When my husband James and I first got together eight years ago, it was in a monogamous relationship. But after we built a loving, trusting partnership—one that alleviated the emotional baggage I carried from a prior abusive relationship—I found that I was able to access parts of myself that I’d previously closed off. I discovered that I was a cuckquean (a woman who is aroused by her partner having an affair with another woman) and that I wanted to open up our relationship.
The idea of James sleeping with other women drove me mad with jealousy, and yet that jealousy felt so intensely good. The best way to describe this experience is that, because I felt emotionally secure within my relationship, I could sit in the fiery sensation that jealousy conjures without burning alive; it warmed and exhilarated me rather than consuming me.
The prospect of actually engaging in this fantasy, however, sparked loud, conflicting voices in my head. One voice promised that this lifestyle would make our relationship all the more fulfilling, while the other warned of the opposite. I was fighting with myself, but one feeling remained consistent: I loved James, and I also wanted to explore pleasure beyond ourselves.
Over the past four-plus years together, we’ve done just that, carefully weighing the pros and cons of non-monogamy and crafting a version of it that suits us both. The process has been a gateway to personal and relationship growth and enhanced pleasure. But it certainly hasn’t always been easy or linear.
Mainstream society tends to reinforce a primarily monogamous relationship structure and offers little guidance on anything outside of it, much less the nuanced feelings that non-monogamy can spark.
I've noticed non-monogamy becoming increasingly popular, but even so, mainstream society tends to reinforce a primarily monogamous relationship structure that offers little guidance on anything outside of that, much less the nuanced feelings that non-monogamy can spark. Below, I share how I’ve learned to navigate the fear and jealousy that can arise with non-monogamy and the advice I offer clients who aim to do the same.
5 tips to manage fear and jealousy when embracing non-monogamy with a partner
1. Discuss both the upsides of non-monogamy and of your individual relationship
Clear communication is a cornerstone of any healthy relationship, but it is especially important when you’re aiming to open up a relationship or fundamentally change its structure. By talking candidly about why you have the desire for a particular version of non-monogamy or a monogamish relationship with a partner, you also have the chance to address the what-ifs, which can help quell fears that arise naturally because of what is still unknown.
Here are a few questions that my husband and I considered when we discussed opening our relationship:
- What sides of non-monogamy interested me? And why?
- Was he interested in a monogamish relationship? If so, why?
- What were our biggest fears when it came to embracing non-monogamy?
- What role would each of us play?
- What boundaries needed to be established?
In figuring out how you and a partner could both stand to benefit from non-monogamy, it’s equally important to reiterate what you value in the relationship you share with each other, according to sex and intimacy coach Rebekah Beneteau. “Maybe you two nest and co-parent really well together, but sexually you’re both dominant,” she says. “You may then want to get that need met somewhere else, while still recognizing that you have these other terrific connection points.”
The clear recognition that your current monogamous relationship has real value can help mitigate some of the natural fear and jealousy that can come with inviting others into the fold.
2. Define how you’ll each continue to be included in each other’s pleasure
When my husband and I were first embracing non-monogamy, I felt jealousy at the realization that I would no longer be the singular or even primary source of his sexual pleasure.
Beneteau defines this type of jealousy with an equation: turn-on + exclusion. “You don’t get jealous if your husband is doing their taxes with someone else,” she says, of exclusion without the turn-on.
Because our version of non-monogamy would involve sex acts with others, the antidote to jealousy was in figuring out how we could reduce feelings of exclusion and continue to be included in each other’s pleasure, both sexually and otherwise. This involved adopting the fundamental understanding that love and sex aren’t innately or always connected, and setting clear boundaries around our sexual relationships with others, so each of us felt included in those decisions.
3. Use self-reflection to examine the true source of your fears around non-monogamy
Typically, pain and fear are survival mechanisms that spring from perceived threat. The important thing to note, though, is that many of our perceptions of threat in relationships aren’t rooted in actual danger so much as they are in societal conditioning around monogamy—that “real” love is monogamous love, that we should search for “the one,” or that we should be able to have all our needs met by one person.
Many of our perceptions of threat in relationships aren’t rooted in actual danger so much as they are in societal conditioning around monogamy.
By taking “an intellectual look at the fears we feel [surrounding non-monogamy],” or following them with an objective lens, we can determine whether they're actually true to us or are just stemming from the monogamous narratives that have been imparted onto us (and no longer serve us), says sociologist and relationship consultant Elisabeth "Eli" Scheff, PhD.
To do that, try implementing a self-reflection practice, such as journaling, to track your fears to their cores, and decide whether or not they have real merit. Understanding that the root of my fears around non-monogamy was in the societal narratives I once harbored has helped liberate me from those stories—and it could do the same for you.
4. Take small steps toward non-monogamy
Trial and error can feel intimidating when it comes to transitioning a monogamous relationship into a non-monogamous one—which is why gradual steps are key to success. Here are a few exercises from my personal tool kit to help you test the waters when you’re managing feelings of fear and jealousy:
- People-watch with your partner with the intention of sharing whom you find attractive.
- Have an ethical porn date during which you watch porn and play together or separately (be it in different rooms or through mutual masturbation).
- Explore online dating apps, either as a couple or separately. Start by chatting only, increasing engagement as you both see fit.
These items are meant to be entry-level actions you can take, with low emotional risk, to gauge how each of you feel when your partner is thinking about or engaging with someone else. The point is to communicate at every stage what works and what doesn’t so you can either continue forward or recalibrate accordingly. This way, you don’t risk accidentally pushing things too far too quickly in a way that leaves one or both partners feeling hurt.
5. Remember that *you* are always your primary partner
Being your own primary partner means “you are not willing to lose yourself for the sake of any relationship, and that anybody coming into your space just has the power to enhance it and bring something juicy, new, and fun,” says Beneteau.
What I love about this concept is that it shifts the focus from feelings of fear and potential inadequacy to individual empowerment.
The structure of your relationship has less to do with the success of it than the quality of the relationship itself.
When my husband and I transitioned from monogamous to monogamish, I navigated some frustration. I could feel that this was the right path for me, and yet, I was terrified of the consequences. What I learned, however, is what you bring to a relationship—trust, honesty, communication, love, respect—will best determine the longevity of that partnership and how satisfied you are within it (not whether it’s monogamous or non-monogamous or somewhere in-between).
As a result, it’s especially important to tend to your relationship with yourself if you find that you’re facing fear and jealousy in the pursuit of non-monogamy. “The relationship you have with yourself is foundational in how you move through the world,” says Beneteau.
One way to strengthen that relationship to self is to set your own pleasure as your compass. By reflecting on your desires for non-monogamy and following the path that you believe will bring you the most pleasure—even in the face of your fears—you’ll move toward your authentic self and a more fulfilling relationship, too. The journey will likely involve ample communication and trial-and-error, but remembering that it’s ultimately all in the name of your pleasure can help mitigate emotional setbacks and make it that much more rewarding in the end.
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