Receiving “Open, Honest Communication” Takes Courage

I’m sure you’ve heard the key to a successful relationship is “open, honest communication.” While these terms mean something different to nearly everyone, most can agree that a situation in which openness and honesty are met with negative consequences is hardly conducive to trying again and again to achieve it. Unfortunately, this often happens when it’s an explicit condition in a relationship between folks attempting to navigate non-traditional territory and finding themselves on unstable ground.

You’ve probably also heard the phrase: “it is better to seek forgiveness than ask permission,” and while I don’t advocate seeking permission to act autonomously, this line of reasoning informs the compulsion to hide one’s actions if one believes they will be persecuted for them. It is, after all, less daunting to face potential fallout after the fact than risk rejection or judgment at the outset.

If I cannot trust the words that come out of your mouth, I don’t want to hear any – it is that simple. Lying is a dealbreaker. I would rather someone end their relationship with me than lie to me about anything. 

However, insisting on honesty when you are unwilling to process the information with grace is both unreasonable and unfair

I have been guilty of not being a safe place to be honest. I’d get scared and attempt to put the responsibility for managing that on my partner because I’d see them as having caused the issue. Sometimes that led to a partner withholding information from me or intentionally misleading me in order to keep themselves safe. That in turn led to a loss of trust and a perpetual cycle of fear on both our parts. As much as I was harmed by dishonesty, I had to admit I caused harm as well. Coming back from that took time as we discovered things about ourselves that needed to change, and other things that needed to be fostered and reinforced. 

Honesty requires vulnerability and if the recipient cannot honor that vulnerability, they perhaps do not deserve what their loved one is attempting to communicate.

So how do you become a safer place for someone to be honest?

Take ownership of your fears. If someone is afraid to tell you they’ve met someone they’re interested in because you descend into a pit of sadness each time, you’ll need to figure out what about that makes you so sad, and then address it. This could mean asking for reassurance or just admitting you’re scared and allowing yourself to be loved through it. 

Lead by example. If you want someone to be forthcoming with information, you too need to be forthcoming with information. I’m not saying you should update your partners everytime you find someone attractive, but if you’d tell a close friend about a new interest, why not your partner? If there is something I’m compelled to hide from someone I’m close to, I know I’d better do the exact opposite of that.

Communicate that even though you struggle at times, you’re not interested in your partner suffering as a result. Say the words, mean them, and follow through. 

Leave the past in the past. Most of us will not have long-term relationships that don’t weather the occasional storm, but dredging up a past you’ve agreed to move on from is not conducive to progress when you’re asking someone to be vulnerable. If you are tempted to weaponize the past, talk yourself out of it, even if the only trophy you win is not regretting it later. 

And if you continue to feel as though you’re riding a roller coaster in an attempt to process new information, consider you perhaps don’t need to know those things. Sometimes the pieces of knowledge that impact us most negatively are simply none of our business and we could function just fine, or better, without them. It is entirely possible to make yourself miserable under the mistaken impression you need more of something than you actually do. I used to have an agreement with a partner that we would give each other a heads up if we were going to be physically intimate with someone new. That didn’t last long as we both realized we didn’t truly want to receive that information, and we could reasonably expect the other one to do that with whomever they chose to. But when you’ve been raised with a dominant narrative, you’re going to stumble a bit when you try to write one for yourself that flies in the face of it. 

A couple years ago one of my partners wrote a piece about acting out of trust vs. fear. I suppose you could consider this a companion piece to that, as his was about being brave enough to be honest and mine is about being brave enough to accept honesty. Both are scary places to stand at times, but when you find the courage to do so, fear is replaced with something far calmer and easier to manage.

Photo by 珂 许 on Unsplash

How Do I Manage My Partner’s Jealousy?

If your partner struggles with jealousy, you’ve probably asked yourself: “How can I keep my partner from feeling this way?” or “How do I help my partner manage this?

It’s perfectly natural to want to save the day with solutions, particularly if you’re having an easier time of it than they are. It can feel like it’s your responsibility to address and manage someone’s negative experience even if you’re doing nothing wrong. Especially if you, (or they), see your actions as the root cause.

Jealousy is a natural emotion we all wrestle with in some way, to some degree, at some time. Trying to solve someone’s feelings isn’t possible; bending over backwards to prevent someone’s feelings isn’t sustainable. In fact, most efforts motivated by a desire to prevent feelings generally lead to larger issues like resentment and unreasonable precedents. 

May I suggest this question instead: How do I show up well for my partner when they’re experiencing this feeling? The answer to which lies mostly in what not to do. 

Do not attempt to do their important work for them!

Becoming the best version of ourselves is an uphill battle. If you feel you’ve been where your loved one is, it can be tempting to take them by the hand and lead them up the mountain you climbed to find your answers. But knowing the way up your mountain doesn’t qualify you to climb theirs

New experiences foster growth; being protected/prevented from having them robs us of those opportunities. And while the compulsion to do so is understandable, it is also infantilizing and unnecessary. More appropriate is a practice rooted in compassionate autonomy wherein you acknowledge your loved one’s feelings, (because they’re real), and support them by listening and encouraging healthy attempts to navigate rough terrain. This can be tough because it means taking a less active role, but practice means progress and it gets easier with time.

I support my partners in their own efforts, but I don’t make their efforts mine. I go out of my way to love them the best I can, but I don’t trespass against my boundaries to do so – and when I am asked to do so, I say no.

Do not make yourself miserable to prevent someone else’s misery.

You’ve probably been taught that limiting your autonomy for the comfort of others is normal and even desirable. It feels unnatural and sometimes painful to counter that. It takes courage to do things differently while the world around you romanticizes the very thing you’re trying not to do. While feelings like jealousy just are, we get to choose how we behave when we’re experiencing them. It is important to allow your partners the dignity of managing their reactions and behavior rather than attempting to control it with your own. 

When you attend to your partner’s feelings by listening, validating, and reassuring them while still doing the super okay and normal thing that’s maybe triggering the jealousy, you are loving them through the experience instead of preventing them from having the experience. 

Side note: People don’t always show up the best when they’re experiencing jealousy. They may attempt to cast you as the villain in their story or insinuate that even though you’re doing exactly what was agreed to, you’re still hurting them. Sometimes folks overcome with jealousy attempt to make rules for others or lash out with words. While we can understand where those behaviors are coming from, it doesn’t make them acceptable. You keep yourself safe by insisting on being treated with respect and kindness, and by having solid boundaries in that regard.

Do be helpful in the ways that feel right to you.

There are plenty of ways you can offer assistance to someone experiencing jealousy. A great barometer for whether or not something in this category meets your standards of autonomy is asking yourself if you’d do this for a close platonic friend. 

  • Being present and not taking the jealousy personally is HUGE. Asking what would be helpful, (talking it out, listening, etc.), goes a long way toward making sure they know you don’t expect them to hide how they’re feeling. 
  • If they’re struggling to make new connections in the dating world, you can offer to review their dating profile or take pictures of them for that purpose. I love seeing the pictures I take of my partners on their dating profiles because it means they like the way they look in them and I want that for them!
  • Treating someone with compassion, especially when they’re not feeling their best, usually benefits everyone involved. If I have a partner who’s clearly down regarding something I’m doing with another partner, I don’t ignore that reality. I may make a favorite treat before I head out, or initiate some extra snuggle time. I’ve also been known to leave notes for them to find when I can’t be there but want them to know I’m thinking of them and I care.

And what if you’re the one experiencing jealousy?

No matter the triggering event, the most important thing to manage is how you show up in those feelings and that you take accountability for addressing them without infringing upon others. Having feelings doesn’t hurt anyone, but acting out of your feelings certainly can. We can ask for what we need and want so long as “no” is always an acceptable answer, and we can not infringe upon others by not making them responsible for our feelings or behavior. This is critical as it’s the difference between relating to one another vs. expecting to be catered to. 

When I ask for reassurance instead of accommodation I feel a lot more lovable than when I expect others to make their happiness smaller. I sometimes have to ask myself how a better version of me would show up but I never regret choosing to do as she would. 

Saying “I don’t need anything to be different” takes a lot of the anxiety out of the moment for all involved. When I’m feeling particularly vulnerable, I try not to ask for things that would limit anyone’s autonomy. I’m not always perfect, and in those cases, the “no” I received was a gift because it reminded me I am capable of handling things without anyone giving up their freedom for me. 

Knowing you will be okay, even if the moment you’re in is hard right now, is no small empowerment. But the only way to come to that understanding is to keep having experiences that reinforce it. That is to say, to keep prioritizing the autonomy of those close to you, as well as yourself, and asking to be loved through a thing instead of sheltered from it. 

So yeah, jealousy sucks; it’s normal and it sucks. You can make those feelings worse while building a precarious tower of resentment, or you can go about things in a way that strengthens all your foundations. I guess what doesn’t suck is that you have a choice in the matter, and choices are pretty neat.  

Photo by Dmitriy Demidov on Unsplash 

Guest Blog: Relationship Anarchy . . . huh?

If you’re active in any form of non-monogamous community, you’ve likely come across the term “Relationship Anarchy” with increasing frequency. With that, you’ve undoubtedly heard conflicting ideas of what it actually is.

Unfortunately, more and more impressions seem to be negative and most appear to be rooted in anecdotal evidence and/or assumptions. There will always be people who leverage ideology to justify poor behavior and Relationship Anarchy is no different.

With that in mind, let’s start with what Relationship Anarchy isn’t:

  • It is not an excuse to use people
  • It is not a way to shift emotional labor onto someone else/avoid it on your end
  • It is not a way to avoid emotional entanglement
  • It is not a way to avoid emotional presence
  • It is not a way to avoid emotional responsibility

Relationships, other than with yourself, always include two or more people, so taking a self-centered approach becomes inherently problematic. One also needs to make a distinction between being mindful of others you’re in a relationship with and taking responsibility for them. Being mindful of others is a core tenet of relationship building. Taking on responsibility for feelings of others is called codependency. Don’t be like that.

The concept of anarchy is generally misunderstood in our culture: No rules! Fuck the system! Chaos!  . . . Nope. You may be surprised to learn that’s not what anarchism is. Anarchism, particularly in the world of relationships, is a philosophy that rejects all involuntary, coercive forms of hierarchy. Furthermore, it incorporates the principles of voluntary cooperation, mutual aid, direct action, and self-management.

Conveniently for us, there is a manifesto written for Relationship Anarchy and many practitioners reference it as a framework for their approach. It’s short, simple and can be found here, along with the author’s thoughts on each aspect. Please bear in mind it was translated from Swedish so colloquialisms may cause some hangups.

Beyond that manifesto and a general idea of what Relationship Anarchy is not, it can be a bit trickier to define what it is as a practice. I can’t do that for you or anyone else; ask ten people who practice RA what it means to them and there’s a good chance you’ll get ten different answers. Regardless of your relationship orientation, there are many aspects of RA which can be beneficial.

In general, folks who consider themselves relationship anarchists often agree on the following points:

  • A focus on personal autonomy and agency
  • Respecting/fostering the autonomy and agency of other people
  • ALL relationships (romantic, platonic, sexual, familial, etc) are important and what they are doesn’t create an arbitrary ranking of importance
  • Only the people in the relationships get to have input on how they operate
  • Trust is often freely given
  • Direct communication as opposed to assumptions 
  • A focus on healthy boundaries instead of trying to use rules to control others

For me, Relationship Anarchy allows every relationship to become what it’s meant to be. Friends, romantic connections, sexual partners, or even mortal enemies! I work to not let cultural norms influence how my relationships look nor how valid they are. And it does indeed take work when you’re inundated with how these things should be all day, every day. 

I’m fortunate in that my mother modeled a similar mindset for me. I would watch as she allocated her time and energy to the family she got along with and avoided those who were problematic. Many like to say “Blood is thicker than water,” implying that family is the most important relationship in your life. This is actually a misquote! The original reads “The blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb.” The relationships we form intentionally are stronger than a relationship that’s compulsory! I’m not saying family isn’t important, but make sure you’re applying more of your time and energy to the relationships that reward you!

