commitment to invest in a lot of people in that way.”
On the flip side, if you’re someone who prefers to keep your social circle tiny and “typically likes to put all their expectations on one person or two people,” then non-monogamy may not be as good of a fit, Yau noted.
4. You and your partner (if you already have one) have a strong relationship foundation.
The desire to explore non-monogamy is often a “very personal” one, Stroh said, rather than something you seek out within the context of a relationship.
“For me, I never opened up a monogamous relationship. Instead, when I was single, I identified it as something I wanted for myself and was clear about it from then on to any new prospects I met,” she said.
That said, if you and your partner are looking to explore non-monogamy together, first be sure your relationship is on good footing and that you have a shared interest in pursuing this.
“In a secure relationship, if both parties are curious about connecting intimately with others besides each other and want to give their partners the freedom to do the same, they should go for it,” Stroh said. “Dip their toes in the water.”
Yau also highlighted the importance of being in an emotionally secure partnership before opening up your relationship.
“Because once you open up the relationship, you can no longer rely on the fact that your relationship is exclusive to prove that you love each other,” she said. “How do you redefine how you love each other when you have taken away the one thing that so many people base love upon: The fact that you had to forsake all others? What is your relationship without exclusivity? What is the love and commitment between you without exclusivity?”
Knowing how to communicate honestly, set boundaries, advocate for yourselves and repair conflict will put you in “a really good position to open up your relationship,” she added.
5. You and your partner love each other deeply but have vastly different sexual kinks or needs.
It may be that your partner is wonderful, loving and supportive, but unable to fulfil all of your sexual needs.
“It also can be true for bi folks, who do need to sleep with or date people of various genders to feel sexually fulfilled. That said, there are plenty of bisexual, monogamous folks who are very fulfilled in their monogamous relationships,” he added. “I don’t want to perpetuate the stereotype that all bi people need to be sleeping with all genders in order to be fulfilled — that’s not true.”
Another common form of sexual incompatibility: When one partner has a markedly higher sex drive than the other.
“When that’s the case, an open relationship might be ideal,” Zane said. “That way, the person with the high sex drive can get their needs met elsewhere, and the person with the low sex drive doesn’t feel pressured to have sex more frequently than they desire.”
6. You don’t expect non-monogamy to solve your relationship issues.
After many years together, some couples decide to open up the marriage as a last-ditch attempt to salvage a broken relationship. (It’s worth mentioning, though, that this group does not represent the majority of people who are non-monogamous, Zane said). This is ill-advised, as it usually hurts — rather than helps — a relationship that’s already on its last legs.
“I want to warn against the idea that entering non-monogamy will solve your problems,” Stroh said. “In rare cases, it can, but it’s most likely to introduce more conflict before it solves anything.”
A final thought: Non-monogamy may not be right for everyone, and that’s OK. But it can work for anyone who genuinely wants to pursue it and is committed to doing so.
“I think anyone can be [non-monogamous] if they want to be,” Yau said. “But the most important thing is that you do want to be and you’re not just doing it because your partner wants to. So I think your personal motivation for non-monogamy has to be really important. And it can’t just be because you don’t want to lose your partner or you don’t want your relationship to end.”