Ethical Non Monogamy: How And Why Non-Monogamous Relationships Work

Updated December 22, 2022by ReGain Editorial Team

Many of us in the United States grew up in a culture that reflected serial monogamy. It was presented as, possibly, the only option when it came to love and sex. Perhaps, you grew up in a family that valued marriage, and the expectation placed on you was that you would grow up, find one partner, and be in a long term monogamous married partnership with them. But what if that’s not what you want? There are many reasons that a person might identify with non-monogamy. You and the person or people you’re connected to might value variety in love and sex, or you may be drawn to multiple people instead of only one. You might also identify with non-monogamy because it’s only true that different people can provide different things. For example, an asexual partner may not want to have sex, and another partner might fill that need. The same could be true for a number of other physical or emotional needs and desires. Sometimes, it’s about openness to new experiences as a general concept; you might meet someone and decide to be in an open relationship from the start so that there’s a base for the conversation to happen on if either or both of you should choose to get another person involved, or you might just know that you want to explore your sexuality. The common theme in all these scenarios is that they must be ethical to work.

What Is Defined As An Ethical Non-Monogamy?

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Ethical non-monogamy is when a relationship involves more than two people with consent from all parties involved. The Merriam-Webster definition of “monogamy” is “the state or practice of having only one sexual partner at a time,” “the state or custom of being married to only one person at a time,” or, as it relates to zoology, “the condition or practice of having a single mate during a period of time.” If you are non-monogamous, you may have more than one partner. The ethical component of ethical non-monogamy relates to the following:

Everyone in the partnership agrees to and is comfortable with its terms.

Everyone in the partnership has a full, consistent understanding of what is considered cheating and what is not considered cheating within the relationship.

Everyone in the partnership treats one another with respect.

There is ongoing communication in the relationship that allows the above to be true.

In an ethical non-monogamous relationship, a person won’t be pushed, pulled, or bullied into bending their open marriage rules.  They will feel loved and respected, and the entirety of the relationship will be consensual and agreed on by all of the people involved.

Different Types Of Ethical Non-Monogamy

There are terms that describe specific types of non-monogamous relationships. Here are some terms you might come across when learning about non-monogamy and what they mean.


The dictionary definition of polyamory is “the practice of engaging in multiple sexual relationships with the consent of all the people involved.” It refers to having a consensual romantic relationship with multiple partners or the desire to do so.


Polygamy refers to having more than one husband or wife in a relationship. It differs from polyamory because polygamy refers to marriage specifically.

Open Relationship

An open relationship refers to an existing relationship that is open to the inclusion of people outside of the primary partnership. It differs from polyamory in the sense that when people use the term “open relationship,” they are generally referring to a primary relationship of two people that is open to including additional individuals, whereas polyamory includes multiple partners without two being considered the primary person of the relationship.

Swinging Or Swingers

Swinging refers to the practice of switching partners with another couple in a consensual manner. People who identify as a swinger sometimes engages in group sex or sex that includes multiple sexual partners at once.

You might also come across people who haven’t been in a non-monogamous relationship but are interested in it or are new to opening up their relationship. These people may consider themselves “Monogamish” or “open to non-monogamy.”

What Should I Do If The People Around Me Don’t Understand Non-Monogamy?

Sometimes, the people around you won’t understand you or your choices. That relates to your romantic life, your career, and, really, any other choices that you make. If you are new to non-monogamy, your views on it may be blurred by the things that you’ve heard from those surrounding you who don’t support it or understand what it means to be non-monogamous. Studies show that views surrounding non-monogamy are changing in the younger generations, millennials, in particular, are more open to it. If the people around you that are outside of your relationship don’t understand it, the best thing that you can do is try to explain. If someone remains critical of you, set boundaries, and explain that you are happy in your relationship. If you’re happy, safe, and loved in your relationship, that’s all that anyone can really ask for in terms of romance. Remember that your opinion on your life matters more than anyone else’s and that it’s up to you to embrace what makes you happy.

Can You Cheat In Non-Monogamous Relationships

You can absolutely cheat in non-monogamous relationships. Being faithful may look different than a monogamous relationship, but it is still a vital part of a non-monogamous relationship. Remember, the person or people you’re with need to be in the loop and must feel loved and respected. Non-monogamous relationships do not mean that you can do whatever you want with anyone or that you can be unfaithful without consequences. They aren’t any less serious than monogamous relationships, nor are the terms that you and your partner agree on surrounding the topic of what is considered cheating. If you stray outside of the terms you and your partner or partners agreed on; you are cheating. For example, if you agreed that you would always tell your partner or partners when you sleep with someone else, but you go behind their back and sleep with someone else without telling them about it, that is cheating.

Who Is Ethical Non-Monogamy Right For?

Ethical non-monogamy is right for someone who desires it, has the communication skills to make it work, and feels free in letting go of things like jealousy. Should jealousy arise, it impedes monogamous and non-monogamous relationships. Often, part of what is so beautiful about non-monogamy is that it does release the jealousy component. If you identify more with monogamy and feel jealous if multiple people were involved in a relationship, non-monogamy of any kind likely isn’t right. Communication is the key in any relationship, but in ethically non-monogamous relationships, it is particularly critical. We can always improve our communication skills further, and we will never be perfect in that regard. Still, the more that you work on effective communication, the better your relationship will be. That’s true whether you’re in a monogamous or non-monogamous relationship. If you are having trouble communicating with your partner or putting it on the table, therapy can be a great place to get some support in guidance that’ll aid you in the process. Both polyamorous couples counseling and individual counseling can help you problem solve and develop new skills. Whether you see a counselor or therapist online or in person, counseling can help you thrive in your relationships.

How To Find A Non-Monogamous Relationship

If you’re single and are interested in a relationship of any kind, you’re probably on the dating scene. The key here is to be open about what you’re looking for from the beginning. Some people identify as “serial monogamists” and won’t be interested in the potential of a non-monogamous relationship of any kind. If you’re open about what you want, it’s far more possible to meet like-minded people and weed out those who don’t want the same thing. Alternatively, you could be in a relationship already, and non-monogamy might be something that you want to bring up to your partner. This is where open communication, again, is vital. Your partner should feel that they’re able to say no, and you should be able to state your thoughts as well. If you find out that you’re both interested in a non-monogamous partnership, that’s great! It’s time to work on the communication piece and state your personal needs as individuals.

Online Counseling

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Online counseling is an excellent place to work through any obstacles in your relationships.  Whether you choose to see a mental health provider individually or with a partner, the online counselors at ReGain are here to help. Search the network of mental health professionals at ReGain and find the perfect fit today.


National Survey Reveals Generational Differences in Consensual Non-monogamy

APA Dictionary

Dictionary by Merriam-Webster: America’s most-trusted online dictionary

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