Have you ever thought about consensual non-monogamy as an option for yourself and/or your relationship(s)?  When we say consensual “non-monogamy”, what do you know or think of?  What do you feel?  Are their strong feelings for or against?  Have you ever considered what your relationship orientation is in terms of monogamy and non-monogamy?  Have you ever thought about having a CHOICE in whether you identify as monogamous or non-monogamous or some different shades instead of just black or white? Further, can you consider that monogamy/non-monogamy isn’t necessarily a CHOICE but rather an orientation and identity factor of fundamentally who you are?

This blog aims to help explain some basic information on consensual non-monogamy.  Much of this information comes from a recent presentation of the Southwest Sexual Health Alliance where Dr. Elisabeth Sheff and Dr. David Ley presented on “Flexible Relationships: Monogamish to Poly” but also includes a lot of information from my own experience as a sex therapist that has worked with non-monogamous individuals, relationships, and couples for many years.

We will get our conversation started by just discussing some basic terms you may or may not know.  We begin with:

Compulsory monogamy is the cultural construct that presents monogamy as the the assumed path for everyone rather than simply one relationship option. Compulsory monogamy as an ideology tends to hold up the heterosexual, married couple as the ideal.  Compulsory monogamy can be marginalizing for not only the non-monogamous but also for people of different sexual orientations (Kinkly, 2018).

Consensual non-monogamy, also called ethical non-monogamy or responsible non-monogamy, is an umbrella term describing relationships in which all parties choose, with full communication and consent, to have the option of engaging in sexual and/or romantic connections with multiple people. This can mean swinging, multi-person relationships, a “monogamish” open relationship in which two people are still each other’s primary partners, or infinite other variations (Baurer, 2016).

Types of Consensual Non-Monogamy

There are a variety of different types of consensual non-monogamy and many variances within these categories.  I will try to offer just a general overview of each of these types of consensual non-monogamy so we have an idea of what we are talking about and possibly give you some ideas for your own life?

Polygamy– Literally means marriage of multiples.  Polygamy is marriage of multiple spouses.  Polygyny is one husband with multiple wives.  Polyandry is one wife with multiple husbands.

Open– Open relationships tend to be the broadest category and is a broad umbrella category for non-monogamy in relationships.  Open relationships simply implies non-monogamy without much detail.

swinging photoSwinging– Swinging is the most widespread form of CNM.  It is heterosexually focused and used to be called wife swapping and some people call it spouse swapping.  People engage in swinging behavior and “the lifestyle”online, in clubs, at conventions, on cruises, at resorts, and at parties.  Peoples participation in swinging activities can be affected by age, social class, race, and locale and is focused on cis-gender people.  Swinging is usually a dydadic focus (usually two people) and can be sexist (focuses on women participating, and single men often are not allowed unless accompanied by a woman or a couple).  Swinging allows sexual diversity and exploration with no strings from others.   There is not a lot of openness to transgender or queer sexuality in swinging culture and lifestyle.

Polyamory– Polyamory allows/encourages love among more than two people.  Polyamory varies tremendously by relationship, from group sex with others at same time (less common) to independent relationships (more common).  It’s the Double Black Diamond of the consensual non-monogamy community because of the emotional demand that occurs in polyamorous relationships.

  • Polyfidelity is a closed/sexually exclusive relationship among more than two people.
  • Polyaffectivity is the emotional relationship among people who are connected via a polyamourous relationship but do not have a sexual relationship themselves

Monogamish– More common among younger people.  “Monogamish” tends to be a couple who has a connection to each other, and there is flexibility and “wiggle room” in the relationship: sexually, emotionally, or both.  It varies tremendously by relationship, from group sex with others at the same time to independent flings with others when out of town or with an ex. When monogamish, activities are often embedded in social life and is less event-oriented than swinging.

Relationship Anarchy– Relationship anarchy is the rejection of hierarchy in relationship.  There is a refusal to prioritize sexual monogamy over other forms of relationships.  This is highly specific to each person.  Relationship anarchy can be difficult to define.  This often includes refusal to make, apply, or live by rules or norms and instead relationship anarchists guide life by ethics.

Why is cheating or infidelity NOT consensual non-monogamy?

Infidelity, or cheating, or “having an affair” is not the same as consensual non-monogamy.  The key is that with infidelity, there is generally NOT consent between all parties and some times the act of it being illicit, secretive, and not honest is part of the behavior and the pleasure associated with the behavior.  There is also usually an implicit inequality within the power dynamics of the relationship, a hierarchy, in cheating where one person has a lower level of social and relationship power because that person is being “duped” or is not in the “know” about the affair.  Lack of communication and dishonesty are essential components of cheating, affairs, and infidelity.  In consensual non-monogamy, honesty and communication are essential components.

