How to Talk to Your Partner About Ethical Non-Monogamy

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Last night’s episode of “The Bachelors Australia” brought about a new conversation for the franchise — one about polyamory and ethical non-monogamy.

Ethical non-monogamy (ENM) has become much more prevalent in the modern dating world, with fluidity of all forms becoming much more acceptable in relationship dynamics across the board.

According to recent research done by Bumble and published in their Dating Redefined report, a third (33 percent) of single Australians think ethical non-monogamy is the way of the future. Gen Z are the most likely generation to agree with this (42 percent), followed by millennials (36 percent) and Gen X (24 percent).

However, its popularity within the modern dating scene didn’t seem to make things less complicated for Jessica, one of Bachelor Felix Von Hofe‘s favourites on “The Bachelors”.

Offscreen, Jessica had shared with her fellow contestants that she was in an open, polyamorous relationship with her boyfriend, Damien, back in Townsville. This prompted Tash, one of Bachelor Jed McIntosh‘s girls, to tell Jed about Jessica’s relationship status, saying that she’d “want to know” if someone she was dating “had a boyfriend”.

As you can imagine, chaos ensued.

“I considered not going on the show,” Jessica Navin told POPSUGAR Australia over the phone. “I was worried for my mental health, how myself and Damien would be perceived. I didn’t want Australia to misunderstand us, or where we were coming from.”

“It was actually Damien who originally suggested we try openness,” she continued. “I’d expressed my curiosities to him and he’s a very spiritual person, who tries to separate himself from his ego and believes that there’s just always more love to give. He’s amazing.”

Despite not knowing if venturing outside of monogamy was for her, Jessica was excited to give it a go. To have a partner that was supportive of her going on the show and exploring that journey — whatever it may be — felt like a new kind of freedom, that might be more in line with the kind of relationship(s) she wanted.

“I really hope our dynamic will open conversations about relationship structures on a more public, mainstream level.”

Within the Bachelors mansion, the majority of the girls sided with Jessica, offering their support, urging her to stay strong and encouraging her to just be herself. However, when the news made its way to Felix, he was shocked to learn that Jessica was in a relationship.

Pulling her aside for a chat, he didn’t seem thrilled — or very open — to the ENM dynamic.

“Do you have a boyfriend?” he asked, bluntly.

“I was hoping we could have this conversation on our one-on-one,” she replied.

While Felix assured Jessica that he wasn’t angry about the situation or blaming her for the way it was brought to his attention, he didn’t seem overly understanding of her take on monogamy.

Jessica explained that she had someone at home, who was super supportive of her coming on the show. She said that her partner outside the mansion knew from that start that she wasn’t sure about “the whole monogamy situation”, and that she was trying to figure out a relationship structure that would be right for her.

Asking Felix for his thoughts on the situation, he replied: “To be honest? What the f*ck!?”

Clearly, this was not a scenario Felix was used to being thrust into, and while that’s understandable, reacting with openness instead of anger would’ve been nice to see — although perhaps not as dramatic.

Describing himself as a “white picket guy”, Felix said that he wouldn’t be able to deal with an open relationship. On the one hand, he felt like their wants might not be compatible and on the other, he wanted to give Jessica “the benefit of the doubt”.

“I don’t want her to feel like sh*t, because her life choices aren’t disrespectful to anyone,” he said, when DNM-ing with fellow Bachelor Thomas Malucelli.

“It’s just that I don’t align with them,” he added.

It’s a tough scenario. It’s not one we’ve ever seen play out on “The Bachelor Australia” before, but it is one that increasingly plays out in real life. With more people entering into ethical non-monogamy than ever before, it’s important to talk about what it really means and how to have open conversations about it.

What Is Ethical Non-Monogamy?

According to Lucille McCart, APAC Communications Director of Bumble, the concept of ethical non-monogamy (ENM) is at the centre of how modern society is redefining dating.

“It refers to romantic relationships that aren’t exclusive between two people, and it will look different in every scenario,” she explains to POPSUGAR Australia.

“ENM can have many different arrangements, from open relationships to swinging and polyamory — which refers to having multiple intimate relationships at the same time. How you choose to explore an ethically non-monogamous relationship will be unique to the individual and the couple.” 

Is Ethical Non-Monogamy the Future of Dating?

The research certainly says yes.

According to Bumble’s Dating Redefined report, 47 percent of those currently dating believe ethical non-monogamous relationships are the way of the future. 

On dating apps today, a noticeable percentage of users are in ENM relationships, or other relationship structures that deviate from monogamy.

For Jessica, she first became interested in ethical non-monogamy during a period where she was “feeling a bit icky about monogamy” as a whole.

“Monogamy is still definitely a valid relationship structure, but for me, through my own perception, experiences in childhood and seeing other relationship dynamics, I found myself sitting back and thinking ‘what’s wrong?'” she told POPSUGAR Australia. “Why is the divorce rate so high? Why aren’t these relationships working?”

As she reflected on monogamy, Jessica came to feel like it was a “structure where someone had ownership over [her]”, and that wasn’t working for her.

“I wasn’t allowed to explore connections with other people and if I did, I was viewed deceitful,” she explained. “As humans, I think we’re wired to connect with each other. So openness was just something I knew I wanted to explore.”

