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When I first opened up my relationship eight years ago, we were the only ones in our surroundings having that kind of relationship.
It was apparently so rare, that TV programs and magazines came to interview us, asking us questions about this controversial style of relating.
Nowadays, I think we all know people who are in a non-monogamous lifestyle. Whether it’s swinging, having kinky play partners, being polyamorous, or having multiple sex partners—going beyond the monogamous paradigm has become more normal than it used to be. Maybe even fashionable.
For four years I explored the realms of this new and exciting world with that partner, but that relationship stranded for reasons not caused, but highlighted by, our relationship structure. In the four years that followed, I kept exploring nonmonogamy.
My partner and I met when we were in our early 20s. We had three kids right away, and when the youngest was about a year old (and we still believed we’d grow old together), we kept wondering why it felt strange to never, in our lives again, kiss or make love to anyone else but each other. There was an abundance of love between us—and isn’t that the thing with abundance—when you generously share your wealth, it only increases? Holding back felt strange—as if we wanted more, but at the same time kept closing the water tap. It felt as if we tried to push a river through a small funnel.
Independently from each other, we started to read about polyamory, multiple relationships, and open relationships; being free to share intimacy and sexuality with others than your partner. We felt curious. One night over a glass of whiskey, we brought the topic up. For the next year, we talked about it. If we were to drop the idea of monogamy, how would we do that? What would that look like? How would our surroundings respond?
I took time with myself to meditate on how it would feel to know that my partner would be having sex with others. It felt scary, but also okay. I thought he was great, and I would love to share him with others. For myself, I still felt insecure about my body, and was shy and inexperienced when it came to sex. I began growing my interest in tantra and kink and desired experienced people to play with and learn from.
I also realized, being a personal growth addict who grabs every opportunity to get to know herself better, that relationships and intimacy connect deeply to our core fears and limiting beliefs. We are social animals, depending on relationships with others for our survival. Opening up our relationship may shake the foundations that we (thought we) had. It would definitely show us where we would have unprocessed pain, insecurities, trauma, and other stuff.
I never considered, and still don’t consider, nonmonogamy more “risky” than monogamy. Apprehensive people may say, “But with poly, you invite others in. Doesn’t it increase the chance to fall in love with another and leave your partner?” No. Because you don’t have to choose. Often the grass only looks greener on the other side, and after an initial honeymoon period, the new person won’t be so shiny anymore. You will probably encounter the same ol’ sh*t, but without the history and foundation you had with someone you’ve been investing in for a long time.
I consider myself a person with a big heart, capable of deeply loving many people. I wanted to honor my curiosity and a deep longing to connect with others—without an external boundary of what I was allowed to do or not. I see sex as one of the expressions of intimacy, just as a deep conversation or cuddles can be ways of expression. I desired to explore intimacy freely, to encounter myself in ways, and to honor the curiosity and karma I may feel toward others.
Over the years, I think I’ve tried all the different possibilities of open relations: having a second relationship with my partner and another woman; having relationships with couples (sometimes with both of them, sometimes with one of them); being in a polycule; my partner being monogamous while I was poly (mono-poly); being single with multiple lovers (solo-poly); having lovers of different intensity, gender, and distance; relationships based on kink dynamics, vanilla, or not sexual at all; and lovers that were there for a night, or several years.
I had expected from the beginning that it would be confronting. Many people see sex as what defines a relationship, and I believe we have many social paradigms around sex and relationships that are deeply engraved in our DNA. I was surprised that the first-ever time my partner slept with another woman felt exciting. We planned it together for a weekend that I was away from home working. They texted me afterward, as agreed upon, and I felt a deep joy.
I also faced the challenges I have heard from others in non-monogamous constellations, like not feeling special, fear of him liking sex with others better, feeling lonely when he was away on adventures and I was at home with the kids. I felt insecure sometimes too. And we had our fair share of miscommunications. No matter how well and clear you think you communicate, I learned there is always space for misinterpretation.
There were other challenges I didn’t expect. When I started connecting with people who were experienced and comfortable in their sexuality and present in their body, I realized how amazing sex could be—and that the one-time-per-month sex I had for many years, wasn’t all there was. Sex was fun, exhilarating, liberating, and transformative. As I began finding nourishment with others, I slowly started to realize that my partner and had been avoiding things that weren’t working between us.
It also dawned on me that my relationship had unhealthy power dynamics. The open relationship brought me a deep sense of empowerment through the people I met and those I got to know closely.
I couldn’t stay in hiding anymore—I had to stand up for myself. It was the start of the end of that relationship. At the time it was difficult, but looking back now, it was (how cliché), the best thing that ever happened to me.
But there was another unforeseen challenge. After that first time my partner had sex with another woman and I celebrated, it became harder to enjoy my beloved’s escapades. I started fearing them. During another relationship I had for a year, which was long distance and open from the start, I started to calculate the risk of him meeting others. I felt afraid whenever I thought of him sleeping with someone else.
I felt like I was getting worse at nonmonogamy, and as I had been so public about my relationships all the time—I started to feel ashamed and like a fraud. But when I did share these feelings, many people carefully shared that they too experienced the same thing, and felt relieved that I had opened up about this taboo: I am in an open relationship, and I’m not sure if I like it.
It became a journey of slowly starting to understand what was going on and why I felt so sensitive, and then lifting the shame around it.
My conclusion was that over those eight years, I often challenged myself way too much. We all have a comfort zone, and magic is often just outside of it. Further outside our comfort zone, is where fear resides, and so does re-traumatization. It’s not a place where we grow. At best, we survive the situation. But the next time, our nervous system will recognize the danger and send out warning signals. We may push ourselves: “I did this before, so I can do it again,” and make it through the fear. But the next time, the warning signal will switch on earlier and louder, in an attempt to make us listen.
Over those eight years whenever I felt my boundaries, I doubted them or ignored them: “I chose to be in this relationship style, so I should be able to deal with the consequences.”
I accepted situations that I didn’t want. And I accepted that when I couldn’t have sex with my lover, I slept on a mattress in his living room while he was having loud sex with a visitor in his bedroom. I cried all night, honestly believing I was doing something good and brave.
Now I know it wasn’t. Now I understand that pushing yourself beyond your zone of growth, is never beneficial. That we can never expand beyond what feels exciting.
I also learned that some experiences wear out your nervous system. By stretching a lot over a long period of time, you expose your body constantly to stress. And research can tell you about all the negative effects of that.
When I started dating my current partner, for months I had been feeling that my next relationship would at least start off monogamous. It took me a few years to honestly express that desire to myself. I believe the desire for adventure versus the desire for calm stability comes in waves in my life, and right now my sense for adventure, sexual adventures, and explorations with multiple people felt nourished.
I wanted depth with one person. I wanted to give my nervous system a break. And I wanted to create an opportunity for the parts in me that felt re-traumatized after partners who had been pushing me and breaking agreements, as well as me pushing myself.
I never said I wanted a nonmonogamous relationship for the rest of my life. Just as now I’m not saying I’ll never want anything other than a monogamous relationship. We call our relationship “monogamish until further notice.” Being able to do my work, hosting play parties, sex-positive workshops, and intimacy coaching sessions is a hard limit for me. We also still both feel a smoldering desire for playing with others and having adventures.
But there’s no rush, and when we may eventually get to that place, we’ll do it in a different way. The foundation for my nonmonogamous relationships needs to be safety—not adventures. It needs to be coming from a stable place, not seeking validation outside a relationship, or living out sabotaging or rebelling patterns.