The range of Ethically Non-Monogamous relationships is as diverse as the range of personality types in the world.
However, there is a small number of key categories:
- Friends With Benefits
- Open relationships
Friends With Benefits generally refers to single people who play with each other but do not consider themselves to be in relationships with each other.
In an open relationship, it is agreed that each partner in a couple may see others – but not form other emotional attachments.
Swinging involves couples playing with other couples – often at the same time in the same place.
With polyamory, people accept having more than one partner with whom they have emotional bonds.
These are very simple explanations of a colourful spectrum of options. And the differences between them are not always clear. Individuals and couples can morph from one category to another, or not, depending on boundaries that are negotiated and clearly agreed – preferably before any changes are acted upon.
There are also sub-categories within categories.
Some couples try swinging but report they have trouble finding other couples in which they are both attracted to both people in the other couple and hence agree that it is ok to see individuals separately. But a boundary may be that other people seen must also be in committed open relationships.
Polyamorous relationships are typically categorised as being:
- Hierarchical – Primary relationships are recognised and respected (for example ‘nesting’ partners who live together and/or have kids); or
- Non-Hierarchical – Everyone is considered equal (regardless of living arrangements)
There is also Solo Poly in which a person prioritises themselves (for example lives alone and/or needs to spend a lot of time as an individual) but still is in relationships with others.
And polyamorous people make decisions about whether their relationship groups are closed (no one sleeps with/is emotionally committed to anyone outside the group) or are open.
It can take quite some time, sometimes years, for couples to decide to live non-monogamously and find others they like enough to give it a go.