Don’t let preconceived notions of what a relationship should be get in the way of what it can be.

I’ve had a Tinder match grow into a solid friendship. I’ve added sex to a very close platonic friendship that originated nearly a decade ago when what we wanted at the time wasn’t feasible. I’ve also had a short term romantic relationship become a dear friendship that ebbs and flows as feels right in our lives.

If I were to try and distill the concept of Relationship Anarchy down? Value your relationships for what they are and how they work independently of one another, not least of which is your relationship with yourself. Learn to come into new connections free of expectations, follow your hopes, communicate your wants and needs, listen to theirs, and find what works for both of you if anything.

Since mid 2016, Adam (he/him) has been an educator and presenter in the ENM community. He realized he was polyamorous in high school and has practiced various forms of non-monogamy ever since. With a primary goal of normalizing a variety of relationship structures, he shows up as his authentic self: an egalitarian polyamorist who practices relationship anarchy.

Anarchy header Image by Orit Matee on Unsplash

Polysaturation: Do I Have Enough To Give?

I appreciate the concept of polysaturation, a piece of wordplay I both admire for its cleverness and find useful in the discussion of non-monogamy, but I prefer to consider being spread too thin overall since the bandwidth I have for a relationship of any sort is entirely dependent on what else is going on in my life.

  • Chronic illness
  • Career/work
  • Parenting
  • Community engagements & commitments
  • Writing projects
  • Household maintenance
  • Self-improvement
  • Hobbies

These things take time, energy, and other finite resources. Sometimes an extended lull in my personal mayhem inspires me to go on a date with someone new, but I’m never far from feeling like I’ve made a mistake when my laundry list of life-stuff recedes out of reach and I begin to schedule myself out of any me-time. 

It’s never a certain number of people, or a shortage of any particular finite resource, but a feeling that creeps in when I’ve overextended myself. I struggle with a sometimes debilitating amount of anxiety when it comes to ensuring that the people I care about feel cared for by me. I’ve had to learn to trust that I do enough, and if my best isn’t good enough, then we’re not compatible anyway. . . but I also acknowledge that it would be irresponsible of me to engage the hearts of more people than I have the time to care for properly. Trying to locate where that line is can be a daunting task to undertake, and it’s usually my individual interests that suffer in the long run in favor of nurturing the relationships in my life.

Currently, I am in two very loving partnerships with people I anticipate having in my life for a long time, but I remain a very “autonomy-first” individual. For many reasons, I enjoy spending quite a lot of time with each of them; I never wish it were less. While my logic-brain understands that I am a pretty good partner, I still wonder at times if I have enough to offer. Enough what? I don’t know – the stuff folks want from partners I guess . . . 

Sometimes I miss that first-date energy but I’m honestly scared to meet anyone I truly like when I feel like any aspect of my life isn’t getting the attention I would feel best giving it.

When I had just one partner for an extended period, I wondered if other relationships had been short-lived because they needed more from me. But when I met my more recent partner, it became very clear to me that what matters *most* in this equation is the type of person I’m connecting with. 

It’s like I have a bucket filled with a collection of treasures – odds and ends I’ve collected through my life. Some take up a lot of space while others fit in where they can, but all of them are parts of me. When I meet the right people, I can pour what we create together into that bucket like water, and I want them to feel the same way about how I fit into their lives. 

I like to be together, but not tangled.

I love being emotionally enmeshed without codependence hobbling autonomy. I pair well with folks whose relationship ideology is based on individual autonomy and who have a strong sense of self. I don’t feel polysaturated when my partners aren’t looking to me to be their missing piece. When someone needs that from me, it’s akin to adding a heavy rock to my overflowing bucket. Not only do I not have the room, but I risk crushing or having to abandon other important things. I used to try and accommodate relationships that didn’t fit but quickly learned that throwing myself out of balance to try and make something work is not in anyone’s best interest.

I see questions from folks on non-mongamy forums regarding the ideal number of partners, or what a concerning number of partners may be for one of theirs. I don’t know that there’s a number you can assign to this metric, or that it should even be a metric. I know my concerns are that I have enough time to attend to my own wants and needs as well as ensure my important people feel loved, but others need more or less me-time than I do. And many folks enjoy fulfilling relationships on a less-enmeshed basis. It’s a good idea to know what you’re looking for and what you have to give, and then it’s advisable to have a direct conversation about that with the individuals in question. This is also an important topic to revisit as relationships and individuals evolve over time.

Just as I know I won’t pair well romantically with anyone whose idea of love is my idea of codependence, or who wants to cast me in the role of “primary partner,” I also know I’m not compatible with someone who could only see me the second Tuesday of each month for three hours but not in December, because my emotional attachments develop in person and that schedule would not allow for a fulfilling relationship. 

At the moment I spend one weeknight a week with each of my two partners and dedicated weekend time with each of them every-other weekend. As such, I don’t have that to offer anyone else without allocating the majority of my free time to others, and I don’t want to do that. I know this about myself, so when I do meet someone I might otherwise consider a potential romantic match, I am candid about not seeing another enmeshed relationship work out right now, if ever.

I used to worry if my partners kept adding partners that what we had would need to grow smaller, but that isn’t the case. Relationships built with intention are able to add and subtract in a way that doesn’t push out what’s already there and important to us. Additional relationships might mean less flexibility in scheduling, but focusing on what matters in each one allows for more than you might imagine.

Ultimately, I know I have enough to offer more than one person because compatibility is more than chemistry. It’s the way two whole people fit together, and the ease with which that connection flows – exactly as it’s supposed to, finding its own level, like water. But while love is infinite, my personal vessels have limits, and my awareness of and respect for those dimensions ensures I don’t find myself polysaturated and unhappy.  


Photo by nikko macaspac on Unsplash

Privacy is a Fundamental Right in Relationships

Privacy. That thing where you get to choose how much of your personal life is on display, yeah? Privacy is pretty critical to one’s emotional well-being and sense of safety. We depend on those close to us to keep our confidence, and there is a reasonable expectation of privacy when we allow ourselves to be vulnerable in intimate moments with a close connection, friend, or partner.

