There is more and more talk these days about ethical non-monogamy, at least in big cities like New York City, where I live.
I completely respect people’s choice to have relationships without the boundaries of typical, traditional monogamy. And I greatly appreciate people choosing a lifestyle that feels right to them, with transparency, openness, and honesty rather than with lying, cheating, or being deceitful.
In the past, many people who felt too confined or stifled in a long-term monogamous relationship would stray outside the relationship in secret because there was a strong social stigma around having multiple partners or alternative arrangements. Now, various forms of alternative relationship structures are more and more accepted, and people can be honest about expressing what they truly desire and what terms they feel comfortable and happy agreeing to.
But where is the discussion about ethical monogamous relationships? Where is the conversation about being an honest, ethical person in relationships, regardless of the terms of agreement?
Outwardly, ethical monogamy has been the standard expectation for decades. The agreement is that we get married and stay faithful to that person until death do us part, or, more recently, until divorce dissolves that agreement. However, we all know that many people—a shockingly high number, in fact—do not act ethically or monogamously in their relationships.
For those who have entered into monogamous relationships and acted unethically, I would encourage you to explore other kinds of relationships. Many now openly exist and might feel better than you ever imagined, and they may be more aligned with what feels authentic for you.
For those who have strayed but do prefer monogamy, a deep soul exploration can often shed light on why we made those choices, allowing us to choose differently in the future.
And for the majority of us who still engage in monogamous relationships, let’s talk about and boost our ethics. Our honesty can only increase our authenticity, our relationship with ourself, and in turn our integrity and our relationship with others, even if that takes a different form than we had originally expected.
Here are eight principles that are vital to a healthy, ethically monogamous relationship:
Honesty is pure and raw and real. Honesty involves sharing some hard thoughts and feelings. Truth telling is easy when we know it will be met with agreement, smiles, or love. But honesty can be challenging when we know we will disappoint, anger, or sadden someone else. But honesty, across the board, is crucial to a healthy relationship.
It is important to share your wide range of human emotions with your partner. And, it is important to be open and receptive to hearing theirs as well. When two people are in agreement, the relationship flows. When there is disagreement, further conversation is needed.
Sharing our deepest, darkest fears, doubts, and misaligned feelings can break couples apart without the right communication tools and the ability to hold safe space. It can also bring couples closer together than they ever thought possible. Honest vulnerability tends to connect us, not divide.
How many times have we heard that good communication is the cornerstone of a happy relationship?
But how much time and energy have we invested into learning how to be a good communicator and listener? Without learning this valuable skill in school, and, for many of us, without good parental role models for this at home, we are often unfamiliar with what healthy communication looks and feels like.
Spending time and energy investing in learning the art of effective communication is invaluable. Luckily, there are so many great options, such as taking a course with a coach, researching different methods and tools online, exploring the Love Languages and other relationship books, and working one-on-one with a therapist.
Most importantly, practice, practice, practice! We can practice with our partners as well as with colleagues, friends, our children, and strangers we talk to throughout the day. The more people we try our new skills with, the better we will get. Then, when the tough topics come up, we can really listen and objectively absorb our partner’s words without insult, communicate more clearly and with kindness, and ultimately show up and serve as better partners.
Acceptance, just like truth, is easier to feel when it is aligned with our own feelings and subconscious expectations. However, to reject the ever-changing, natural impermanence of life is like trying to fight with reality. We will never win that battle, and it will result in being unhealthy and unhappy.
Whether we want to stay in or leave a relationship is a choice, and whether our partner wants to change the conditions is his/her choice as well. While emotionally challenging at times, accepting our own as well as another’s thoughts, feelings, and decisions grounds us in reality and allows us to act and respond with more love, understanding, and cooperation.
Don’t Take It Personally
Don Miguel Ruiz said it best: “Don’t take anything personally.” Nothing others do is truly about us. Their thoughts, decisions, and actions are a mirror of their inner world.
