How ethical non-monogamy challenges traditional relationship norms

10 minutes read -
People in an ethical-non-monogamy relationship laughing together
Bastian Gugger, breakup recovery and relationship specialist
Bastian Gugger
Table of Contents
Summary: There are plenty of misconceptions surrounding ethical non-monogamy. Discover how it can redefine what love can look like for you.
Contents

Rom-coms have long fueled our fantasies of what the gold standard for relationships is—monogamy. Nick and Rachel from Crazy Rich Asians, Jonathan and Sarah from Serendipity, Danny and Sandy from Grease

Lately, though, there’s been a growing murmur of a different kind of love story. It’s consensual, intimate, and breaks free from the traditional mold. 

It’s called ethical non-monogamy (ENM). 

For those seeking honesty, communication, and open love, ENM offers a fresh perspective, redefining what relationships can look like. 

What is ethical non-monogamy?

The meaning of “ethical non-monogamy” is where there are more than two people involved in a consensual relationship, be it romantic or sexual, according to Bastian Gugger, a breakup recovery and relationship specialist. The key word here is ethical where there’s “full knowledge and consent from everyone involved.”

There’s a spectrum within ENM, meaning different relationships may cater to different desires. For instance, some might choose to have multiple romantic relationships at once, while others might choose open relationships, where romantic love is exclusive to one partner but casual flings are permitted.

This concept isn’t entirely far-fetched. In fact, a 2023 YouGov poll found that 45% of Americans would rather have some form of non-monogamy.

Bastian adds that historically, various cultures have practiced forms of non-monogamy that respected all members’ roles and emotions. “I think, today, it is chosen for a couple of more reasons,” including meeting diverse needs, explore sexuality and variety, freedom and autonomy, and loving more than one person.

Keep in mind that ENM is, in a way, different from relationship anarchy (RA). RA takes a more radical approach, rejecting even the structures often found in ENM, like prioritizing certain relationships or defining boundaries around emotional intimacy.

Why ethical non-monogamy is on the rise

Dating today has become more confusing than ever,” explains Neelam Verma, a conscious dating expert and trainer of Mindvalley’s Finding Love with Integrity Dating Quest. “We’re swiping endlessly without truly connecting from the heart.”

And so, there’s a shift happening in the way we view romantic relationships. Being in an ethical non-monogamy relationship, according to a 2023 scoping review analyzing over 200 studies on the topic, is gaining traction—and for many reasons:

  • Dissatisfaction with traditional relationship models. For some, it might not fulfill the emotional and sexual needs of everyone.
  • Greater emphasis on communication and emotional connection, which can lead to stronger and more open relationships.
  • Exploration of sexuality and romantic desires outside the confines of monogamy.
  • Shifting societal attitudes with more open conversations about sex and relationships.
  • The desire for a wider circle of emotional support and companionship.

It might not be the most conventional way of seeking connections. But the fact of the matter is, ENM offers a path for those seeking alternatives to traditional relationship structures.

Is ethical non-monogamy cheating?

At first glance, ethical non-monogamy might look like cheating. However, it’s fundamentally different.

Cheating in a monogamous relationship involves breaking trust and violating agreed-upon boundaries; this often happens through secrecy and deception. In contrast, though, ENM is based on open communication, honesty, and consent from all partners involved.

However, the latter can still involve blurred lines if communication breaks down or boundaries are not respected. For example, if someone in an ENM relationship hides a new partner or violates previously agreed-upon rules, that in and of itself can be considered cheating.

Ethical non-monogamy is not a solution to relationship dissatisfaction,” Bastian explains, “but rather an alternative model that requires its own set of skills and emotional work.”

Types of ENM relationships

Chances are, you’ve heard of the terms “polyamory,” “open relationship,” and so on. But what’s the difference between ethical non-monogamy vs. polyamory or ethical non-monogamy vs. an open relationship?

Simply, polyamorous and open relationships fall under the umbrella term of “ethical non-monogamy.” However, not all ethical non-monogamy relationships are polyamorous or open.

Here is a closer look at some common types of relationships that fall under ENM:

Polyamory 

Polyamory involves having multiple romantic and sexual partners with everyone’s consent. This can take many forms: a triad (three people in a relationship), a quad (four people), or a network of interconnected partners.

It’s like in Woody Allen’s Vicky Cristina Barcelona, where two women and a man (and later, his ex) explore the dynamics of this kind of relationship.

Leanne Yau, a polyamory educator and sex-positive influencer, explains in a YouTube video that there’s “more of a focus on, kind of, emotional intimate connections like romantic connections.”

Open relationships 

Ever seen the comedy Hall Pass with Owen Wilson and Jason Sudeikis? Essentially, what happens is that their characters get a one-week “hall pass” from their marriages, which allows them to engage in extramarital affairs.