But there’s an unfortunate approach to privacy by many in the greater non-monogamous community. I see a lot of questionable behavior being championed and supported that, to me, flies in the face of reasonable expectations of privacy.

What the heckity-heck am I talking about?

Oh, you know:

  • “My spouse and I have an agreement that we can go through each other’s phones and private messages upon request. This is how we build trust. This is our version of transparency and open communication.”
  • “Oh, I have access to my partner’s email, Facebook, dating profiles, and phone, but I’d never actually look at those things. Sometimes I see them by accident though.”
  • “My partner shares all of their sexual exploits with me because that’s my kink and it turns me on.”
  • “I have an agreement with my primary that they tell me every time they have sex with someone else.”
  • “I expect to know every milestone my partners reach in their other relationships so that I can emotionally process those.”

I don’t really need to continue, do I? Of course not. You’ve either recognized these as pretty common tropes, or you feel personally attacked. If it’s the latter, never fear – we all start somewhere; hopefully you’ll take this opportunity to examine your values as they relate to privacy. 

I won’t even knowingly date people who have these agreements with their other partners.

This privacy gray area is born of hierarchy and entitlement, and no, there isn’t a gentle way to say that. Particularly in situations where someone feels insecure, or there’s been a previous breach of trust, folks feel somewhat entitled to information that does not belong to them about folks they feel superior to. They often feel this is justified by their personal feelings of security being a priority, and this information falling into a category of “will probably make me feel more secure.” I get it; information is power. But . . . too much information will make your brain weasels go bonkers! Also: you’d be pissed if the shoe was on the other foot, you know you would, so don’t even. The meta you’ve never met having access to your sexting chats? COME ON!

But hey, most relationships do not thrive on a sparse diet of “need-to-know” information; the closer you are to someone, the more you’re naturally inclined to reveal about yourself and your life, including the roles others play. If you find yourself intentionally withholding information from someone when it’s not a privacy concern, it may be a good idea to ask yourself why. Information *is* power, but it doesn’t need to be wielded. 

What information should be off limits?

Well, basically anything that someone doesn’t enthusiastically consent to you knowing. And by enthusiastically, I mean nothing you had to talk them into sharing. It’s entirely possible to have a partner you don’t know every little thing about. Yes, even if you live with them. Yes, even if you’re been together for decades. Yes . . . you are, in fact, separate people with lives that don’t always overlap, nor should they, especially if you’re cultivating healthy relationships with other adults.

So, what information should be shared?

This is really an individual decision. Some people are naturally more private about their lives than others. I don’t keep any of the relationships in my life a secret from anyone else, but I also don’t feel a need to report on them. I have a strong preference for conversational sharing that feels natural. It would be very out of character for me to not mention a first date, or that I saw a movie with someone, or that I had dinner at a new place with so-and-so. 

But some folks have lots of reasons for wanting to know details about relationships they’re not in just because they’re in a relationship with one of those people. I mean, think about what you might expect to be made aware of in a close friend’s life . . . is it more or less than you expect to know about your partner’s? For example: sex stuff. 

How do I manage my sexual health risk profile if I don’t know if my partners are having sex with others and when, where, how? Well, what if you just assume your partners have sex with folks they spend time with and that they’ll use the same framework for sexual health decisions with those folks that they used with you? If you have no clue what that matrix looks like for your partner, now might be a good time to find out. (For tips on how to have that convo, check out Great Sexpectations.)

How do I mentally prepare myself for my partner to start a new relationship if they don’t keep me updated on their interest level in others? Is it possible to do this mental preparation across the board so you’re just ready to rumble when it comes down to it? I generally ask my partners how they’re feeling about new connections, but it’s conversational as I don’t have much investment in where they go. If you have negative experiences when your partner pursues others, that’s probably not going to be solved with a heads up.

I was misled by my partner in the past so having them update me on each new development in their other relationships helps me feel more secure. Well, sure. And: this is still none of your business. Reparative trust cannot be built on a foundation of privacy breaches against another party. Please allow that to sink in. You don’t get to sanction injury to another party simply because you yourself have been injured. We move forward by not wishing this experience on anyone else, not by violating others.

Everyone consents to these conditions of “transparency” (privacy violation) as a condition of their relationship with me/my partner, so that makes it ethical. No, that makes it coercive. If someone has to accept trespasses against their privacy in order to be connected to someone, they’re forced to agree or walk away and that’s not a fair choice. Not when it’s so easy to not put people in that position. This is merely shifting the burden of your own issues onto others and that’s a thing you have the power to work on. 

So what if I’m the one having my privacy violated or being coerced into violating the privacy of others to preserve another relationship?

Well, then it’s time to ask yourself if you’re worth more than that. Spoiler alert: you are. Advocate for yourself with direct language. State your boundaries and your right to privacy. Advocate for your other partners’ right to privacy, and refuse to violate it. 

It is amazing what happens in all of your relationships when you refuse to accept the unacceptable.   


Photo by Franck on Unsplash

Descriptive Hierarchy is a Misnomer

When you view your partners, and yourself, as autonomous individuals who exist in proximity to each other but aren’t defined by it, you’re rewarded with relationships based on secure connections between adults.

Hierarchy gets a bad rap in the non-monogamous community for a number of reasons. It’s often the product of a formerly monogamous couple opening up and wanting to mitigate fear and insecurity by limiting what can happen outside of their relationship. Many times, the “primary” couple make agreements within their dyad that infringe upon each other’s autonomy as well as the privacy and agency of any other partners they become involved with. This type of hierarchy exists on a vast spectrum, but for many reasons, prioritizing the original couple to the detriment of all other relationships doesn’t find favor with most folks who’ve practiced non-monogamy long enough to have seen this go badly over and over again.

Anytime hierarchy is brought up in the context of non-monogamy to debate whether or not it’s a good thing for everyone involved, you will inevitably see someone break down the concept of “descriptive hierarchy” vs. “prescriptive hierarchy.” To those unfamiliar with these concepts, they basically boil down to:

  • a prescribed ranking of relationships (i.e. there is a primary/most important one, and all others will be considered lesser in whatever ways the primary couple has deemed works for them) 
  • and a descriptive one in which a relationship appears primary when there is actually just a lot of enmeshment, investment, and shared responsibilities, etc.

