Winning at Mono/Poly Relationships

Category: Advice

Author: Jaimee Bell

Sometimes monogamous and polyamorous people fall in love. Sometimes monogamous people grow and change, and realize they would like something outside of a monogamous relationship. Sometimes polyamorous people want to go monogamous, but one (or more) of their partners don’t.

Welcome to the world of poly/mono relationships.

This is the idea that one (or more) people in a relationship have differing ideas of what they want in terms of relationship dynamics, specifically with regard to the number of partners they have or may want to have. Poly, mono, or something in between… these things are very rarely black and white. And, as more people open themselves up to non-traditional relationship dynamics, there is no shortage of ways that this could potentially happen.

Despite how easily one can find themselves in this situation, it’s still a topic that’s not commonly discussed. You either get tips on monogamous relationships or tips on polyamorous relationships – there is very little out there on mono/poly relationships and how to navigate them. Consider this article a very small drop in the ever deepening bucket of navigating poly/mono relationships.

Let’s Talk Definitions

First, let’s break down what these things really are. Monogamy, polygamy, polyamory: what do all of these things mean?

Monogamy: The practice of engaging in romantic relationships with only one partner at a time, rather than multiple partners.

Polygamy vs polyamory: Many people use these terms interchangeably but they don’t quite mean the same thing. Polyamory refers to having multiple intimate relationships with more than one person at a time, while polygamy involves being married to more than one person at a time.

Consensual non-monogamy: Consensual non-monogamy (CNM for short) is any relationship where people form consensually non-exclusive sexual or romantic relationships – this can range from occasional swinging to ‘open’ relationships to multiple serious partners. Polyamory is just one form of CNM. Keep in mind that while the obvious defining characteristic of CNM may be relationship dynamics of “more than two”, consent is also underlined in a bright yellow highlighter. This puts a clear emphasis on communication and transparency with all involved.

Why is polyamory so stigmatized?

Anyone can claim to be polyamorous, regardless of whether they’re actually practicing the ‘consent’ part of CNM or not. As a result, many people abuse the term and ignorance around the lifestyle of polyamory in order to justify cheating or lying. If someone like this is your only exposure to supposed ‘polyamory’, it’s all too easy to assume that this is the typical way things function.

This plays into much of the stigma surrounding the polyamorous lifestyle. However, people who practice ethical polyamory are simply people who are intimate with more than one person (very likely with the consent and/or knowledge of everyone involved). Of course, these things can be messy, complicated and emotional – but so can monogamy! When everyone consents, there really should be no stigma surrounding who you choose to love and how.

What is Poly/Mono?

Meet James, Julia, and Devin. James and Julia are a polyamorous couple. James meets Devin, who is a monogamous person and only wants to date one person at a time. Devin wants to be in a relationship with James, despite their difference in lifestyles.

This is a prime example of a poly/mono situation. There is a polyamorous person who, in some way, wants to be intimately involved with a monogamous person. If the monogamous person decides they are happy with how their relationship functions within that dynamic, the three of them can move forward together in a poly/mono situation.

These situations may involve a lot of tricky and emotional conversations about boundaries and consent but there is no reason each person in that relationship can’t be happy.

It’s about communication... but sometimes it’s more (or less) than that. Communication is a tricky thing. You will see the advice to openly and honestly communicate with your partners blasted to you in every relationship article out there, and for good reason. You should be honest with the people you’re intimate with – at least, to the extent that they want you to be.

In love, lust, and everything to do with sex, there are a lot of emotions involved. These emotions may have one or more people in your relationship/s feeling as though ‘less is more’ in terms of how much they know about the other partner(s). Communicate with your lovers and respect their boundaries; if they don’t want to hear about your other partners unless they ask, accept and honor that. However, you should always be willing to tell the truth when asked.

Being a good communicator is more than just being able to tell the truth, it’s about respecting the boundaries put in place by your partner(s) and communicating within those limits.

Consent is often the line between polyamory and cheating. When you’re in a polyamorous relationship, the real difference between cheating and having multiple consensual partners is honesty. Everyone involved in a polyamorous relationship should be as aware as they’d like to be about what’s going on.

Cheating isn’t just physical either. If you find yourself hiding things from your partner because you know they won’t be happy with it, you’re already on your way to crossing a line that’s really hard to come back from.

It’s about finding (and accepting) who you are and what you need. If you’re someone who is monogamous and find yourself interested in a polyamorous lifestyle, that can be really confusing. It can feel as though everything you knew is flipped on its head, and you can start to question things about your current relationship, even if it’s completely healthy and happy.

Understanding that you are a complex person with real emotions and desires that change and adapt as you do is paramount. One of the keys to making a poly/mono relationship work is understanding these things about yourself. If you’re questioning or curious, seeking out a sex-positive therapist to discuss the feelings you’re having may be a good first step.