Monogamous or Monogamish? A Beginner’s Guide to Consensual Non-Monogamy

By Rachel Zar, LMFT

c/o Time Out

c/o Time Out

Consensually non-monogamous (CNM) relationships--those who don’t adhere to traditional all-or-nothing monogamy boundaries--come in all shapes and sizes. While certainly not right for everyone,opening up your relationship may offer the opportunity for added joy and excitement. But it’s also a complicated world, and many don’t know enough about it to make an educated decision. For those just entering the world of CNM, learning the language is often the first hurdle. What’s the difference between monogamous and monogamish? And how do you differentiate between allowing for sexual trysts with others and forming multiple long-term commitments? To get you started, here’s a handy breakdown of some (but not all) types of CNM:

OPEN RELATIONSHIP: A relationship that’s not sexually monogamous. Similar to CNM, this term can mean very different things to different people --- from allowing for the occasional out-of-town date to attending swinging parties together to having multiple relationships at once.

MONOGAMISH: This is a fairly recent addition to the CNM vocab. It’s used colloquially to refer to relationships that are romantically monogamous but also allow for agreed-upon outside sexual relationships.

SWINGING: Having sexual partners outside of a primary relationship. The focus tends to be physical, not emotional or intimate. Swingers may attend clubs or parties, and they may swing with or without their partners, depending on what’s agreed upon between them.

POLYAMORY: “Poly” means “many” and “amor” means “love,” so polyamory means having multiple sexual and/or romantic relationships at once. Unlike swinging, polyamorous relationships tend to allow for the possibility of forming intimate bonds with others and even falling in love. (NOTE: This is different than polygamy, which is the practice of being married to multiple people at once.)

And some important words:

COMPERSION: Often called the opposite of jealousy, compersion is a positive emotion one feels when their partner experiences joy or pleasure from another relationship.

CHEATING: Yes, cheating exists in CNM relationships, too. It refers to any activity that violates the boundaries of the agreed-upon relationship.

The most important term to know about CNM is right there in the title:

CONSENSUAL: Meaning all parties involved have actively opted in to the CNM relationship and agreed on the terms. (Infidelity or affairs in a monogamous relationship are non-consensual, so they don’t fit within the CNM category.)

First and foremost, building a CNM relationship takes open and honest communication -- setting boundaries, exploring vulnerabilities, and understanding your specific wants and needs. If you’re having difficulty choosing a CNM style that works for you, if you and your partner have different ideas about what monogamy or CNM should look like, or if you’d like some guidance on navigating your relationship/s, you know how to reach us: