There are so many niche words in nonmonogamy that you’d think we were trying to recruit you into a cult. I’ve tried to compile a list of all the different words associated with different kinds of relationships you’ll see out there, but it’s always a good idea to remember that even when you are using labels like hierarchy or parallel polyamory to identify how you tend to participate in your relationships, there’s still a lot of nuance even within each category. Labels should be the start of the conversation when discussing your relationship style, not the end. Stay curious and ask a lot of questions of both yourself and the people you date. Enjoy!
This list is in alphabetical order, not order of importance of the term.
Anchor partner is a term commonly used in nonmonogamous relationships to refer, in a nonhierarchical way, to a person who serves as a primary partner or a central point of stability and support in a person’s life. This partner is usually the one with whom the nonmonogamous individual has a strong emotional connection and connection with family or household responsibilities. The anchor partner may or may not participate in other romantic or sexual relationships, but they typically take on a more significant role in the individual’s life than other partners. The anchor partner serves as a primary point of emotional and practical support.
Bigamy is the act of marrying someone while still being legally married to someone else. It is a form of polygamy that is illegal in most jurisdictions around the world. The person who commits bigamy is called a bigamist, and can face legal consequences such as fines or imprisonment. Bigamy is often seen as a breach of trust and can have serious emotional and psychological impacts on all parties involved. Currently in the United States, there are several cities that recognize multiple domestic partners legally in order to provide specific protections to the members of those partnerships.
A form of nonmonogamy that involves no transparency, no honesty, and no consent. This is not recommended. However, this is sometimes a triggering event for people to decide they are nonmonogamous, especially when there is a lot of guilt and introspection associated with the cheating. Simply opening up your relationship doesn’t necessarily fix many of the behaviors associated with cheating. It’s recommended you fix the underlying communication and avoidance problems that may have also contributed to cheating before making any decisions about your relationship potentially opening up.
A relationship in which the people have agreed to be exclusively romantic and/or sexual with each other. This means that no partner is allowed to engage in intimate activities with anyone outside the relationship. The concept of a closed relationship is based on the expectation that the partners should be emotionally and physically faithful to each other. This could be a closed relationship of two people or of multiple parties.
Comet is a term used in nonmonogamous relationships to describe a person who passes through someone’s life temporarily, but with whom they continue to maintain a connection. This connection could be because of shared interests, mutual respect or admiration, or a history of affection, but the comet doesn’t necessarily hold a central role in the person’s polyamorous relationships. They may be someone the individual has dated or been intimate with in the past, but currently do not have a significant romantic or sexual relationship with. The term “comet” reflects the idea that, like a comet in space, this person may make periodic appearances in the individual’s life after disappearing for a time, without being a constant or predictable presence. Comets are often seen as positive elements in nonmonogamous relationships, as they can bring joy and new experiences without demanding a significant amount of dedication or emotional labor from either party.
Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT):
A term to describe an agreement between partners to avoid sharing certain information or details about their outside romantic or sexual activities. In this type of arrangement, partners often agree to avoid asking about each other’s other partners, and to not share information unless specifically asked. The agreement is typically based on the understanding that partners may have other romantic relationships or have casual sexual partnerships, but that this information might create discomfort or jealousy if shared explicitly. The “don’t ask, don’t tell” agreement is designed to help prevent these feelings and keep the primary intimate relationship intact. This type of agreement can be difficult to maintain over the long term, and requires clear communication and ongoing consent from all parties involved. This can work, but you’ll get a lot of pushback from those in the CNM community.
Friend with Benefits (FWB):
Friend with benefits (FWB) is a term commonly used to refer to a person with whom one has a casual sexual relationship without being in a committed romantic relationship. This type of relationship typically involves two people who are already friends, but have added a sexual component to their friendship. Being friends with benefits means that the two people involved may engage in sexual activity with one another without any expectation of exclusivity or a romantic relationship. This type of relationship can work well for people who are interested in exploring their sexuality without committing to a long-term relationship or for people who desire intimacy without the emotional attachment of a conventional committed relationship. However, it is important that both parties involved have clear communication and consent, and that they are on the same page about their desires and expectations. It’s important not to forget the friendship element in these relationships as well.
