A lot of people dismiss articles about ethical non-monogamy or polyamory out of hand. If they’re not interested in that lifestyle, why should they read about it? There’s nothing there for them to learn, right?
Because hidden within ethical non-monogamy are the secrets to keeping monogamous relationships strong.
What makes a relationship work varies from person to person
None of us are the same. The things I want in my ideal relationship may be nothing like the things you want. A relationship is something you form and develop between yourself and your partner. Trying to emulate what others have is a recipe for disappointment.
For example, my perfect relationship includes the freedom to date other people. But for those who are happily monogamous, this would be disastrous.
However, all relationships share the same basic foundations. And these are universal.
Relationship skills aren’t something we’re born with or learn in school. Like most skills, we learn through experience, through our relationships. Growing up, we may never have learned healthy ways to cope, handle conflict or express ourselves. In fact, we may have learned just the opposite.
If we don’t look at other relationship models, we put ourselves at risk of no longer seeing these skills. We see what a successful relationship looks like, but not what makes it successful.
How does ethical non-monogamy help?
Looking at relationships from an alternative angle lets us see their building blocks from a new perspective.
When I began my journey into non-monogamy, there were no established examples for me to follow. No successful representations in the media I could look to and say “That’s the goal”.
I had no choice but to put in the work on my own.
We can change […] by looking for new role models in couples or individuals who we admire. We can adopt as our own the styles of relating we observe that resonate with how we want to be in our relationships. We can set personal goals for ourselves and try to challenge and change behavior that is self-limiting or that actually sabotages our relationships.
I had no choice but to engage and adapt my relationship skills. To look at how my past experiences were holding me back:
- I had to learn how to communicate with my new partners, as well as adapt how I communicated with my current partner;
- I had to grow my empathy for those in my relationships, understanding it wasn’t all about me;
- I had to actively consider exactly what it was I wanted from a relationship, recognising and acknowledging when and if this changed;
- I had to remove all my assumptions about what other people were feeling or wanting.
And the thing is, none of these skills are new. But before I was polyamorous I never thought about them. I had grown complacent.
And this is the big — and to be honest, poorly kept — secret
The skills needed for a successful ethically non-monogamous relationship are the same skills needed for a successful monogamous one.
A relationship is a relationship. The number of people involved doesn’t matter. The reasons for them are the same, and the skills needed to grow and maintain them are the same.
This is why it’s important for monogamous people to learn from the polyamorous community. Having learned to look at relationships from a new angle, we are learning how to actively engage. And actively engaging with our relationships is just as important in monogamy.
Just more easily forgotten.
Relationships are personal. You can’t take a friendship between two people and make the same arrangement work for two others. And it’s the same with romantic relationships. You can’t simply take what works for someone else and expect it to work for you, because you’ll be living someone else’s life, not your own.
This is the lesson polyamory has taught me. I can no longer look outside myself for my own happiness. I need to be honest with myself about what I want in a relationship, and I need to actively engage with the skills needed to maintain that relationship.
Even if you have no interest whatsoever in exploring ethical non-monogamy, there is a huge benefit to listening to what we have to say.
Our lifestyles may be different, but the core skills are the same.
These are transferable skills, and we only want to share them.
Previously Published on medium
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