Ethical Non-Monogamy (ENM) or Consensual Non-Monogamy (CNM) relationships seem to be gaining a lot of popularity. With more and more people getting interested in learning about it and open to trying it, the stigma around having an ENM relationship is slowly fading away.
If you are curious to learn more about ENM relationships we’ve got you covered! In this blog, we will explore: the meaning of ENM; what are the different types of ENM relationships; myths related to ENM and; things to keep in mind while practicing ENM.
What are ENM Relationships?
The simplest way to understand ENM (Ethical Non-Monogamous) relationships is to view them as an openly and consensually intimate relationship or partnership with/between multiple people.
ENM relationships primarily embrace the idea that it is possible to have fulfilling, loving relationships with multiple people. With the condition that all individuals involved are informed, willing, respectful of one another’s boundaries and preferences.
It is not necessary for a person practicing ENM to have partners who are also in an ENM relationship. It can be mutually decided or one-sided. For example, if a person is in a polyamorous relationship with two individuals, it is not necessary that those two individuals would also be in a relationship. Whether with each other or anyone else on the outside. This type of relationship is a one-sided ENM relationship.
Core Principles of ENM Relationships
People who choose to practice ENM relationships tend to do so with a lot of self-awareness and emotional security where their emotions are not impacted by the choices of their partner and vice-versa. Core to the smooth functioning of an ENM relationship is communication, honesty, trust and consent. However, this alone is not enough, other key aspects of ENM include:
Respect: As in a monogamous relationship, in an ENM relationship treating all the partners and their choices with respect and consideration is crucial for maintaining healthy relationships.
Transparency: Clear expression of one’s intentions, feelings and interactions helps maintain trust and understanding between partners. Being transparent about your preferences and expectations from your partners creates an open space for true communication and expression to flourish.
Boundaries: Fundamental to ENM is the creation, acceptance and respect of boundaries. This enables people to know each other’s comfort levels and limits. Boundaries help you and partner(s) agree on what you want and don’t want.
Compersion: Compersion may not be a well-known concept, but that doesn’t make it any less important. Simply put, compersion is the opposite of jealousy. In the context of ENM, it means to feel pure and empathetic joy, happiness and even excitement when your partner experiences happiness, pleasure or love with another person. Compersion usually signifies a high level of emotional security and openness and hence, is highly valuable when practicing ENM relationships.
Communication: If you have decided to practice ENM, it is important to bear in mind that this will involve extensive communication to help you and your partner(s) navigate complex emotions, challenges and changes.
Types of ENM Relationship
Relationships can seem complicated on the outside and fully comprehensible only to the people in them. When it comes to defining what ENM relationships consist of, it is best to understand ENM as an umbrella term for many types of relationships. Some of these include:
Polyamory: Polyamory involves having multiple physical, emotional or romantic relationships at the same time, with consent of everyone involved. These relationships can vary in commitment and intensity, depending on the emotional connection.
Open Relationships: This relationship is when two individuals in a committed relationship agree to see people outside of the relationship. The connections they form outside the relationship are usually casual and not emotionally intense or serious. In an open relationship, setting ground rules protects and helps maintain the primary relationship.
Relationship Anarchy: Refers to people who reject hierarchy in a relationship and instead value and prioritise the autonomy and agency of each individual. This approach encourages fluid and non-prescriptive relationships.
Monogamish: Refers to the type of relationship between two individuals who are monogamous but occasionally seek out non-monogamous experiences, usually with established rules or boundaries.
Polyfidelity: This is a type of closed group relationship between 3 or more people, primarily emotionally connected to each other. The group itself functions as a committed unit and outside relationships are discouraged.
Triads and Quads: Triads involves 3 individuals and quads involves 4 people in a relationship. This type of relationship can take on various forms, whether it is that all the people are romantically connected or that some are more connected than the rest.
Swinging: When couples or individuals engage in sexual activities with other individuals or couples. It is generally focussed on recreational sex and can take place at parties or similar occasions. The nature of this relationship may be recurrent but is not committal.
Myths About having an ENM Relationship
Two myths are most commonly associated with the topic of ENM relationships. The first is the belief that people in an ENM relationship do not experience jealousy because it’s their choice. However, this could not be more untrue.
Jealousy is a common and perfectly natural human emotion like happiness, sadness and something as basic as hunger. The only difference is that the intensity of jealousy might be less and something that can easily be worked out peacefully because there is more space for open communication.
The second and more rampant myth about ENM relationships is that they are often passed off as an excuse to cheat by the uninitiated. But there is a significant difference between the two. When participating in an ENM relationship, all the parties involved are fully aware and in agreement to the terms of the relationship. Whereas while cheating, a person in a committed relationship engages in a sexual or emotional attachment without the knowledge and agreement of their partner(s).
Ethical Non-Monogamous relationships offer more inclusivity, fluidity and flexibility. They place individual desires and needs at the centre rather than curbing them for the sake of traditional conventions.
Practicing an ENM Relationship
It is important to acknowledge and accept that ENM is not for everyone. Practicing ENM requires a high level of communication skills, emotional intelligence and self-awareness. More than that, it requires a genuine willingness to practice it—we all have our own choices! What works for one person or group of people, might not work for others.
ENM emphasises the importance of designing relationships that align with the needs and desires of the individuals involved, rather than adhering to societal norms. ENM reflects an evolution of conventionalities, personal exploration and human desire for diverse and fulfilling relationships.
Practicing ENM requires setting up boundaries and rules as the dynamics of these relationships can vary widely based on the individual relationship between individuals. Key ethics for practicing ENM include:
- Open and effective communication
- Mutual consent
- Emotional security
- Respect of individuals’ needs and emotions
ENM (Ethical Non-Monogamy) is a relationship style that challenges traditional approaches to relationships and commitment. It is a more inclusive approach that allows individuals to engage in consensual and transparent relationships with multiple partners.
Fundamental to ENM is the belief that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to relationships because they are a personal experience for each individual. While ENM is a more evolutionary approach to relationships, it is not necessary that everyone would be interested in or comfortable with it.
The point of ENM relationships is not make monogamous relationships invalid but to merely provide an alternative to the conventional accepted forms of romantic relationships. As we become more self-aware and open, our needs, understandings and desires evolve with us. Over the years, ENM relationships have gained increasing recognition and acceptance as the society continues to evolve and we question traditional methods of doing things.
We hope this was helpful in understanding what ENM is and whether this is something you personally want to experience. Please remember that ENM is not a solution for fixing a relationship that has probably runs its course, but a lifestyle choice.
If your personal relationships are impacting your mental health and you think you could benefit from some professional help, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us.