Updated: Apr 21, 2021
Part two of our multi-part "Non-Exhaustive Guide to Relationship Structures" with a Zine on familiarizing ourselves with ethical non-monogamous relationships!
To begin there are a few things to clear up before we dive into definitions. Firstly, I want to make clear that there is nothing wrong with monogamy! Monogamy is one of many relationship structures individuals, or partners can choose to engage with and explore at any point in their relationship with the proper communication and informed consent. Monogamy only becomes an issue when it is the only option for socially legitimate relationships. As explained in our last post much like gender and sexuality, relationship structures have been constructed by centuries of white, hetero-patriarchal power structures. These power structures created definitions of things like “sex” “gender” and “relationships” which uphold dominant structures of heterosexism and have manifested in toxic monogamy. Toxic monogamy is the idea that monogamy is the only “right way” to have a relationship (the monogamous way), and any other structures are wrong, less legitimate, or less “real” than monogamous ones. This is not true, however, given that monogamy is the dominant relationship structure we are shown in the western world we do not learn that there are other options for positive, healthy, and pleasurable relationships outside of monogamy. Long story short, to understand non-monogamy, we need a guiding reference point. Lucky for us, sex-positive sexuality and relationships educators are here to save the day and teach you about the possibilities of alternative ethical relationship structures!
In the rest of this post, we will begin to explore nonmonogamy. This exploration will be non-exhaustive. I will define terms as I have grown to understand them through research, educational experiences, and my personal experiences as a polyamorous sexuality educator. As you explore further, you may notice the terms I used are different than those you have heard. This is because terms can differ for different people, different communities, and even different relationships, one partner’s idea of an “open relationship” may not look like another’s, that is why clear relationship expectations and communication are key at any point in a relationship and especially when navigating nonmonogamy.
Speaking of expectations and communication, it’s time to answer the golden question: What are the ingredients of a healthy relationship? The essential ingredients of any relationship structure are:
These are the ingredients necessary for any positive healthy relationship regardless of structure and individual agreements. Structure and agreements are all negotiable whereas trust, communication, consent, and mutual respect are not. Consent is key to all relationship structures and nonmonogamy of any kind is no exception. If there is not consent from all parties at all times in these structures, structures become unethical and people can be unnecessarily hurt. Never assume how your partner(s) feels and when in doubt communicate with all partners about everything and have systems in place for how this communication will occur to ensure mutual respect and trust!
Long story short, to understand non-monogamy, we need a guiding reference point.
Before diving into terms remember that words, labels, and categories differ for all relationships, one couple’s idea of an “open relationship” may not look like another. This is why clear relationship expectations and communication is always key, especially when navigating nonmonogamy!
A Non-Monogamy Glossary- Introductory terms
Relationship structures: Different ways people create, agree to and adapt their romantic and/or sexual relationships. Many structures such as hetero-monogamy are premade by society, whereas others require us to self-define what our relationships are based on what we and our partner(s) need and desire.
Partner: A member of a romantic and/or sexual partnership
Primary Partner: Term related to hierarchical polyamory in which there is one main partner whom one may have a more frequent or entangled relationship with (living together, joint finances, children, etc.)
Secondary partner: Secondary partners may be prioritized within a dynamic differently and there may be a differing level of commitment. Secondary partners are no less valuable or important. The relationship is simply different!
Metamour: A romantic and/or sexual partner of your partner, not someone you are sexually/romantically partnered with.
Terms for Alternative Relationship Structures
Monogamous: Romantically and sexually exclusive relationships, they do not have other sexual or romantic partners other than each other.
Non-Monogamous: Umbrella for relationship structures that are not monogamous. Specifics can look different for every person/relationship agreements and structures
Polyamory: An agreement between partners to have multiple romantic and/or sexual partners if desired with all partners having honest knowledge of other partnerships, boundaries, and agreements.
Hierarchical Polyamory: a polyamory structure where there is usually one “primary” or “anchor” partner and “secondary” partners.
Independent/Solo polyamory: Someone who dates multiple people and does not seek a primary partner
Non-hierarchical polyamory: A non-monogamous relationship structure where there is not a single “anchor” or primary partner.
Polyfidelitous: Partners (three or more) who are in equal relationships with each other and agree to contain sexual and romantic relationships exclusively with members of the group.
A term sometimes used for a polyfidelitous triad (a group of three) is “thruple” (a combination of the word “couple” and “three”)
Open relationship: Partners are not sexually exclusive; the specifics of this agreement depend on each specific relationship agreement. However often these relationships are not considered polyamorous and partners may date or sustain relationships independently of their primary partners.
Relationship anarchy: A relationship structure that is defined by members of those relationships rather than social categories. Usually this style rejects socially ascribed partner and relationship categories such as “friend,” “partner,” and “relationship.”
Polycule: a network of people connected through their polyamorous relationships. Often when referring to their polycule folks are talking about partners and also metamours. A member of your polycule is anyone within your web/network of polyamory.
Quad: four people who all date and/or have sex with each other (often originating as two couples but not always!)
Compersion: The feeling of being happy or excited about a partner’s joyful romantic and/or sexual experiences with others.
Jealousy: A complicated natural emotion (in all relationships) often stemming from needs not being met or insecurities based around inter partner relationships. Communicating your feelings of jealousy in a healthy way can be a great way to get closer with your partners and affirm relationships.
New relationship energy: the happy, “can’t stop thinking about them,” excited, “butterflies in the tummy”, feeling that can happen with a new partner.