Therapy with Non-Monogamous Clients

Therapy with clients who are non-monogamous looks very similar to therapy with clients who do not identify as non-monogamous and often deal with issues like finances, sex, parenting, logistics, and COMMUNICATION.   While there are tremendous benefits for individuals, relationships, couples, and families in non-monogamous relationships, in therapy, we often don’t see the clients who say “this is great and working SO WELL for us” but rather we see the clients that are distress over their relationships and these issues.  I want to be clear my clients know that the benefits in non-monogamy often outweigh any risks or discomforts and that clients who are non-monogamous live rich and fulfilled and satisfied lives and that it is a lifestyle and an orientation I strongly support.  BUT it does have some unique challenges in therapy which will be the main focus of this blog.

According to Sheff (2018) the most common issues that non-monogamous clients present with in therapy are as follows:

  • Communication
  • Negotiation
  • Time-sharing
  • Types of jealousy
  • Indiviualization
  • Customizability
  • Children, friends, relatives

While non-monogamous couples might have unique presentations of many of these issues, take a look at the list. Does it look much different than issues that most couples struggle with?  Another factor in presentation depends on developmental issues within a non-monogamous relationship.  Often times, I see clients who are struggling with non-monogamy after they have hastily gone into some sort of non-monogamous relationship and it wasn’t going well or had aspects of infidelity or the boundaries weren’t sorted out properly.  Or I’ll see clients that have been in long-term poly- or non-monogamous relationships and new developments around polyaffectivity and emotionality in the relationships have emerged.  I often support relationships as they move through the exciting and pleasurable world of non-monogamy and navigate all the twists and turns this fantastic orientation can provide.  Another way I can support non-monogamous individuals and relationships is by discussing how we might propose the idea of non-monogamy to a partner in a supportive and loving way in efforts to reach our maximum identity integration and minimize feelings of insecurity or fear.

Special Considerations around Communication, Negotiations, and Boundaries

Communication and negotiations are key in consensual non-monogamous relationships and fundamental in healthy relationships.  If your relationship struggles with communication, it is likely a good indicator that your communication skills need work in order to be successful in any relationship, monogamous or non-monogamous.

While there are many popular communication techniques for couples out there to assist with developing good communication skills (IMAGO Couples Dialogue, Gottman Communication, etc.).  One communication technique that is increasingly becoming more popular is Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communication.  Some basic tenets of nonviolent communication include:

  • Emphasis “I” Statements and Self-Responsibilitiy
  • Listening with compassion instead of preparing rebuttal
  • Four Parts
    • Observations: What I observe (see/hear/remember)
    • Feelings: How I feel
    • Needs: What I need or value
    • Requests: What concrete activities I would like

Here is a 3 hour YouTube video that can help provide you with the basic training in Non-Violent Communication and is worth a watch if you are interested in this communication model.

If you want to learn more about nonviolent communication, we suggest seeking out a workshop or training in the method in your area or feel free to reach out to Rhiannon C. Beauregard, MA, LMFT-S, CST, S-PSB using the form below to set up an appointment to learn the model and gain the skills to practice healthier and more productive non-violent communication.

Communication and Consent

Communication is important in order to ESTABLISH CONSENT FOR CONSENSUAL NON-MONOGAMY.  Consent is an ongoing and living agreement and is renegotiable over time or not truly consensual.  Coercion fouls consent and creates future problems or booby traps.  Consensual non-monogamy is often challenging even when all want to do it and if someone has been coerced it will inevitably explode in everyones face.  And while consent is ongoing, it is important that consent is confused with boundary settings or reassurance seeking.  I help couples establish initial consent and rituals for ongoing consent in non-monogamous relationships.

Communication and Boundaries

Communication is important in SETTING BOUNDARIES IN CONSENSUAL NON-MONOGAMY.  When you are setting boundaries, it’s also important to be flexible- are your boundaries more like a brick wall (no flexibility), a wire fence (boundary but lots of porosity), or elastic (flexible).  Boundaries come from the inside and grow outward into the world.  Rules are imposed on others.  It can be challenging to set boundaries in consensual non-monogamous relationships, especially since many non-monogamous relationships report not having a lot of resources or roadmaps on what boundaries to set and how to set them.  There are different types of boundaries: physical, intellectual, emotional, material, time, communication, sexual, relationship, and other boundaries and those boundaries might vary depending on the setting in which you are establishing your boundaries- work, family, friends, romantic partners, and members of the public.  When setting personal boundaries, its important to consider your individual boundaries, not in relationship to a specific relationship or other person, but just in relationship to oneself.  You can only make boundaries for yourself.


Consensual non-monogamy is a rich and beautiful experience for those that identify with some version of this orientation.  If you’d like to learn more and work with me, feel free to fill out the form below and I’ll get in touch with you to start exploring and healing within the context of consensual non-monogamy.