June 5


Consensual Non-Monogamy 101: Let’s name some basics

By Tatyana Kholodkov

June 5, 2023

We Specialize In Working with People in Non-Traditional Relationships

Some individuals find that being with just one person for all of their needs doesn’t feel quite right in their lives. Project Yes PLLC therapist’s practice specializes in working with folks who are curious about, or already have non-traditional relationships.  Consensual non-monogamy, or CNM, is a broad term that refers to a number of different types of relationship configurations that are a departure from traditional, monogamous relationships. 

Different Types of Consensual Non-Monogamy

These include but are not limited to, polyamory, open relationships, swinging, and relationship anarchy. The key word in CNM is consent, from all parties involved. This consent can only be obtained when all folks involved have knowledge that multiple relationships are taking place, whether sexual or romantic in nature. 

Beautiful colorful beetles work together on a tree representing the need to work as a unit in Ethical Non-Monogamy in Durham, NC.

Communication is Key 

When practicing ethical non-monogamy, open and honest communication is crucial. Starting to navigate poly relationships takes preparation and thoughtfulness. Regular check-ins from all parties involved ensure that consent can be truly given, and feelings about a situation can quickly change as variables evolve. Ongoing communication helps establish expectations and boundaries and reduces the risk of harm. Both prior to engaging in ethical non-monogamy, and once on the journey, it is necessary to be able to express emotions that are arising, how needs are being met, and concerns to be addressed swiftly. 

Develop Effective Communication Skills

Developing effective communication habits can help maintain healthy relationships for all parties involved. You can think about it this way: in traditional relationships, there may be only two individuals involved in communication. Once CNM is introduced, the need for communication is multiple. That is because each person needs to be able to process what is happening. Every individual has their own unique worldview, attachment style, ideas about rules, and emotional needs. Assumptions breed disasters!

Managing Emotions in Consensual Non-Monogamy

Even with all the communication in the world, and pre-planning of what would make things feel best, we are still human and bound to experience complicated feelings.  Intense emotions can arise particularly when new relationships unfold and when they end. Watching your partner give someone else attention or time can feel like a threat. Requests for adjustments in boundaries can be both necessary and painful. Jealousy and insecurity can be particularly challenging experiences in CNM.

Relationship Therapy Can Help You Become More Aware

Particularly with the aid of relationship therapy, we can become more aware of how to not trigger unnecessary distress in a partner, and be mindful of how to take care of attachment wounds we each carry. When navigating CNM, it is essential to go slow enough to process the feelings that arise and to figure out how to constructively manage them. Our therapy clients find it helpful to not only communicate with partners but also to develop for themselves emotion regulation skills so as to be able to take care of the feelings that arise, rather than be reactive. Over time, it may also be possible to develop compersion or the quality of rejoicing in a partner’s joy. 

Street art of a bird flying next to  heart with thorny flowers around it representing the complex emotions that can be part of Consensual Non-Monogamy in Durham, NC.

Boundaries keep relationships healthy…

Many of us have to work hard to effectively set boundaries, and especially in more complex relationships, we simply cannot do without crucial conversations. Healthy, assertive communication relies also on clarifying for ourselves what it is that we want and then negotiating with all parties involved so there is clear consent.

Be Supported in Affirming Therapy

Project Yes PLLC clients seeking help with non-monogamy are supported in exploring what they may consider as acceptable and unacceptable behavior with regard to the nature of the relationships they are involved in. Clients define their perspectives on sexual contact and protection practices, time commitment, emotional connections, and what aspects of their lives their partners are involved in. 

Boundaries are Fluid

Boundaries by their very nature are fluid and are updated as circumstances change. Consent is therefore not a one-and-done discussion, but rather boundaries may need to be re-defined to ensure that all parties fully agree to engage in the relationship configuration. This helps preserve physical, emotional, and psychological safety, as well as support trust. 