Unfortunately, descriptive hierarchy is often prescriptive hierarchy in disguise, but you can recognize it (in yourself, and others) when it asserts the following:

  • I am married to this person, (or I was here first), so I should have some say in what they do with other people because it affects me to a greater degree
  • I share children with this person, so I should have some say in what they do with other people to ensure that our children are prioritized
  • I cohabit with this person, so I should have some say in what they do with other people because I live here and it’s my house, too

I mean, I get it. But, I also know it’s possible to do these things with adults I’m not in a romantic/sexual relationship with, and I do not need my romantic/sexual relationship elevated above all others in order to ensure the mutual obligations we have in those areas are met. Instead, I trust my fellow adults to fulfill their obligations just like I plan to, regardless of any other aspect of our relationship.

To prescriptively rank a co-parenting relationship higher than others is disingenuous in that it’s the relationship with one’s children that’s the priority in that context, not the partnership of the parents. People co-parent with former partners all the time, therefore it behooves us to see parenting as a responsibility completely separate from our romantic/sexual relationships. Of course there should be agreements regarding mutual child-rearing obligations, family time, and a litany of other things . . . but there is nothing about co-parenting that requires your co-parent to be ranked above your other partners or granted special controls or powers that affect them. After all, if having younger children together is what elevates a relationship, what happens when they grow up and move out? Is that when all relationships will be allowed equanimity? 

Living together is a big deal, but platonic roommates don’t elevate their roommate relationship above all others simply because they cohabit. If you’re a non-monogamous person who lives with one (or more) of your partners, you could consider them an autonomous roommate during times you’re not scheduled to be with them. For me, this means being able to come and go as I please or have others over so long as I respect existing cohabitation agreements, such as letting housemates know when I’ll have a guest over and ensuring that I clean up after them.

Marriage is often elevated above all other relationships by default. This is supported by the society I live in and it’s not difficult to see that approach making a lot of sense . . . after all, most folks enter into marriage believing they will become and remain the most important person to this other person, forever and ever, until they die. Welp, that’s nice and all, but it’s also the monogamous marriage script. The non-monogamous marriage script doesn’t have to read like that, and perhaps it makes more sense for it not to, considering non-monogamy already rejects a prime tenet of traditional marriage by definition. But we have to write it as we go.

Okay, but how?

I’m so glad to pretend you asked!!

Here are some tips for surviving in a relationship model that honors the autonomy of each individual:

Calendars, planning, and schedules:

When you share responsibilities for things like household maintenance, childcare, or various other projects that require mutual investment, the importance of having a plan to meet those obligations cannot be overstated. A best practice in my life is negotiating what each party is responsible for, and then discussing how those obligations will be met in a way that works for each individual. 

I’m the kind of person who likes to clean my home independent of direction and free from the obligation to manage others. Simply put, I want the adults I cohabit with to do what needs to be done without needing to be asked. I also do not want to be directed in that area; if someone wants something clean that I have not cleaned, surely they are capable. I do not need or want others to clean while I am cleaning. I want folks to clean when it works best for them. I harbor no resentment for anyone who naps while I vacuum, but I want the same in return. There is a clear separation in my household between relationships and chores; one has nothing to do with the other.

When my children were younger, I co-parented with my spouse for a time, and then I co-parented with my former spouse. During our marriage and cohabitation, we had a defined schedule for parental responsibilities and scheduled family time when we could both be present. Outside of that, we had independent careers and social lives. Our children reaped the benefits of dedicated one-on-one time as well as family time, and we kept our co-parenting obligation separate from our romantic partnership which was fed by intentional time together with things like date nights and time away. After our marriage ended, co-parenting continued and the other things did not.

In the nesting relationship I currently enjoy, we have scheduled date nights once a week and some time every other weekend. We had a similar schedule as a non-nesting couple and agreed it was a good idea to retain it when we opted to share a living space. In many ways we are emotionally close roommates whose time is our own to do with as we please. There is no expectation of occupying each other’s free time simply because we both happen to be home. Living together doesn’t mean we have dibs on each other’s time.

Intentional autonomy as a guiding principle:

Recently, my live-in partner traveled out of town for a week and we postponed our regular date night until two days after his return because he had an appointment to keep. When he cancelled that appointment to schedule a date with someone else, I felt slighted because I had wanted that time with him if he was available. After sucking-it-up, I decided to go out and have a good time that evening as well. The day before his return, he said he expected to be home on the earlier side after his date and was looking forward to spending that time with me. I was taken aback by his assumption that I would be available! In the end, we both had to admit our assumptions crept into areas we try very hard to work against. Shit happens.

In that scenario, my inclination was to assume priority since we would already be missing each other and his was to assume my immediate availability once he was done with his evening plans. What we were able to remind ourselves of is that if we want to see each other, we need to ask for that time and agree to spend it together. The minor uncomfortable feelings associated with that reminder faded away when it became evident we really both wanted the same thing: to reconnect after several days apart. 

Rejecting the “default partner” narrative is difficult but empowering in the long term. You may spend the majority of your time with one partner due to enmeshment, shared responsibilities, or any number of valid reasons, but it doesn’t have to mean that person comes first in all other ways. 

  • Ask your partners to be honest with you about whether or not they feel ranked
  • Make an effort to unpack any latent desire you might have to be seen or considered “primary” 
  • Compartmentalize your adult responsibilities away from your adult relationships

When you view your partners, and yourself, as autonomous individuals who exist in proximity to each other but aren’t defined by it, you’re rewarded with relationships based on secure connections between adults. I find that infinitely preferable to ones filled with assumptions, unmet expectations, and resentments—all of which hierarchy (of any kind) is a fertile breeding ground for.


