In my last post I talked about exploring sexuality, in part that was prompted by another blog that had followed me on Twitter. That notification and the link to the blog got me wondering about some things. I asked a number of questions in my blog as I started this exploration.
As I’ve been learning and exploring sexuality in general as I tried to make my own relationships work, and for the past several months researching for topics on the blog, I have come across the term “ethical non-monogamy,” or “consensual non-monogamy.” I prefer the ethical name as I think that includes consent along with being aware of how things are affecting other issues, such as safety. Taking what I have learned in the exploration I would like to apply some of the terminology to monogamy. I have asked some people what monogamy means and have gotten different answers.
Looking up monogamy online I come up with either one mate, marriage, or relationship partner for life, or it could mean one at time but various companions through life. So if I consider myself monogamous, am I committing to one person, or one person at a time? I know people who have lost a spouse at a fairly young age and really struggle with feelings of guilt when they start to feel drawn to someone once they are finished with the grieving process. It is interesting that so many seem to know what monogamy means. Even though they say they understand it can be one after another after another as long as it is one at a time, then feel guilt at moving on to the next even when society accepts that of their situation. I’m often hearing of people who easily accept the serial nature of monogamy yet often overlap relationships.
I will present here what I think ethical monogamy is. I will warn you here at the beginning that some of it is just part of a good relationship no matter if it is monogamous or not. Let me point out I’m not basing these ideas on legal marriage as that is basically a civil contract to help assign rights and responsibilities under the law. This is more to do with relationships based on romantic love and sex. Those two don’t always go together but when the do occur together, there is a wonderful enjoyment to the relationship. So what makes a monogamous relationship ethical?
This is being written in little chunks over a number of days. On the morning of the particular day I’m writing this block I was referred to a podcast through a post on Reddit. It is an episode of Normalizing Non-Monogamy from December. Here is a link to that episode. Even though I’m not sure if the couple interviewed (a seniors in training couple named Danielle and Clayton of Fighting Boring Marriages here and hopefully here soon.) have been or will become non-monogamous, they talk a lot about the monogamy they were raised to expect. Podcasts of that length give me so much information at once that I don’t always absorb it all. In my opinion they describe a monogamy that is a perfect example of a form that is not ethical. My wife and I were both raised in that same society. As they described some of what they have learned coming out of that paradigm I was like, of course, I already know that just from so many years of coping with similar situations. There were times I was like, there is something I’ve never thought of.
One of the things I think an ethical monogamous relationship needs is for the two involved to accept they are two separate people. They may function as a team in certain situations, but they are two people. There is a myth that two people will become one. It is a fairy tale with no real basis in fact. It is a dream. My wife expected that to just happen and has a real struggle with accepting I’m not what she dreamt of. She is learning what it takes and hasn’t tried to end our relationship, but there have been times of real struggle to deal with the fact I don’t necessarily know what she wants or choose the same as her. I don’t think it is ethical to expect someone to know what you are thinking.
The way to deal with the reality when you realize that “two are one” is a myth, is to learn the tools for good, open, honest, communication. An ethically monogamous relationship will have assertive communication where both parties are learning and sharing. One thing the podcast didn’t make clear is that there is a lot of aggressive communication in those forced monogamous relationships, whether it is passive aggression or what I think of as bully aggression, it is aggressive. Aggression doesn’t form good relationships. Aggression may get you some selfish item or experience, but it isn’t a good way to build a lasting relationship. Since we have few friends, most of my interactions with other married couples now is through my wife’s family. We have a family funeral in a couple of days and I’m gearing up my defenses to the aggressive communication that is likely to occur. Since it will be out of our state of residence I’m hoping only her two siblings that seem to be closer to assertive communicators will be there.
Another thing that can make it difficult for a relationship to be ethically monogamous is having any expectations. Since sex isn’t discussed in these toxically monogamous relationships, many other things are also just expected to be certain ways. I’m not saying you can’t have expectations of your partner following through with something they have committed to. I’m saying the only expectations you can have are after communicating and reaching some form of agreement. Don’t expect your partner to want or be willing to participate in something until he or she has consented to trying to live up to that expectation. Remember and respect that they are a separate person with their own wants, desires, and fears. When you both communicate to the point you consent to each other to some action, then you can expect them to follow through with the agreement.
At no time here have I said I think you need to commit to each other some kind of exclusive arrangement. I remember when I first started learning about Celtic cultures between 15 and 20 years ago. One thing I saw in a couple of sources was the idea they could commit to a year of monogamous relationship (marriage) then either renew the commitment, try to make it for life, or dissolve it and move on. I think our current culture with the ease of divorce is only slightly more restrictive from a legal point of view. The podcast I mentioned earlier used the term monogamish. I have heard this term before and have found it needs to be defined each time as it has some slight differences in meaning depending on who is using it. I think a monogamous relationship would be ethical if it were mongamish. The two people involved have to communicate their hopes, desires, and fears to the extent they can define the relationship in their own terms.
So an ethically monogamous relationship would include respect that the two people are separate when they need to be and a team when they want to be. It would be based on communication leading to a consensus definition of what the relationship is, does it include naked friends, does it include some form of bondage, does it include some form of impact play, in other words, how do you keep the relationship fresh and growing? One thing that I can’t really talk about other than as a statement is; it would not be static, but would be evolving all the time.
Some people who are ethically non-monogamous would never consider some kind of kink play. They would stick with pretty much vanilla sex with different partners. Some kinksters would never consider different partners but would do some really wild things with their monogamous partner. Some people enjoy a blending of whatever they are comfortable with from all the different forms of sexual expression that are out there. We need to influence society to accept what ever form of expression people want to use as long as consent is given from all involved and whatever safety considerations there may be are properly followed. That expression could even be some form of ethical monogamy.