We’ve got to talk about Sexual Safety in Consensual Non-Monogamy

Expanding one’s sexual partners necessitates thinking through safer sex practices.  It can be helpful, if one is in a primary relationship, to first establish what helps that partnership stay sexually safe. This can dictate parameters regarding the use of condoms, regularity of testing for sexually transmitted infections, taking prophylactic medication, and having sexual health be a topic of discussion.

Factors to Consider

Factors to consider include how many other partners someone you are engaging with is involved in, and what kind of safety practices they may have. Some individuals set rules about testing and protection that need to be revised if more individuals are involved in the polycule or sexual network. If there is a potential for pregnancy, discussions in advance about prevention (if desired) help reduce situations in which one finds themselves unprepared. You may also think through what would happen if someone was to get pregnant. 

A purple tulip waiting to bloom. Help your non-traditional relationship blossom and grow with the help of Relationship Therapy in Durham, NC.

There are only 24 hours in a day

Think about the emotional and practical resources of time spent with a partner.  Engaging in consensual non-monogamy can require an additional time commitment that is now not being used for a primary relationship, household or occupational obligations, and taking care of one’s health or friendships. New relationship energy (NRE) can also be a driving force in wanting to spend as much time as possible with a partner.  Thus, polyamory and other CNM practices are a balancing act to make sure that you are taking care of your life and that all partners feel valued. 

Balancing life and opening up relationships 

Everything is a resource: time, attention, conversation bandwidth, money, forethought, driving, and food. When we engage with others, we may need to be mindful of how these resources are used, and when they are invested in a connection, how that impacts other domains of our life. If one is with a primary partner, a discussion of how much of your resources you can invest in consensual non-monogamy can help your partner continue to feel like a priority. You also need to regularly check in and be honest with yourself about how you are doing! These resources are subject to negotiation with those you are involved with.  Otherwise, you may find yourself feeling rushed, distracted, and unfulfilled. 

It can be hard to talk about non-monogamous relationships

Even though it is 2023 and sociocultural factors are changing, society’s perceptions of CNM vary widely. You may face judgments and misunderstandings from friends, family, colleagues, and neighbors. There may be aspects of your relationships you can now discuss only with those who are affirming to you and your relationships. There can be a “coming out” process as relationships evolve, including with one’s children.

Work with a Relationship Therapist to Find Support

Our clients often work through how they would answer questions when they disclose to others in their circle. We hope you can also find providers who are CNM-affirming, including sex-positive therapists and doctors. It is important to find support for your life experiences, and we encourage you to consider community-based offerings that Project Yes PLLC offers including Polyamory Workshops and support groups! 

A beautiful purple flower that has fully bloomed representing the growth that can happen in Consensual Non Monogamy Relationships with the help of a Couples Therapist in Durham, NC.

You don’t have to figure this out on your own!

It is essential to remember that each consensual non-monogamous relationship is unique. What works for one individual, polycule, or group may not be suitable for another. The pillars of maintaining one’s individual health, having open communication, and practicing ongoing consent form the bedrock of healthy and fulfilling ENM relationships. But for each set of individuals, there are parameters as unique as who you are! 

Explore Your Options with a Couples Therapist in Durham, NC, That Specializes in Consensual Non-Monogamy.

Have you been wanting to talk about polyamory, or needing a sex-positive therapist? We’ve got you! Every Project Yes PLLC therapist works with folks all along the continuums of desire, queerness, polyamory, kink, and radical self-expression. We are not experts in your life and won’t tell you what to do. However, we can help guide you in your process and give you tools to be the healthiest version of YOU! Check out our bios to see who may be the best fit for your therapy needs. 

Other Services Offered by Project Yes

In addition to Relationship Therapy, we offer Psychotherapy Services for Sex-Positive and Kink FriendlyAnxietyInsomniaIntegrative HealthOCD, and Trauma and PTSD as well as Yoga and Meditation Options. Additionally, we offer Psychedelic PsychotherapyKetamine-Assisted Psychotherapy, and more. We look forward to guiding you on your journey toward optimal physical and mental well-being.

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