By Orit Krug
With the rising popularity of Ethical Non-Monogamy (ENM), more people are broadening the horizons of how they define and expand their partnerships. ENM can be an exciting opportunity to try something new and bring you and your partner closer together. However, it also can raise concerns similar to those in monogamous relationships – of trust and jealousy, or that your partner may end the relationship after falling in love with someone else.
When exploring ENM, it’s important to remember that it’ll likely raise concerns and fears that exist in any type of partnership. As with monogamous relationships, the most important guideline is maintaining open and honest communication. This openness must be present from the beginning, as you and your partner define the parameters of your new relationship structure, and continue to strengthen and grow through new challenges.
What is ENM?
Ethical Non-Monogamy is participating in romantic and/or sexual relationships that are not entirely exclusive between two people, with each person enthusiastically consenting to and defining the parameters of each ENM relationship. The exact nature of the relationship will be different for each couple, which is why honest dialogue remains paramount.
When defining what your ENM relationship looks like, primary partners must have a deep understanding of their own needs, as well as each other’s boundaries and desires. Also, there must be an understanding that your ENM journey will evolve as you adapt. You and your partner may grow in what you find comfortable or acceptable, then experiment with opening up the relationship to even more possibilities.
For instance, some couples begin their ENM journey by dating and exploring together, only engaging in threesomes or otherwise experimenting with both members of the primary relationship present. For some couples that may be the style of ENM relationship best suited for them. For others, exploring other partners together can lead to a deeper comfort with each other and with the ENM lifestyle, resulting in a more polyamorous lifestyle where they date others separately. When first dating separately, partners may agree to take it slowly – perhaps starting with dinner dates, or limiting interactions to dating apps or texting. As those involved become more comfortable, and more aware of what they want, these parameters can be tightened or loosened accordingly.
You may find that something you agreed to ends up being too much too fast. If this happens, there must be honest dialogue about why you feel that way, and how to properly scale the relationship back to a place of comfort and safety, until you may be ready to re-expand the boundaries.
Building A Strong Foundation of Trust To Explore and Grow Your ENM Partnership
The first step to building an ENM partnership is exploring the ‘why.’ What are you and your partner hoping to feel or learn from an ENM relationship? What is the reason you believe this will all be worth it, despite the inevitable challenges? The skills and commitment to making ENM relationships work can be more difficult than the ones required in monogamous relationships. Stressors and issues will come up, be they insecurities and jealousy about other partners, or uncertainty about the parameters of what is or isn’t acceptable. This is why it’s important to ensure both partners have a clear understanding of the agreements and constantly communicate their feelings, and issues that come up around them.
When defining the new relationship, it’s important to focus on one desire at a time. What particular fantasy or situation would wildly excite you and your partner? While it can be easy to get carried away in the anticipation, it’s important to consider and apply what is comfortable for both of you. You must agree about taking next steps in your ENM journey, and it’s far better to move slowly and work up to something than move too quickly. Moving too fast can erode trust and potentially hurt one or both partners.
When any concerns come up, the ‘why’ must be the meeting point. By exploring the why, and ensuring that you are both in agreement about that why, potential issues can be viewed through a collaborative lens. For instance, if one of you feels a pang of jealousy, can you grow closer by overcoming it together, or do you need to shift the agreements to alleviate that jealousy? If you do change agreements to prevent more jealousy, are you avoiding working through it and potentially taking away from the ‘why’ of the ENM relationship? If you remind each other of the growth that can take place through these challenges, and commit to supporting each other through them, your relationship can grow even deeper.
We’re Only Human, After All
We all have insecurities that come up in all types of relationships. ENM relationships will inevitably stir up jealousy and fears around your partner leaving or not admiring you enough. When this happens, it’s important to question what unresolved internal conflict is being triggered. Try to avoid overanalyzing and excessive thinking about why these fears are present. Instead, notice what sensations arise in your body and see if you can allow them to pass. If jealousy feels like a pit at the bottom of your stomach, can you sit with that and see if it eventually shifts into a less uncomfortable sensation?
Too often, people see anxiety and jealousy as inherently bad and want to get rid of these feelings as quickly as possible. Just as it’s important to have open communication with your partner about the parameters of the relationship, it’s important to have honest communication with yourself about what certain feelings are trying to tell you. Jealousy masks insecurities that often represent opportunities for introspection and healing – in ways that will help you grow individually, and help the relationship grow stronger as well.
The level of intensity regarding your insecurities can dictate how you approach healing them. If jealousy and fear become debilitating and begin to interfere with your day-to-day life, it’s important to communicate that with your partner, and come to a new agreement about how you can honor yourself while continuing to explore ENM in a way that works for both partners. In many cases, seeking the professional support of a therapist is necessary to process old trauma that’s fueling these insecurities.
Loving and Learning, Always Adapting
As a licensed therapist with my own practice, I’ve witnessed firsthand the importance of open and honest communication in all types of relationships. Furthermore, practicing polyamory in my own life has forced me to unexpectedly grapple with my own unresolved trauma and insecurities. In my practice, and in my personal relationships, I’m constantly reminded of the importance of coming back to the ‘why’ while strengthening each couple’s foundation of trust and communication.
By maintaining an honest and open connection together, ENM partners can overcome barriers to growing their relationship. It may sometimes require scaling back in certain areas, but if both partners are committed to honoring each other, and proceed in a way that enhances each others’ wellbeing, the relationship can grow in incredible ways. This paves the way for each partner to explore and discover desires more fulfilling and life-changing than they imagined was possible at the beginning of their journey.
Orit Krug is an award-winning Board-Certified Dance/Movement Therapist and Licensed Creative Arts Therapist who has helped transform the lives of more than 5,000 clients. A licensed therapist with her own practice, she has helped couples strengthen and expand their relationships by working through past trauma stored in the body. As Orit practices polyamory in her own life, she uses her experience and platform to ensure that partners can safely and lovingly expand beyond the normal boundaries in all of their relationships.