Patrick Eng
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Week 35 - What I Need to Know About Open Relationships

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Authors Note: this is a guest topic suggested by a co-worker. If you think there is something I should learn about, I am open to suggestions and may use it as a future post.

As society has evolved and relationships and love defined differently, the shift from classical monogamy to consensial non-monogamy (CNM) is hard to ignore.

Traditionally speaking, we've been practitioners of classical monogamy. Meaning, two individuals marry as virgins, remain exclusive their entire lives, and become celibate when the spouse dies.

But something, I would say more people are familiar with and practice, is serial monogamy. In these kinds of relationships, individuals are sexually active and exclusive with a specific partner for a specific period of time until they break up. Then, they move on to a new partner and repeat the cycle.

But today, we are starting to hear more about non-monogamous relationships. Which, if you didn't know, aren't actually anything new. These types of relationships are as old as the Bible and can be found in many of the classical religious players (David, Solomon, Rehoboam). Or, many people will think about Islam and Mormonism, as both religions allow for polygamy.

In the secular world though, this type of relationship is becoming more popular among the more progressive and liberal community. You definitely won't see many (or any) conservative Christians advocating for this.

From what I understand, non-monogamous relationships can take a variety of forms, but in the end, it seems to have its pillars founded on honesty, sexual openness, rules and structure (or a lack of), and levels of emotional connection.

1. Cheating

When it's boiled down, the difference between cheating and non-monogamy seems to be as simple as honesty (which in turn affect the outcome).

Classically speaking, in any case where a partner seeks sexual interactions outside the relationship, that becomes an instance of cheating. But this article states that when both partners know that relationships are happening outside of their core relationship, then it is actually a non-monogamous relationship and not cheating.

This is because it is communicated upfront that it is happening, and practically speaking when done so, results in a lower STI rate.

Cheating doesn't necessarily have to involve sexual relations though, and as it's become easier to do so, i.e., Facebook, Ashley Madison, OkCupid, the definition becomes more blurred. Some people could define it as simply sending an emoji or it could be as obvious as paid phone sex.

2. Polygamy

An ancient tradition, polygamy can be simply defined as a marriage between more than two people. The most common form of this relationship is polygyny - one husband with multiple wives.

On the flip side, you have polyandry - one wife with multiple husbands. This type of relationship though is less common and has received less overall support than it's counterpart.

3. Open

Open relationships can be considered a catch-all for consensually non-monogamous relationships. The idea of an open relationship revolves around a committed main couple that has secondary relationships. This can take a variety of forms, with the secondary relationship being known by all parties or a complete stranger.

Open relationships operate with the assumption that the main couple remains the top priority in the various relationships, and abides by specific rules, expectations and clear levels of communication. The next four types of relationships can all fall under the umbrella of open relationships.

4. Swinging

While some credit the swinger lifestyle to the U.S. Air Force, then dubbed wife-swapping, it has become one of the more popular forms of CNM.

Traditionally speaking, swinging is simply the act of exchanging sexual partners. There are various swinger communities that promote and enable this kind of lifestyle, and today still remain heterosexual focused.

5. Monogamish

This type of relationship maintains the core monogamous couple, but allows for vary degrees of secondary relationships, specifically non-sexual ones. This could look like strict limitations on physical contact to the actual time spent with the secondary person.

6. Polyamory/Polyfidelity

Polyamory, polyfidelity, and polyaffective relationships all seem to revolve around a type of group marriage-like structure. While polyamory and polyfidelity relationships infer sexual relations, polyaffective are strictly emotional relationships.

7. Relationship Anarchy

This type of relationship is confusing to define since it just seems like it's just doing whatever you feel like. And if you don't like it, stop. Unlike other open relationships that utilize clear rules and priorities, relationship anarchy throws all that out in favor of the complete freedom to do what keeps you happy and fulfilled.

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In this article, we follow the life of Carrie Jenkins, a philosophy professor at the University of British Columbia and participant in a non-monogamous marriage. Jenkins is trying to understand why she loves both her husband and her boyfriend when she lives in a society (from philosophers to musicians) that says it's impossible to do so, or at least imply it.

Jenkins operates in what is a called a V-relationship, as both men know about each other but do not interact and focus solely on her.