It’s the kind of ENM relationship that often focuses on sexual exploration outside the primary couple. It’s what’s commonly known as a fling, which really requires a whole level of honesty and freedom.

However, not all these relationships are the same. There might be rules around what kind of contact is acceptable, or it might be entirely open-ended.

Monogamish 

Monogamish is primarily based on monogamy, but with occasional forays into non-monogamy (with negotiation and consent, of course). This could be a couple who decides to explore swinging or other forms of consensual non-monogamy on a limited basis.

For example, in the movie The Freebie, Darren and Annie are in a stagnant marriage. While the premise revolves around a one-time agreement rather than an ongoing non-monogamy, they do agree to an evening of freedom.

Polygamy

There’s a major difference when it comes to ethical non-monogamy vs. polygamy. Unlike the other relationship structures, polygamy involves marriage to multiple partners.

The TV series Big Love highlights a great example of this—a polygamist family in Utah. Bill Henrickson juggles relationships with his three wives, Barb, Nicki, and Margene, while navigating the challenges of their religious beliefs clashing with modern life.

(It’s important to note that polygamy is illegal in most places and can come with complex social and legal issues.)

Common challenges in ethical non-monogamy relationships

While there are plus points, ENM isn’t without its challenges. Here are a few that people have faced:

  • Jealousy remains a significant hurdle for many, even within well-established guidelines. Managing these emotions requires constant communication and reassurance among everyone involved.
  • Time management is another common issue because balancing multiple relationships means dividing one’s time and attention. This can lead to partners feeling neglected or undervalued, so it’s crucial to check in frequently with your partner(s) to ensure their needs are being met.
  • Legal and societal recognition can also pose problems because many laws and cultural norms are designed around monogamous marriage. This can affect everything from parenting rights to hospital visitation and financial arrangements.

No doubt, ENM comes with an emotional landscape, but it doesn’t differ that much from that of monogamy, according to a source who was in a polyamorous relationship (and who requested anonymity to protect their privacy).

You don’t just assume things,” he explains. “You always discuss things, like ‘what are you okay with?’ [and] ‘what are you not okay with?’

So if you’re considering being in one, it’s important to remember that it requires a certain level of maturity and self-awareness.

People in an ethical-non-monogamy relationship

Is ethical non-monogamy right for me?

Ethical non-monogamy isn’t for everyone. The source, for instance, didn’t set out to be in this kind of relationship. It just so happened that the person he was dating was in a polyamorous one.

This is a person I enjoyed being with,” he adds. “This is the kind of relationship that they had, and I wanted to be with them, so I leaned into it.”

If you’re open to considering it, here are a few things that you may want to keep in mind:

  • Think about your views on love and relationships. Do you see love as limitless, something that can be shared with more than one person?
  • Consider your communication skills. This relationship requires honest, open conversations about feelings and boundaries. Are you comfortable discussing your emotions and needs clearly?
  • Reflect on how you handle jealousy and sharing. ENM challenges traditional views of possessiveness in relationships, so you’ll need to be open to growth and be able to manage feelings of jealousy constructively.
  • Think about your time and energy because managing multiple relationships can be demanding (albeit rewarding). So ask yourself if you’re able to devote time and emotional energy to more than one partner.

If any of these points raise concerns, it may be worthwhile to explore other relationship styles. Ultimately, the right choice is the one that aligns best with your individual needs and values.

How to practice ethical non-monogamy

We all desire love and a partner who accepts us for who we are,” states Neelam. “We know that relationships are about unconditional love, but many of us have never learned that it’s about unconditional love for ourselves first.”

That’s the premise of her Quest on Mindvalley. And while it’s a cornerstone for monogamous relationships, it can also be one for anyone considering getting into an ethical non-monogamy relationship. 

Here are a few dating tips to keep in mind if you choose to do so:

1. Look inward

Self-love—that’s the foundation of any healthy relationship. It involves a sincere awareness of your needs, desires, boundaries, and even fears.

Reflect on what each ENM relationship style means to you and how it aligns with your beliefs. For instance, if you identify as pansexual or bisexual, consider how this profound connection can coexist within a non-monogamous context.

With this level of self-awareness, you ensure that your relationships are not only enriching but also in harmony with your true self.

2. Be in integrity

To be in integrity means to be whole and complete within yourself and in alignment with your truth,” explains Neelam. “It’s where your beliefs, thoughts, words, and actions are congruent, and you show up honest.”

Why’s this important? By committing to integrity, you ensure that all relationships are built on a foundation of trust and respect. You’re also able to discuss openly what each relationship means to you and how you envision them fitting into your life

 This clarity prevents misunderstandings and ensures that everyone’s expectations align, fostering a nurturing environment for love to grow.

3. Envision your ideal partner(s)

Imagine the qualities you desire in your partners, considering how they will interact with the dynamics of a non-monogamous relationship. Think about traits that promote a harmonious relationship environment, like openness, understanding, and respect for boundaries.