Romantic relationships are one of the most common areas of life where we do take things personally. Partnership offers such a close bond that when circumstances shift, we can easily feel hurt and be emotionally reactive without taking a pause, a step back, and an objective look at what is really going on.
If our partner needs change, maybe he isn’t bored with us. Maybe he just needs to find that free, fun, openhearted part of himself he feels like he lost somewhere along the way. For many of us, our default reaction would be fear, judgment, and hurt, and releasing personal attachment to the situation takes an incredible amount of maturity, self-love, and zoomed out perspective. However, loosening our grip, trusting instead of fearing, and allowing our partner the space to get their needs met is important. And often, that allowing gets us what we want in the end, or more smoothly reroutes us to our next life chapter.
Getting Our Needs Met
That brings me to the next key, which is getting our needs met. We all have needs, wants, and desires, and we absolutely deserve to have them met. No one person can meet all our needs, but the person we choose to spend the most time with should measure up pretty well. If we are in a relationship where we are more often disappointed and dissatisfied than happy, pleased, and content, we either need to change our perspective or realize that we are in the wrong relationship.
Sometimes partners may meet each other’s needs perfectly in their 20s, but by their mid-30s, each has very different needs that may cause divergence. We can choose to try and adapt to the new needs of our partner, but sometimes we are either not willing to or not able to.
As our needs and wants change, our relationships may change—and that is okay. It doesn’t diminish how wonderful that person was for us during the time period when the relationship felt fulfilling.
Impermanence and Non-attachment
Ultimately, nothing is permanent. As we change, our relationships change.
Relationships will either grow stronger or fall apart. Some people grow apart and find a way to come back together, achieving new levels of connection, while for others, growth means separating and taking different paths. Nothing stays the same.
Accepting the impermanence of all things, including ourselves, and not holding too tightly to people, places, or things yields the best mental and physical health.
If someone doesn’t want to stay, let them go. And if you don’t want to stay, don’t. Life is too short. Trust that whatever the current reality presents is part of our journey. Each part of our journey makes us who we are, and holding grudges, resentments, or bitterness only hardens the heart and makes us sick. Letting go of attachment will allow us to more easily and lovingly flow through life.
We have to be vulnerable to be honest, have good communication, and clearly speak our needs. We all have triggers—certain ways in which we feel embarrassed or ashamed about expressing ourselves, ways in which our anger is provoked, and situations or words that hurt us deep in our core. These triggers live deep in the subconscious, and it takes great mindfulness to choose openness, curiosity, and vulnerability instead.
When we move into vulnerability, we take pause. We invite beginner’s mind, contemplate why we are triggered, and respond from a less reactive or impulsive stance. We can explore our shadow and darkness without diving into shame. We can emotionally self-regulate. From a vulnerable state, we can shed our defensive attacking armor and kindly communicate and express ourselves.
Be Your Best and Be Present
Let us all show up well, being our best, loving, generous, kind selves. Recognize that if we are in a relationship, it’s our choice to be there, so make the best go of it. Instead of complaining, appreciate. Instead of taking life together for granted, radiate excitement, creativity, and maintain that sparkle in your eyes.
Presence is absolutely vital to happy, healthy, long-lasting connection. We need to look our partner in the eyes when they are communicating to us. We should put down distractions when engaged in activities together. It’s important to set aside specific time to connect, share quality time, find common interests, and enjoy space, quiet, and nothingness together. Being present is a treasure, a true gift to the one we love.
There are, of course, many other important qualities of an enjoyable, long-lasting relationship, such as having fun together, being friends, and having independent and shared activities. These concepts specifically relate to high quality ethics, so we can show up as genuine people in our relationships and in our world.
What does ethical monogamy mean to you? How can you have a relationship with more pure openness and honesty? What kinds of boundaries and arrangements are you truly interested in? And can you own your desires with confidence and communicate those needs?
Your guidelines or principles may be different than mine, and I welcome your thoughts to continue the conversation. May we all have healthier, happier, truer, and more loving relationships.