As been described, an open relationship (or consensual non-monogamy) can be defined as a basic agreement between various players that agree on certain levels of sexual intimacy in a given time period. CNM is differentiated from polygamy simply due to the lack of long-term commitment found in polygamy.

To put some numbers to all this, it was found that 80% of single Americans have participated in some sort of CNM relationship. Not only is it becoming more popular among couples and singles, but it's also just peaking more people's curiosity.

Due to Jenkins unique situation, being both in a CNM marriage and philosophy professor (with her husband being in the same field), she's found that even though her group of peers is more liberal and progressive, they still operate under a mononormative lens.

Unsurprisingly, Jenkins work on understanding and trying to explain this type of relationship has been met with hostility, getting attacked and ridiculed on various digital platforms.

You can also get a better idea of the current stigma of even just the research of this field by looking at research from Terri Conley (University of Michigan psychologist). From research conducted by her and her peers, Conley found that people who read research that say positive things about CNM relationships are biased toward those relationships (and thus shouldn't be trusted).

Conley also found that people generally view monogamous relationships were safer and better on various scales and that people in CNM relationships were sexual risks, lonely, unhappy, had lower quality relationships and didn't pay their taxes on time.

But researchers are also finding the people in a CNM relationship actually say they have higher levels of trust and sexual satisfaction, and lower levels of jealousy, than traditional monogamous relationships. They also found that in a CNM relationship, the primary partners spent more time together, but the secondary partners were the ones where you achieved better sexual satisfaction.

Conley acknowledges though that there could be bias in all this research that points to higher satisfaction in CNM relationships, either through social desirability or just general self-selection.

Various studies have found that people who would operate best in a CNM relationship have the following traits:

  • Strong desire for casual sex

  • Strong communication ability

  • Strong desire for sensation

In the end, Jenkins began this journey of understanding her polyamorous relationship because it was a pillar of her life that had no acknowledgment by the larger community.

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Time

If you are in a relationship and think you don't have enough time to do other things, think about if you were in two relationships! I personally think that's crazy and wonder how amazing these people must be at organizing things and general scheduling.

Being in more than one relationship at a time means you're multiplying time you need to spend with other parties. If you can't handle the even larger time commitments, don't even start.

Drama

Brush up on your Shakespeare, cause there's going to be a lot of drama. Being in two, or even three relationships at the same time means twice as many insecurities, fears, deep emotional wounds and all that other baggage that comes with most relationships today.

Alpha

In traditional monogamous heterosexual relationships at least, there has to be a connection between the masculine and feminine. When these two sides are in unison, the relationship operates well. When they're not, the relationship ceases to exist.

These types of relationships work well because the masculine was made to lead, and the feminine to be guided. This type of interplay can work wonderfully, but what happens when there is a feminine and two masculines?

In CNM relationships, the feminine can be pulled between multiple masculines and cause general chaos and confusion - eventually damaging the entire relationship. This is where communication needs to lead the charge.

Break-ups

Like how multiple partners means more drama, it also means more breakups. Sure, when everyone thinks about open relationships, they think about how each partner is going to be jealous of the other and their other partners. And that will happen.

But on top of that, when one of two relationships start to go sideways, you need to think about how to break up with multiple people (something you don't have to worry about in a monogamous relationship).

The easiest way to avoid this is to be careful who you enter a relationship with. Even if the first date goes well, but you don't really see being a relationship with them, don't do it. It'll save you problems later.

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Too Long; Didn't Read

Open relationships are only becoming more popular, if not in practice then at least in curiosity. A common umbrella term you might hear is consensual non-monogamy. While the actual type of open relationship can take a variety of forms, it seems that they all share a few common traits:

  • Extremely clear channels of communication

  • Well-laid rules and guidelines for time spent level of physicality with the other relations allowed

  • And a general desire for casual sex

These three traits seem to make up many open relationships, and while jealousy will always be an issue, it can always be resolved through good communication.

But when you think about all the issues in your current relationship, imagine that getting multiplied. That's what happens when you enter in an open relationship. Now, you're dealing with multiple people's problems. Sure, you get to experience twice the amount of joy, but that's coupled with twice the amount of pain and drama.

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Patrick Eng