Don’t just focus on what you want from them; also consider what you can offer. As Neelam advises, you just need to be you. “Only then,” she says, “can you truly attract a like-minded partner and create a meaningful connection.”

So reflect on whether your current self aligns with the partner you wish to attract. If discrepancies arise, identify areas for personal growth.

4. Indulge in conscious conversations

Conscious conversations are when you “express your truth, desires, and tensions, and standards early on, and you set the stage for a deep, profound, and meaningful conversation,” as Neelam explains. You ask important questions early on, and because you’re able to do so, you find yourself navigating challenging conversations with ease.

This kind of openness can lead to conscious relationships. And this is where people come together, learn each other’s love styles, and “co-create a beautiful and fulfilling relationship.”

5. Open up to vulnerability

Vulnerability allows for deeper emotional connections between you and your partner(s). It involves sharing your fears, hopes, and dreams. 

As Neelam points out, “true connection happens in the space of vulnerability.”

In doing so, you invite your partner(s) to understand your inner world more profoundly, which can strengthen the bonds between you. Recognize moments when you might be shielding your true feelings due to fear of judgment or rejection, and gently challenge yourself to share more openly.

6. Break up with toxic energy

Since we’re vibrational beings, we attract things on the same frequency that we’re emitting,” Neelam explains. And in ENM relationships, you’re not only surrounding yourself with one person but with multiple.

So, one person (or more) can bring down the vibe. And you may end up draining yourself of energy because of it.

That’s why it’s important to establish boundaries that protect your well-being and promote growth. If you feel that there’s strife or negativity with any of your partners, consider minimizing contact or ending things to make space for more fulfilling interactions.

7. Deepen your connection with spiritual sex

ENM relationships often involve sex. And because it’s usually with multiple partners, it’s important to maintain a sacred approach to it.

Spiritual sex, as Neelam calls it.

So ask yourself these questions:

  • What does it mean to share your body and energy with someone?
  • What does it mean to be in a position to co-create with another human?
  • Do you want to date just to be entertained?
  • Are you ready for a conscious relationship, and do you want to date to be loved?

By looking at sex as sacred, you’ll change how you approach dating forever,” she says. Not only will it make you consider who you’re partnering with, but also why you’re partnering with them.”

Love deeper, connect stronger

No matter which type of ethical non-monogamy relationship you choose to be in, understand that genuine connections start with you. That’s what you’ll uncover in Neelam Verma’s Finding Love with Integrity Dating Quest on Mindvalley.

When you sign up for a Mindvalley account, you have access to the first few lessons—for free. That’ll give you a taste of what Marzia Ludin, a civil engineering technician from Maple Ridge, Canada, means when she says, 

I was always questioning myself that ‘Why do I attract people and relationships that are not worthy and I don’t deserve them?’… Today, I learned that we can only love others to the [extent that] we love ourselves. This has been changing my life in all aspects.”

That’s what it means to date with integrity. And that’s what it means to love.

Welcome in.

Watch the First Lesson of the Quest

Finding Love With Integrity Dating With Neelam Verma

International speaker and dating expert Neelam Verma teaches the art of better dating. You'll learn how to end the endless cycle of bad dates and create unforgettable encounters with potential partners that light up your heart and soul.Get started for free

Tatiana Azman

Tatiana Azman

Tatiana Azman is the SEO content editor for Mindvalley and a certified life coach. With a background in spa and wellness as well as having gone through a cancer experience, she's constantly on the lookout for natural, effective ways that help with one's overall well-being.
Written by

Tatiana Azman

Tatiana Azman is the SEO content editor for Mindvalley and a certified life coach. With a background in spa and wellness as well as having gone through a cancer experience, she's constantly on the lookout for natural, effective ways that help with one's overall well-being.
Neelam Verma
Expertise by

Neelam Verma, an upcoming Mindvalley trainer for the Finding Love with Integrity Dating Quest, is a former TV presenter and Miss Universe finalist. After a near-death experience, she embarked on a spiritual journey, learning about love and relationships from experts and healers.

She founded Integrity Dating to revolutionize dating with a conscious, heart-centered approach. Neelam offers transformative courses, events, and coaching, helping people find love with integrity. Her mission is to change dating from mere entertainment to finding true love.

Bastian Gugger, breakup recovery and relationship specialist
In collaboration with

Bastian Gugger is a breakup recovery and relationship specialist. He’s made a name for himself by bringing a unique male perspective into the industry, specifically helping women who have been deeply affected by breakups and failed relationships.

Drawing from his personal journey of heartbreak and professional expertise, Bastian has made healing hearts his mission with a firm belief that breakups, as painful as they are, can be one of the biggest catalysts for transformation if we allow for it.

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