***Footnote: one of the originators of the term “descriptive hierarchy” has, themselves, come out against it. You can read their personal essay on the topic here: I Apologize To The Entire Poly Community For This One

Photo by Lidya Nada on Unsplash

Guest Blog: Finite Resources in Relationships

Love is abundant and not a zero sum game. That is, loving others will never reduce what’s available for others. We experience this all the time with friends, children, siblings, etc. It truly is an infinite resource. 

But while love is an infinite resource, our lives are full of others that are. Regardless of your relationship structure, you’re going to have to decide how to allocate them in a way that works for you and those you care about. Time, money and energy are three of the most common ones people struggle with.

Society tells us that once you find “The One,” your resources should largely go to them. Different people have different needs. For instance, I put the extra in extravert and enjoy giving my time freely to others; by contrast, an introvert may want to devote more time to themselves, or a parent to their children. The dominant narrative would have us sacrificing things that enrich our lives in order to allocate these resources to a romantic partner as a demonstration of our love. But love shouldn’t require you to suffer. Healthy relationships lead you to feel fulfilled, not stifled.

Divvying up finite resources can be a challenge. Obviously, multiple non-platonic relationships present unique challenges. It’s natural to want to commit much of your time, energy, and/or money to each of them. Sometimes this division will come easily, other times it may stretch you so thin that you snap. Ask me how I know!

Time is the resource I struggle with the most. When I have people in my life I enjoy giving time to, I do so without stopping to think if I should or even can. Spending time with people literally fills my cup but I need me time now and then. I used to book myself solid months in advance, but would grow frustrated at the complete lack of time and flexibility for me. Since the pandemic forced me into a more relaxed social schedule, I’ve discovered a newfound appreciation for time spent playing narrative-rich video games, doing side projects for work, riding my motorcycles, catching up on miscellaneous household projects, and much more. I’d let much of that slip over the years and the pandemic actually helped me realize that. As restrictions have loosened, I’ve done a solid job of keeping my schedule a touch lighter.

At one point in my life, hardly a day went by when I didn’t spend most of it with at least one of my two very enmeshed partners. While I loved my time with them, I resisted carving out time for myself because I felt obligated (personal and social pressure) to give them whatever I had to give. Change doesn’t happen overnight, but eventually with their encouragement and my recognition of my own struggles with codependency, I grew more comfortable doing just that.

Money is another finite resource that can get tricky. Some people have none while others have more than they could spend in one hundred lifetimes. Like many of you, I had a partner with whom I shared finances and assets. As we developed other relationships the need to have our finances separate grew. We found a method that worked well for us: a monthly allowance from our pooled funds combined with anything above and beyond that coming from our individual accounts. Eventually we separated our finances completely. Whether you’re working on de-tangling finances after decades or discussing who pays for dinner on a first date, a direct conversation with your partner is always a best practice.

Energy is perhaps the most difficult resource of all. In a world that idolizes self-sufficiency at all costs, we often find ourselves running low. The more enmeshed relationships you have in your life, the more energy you’re prone to spending. People have a tendency to put so much of themselves into relationships where they don’t get much back largely because of the romanticization of self-sacrifice in relationships. We can’t pour from an empty cup; make sure that you’re replenishing yours in ways that work for you. For instance, I find it important to find relationships that have a relatively even exchange. I’m a giver by nature. And if a new relationship doesn’t give back at a level that feels good to me? I’m going to modify my effort to a level that feels more equitable. It doesn’t need to be the same level, just one that feels more equitable to me.

Personal agency is paramount in finding a good balance to your finite resource allocation and there isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer. Having a solid grasp on your wants and needs as well as the courage to advocate for yourself is also important. Understand that they can and likely will change over time. Trust your partners to handle changes in your wants and needs like adults. Whether you’re talking about time, money, or energy, budgeting is in your best interest . . . we all have a finite amount of each.

Since mid 2016, Adam (he/him) has been an educator and presenter in the ENM community. He realized he was polyamorous in high school and has practiced various forms of non-monogamy ever since. With a primary goal of normalizing a variety of relationship structures, he shows up as his authentic self: an egalitarian polyamorist who practices relationship anarchy.

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

Your Doctor Needs To Know

In 2016, when I was 40 freaking years old and a divorced mother of three, I had a doctor tell me I should not consent to having barrier-free sex with anyone who didn’t have to pay to get rid of me [cringe]. She said this to me as we were wrapping up my annual exam and my semiannual STI panel, during which I’d mentioned having made the decision to stop using barriers with a sexual partner of mine. I spent about five seconds in a state of speechlessness and then asked her if she was open to some feedback on that opinion. She indicated she was, which was fortunate, because she was going to hear what I had to say regardless of her willingness.

I reminded my doctor that this particular partner already had someone he’d have to pay to get rid of, (this means “married to” in case you’re not following), and that I didn’t think I’d ever be in that position again with anyone. I told her that I saw her bit of unsolicited advice as incredibly mononormative and as such, it didn’t apply to me. Additionally, I wasn’t simply consenting to this: I wanted it. Oh wonder of wonders . . . it’s not always some guy pressuring some gal into ditching condoms *eye roll.* I went on to inform her I intended to continue to decide whether or not to use barriers with folks based on my comfort level with their sexual practices and that I may do so with more than one person at a time.

I wanted the ability to be transparent about that with her so I could receive the best medical care for my situation.

To her credit, she was quick to reconsider what she’d said and apologize. She also thanked me for calling her out on it. Her acceptance of my assertions and validation of my concerns meant I retained her as my primary care physician for as long as she practiced at my clinic. Had she not, I would have found someone else to provide my medical care.

After all, doctors are service providers, and if I don’t like how they treat me I will find someone who is a better fit.

When I started seeing a therapist a couple years ago, I told him I was non-monogamous, queer, and identified as non-binary in terms of gender. I also told him I needed a therapist who was not only tolerant of those things, but supportive and encouraging. I didn’t see a productive future in therapy with anyone I’d have to talk into accepting me. He, too, thanked me for that direct assertion. This was important to me because it empowered me to hold him accountable for anything that did not feel supportive in that regard. Therapists, too, are service providers.

