What is polyamory? How do you open a relationship? Is non-monogamy natural?
Whether you’re exploring the idea of non-monogamy for the first time or have practiced polyamory for years, you probably have lots of questions about how it works (or how it can work better).
The journey into consensual non-monogamy can be rewarding, enlightening, and full of self-discovery…but it can also be difficult, emotionally taxing, and fraught with unexpected challenges. There’s a lot to know—and a lot to unlearn. Which is true even for those with plenty of poly experience.
Most of us are brought up understanding monogamy as the way things are done. Whether functional or otherwise, it was the model we grew up with. And certainly the culture we’re raised in.
But even conservative estimates place the number of people practicing some form of consensual non-monogamy in America at well over 10 million. Chances are you know at least one person engaging in CNM, whether you’re aware of it or not.
Which means that even if you’re not interested in CNM for your own life, educating yourself about the key terms and concepts of polyamory can help you form more open, empathetic, and trusted connections with the people in your life who are.
So where to begin learning about consensual non-monogamy? What should you know before opening your relationship?
As a poly-friendly relationship coach, I can tell you from personal and professional experience that the number one key to making polyamory work is communication. Followed closely by curiosity and empathy.
Every single one of us is embedded with myriad familial and cultural expectations, insecurities, and habits. Each of those play into how we respond to different situations and emotions that come up in relationships—with added complexity when CNM is also a factor.
Part of making polyam work includes unlearning deeply ingrained habits like sexual possessiveness, viewing jealousy as a measure of love, and expecting partners to fulfill all of our needs in one. It requires vulnerability, integrity, and the ability to hold steady and have clear discussions about difficult subjects.
No one honest will tell you that consensual non-monogamy is easy. But with plenty of education, myth-busting, and poly-informed counseling, I promise you it’s possible to find happiness, balance, and love in multiple relationships that fulfill different needs and enhance each other overall.
Keep reading to learn more about terms, topics, and tips about open relationships, polyamory, and other CNM concepts that come up in alternative relationship coaching.
Poly Terms & Definitions
What is polyamory? How is it different from an open relationship? What other types of alternative relationship structures are there? What's the difference between consensual non-monogamy (CNM) and ethical non-monogamy (ENM)?
Here are some of the basics for broadening your familiarity with concepts and language related to polyamory and CNM.
Jealousy & Compersion
What is jealousy? It's a complex emotion associated with something of ours being taken by another. It can trigger other emotions like anger, anxiety, and abandonment—and often cascades into a fight/flight response.
Jealousy is handled differently in monogamy vs poly/CNM relationships. Learn more about reframing jealousy through empathy, curiosity, communication, and focusing on compersion—the positive emotion you feel when your partner has an enjoyable experience with another.
Developed by the Couples Institute and popularized by Martha Kauppi, the Initiator/Inquirer model of relationship communication is a powerful coaching tool—that you can also practice on your own.
Each partner assumes a role. The Initiator has something they want their partner to understand deeper. The Inquirer is the one listening with empathy and probing for more.
It’s a great way to practice curiosity and extended listening, and when it’s successful can open doors for partners to discover exciting new things about each other.
How Poly Stirs Up Trauma
I can tell you from personal experience—the journey into poly can bring up trauma demons you thought vanquished long ago.
Whether you or your partner(s) have trauma in your backgrounds, it's important to understand how even minor PTSD can add fuel to the complex emotions associated with consensual non-monogamy—and potentially lead to mental health crises.
Learn more about trauma and poly, and how you can support yourself and your partner(s) as things come up.
How to Open a Relationship
Though best done with help from a poly-friendly coach, it is entirely possible to find happiness in transitioning from monogamy to an open relationship. It doesn't have to be traumatic. In fact I've had more than one client tell me how opening to consensual non-monogamy saved their marriage.
There's a lot to consider when it comes to opening a monogamous relationship. Communication is a big factor. Careful self-examination of emotions, vulnerability, and what your wants really mean is another.
Let's talk about attachment styles, jealousy & compersion, empathy, patience, and all the good stuff.
Coaching for Multiple Partners
Though I'm licensed as an LCSW in Virginia, the traditional therapy model isn't equipped to handle unconventional relationship structures like polyamorous triads or long-distance primary partners.
That's why I practice instead as an intimacy coach. So my hands aren't tied (so to speak) by the rules of sex therapy.
Learn how poly friendly relationship coaching can set you up for continued success—however that looks to you.
Lipservice: DIY Sex Talk Guide
A couples communication game for passion & intimacy
Talk your way through the brain-bed barrier with this free 4-week DIY course in relationship communication, gratitude, desire, and touch.