When people think about non-monogamy a whole bunch of things tend to come up. Some people think it’s cheating. Some people think it’s polyamory or polygamy (non-monogamy is the umbrella term, both polyamory and polygamy fall under it but more on that later).
But here is what it actually means:
Consensual non-monogamy: A relationship style in which all individuals within the relationship agree to not being monogamous. All individuals involved in the relationship are aware that it is not a monogamous relationship.
Now that we have that sorted, let’s also outline some general terms within the ENM (ethical non-monogamy) space.
Polycule: A polycule is a network of people in non-monogamous relationships.
Polyamory (or poly): The practice of having sexual or romantic relationships with more than one partner, with the consent of everyone involved. Most folx confuse this with non-monogamy which is the umbrella term for all these vibes.
Swinging: The idea here is that you engage in sexual activities with other folx without the long-term commitment and relationshipping. Note: there is a whole world to swinging, with parties, comedy nights and Whatsapp groups. Issa whole community.
Polyfidelity: This is the term used to talk about a closed set of relationships, whether a triad, a quad or more (which we explain later in this post). You are sexually exclusive with the people in the relationship system or polycule, a.k.a. that’s your sexual and emotional squad.
Primary Relationships and Secondary Relationships: Some people like to plan their love lives and relationships with a central (primary) relationship and one that is less central (secondary). Others find these distinctions insulting and may not like the hierarchy because it makes the people involved in the secondary relationship feel “less than”. In a situation with a primary/secondary relationship, a person has one or more primary relationships, which is a close, interconnected relationship e.g. a spouse. They may then have one or more secondary relationships, which are romantic relationships that typically have fewer expectations when it comes to stuff like life partnerships, financial entanglement, emotional intimacy, or some combination of these things.
Relationship Anarchy: A way of approaching relationships that rejects any rules and expectations other than the ones the people involved agree on.
Compersion: The positive emotion and feeling people have when they see their partner/s involved with another person and finding joy through it (a.k.a opposite jealousy). When you see your loves winning at love.
Sexually Monogamous Polyamory:Some folx may have a person they are married to or live with, and also have someone else that they are in love with and/or have a deep erotic attraction to but do not have sex with. In this setup everyone involved is fully on board with the arrangement (as you have to be with ENM). So to recap, in this vibe folx are are sexually monogamous but emotionally polyamorous.
Open Marriage/Relationship: This is the classic example that you see everywhere. It’s what most people think about when they think “open relationship”. This is kind ofan umbrella term that encompasses many different arrangements and agreements. Typically, it means that there is some flexibility in the marriage to explore sexual encounters and/or relationships with others. But this is a “build your own relationship” type vibe and each open marriage/relationship can look vastly different from one open marriage/relationship to the next. Some open marriages lean toward poly with deeper ties to lovers, others lean toward swinging with more fleeting sexual encounters.
Now let’s skip on over to the different types of dynamics you can have in ENM.
1. Vee: A vee relationship involves one person who is dating two people who are not romantically or sexually involved with each other. For example: Thandi is dating Amanda and Mbali, but Amanda and Mbali are not dating each other. So if you drew a line from Thandi to Amanda to Mbali, it’d form a “V” shape.
2. Triad: A triad, or throuple, is a relationship between three partners who are all romantically or sexually involved with each other. In this vibe, If you drew a line between Thandi to Amanda to Mbali, it’d be a triangle, since now they’re all connected.
3. Quad: A quad is a relationship between four partners who are romantically or sexually connected with each other. This could be two primary couples connecting or adding another partner to a triad. Or it could be four people who like each others’ flavour. Quad setups vary.
4. Hierarchical Polyamory: A hierarchical polyamorous relationship gives more importance to one relationship over other relationships in the polycule. Usually there is a primary partner who is the person that folx are married to, share finances or their overall lives with. Primary partners will prioritise each other when making decisions and commitments.
5. Non-hierarchical Polyamory: This is where all partners are equal and there is no one who is ‘above’ anyone else. No one is prioritised over any of the other members of the relationship/polycule. While each person’s relationship with another will still be unique, none are centred over the others. Everyone in the relationship works together to make big decisions and it’s one big happy community.
6. Solo Polyamory: When you outchea inna di streets by yo’self. In solo polyamory (or sopo), you’re your own primary partner. A solo polyamorist prioritises their own needs and isn’t obligated to their partners when making decisions. Folx do this because they may want to be a free agent for life, or they may be prioritising themselves during a time when it’s difficult to prioritise relationships, such as raising children or focusing on their career. Or they’re just not about that collective life.
7. Kitchen Table Polyamory: Kitchen table polyamory is all about the fam bam and focuses on the family aspect of the polycule. All members get together for family gatherings and provide communal support. Christmas? Easter? Birthdays? Sunday lunch? Birth of a child? Let’s do a group thing. In this, everyone may not be sexually or romantically vibing with each other, but they are all comfortable to hang out and support each other. It’s all about community love with this type of polyamory.
8. Parallel Polyamory: Unlike kitchen table polyamory, parallel polyamory is when the members aren’t interested in being emotionally involved with other polycule members outside of their own partner(s). Everyone simply stays in their lane and does their own thing.
9. Mono-poly Relationships: This is a mix and match situation where one partner identifies as polyamorous and the other identifies as monogamous. The polyamorous partner is interested in other relationships outside of the primary partnership, but the monogamous person isn’t. The monogamous partner may just not be interested in other partners, have a mismatch in libido, or not have the time or energy for other partners.
Note: there are quite a few couples like this and some couples may come in and out of this type of polycule.
Now that you know about the different types of polyamory, if you’re interested in it you can find the one that suits you best. Go forth and maybe multiply your relationships.