In the greater non-monogamous community, I witness a lot of fear around being “out” in society. Some of this is a fear of rejection by family, friends, or social communities. Others risk losing their children in adversarial custody battles, or their jobs under morality clauses. But I see this fear leading to remaining closeted with medical providers, and that means folks aren’t receiving the best care for their lifestyles.

It’s important to remember your doctor cannot report any details of your care to your employer or ex-spouse, they can’t gossip about you around town, and it’s in your best interest to be completely honest with them about all aspects of your life.

I recently read a post from a woman who asked her primary care doctor several times about birth control options after her IUD was removed. Her doctor dismissed the questions because her husband had had a vasectomy! It was that post that inspired me to write this blog. Non-monogamous folks sometimes resist being transparent even in safe spaces because the judgement of mononormative folks can feel so very defeating. But I’ve got news for you about your board certified care providers: they aren’t better than you just because they have a certain degree. Nothing about their certifications qualify them to levy moral judgement against you and let it affect their treatment of you. They probably have more education in certain areas, sure . . . but you’re the expert on you. 

You wouldn’t take your car in for routine maintenance but withhold that it’s been making a funny sound when you get over 50mph. You wouldn’t hire a nanny to watch your children and keep it a secret that one of them is allergic to bees. You can’t expect anyone to provide services to the best of their ability when they’re missing pertinent information.

A good doctor will listen to you when you tell them about you, and then they’ll treat you based on the information you give them without shame of any kind. But remember: in the absence of information, all they have are assumptions, so you need to do your part and be forthcoming. 

So how do you go about moving from a fear of stigma to advocating for yourself with medical professionals?

  • Interview your medical professionals prior to enlisting their services; this could be a phone call, an email, or a quick chat before your exam. I like to keep my clothes on with new doctors until we’ve had a chance to meet fully clothed; I don’t find meeting new people in a paper gown to be a best practice. I have yet to meet a doctor who did not respect me for this practice.
  • Familiarize yourself with privacy laws in your country, (HIPAA in the US, PIPEDA in Canada, etc.). In the US, I haven’t been able to legally access the medical records of my children since they reached the age of 12, and that is exactly as it should be. 
  • Develop a sense of entitlement when it comes to the quality of your care. You are a consumer whose money is just as valuable whether it comes from an employer funded health insurance company or a government funded one. Your socioeconomic status does not mean you deserve substandard care or consideration of your situation. 
  • If necessary, fake it ‘til you make it. There is no greater boost to confidence than a positive lived experience. If you cannot summon a feeling of entitlement to good medical care, act like you do and see what happens.

Your medical staff rely on your trust in them to provide you with the best possible care – if they betray that trust, they deserve to hear about it from you. It might feel intimidating to bring something to their attention that made you feel invalidated, unsafe, or not listened to, but a good provider will be grateful for the education and correct course.

And if your doctor (or therapist, or nurse, or anyone in your chain of medical care) intentionally attempts to make you feel bad for sharing pertinent information with them? Get mad about it! Report them to whatever board is responsible for overseeing their license and find someone else to take care of you, because you’re worth that.

Look, the thing I want you to most take away from this blog is this: you deserve the best possible care for your life. You’re also the only one who can seek out the right people for the job . . . so that means you’re in charge. You are. So act like it. 

**Caveat: this blog is written from the perspective of a US citizen and some of the information is specific to that locale. 

Photo by Hush Naidoo on Unsplash

Looking Out for Newcomers to Ethical Non-Monogamy

Once upon a time I was bounced from a polyamory-focused group on social media for insisting that their tolerance of certain behaviors in the group created a safe space for abusers. Specifically, allowing couples seeking to add a “third” to their existing relationship to do so unchallenged. For folks who’ve been in the non-monogamous community for a period of time, these couples are known as Unicorn Hunters, but to the vast majority of newbies, they’re harmless pie-eyed triad seekers who are being unfairly tried for crimes they have not yet committed.

Look . . . I’m not going to make this post about Unicorn Hunters. There are far more succinct write-ups already out there that my blathering couldn’t compare to. But I am going to address the defense I see most often hurled in the direction of those who seek to mitigate the potential damage caused by others in the community: There is no one right way to be non-monogamous.

They’re not wrong.

There is no one right way.

But there are plenty of wrong ways!

In the interest of community betterment and protection, I am compelled to advocate for vulnerable newbies of all ages who, coming from a mononormative society, are prone to accepting less than they deserve in order to explore this brand-new-to-them world. This inclination makes them a popular target for those who would benefit most from their naivete. And in many cases, those predators aren’t even aware they’re being predatory because they, themselves, are new to all of this and if everyone agrees, it must be okay! 

*heavy sigh*

So on to this “as long as everyone consents to this situation, it’s okay!” nonsense. We do such an excellent job of cementing the idea of consent as a non-negotiable component of ethical that we often neglect the fact that folks consent to horrible situations all the time through no fault of their own. Without a roadmap, many of us have found ourselves impaired by feelings of scarcity and agreeing to conditions we otherwise would not. When we’re talking about relationships in which folks risk their emotional, physical, and sometimes financial well-being, the stakes are much higher.

When I was a 21-year-old independent operator, I partnered with folks who kept me a secret from others in their life. I didn’t like it. I felt unimportant and a little ashamed. But I agreed to it because the cost of not doing so was not being in those relationships. More than half a lifetime later, I can look back and see that for what it was: a scarcity mindset. These days I am not inclined to accept less than I need and want in relationships because I see the abundance available to me if I don’t waste my energy on being miserable in a state of scarcity. That’s a lot of words to say “I grew up,” but it has far less to do with my age than my experience at this point. I’ve been around long enough to know a bad deal when I’m offered one; that is not the case for most newcomers.

So to all of you who are new to all of this: trust your gut. If it feels wrong, it probably is. If it hurts to be treated a certain way, you don’t have to put up with it. If you do not feel respected, you probably aren’t. If you feel like you’re being used, you probably are. Don’t keep your experiences to yourself! 

There is no one right way to do this . . . but there are a lot of wrong ways that flourish in the shadows. Sharing your journey lets some light in. Let your community know what’s going on and listen to them when they tell you about how they experienced the same things. They’re there to help you, and they want to, I promise.

