How to Make Sure Your Relationship is “Ethical” and “Consensual” | Nonmonogamy Academy

Building an “Ethical” and “Consensual” Framework For Your Non-monogamous Relationship

You’ve likely heard the terms “ethical nonmonogamy” and “consensual nonmonogamy”. In my post on Unpacking the Definition of Nonmonogamy, I briefly mentioned that I don’t like to put the words ethical or consensual in front of nonmonogamy, but I didn’t really explain myself. Many people just don’t really have a framework of ethics and consent when it comes to their romantic relationships. That’s ok! You can learn to develop one! Afterall, you only have to make sure your polyamorous relationships are both ethical and consensual! Should be easy, right? It isn’t, and you’re not bad at relationshiping if you haven’t figured it out yet. Here are some ways to help you develop those skills. 

Establishing An Ethical Framework Within Nonmonogamy

Do you consider yourself ethically nonmonogamous? Most people say they do, but do they really have a framework to guide their decisions? Ethical decision making isn’t something most of us are equipped with out of the box. Even if you don’t have a degree in ethics or philosophy, there are many ethical frameworks out there to check out and incorporate into your life!

During an online group discussion about “how to keep nonmonogamy ethical”, responses included communication, setting boundaries, and being honest.Most people seem to think that being ethical just means that you aren’t “cheating”, yet broken agreements are one of the biggest problems that nonmonogamous people face. Depending on the agreement violated, this may be considered cheating.  No one mentioned considering what makes a decision ethical, or the most moral outcome, before choosing a course of action. Sure, communication, boundaries, and honesty are important in a committed relationship, but can we really authentically use them if we don’t know what is influencing us to make decisions in our sexual relationships? 

Understand Your Decision Making Guidelines

Decision making guidelines in a healthy relationship can be tricky to establish! You could choose the Right’s Approach and prioritize your own comfort and pleasure as long as it doesn’t interfere with the rights of others. You could take up a Utilitarian Approach to try to get to the greatest amount of benefit for the most amount of people involved. Another option is to look at the problem by trying to uphold a specific set of virtues, such as honesty, faithfulness, or compassion. Unfortunately, people often end up making decisions based on how they feel in the moment and trying to shoehorn in a course of action that moves them away from continuing to feel negative emotions. Real relationship building and intimacy happen when people consider both their own needs in combination with the needs of others, and can find a happy overlap between the two.

You might spend a few minutes looking over the basic approaches to ethical decision making and decide if any of them stand out as an approach that would work for you.  Then you can move on to the actual steps of working through a problem.

Identify the issue

The first thing you should do when dealing with a nonmonogamy problem is identify exactly what the problem is and isolate it from other problems.  Many times, people have a dilemma, and then they try to bring in a bunch of irrelevant stuff:such as past events that made them feel the same way.  Try to be very clear on what you are trying to choose between, or figure out.  Often, people are trying to choose between two bad options, and because they don’t like either option, they end up taking no action, and don’t realize that was not a good option either.

Separate Facts from Assumptions

This trips people up more than anything else.  So often, we have a narrative in our head about what someone else’s behavior means, or what their intentions are. It’s important to check on where your assumptions are sitting, and ask people questions to fully understand where they are coming from.

Evaluate All Possible Options

Do some brainstorming and don’t be afraid to entertain some wild ideas.  Too often, people get stuck looking at only one solution to a problem, and then feel trapped into a single course of action that they don’t like.  When you are looking at these solutions, you should consider what you have control over, which is mostly only your own actions. This should also be the place where you consider your own values and what decision is the one that helps you be the person you want to be. If other people are involved, talk with them about all the options, and ask them if they would like to add any.

Take Action

Like I said above, many people fail at this step, especially if they don’t like any of their options.  But you will like yourself a lot more if you take action than if you try to cross your fingers or bury your head in the sand and let things unfold.

Be Prepared For Speed Bumps

Navigating polyamorous and nonmonogamous relationships isn’t always easy. Jealousy can be a beast, emotions can run high, and communication can falter. Don’t let that rule the conversation! It’s important to have strategies in place to ensure that decisions are being made in a way that is ethical and authentic for everyone involved.