Similar to a FWB, but less friend-like activities happen.
Garden Party Poly (GP):
This form of polyamory is commonly referred to as event-based polyamory, or simply garden polyamory. In this nonmonogamous relationship style, each partner may have multiple romantic or sexual partners, but they rarely interact with each other outside of pre-planned events or social gatherings. These events can range from important life events, such as weddings or milestone birthdays, to more casual get-togethers like parties or dinners.
Hierarchical polyamory is a form of nonmonogamy in which relationships are structured in a hierarchy, with one or more partners designated as primary and others as secondary or tertiary. In this form of polyamory, the primary partner(s) hold a greater level of importance and often have more decision-making power in the relationship dynamic.
The shared partner between two people.
Internalized Monogamy: The set of expectations about how relationships should look based on the assumption of monogamy. These expectations often have to be unlearned when starting a nonmonogamous relationship.
Kink refers to a non-mainstream sexual practice or desire that falls outside what is considered “vanilla” or conventional sexual behavior. Kink can involve a wide range of activities such as BDSM (Bondage & Discipline, Dominance & Submission, Sadism & Masochism), fetishism, roleplaying, and other forms of sexual exploration that involve power dynamics, body modification, sensory experiences, or other non-traditional forms of sexual expression. Kink can be used to heighten sexual intimacy between partners, but it sometimes also replaces it. The main reason we include this entry is that there’s often an overlap between the kink scene and the nonomonogamy scene, but not always.
Kitchen Table Poly (KTP):
Kitchen table polyamory is a style of nonmonogamy in which all partners involved maintain a close relationship with each other, to the extent that they can all sit “around the kitchen table” for a meal or conversation in a friendly and harmonious way. In this form of polyamory, all partners involved are viewed as part of the same “polycule” or extended family, and the expectation is that everyone gets along and respects each other, even if they are not romantically or sexually involved with each other.
A metamour is someone who is romantically or sexually involved with one of your current partners, but with whom you do not share a romantic or sexual relationship. In other words, your metamour is your partner’s romantic partner.
Anything that only considers the traditional monogamous relationship structure.
Mono-poly refers to a relationship dynamic in which one partner identifies as monogamous (preferring to have exclusive relationships with only one romantic or sexual partner at a time) and the other partner identifies as polyamorous (open to having multiple romantic or sexual partners at the same time). This can pose unique challenges for both partners, as their needs and desires for companionship and intimacy may be quite different, but they can work.
A nesting partner is a term commonly used in nonmonogamous relationships to refer to a partner with whom one shares an intimate living arrangement, such as a home or apartment. In this context, the term “nesting” refers to the concept of creating a shared space or home with a partner, where routines, responsibilities, and belongings are often shared and combined. Nesting partners may or may not be romantically or sexually involved with each other, but they are typically involved in each other’s lives to a significant degree, and may also share important life decisions and milestones together. A nesting partner may also be an anchor partner, but they may also not be. They may be different from a partner who is more important or you spend more time with.
Nonmonogamy refers to the practice of having intimate or sexual relationships with multiple partners simultaneously with the knowledge and consent of all parties involved. nonmonogamous relationships can take many different forms, including polyamory, open relationships, swinging, and other variations.
An open relationship is a form of nonmonogamous relationship in which partners agree to engage in intimate or sexual relationships with other people outside of the primary relationship with the knowledge or consent of each other. It is a consensual agreement where both partners are open to exploring sexual or romantic connections outside of their own relationship, while still maintaining their commitment to each other.
Parallel polyamory is a style of nonmonogamy in which multiple partners are involved in separate, distinct relationships with each other, without necessarily forming a larger, communal group dynamic. Unlike other styles of polyamory, such as kitchen table polyamory or garden party polyamory, parallel polyamory does not emphasize the importance of all partners being involved in each other’s lives and usually involves little to no interaction between metamours.
Polyamory is a type of nonmonogamy that can take many different forms and can involve a wide range of people including heterosexual, homosexual, cisgender, transgender, or non-binary individuals. It can also involve varying degrees of sexual or romantic connections, depending on the people and their preferences. Polyamorous relationships can take the form of vees, triads, quads, or other groupings of individuals who are intimately and romantically involved with one another.
