My first relationship was incredibly cute. Our first date was prom, where we playfully danced the night away, strolled barefoot to his mom's house, and marveled at the sunrise. He was a perfect gentleman, carrying my shoes home and holding me closely as we drifted into a peaceful slumber. As our love deepened, the concept of monogamy was implied but never formally addressed. The (one!) conversation we had was as uncomplicated as ‘Want to go out?’ ‘Absolutely!’
Four years later, we broke up because I had only ever been with one person and craved more experiences. I still loved him, but as soon as I started feeling a strong attraction to other people, I figured that meant that the only way forward was to break up.
Fast forward to the current day - I'm a sex and relationship coach who works with couples interested in opening up their relationship. And I can't imagine ever being in a fully monogamous relationship again.
So, what does Monogamish mean? Dr. Nazanin Moali defines monogamish as ‘individuals who are in primarily monogamous relationships but with certain flexible boundaries’. Dr. Moali continues, ‘While these relationships may permit varying degrees of emotional or sexual involvement with others, the fundamental understanding in these relationships is that there is a primary partner who remains the central focus.’
Being monogamish has taken various forms for me. In some relationships, it involved a sexual openness for me and not my partner (I felt like I won the lottery with that one). In other relationships, making out was cool and hand stuff (if necessary); in others, it was a don't ask, don't tell policy with specific ground rules.
A monogamish lifestyle has as many iterations as there are monogamish people. I spoke to Cleo & Hank, a monogamish couple in their 40s, who shared that their approach was to empathize with each other's feelings and be clear about how they felt instead of having hard rules. Cleo shared: ‘I don't like when my husband gets too flirtatious when texting someone else, or when he wants to go out with a girl by himself. He doesn't like it if we're at a party and I want to play with a group, and he isn't attracted to anyone involved.’ Other couples I spoke to shared having rules around using protection, regular STI testing, only having sex with people they don't see as potential partners, only having threesomes, and only having sex with people of a different gender as their partner.
The beauty (and struggle) of opening up your relationship is that it forces you to figure out exactly where your boundaries are and work with your partner to find a middle ground. You have to make up your own rules. To do that, you have to be aware of your boundaries and figure out how to communicate that to a partner. Do you need to be a part of my partner's sexual interactions, or are you open to them having their own experiences? Can your partner have penetrative sex with other people or just oral sex? Do you want to know what goes down, or is ‘don't ask, don't tell’ better for you? Does this openness only apply to strangers, or are friends ok? Should it be one-time interactions, or are you open to them developing a relationship? These are not easy questions - trust me!
How to dip your toes into the monogamish lifestyle
Have an honest conversation with your partner.
Share with your partner why you are interested in having some level of openness in your relationship while being clear that they are still your priority. Psychotherapist Kat Kova recommends that you shouldn't open up your relationship to appease your partner or to attempt to salvage a dying relationship. However, having some discrepancies in how you envision opening up your relationship is very normal.
Take it Slow
Regardless of the end goal, the biggest problem I see with couples interested in exploring non-monogamy is that they dive in too fast. Start with having one partner go out with the intention to flirt (but perhaps having rules around having no physical contact yet) and see how the other partner feels sitting home knowing that their partner is flirting. Then, after debriefing, you can slowly work your way to experiencing more overtly sexual experiences.
Create Clear Rules
Make sure you are both super clear on the rules. I can't tell you how many sessions I've had with couples feeling hurt because their partner crossed ill-defined lines. Be very specific about what you'd like to hear about, when you'd like to hear about it, and what is kosher and what is not. Make sure that the rules have to do with actions and not feelings - for example, telling someone they can't be ‘too into’ anyone they date is impossible to follow, but telling someone that sleepovers aren't permitted is a rule that can be followed.
Remember that as people change, so will the rules. Sometimes, you only know your boundaries once they've been breached. I spoke to M, a 36-year-old monogamish fellow who shared: ‘I tried not wanting to know any details of when she (my wife) was with a new partner, and that failed miserably. I thought that I could do it but I couldn't. But from that, we both grew in our understanding of what we were willing to compromise on and talked it through a lot. Just doing that made me a better person.’
So, whether you're considering a monogamish lifestyle or just curious about the possibilities, remember that the key is honest conversation, taking it slow, and creating clear rules that adapt as you and your partner evolve. I never thought I could have a committed, steady relationship and be free to explore the excitement and novelty of new people. If this concept intrigues you, consider doing some research, talking to your partner about it, and maybe even booking a session with a specialist who understands non-monogamy.