I am "monogamous of center" but very interested in sexual non-monogamy. I want a central partner who I spend a lot of time with and ride the relationship escalator with. My partner also wants these things, but is open to change and could conceivably see himself in other structures that also make him happy.
We've been non-monogamous since I sent the last email to you, and things are going quite well. We have some other people we see who are happy to engage with each of us, understanding the type of non-monogamy we practice.
We refer to this type of non-monogamy as an "open relationship" because neither of us have the time or desire to build close, enmeshed romantic partnerships with other people, although we don't put a limit on where feelings can go. We are open to discussing and shifting if one or both of us no longer wants this structure.
My questions are coming from a place of confusion: On the one hand I see non-monogamous thinkers/ influencers talking about how non-monogamy is a spectrum and that people can co-create relationships that work best for them.
On the other hand, those same people seem to say that requesting limiting agreements in a partnership is wrong. So then, how does one ethically build a non-monogamous setup that isn't polyamorous (with the potential for enmeshed, time intensive relationships with multiple people)? And if two people want to practice different styles of non-monogamy, how do you reach a compromise or agreement on how you will move forward?
This is where I find myself a little frustrated with what a lot of people say about non-monogamy. Because a lot of people don’t seem to understand that there is a difference between someone making a request and someone making a demand.
While I understand that people can find it difficult when their partner wants something and requests it, there becomes this really kind of nebulous area where if you request something you’re “pressuring” someone but then not saying anything feels like hiding things and then no one knows what’s what.
I definitely think there are relationships where people create an environment where their partner have to walk on eggshells around them, where they “request” things but blow up when they don’t get their way, where they insist that they’re just suggesting things, where they gaslight their partners into believing that they are the problem. Of course that exists.
However, I believe that a lot of people develop such a paranoia that this is happening or that they are somehow this secretly abusive partner without knowing it that people become too afraid to put forth their wants and needs and just agree to situations they don’t actually want just because they’re afraid to be that partner who tries to “control” somebody. My first experience with polyamory was actually where someone used me to cheat and I could have avoided that by just putting forth my own boundaries and wants better.
Sometimes you also don’t always know exactly what you want. As I’ve said before, there are no cultural scripts for non-monogamy so sometimes you just have to try things out to see what works for you. It’s understandable that your partner might be curious about other structures. I think what’s important is to remember that just because you meet someone who thinks they are clear about what they’re interested in and what type of lifestyle they want to have doesn’t mean that can’t change throughout your life.
As much as we like to think that our plans are concrete and everything is set in stone, especially when we’re on a type of relationship escalator, which is partially designed to kind of reassure everyone within the agreement that things are proceeding. But life can have different plans and you never know what can happen.
I think that continuing the conversation with your partner about how he wants to try different structures is where you have the compromise. Just accept that you might eventually have a point where your paths diverge. But this could be true even if your partner wasn’t honest about considering another structure.
I would take things one step at a time. Hopefully you have built trust with your partner and with yourself to the point that if your partner requests a change within your relationship, you can have faith in your own boundaries and either try things if you want to or decide that maybe this is where your compatibility with each other ends.
At the end of the day, I think that a big part of being able to compromise and reach an agreement comes from being able to be honest about what you want, clear where possible, and know your own limits so that you can communicate that where possible.
Build trust in yourself and do what works for you all. Pay less attention to whether your relationship is approved by other influencers and ask if it’s working for you. I would pay more attention to a polyamory friendly couple’s therapist than what other people have to say about what relationship works for you.
I hope this helps and good luck!
Notes from Kathy
“On the other hand, those same people seem to say that requesting limiting agreements in a partnership is wrong.”
I have something to add here. I think the context of those “wrong” statements may be related to concerns about couples privilege and unicorn hunting. I would say it IS wrong to impose limiting agreements on their outside partners, especially if those agreements are unspoken or undefined. There are many folks who experience being treated badly because one's metamour gets to dictate what happens in the relationship they have with the hinge partner.
So yea, saying any limiting request is a problem goes too far. And yet, when we make requests, I do think we need to be mindful of the agency of others in the group and the downstream impacts. Like for example, let's say Partner A requests that Partner B come be at home every Wednesday evening for X reason. And Partner C, B's partner, only gets Wednesdays and Fridays off from their 2nd shift job. So effectively, As “reasonable request” means Partner B and C can only see each other 2x a month, instead of every week. If Partner A doubles down on their request, that puts B in a bind and could really be an issue for C. So for me, "reasonable limiting requests" must have some give and take available. Otherwise, they ARE wrong.