Polyandry is a form of nonmonogamous relationship in which a woman is married to or in a committed relationship with multiple men at the same time. It was far more common in cultures where female infants were killed or women were scarce or held high status for other reasons.
A polycule is the complex web of interconnected relationships between all partners involved. It is a visual representation of the network of romantic and/or sexual connections between partners, and may include multiple separate romantic relationships, as well as more casual or less involved connections. People might have different ideas about who they would consider to be a part of their polycule. Some might include very close friends or friends with benefits. Others might keep it to only a certain tight-knit part of the web that spends a lot of time together. Each person in the polycule gets to define where they might consider the edge to be for them.
A type of relationship in which a group of people, typically three or more, form a closed or exclusive bond in which they agree to be emotionally and sexually faithful to one another. Unlike open relationships, polyfidelitous relationships do not typically involve sexual or romantic interactions outside the closed group.
Polygamy refers to the practice of having multiple spouses at the same time. In the United States, we often associate this with religious cults where men have more than one wife. Technically, men who have more than one wife is polygyny.
Polysaturated – Polyamorous, but not currently open to new relationships or new partners because of the number of existing partners, or because of time constraints that might make new relationships difficult. The point at which the thought of another relationship, or another hobby, leaves one feeling more exhausted than excited.
In nonmonogamous relationships, the term primary partner may be used to distinguish a partner who is considered to be the key, or most significant partner, from other romantic or sexual connections, which may be designated as secondary relationship, tertiary relationship, or casual relationships. This is considered hierarchical language that some people have moved away from to use terms such as anchor or nesting.
A quad is a term used in polyamorous relationships to refer to a group of four individuals who are all romantically or sexually involved with each other. Quads are sometimes closed and are sometimes open, and most often consist of two couples dating each other, though not always.
Relationship Anarchy (RA):
Relationship anarchy is a philosophical approach to relationships that emphasizes the importance of individual autonomy and freedom in pursuit of emotional and interpersonal connections. It is a non-hierarchical system of relationships, in which all relationships are viewed as equal, regardless of whether they involve romantic or sexual attraction or not.
Relationship Escalator – The mononormative idea that relationships have an upward movement with milestones indicating commitment, such as cohabiting, taking vacations, marriage and having kids. Becoming nonmonogamous is sometimes described as stepping off the escalator.
Secondary partners are individuals with whom one has a romantic and/or sexual relationship, but who are not considered a primary partner. These partners have less time commitment, little to no financial or domestic enmeshment, and are sometimes considered to be “less serious”, but not always.
A form of nonmonogamy in which individuals prioritize their independence and autonomy while also pursuing multiple romantic or sexual relationships. In solo polyamory, individuals maintain their own primary focus, goals and interests, while having the freedom to explore romantic and sexual connections with others on their own terms, without feeling obligated to prioritize any one relationship over the other.
The partner of your metamour, or a metamour once removed, is someone who is connected to you through the network of relationships in which you and your metamour are both involved. This may be an additional partner of your metamour, or a partner of one of their other partners. This term can also refer to a person in your polycule who you don’t have a better label for.your polycule.
Swinging is a form of nonmonogamous relationship in which two or more committed couples exchange partners for sexual activity, typically without forming any additional emotional or romantic connections. Swinging, also known as partner swapping, is often seen as an opportunity for couples to explore new sexual experiences within the context of a safe and consensual environment. Often, there are many rules about emotional involvement and behaviors, and the couple structure is protected above all else.
A throuple is a term used to describe a romantic relationship between three people. It is a consensual relationship in which all members are involved with each other in a romantic or sexual way. Unlike swinging, hookups or one-time threesome encounters, a throuple refers to a committed relationship in which all three individuals are involved in each other’s lives to varying degrees.
A relationship involving three people who are all romantically and/or sexually involved with each other. It can also refer to a V-shaped relationship where one person is involved with both partners, but the two partners are not involved with each other. Triads can take different forms depending on the dynamics between the individuals involved, and they can be open or closed to additional partners. Communication, trust, and mutual respect are essential in maintaining a healthy and fulfilling triad dynamic. People who self-identify as a triad usually feel an emotional connection, even if they aren’t all dating.