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A view on plural love

The interest in the world of multiple relationships commonly experience feelings of shame and guilt. In fact, stigma in the expression of sexuality still persists. Namely, in most Western cultures the monogamous relational model is assumed as the ideal paradigm in committed relationships. The prevalent defence of this paradigm in our society devalues and stigmatises the types of relationships that do not fit this mould, even when consensual, and promotes shared beliefs of these as less moral, of lower quality, less satisfying and with increased risks for well-being and health.

Firstly, when we speak of consensual non-monogamous relationships, we mean consensual romantic, sexual, amorous and affective relationships between two or more people of any gender. All elements explicitly agree that each partner has romantic and/or sexual relations with other people. The specific agreements of this type of relationships vary significantly and, through these differences, we can distinguish several variants of the "umbrella" that is consensual non-monogamy, namely:

  • Polyamory: Relationships whose elements have multiple romantic or sexual partners at the same time.

  • Ménage à trois or threesome: A sexual experience between a couple and a third element.

  • Swinging: A sexual relationship between two couples, in which the partners can be "swapped" during the encounter.

  • Cuckolding: A sexual experience between two people where a third element is only involved with one of them, commonly while the partner watches.

  • Hierarchical relationships: A relationship characterized by a hierarchy of partners (usually a couple), in which there is a distinction between primary partners and secondary partners.

  • Polyfidelity: A relationship between a group of people, and whose members are hierarchically equal partners. No one has sexual/romantic relations with people outside the group.

  • Relational anarchy: An approach to relationships, generally nonhierarchical, which has no established rules or expectations except what is agreed upon by the partners.

  • Open relationships: Relationships in which the couple or set of "core" partners are actively open to new romantic or sexual partners.

  • Monogamish: Relationship in which a couple who are mostly monogamous, but occasionally may have sexual relations with other people in certain situations.

  • Casual dating: When people engage in romantic/sexual relations with multiple people, with their consent and knowledge of this approach.

Furthermore, this type of relationships, like any other type, can allow for the exploration of new experiences on an individual level and bring new levels of trust and intimacy to a relationship, however, living according to a plural model of love/sexuality has numerous challenges.

It is essential to consider two aspects: 1) the presence of a feeling of secure attachment. In a non-monogamous context, the absence of this feeling can bring many insecurities and, consequently, can lead to the isolation of the relationship members and to avoid expressing what they feel, or to experience high levels of anxiety; 2) understand why a non-monogamous relational system might be appropriate. The choice of non-monogamy is not a solution to the lack of desire or intimacy, or to any other difficulty in the relationship - it is not a compensation, but an addition, a complement. The elements of the relationship must be aligned with their desire to explore and experience the unknown, and to embrace the challenges that a plural model of love/sexuality may entail.

Several couples are increasingly identifying with consensual non-monogamy and are interested in exploring this plural model of love/sexuality, even within their traditionally monogamous relationship. However, communicating this interest to the other element of the couple, can be challenging, due to existing stigma and mononormativity (i.e. social valorisation of monogamy over non-monogamy). Although there is no one correct formula for communicating sexuality with your significant other, some key points can be taken into consideration that will increase the likelihood of these experiences being positive and fulfilling for the members of the relationship:

  1. Have realistic expectations. It is important to manage your expectations about your partner's reaction while discussing the issue of non-monogamy. Recognize and validate any insecurities, confusion or uncertainty that might naturally arise. Your partner's reaction may also activate some intense emotions in you. In this sense, it is essential that you are aware, deal positively with your inner experience and express what you are feeling;

  2. Choose the right time and place. You should ask yourself about the stability and connection in your relationship, and whether you are ready, as a couple, and as an individual person, to discuss a topic with high emotional weight;

  3. Set your intentions. Start the conversation with your partner by telling them how and what you know about consensual non-monogamous relationships; ensure your partner that does not have to agree or disagree immediately with what you are proposing or suggesting; be honest and clear about what you want to get out of this new model and how you could apply it in the relationship. Throughout the process, reinforce the importance of your relationship and its growth.

  4. Listen actively. A compassionate and non-judgmental attitude towards your partner is essential to create a safe and healthy space for communication. It is important that you are able to actively listen and understand your partner's thoughts and feelings.

  5. Separate the needs of the relationship from individual needs. You both need to understand each other's individual needs and perspectives, and then explore what decision is most beneficial to the relationship. What works for the relationship may be different from what would work for you individually.

  6. Give your partner time and resources. Reinforce your acceptance of the fact that your partner needs time and space to understand their thoughts and feelings. Share resources with the genuine intention of wanting to support him or her and without the expectation of them agreeing to explore a non-monogamous relationship as a result.

  7. Seek support. You don't have to explore this new relationship model alone. You both need support. Psychological counselling is available and may help in these situations.

Finally, remember that it is okay if non-monogamy is not in your and/or your partner's best interest, at this moment or in the future, just as monogamy is not in everyone's best interest.

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