Photo by Ash from Modern Afflatus on Unsplash

Guest Blog: Great Sexpectations

Many assume non-monogamy is all about the sex. So much so, non-mono folks often avoid bringing it up as an aspect of relationships. But guess what? You should talk about sex!

This isn’t going to be a clinic on how to have safer sex because: 

1) I am not a sexual health professional

2) Everyone’s risk profiles are different

My main goal here is to help you foster autonomy and agency with some tips and tricks I’ve found useful. Ask yourself these questions to get a solid grasp on what your risk profile is:

  • Do you have specific concerns around contracting or transmitting certain STIs? 
  • Do you have a comprehensive understanding of STIs, their risks to you, and access to testing/treatment?
  • What are possible gaps in your knowledge with regard to sexual health?
  • Is pregnancy a concern? 
  • Do you have mental, physical, and/or emotional concerns?

Next up, you need to find a partner(s) who is interested in sexual activity with you. This is on you. Good luck!

After you have your profile/risk matrix figured out and a willing participant, it’s time to talk about sex. Everyone does this differently. HOWEVER, and I cannot stress this enough, EVERYONE needs to have some sort of conversation about sexual health with those they want to have sexy times with. I don’t care if it’s an old fuck buddy you’re revisiting after some time, a one night stand, or the first time in a long running relationship: TALK. And you know what? If you or your partner only want to say “I do what I want and that’s all you need to know?” Cool. At least the other person can consent (or not) to that level of information and plan accordingly.

Many often talk about “best practices” when it comes to safer sex. Having this conversation is a “best practice” as it helps cover so many bases. While not all encompassing, here is a list of things people might consider sharing with potential partners as well as asking of them:

The frequency with which you tend to add new sexual partners

Find that balance between too specific and exaggeration. Specifically vague, if you will. For instance, I share that I may add up to [X] sexual partners in a year. Most years are less, but I’ve also had a year with [Y]. If I deviate a lot from my norm on a regular basis, that is a change I update my partners on. 

How quickly you are likely to become sexual with a new interest

Are you a fan of one night stands? Are you demisexual and tend to take awhile? I share that my norm is getting to know someone for a few weeks first, but I am not opposed to something happening right away. 

What you consider to be sex

Do you only consider genital to genital penetration to be sex? Unpack that. Sex comes in many forms (heh heh) so you should consider including things such as oral, anal, manual stimulation of genitals, etc.

How frequently you screen for STIs

The CDC recommends sexually active people get tested at least once a year. Personally, I get tested twice a year plus as necessary should an exposure present itself. A friendly reminder: testing by proxy is NOT effective.

What you test for

Don’t say “everything” because essentially no one is tested for everything. Penises can’t currently be tested for HPV. HSV strains are more prevalent than most realize and most doctors won’t test without symptoms . . . and so on. 

What your general attitude towards STIs are 

This can really vary. Some people are very accepting of risks since most STIs are easily curable while others may struggle with any exposure. This is good information to know about the person you’re having sex with.

Any past or current positive test results

Catch something 20 years ago that was cured and has no lingering impact? Not necessary to bring up. (But maybe you can bring it up to gauge how accepting someone is of folks having had an STI.) Last test was reactive to something, you treated it, but haven’t had a non-reactive test to confirm? Share that. FYI, terms like “clean” and “dirty” have fallen out of favor due to their problematic nature. Having what’s essentially a crotch cold doesn’t make one dirty. Please consider using positive/negative or reactive/non-reactive.

How you’re managing any current STIs

Have something like HSV-2 or HIV? Share how you are addressing it and what that means. There have been some amazing advancements in treatments. I learned in just the last couple of years that HIV can now become undetectable with proper treatment which means it can’t be transmitted sexually.

What your barrier (condoms, dams, gloves, etc) use looks like

Do you use condoms? Dams? Gloves? Only for penetration or oral as well? For all sexual contact? I’ve met a lot of people who aren’t aware that STIs and pregnancy can occur with just pre-cum. If you’re someone who goes completely barrier free with others, it’s good to share your approach with this, such as if you only do that with one person or are open to it with multiple people and how you make that decision. 

Keep in mind while having this conversation, your other partners’ private information, (such as their STI status or who they have sex with), is NOT yours to share without their consent.

It would benefit all involved if you had these conversations prior to someone new catching your attention.

There are a number of reasons I prefer a more comprehensive conversation when it comes to safer sex and the practices of folks I have sex with. More than anything, it helps me preserve my autonomy and doesn’t infringe on the agency of others to give myself an illusion of safety; boundaries vs rules, if you will. It lays out my risk profile, gathers information about theirs, and allows each of us to decide if and how to move forward. 

Another thing I find valuable about sharing a complete version of my risk matrixes and decision making processes is that it removes the need for a “heads up” any time a new sexual partner is added because we know how each other operates. Any deviation from it would be shareable, of course. But in the absence of those changes, we have all the information we need. Feeling entitled to more is a super common expectation of non-monogamous people, particularly those new to it. If your partner is non-monogamous and enjoys sex, assume they’re going to be having sex with other people. Do the work beforehand. 

Following these steps will help you form a more complete approach to sexual health. It sets well-informed expectations for yourself and potential partners, facilitates productive communication, fosters personal agency and informed consent. It peels away the ownership and entitlement many feel toward the private information of others.

For a more complete understanding of your sexual health, I recommend seeking guidance from a local clinic that specializes in the sexual and reproductive health realm (e.g. Planned Parenthood) or sites like Scarleteen. Yes, that site is geared toward teens. However, most of our readers are from the US and our sexual education here is generally hot garbage. You can and should also speak with your primary care physician, but I highly recommend including the others as I’ve experienced and heard about too many problematic PCPs.

Since mid 2016, Adam (he/him) has been an educator and presenter in the ENM community. He realized he was polyamorous in high school and has practiced various forms of non-monogamy ever since. With a primary goal of normalizing a variety of relationship structures, he shows up as his authentic self: an egalitarian polyamorist who practices relationship anarchy.

Header Photo by Christin Hume on Unsplash; bio photo by Rusty