Establishing A Consensual Framework Within Nonmonogamy

Consent is crucial in any type of relationship, whether monogamous or nonmonogamous. It is important to understand that consent is more than just getting a “yes” from your partner. A truly consensual relationship requires affirmative agreements from all parties involved, ensuring that everyone’s boundaries and needs are respected.

In a nonmonogamous relationship, it becomes even more essential to establish clear boundaries and agreements. Nonmonogamy can take many forms, ranging from polyamory, where primary partners have multiple romantic relationships, to swinging, where couples engage in sexual activities with other couples or individuals. Whatever the form of nonmonogamy, it is critical to ensure that all parties involved are on the same page and feel comfortable with the arrangement.

Some key relationship qualities to consider when establishing a consensually nonmonogamous relationship include:

Consent Should Be Freely Given Without Coercion

If you’re looking to open a relationship but your partner is hesitant, pause and consider – are you exerting some kind of power or trying to sway them without hearing their side? If they’re monogamous and you’re not, it may be best to end the relationship so each of you can go forth in an authentic way. Likely, there are some misconceptions your partner may have about nonmonogamy, which is a place where it can be good to have conversations clearing those up. Just remember, no matter what relationship type you have, before moving forward you should do your due diligence of making sure everyone’s on the same page about what it all looks like. In discussing expectations and reasons why, keep it real!

The Decision Should Be Reversible At Any Time

Trying out nonmonogamy may seem like a good idea, but it can still feel wrong for some people. In that case, everyone should be allowed to decide for themselves if they want to keep doing it or not. They should be able to make this decision at any point without being pressured about how it will affect anyone else! If you or your partner choose to go back to monogamy, then you’ll get the chance to choose if that’s the right path for you too. It’s all about being true to yourself, and dealing with any possible consequences.

I know this goes against some common wisdom in the nonmonogamy community, but I’m not talking about veto power here.  If one person in a couple wants to close back up the relationship, then the other person gets to decide if they want to end their other relationships and close up as well, or if they want to exit the relationship and continue to be nonmonogamous. If there are people hurt in the process of a couple closing back up, yeah, that definitely sucks, but that’s not a veto.  That’s a hinge partner deciding where their priorities lie, and they have every right to do that. This is a complicated situation that another post will cover in more depth. 

Each Person Should Be Fully Informed

It’s all about staying in the know! Being new to nonmonogamy doesn’t mean you have to have it all figured out. What’s important is that whatever information you DO have is crystal clear, so everyone involved knows what the relationship boundaries are. On that note, let’s say no to blaming our partners for something they didn’t understand when they weren’t even sure of their own feelings. Clear communication is key – and easiest when we speak from a place of understanding and compassion!

Everyone Should Feel Enthusiastic About The Experience

Before deciding to give nonmonogamy a try, make sure you understand why it’s something you want to explore. While nonmonogamous relationships are typically quite flexible, the less enthusiastic and motivated you are, the tougher it can be to handle unexpected problems that arise along the way. Your own relationship satisfaction and motivation for exploring this relationship dynamic should come from within, and not just because your partner suggested trying it out – otherwise you may find any excuse to back out at an inopportune time.

Requests Should Be Clear and Specific

It is important to make sure you know what you want out of intimate relationships and that you communicate that with your sexual partners. Don’t forget that your wants can change over time, so be sure to voice those changes so others can decide if they are willing to roll with it. Talking openly and honestly about your needs is key, but remember to keep what you are asking for very clear and specific.  Vague statements can lead to miscommunication.

Nonmonogamy can sometimes be complicated – particularly when there are already established relationship dynamics. If one romantic partner feels forced, can’t stop, or isn’t too excited to start down this path, things can get a little rocky. But it doesn’t have to be that way! As long as all partners are aware of the situation and understand the boundaries that come with it, everyone involved can have a safe, enjoyable, ethical, and consensual experience.