Is Ethical Non-Monogamy the Same As Polyamory?

According to PsychCentral, ethical non-monogamy is “not exactly” the same as polyamory.

“Ethical non-monogamy is an umbrella term, and polyamory is just one way to practice it”, the article reads.

Polyamory refers to “having intimate relationships with multiple people at the same time”. In other words, it describes having multiple romantic partners at one time. These might be serious or casual, but they’re all ongoing in some form.

The great thing about ethical non-monogamy — and the reason it’s so popular in a more fluid dating world — is that it can mean anything you want it to mean. And, while there are are few names for practises that exist within ethical non-monogamy, you can kind of just make it up as you go along. Ethical non-monogamy basically just means to practise a relationship structure, that fit outside the bounds of traditional monogamy.

How Else Can You Practise Ethical Non-Monogamy?

There are plenty of different ways that people practice ethical non-monogamy in their relationships, (seven, according to Psych Central!), and they all come with different boundaries and levels of commitment.

In fact, casual dating and casual sex can both forms of ethical non-monogamy, as they can involve dating or sleeping with multiple people at once. Or there are open relationships, which is like Jessica’s situation on “The Bachelors Australia”, as well as throuples and triads, which involve a group of three people all dating each other.

While Jessica may have become the face of ethical non-monogamy on “The Bachelors Australia” this week, she told POPSUGAR Australia that she’s “still pretty new” to it all.

“I’m still figuring it all out,” she said.

While Jessica’s dream is to find that a partner who meets all her emotional, spiritual and sexual needs, she’s also open to the fact that she might be more suited to being in polyamorous relationships; to ease the pressure off just one person to provide everything she’s looking for.

“I’d say I’m polycurious,” she said.

As for other ways to practice ethical non-monogamy, you might’ve heard of swinging before — where couples “swap” sexual partners, usually at events called swingers parties. Swinging is another form of ethical non-monogamy.

Then there’s the poly trifecta: polygamy, polyfidelity and polyamory. We’ve already covered polyamory, which is having more than one romantic partner at a time. Polygamy — often confused with polyamory — involves marriage between multiple people, while polyfidelity is when all partners in a group agree not to have romantic and sexual relationships with anyone outside that established group. They are, of course, allowed to have sex with each other.

When Should You Tell Someone That You’re Ethically Non-Monogamous?

If you know that you’re someone who wants to explore ENM, McCart recommends that you’re really clear about what you’re looking for.

Whether it be with someone new or someone you’re already in a relationship with, it’s important to put all your cards on the table and be upfront.

When meeting new potential lovers, for example, you can include your desire for openness in your dating app profile.

“When you sign up to Bumble you can detail how you want to date, what you’re into and who you want to date,” she says. “We know that when you’re really honest and open in your dating profile, you’ll likely have more fun.”

However, if you’re already in a monogamous relationship with someone and you’d like to open it up, make sure you open up to them about how you’re feeling.

“The storyline playing out on ‘The Bachelors’ is reflective of how it is best to be honest about your choices in the way that Jess was,” McCart says.

“While Felix was challenged by the idea, there are plenty of people out there who do have an open-minded approach to dating and relationships.”

How to Talk to Your Partner About Open Relationships

“I wanted to talk to you about this one-on-one and have a conscious conversation about it,” Jessica said to Felix in the episode. This concept of “conscious conversation” is a super important one, and Jessica offered some advice to us about how to broach these conversations with a partner.

“If you’re questioning whether you want to be with one person for the rest of your life, I think it’s healthy to take a step back and ask what it is that you want,” Jessica told POPSUGAR Australia.

“Write down some of the things that come to mind, when you think of the perfect relationship for you, and go find some podcasts, books or even TV shows that speak about these things. Just soak it in and learn as much as you can,” she advised, adding: “We’re programmed to think that monogamy is the only way, but it’s not.”

Jessica said that although there’s a lot of information out there to consume, educating yourself on the right language to use, where these practices come from and how to communicate ethically with others are all things that will make having conversations about ethical non-monogamy a little bit easier.

In fact, while Jessica was in the Bachelors mansion, she read two books on ethical non-monogamy that she recommends — “The Ethical Slut” and “More Than Two“.

“Knowing what you want is really important,” Jessica said. “Understanding what you’ve been lacking in past relationships and exploring even just the themes within ENM, will make it easier to communicate with a partner.”

Jessica wants us to imagine a world where you can have an open, honest and non-judgemental conversation with your partner if they’re not meeting one of your needs, rather than feeling the need to go behind their back to seek it out. Jessica said that ultimately, being able to have those ethical and conscious conversations is not only powerful, it’s what sustainable love is all about.

McCart agrees that honest, clear and open communication with your partner is the key to successful discussions about ethical non-monogamy.

“If you’re in a monogamous relationship and you want to talk about ENM with your partner, what’s totally critical is clear communication every step of the way,” says McCart. “Understand you may need to talk about this for quite some time with your partner before you actually dive into it, and they may need some time to consider the idea.”

“Guardrailing” was a dating trend that also came out of Bumble’s most recent research, and refers to Australians being clearer about their emotional needs and boundaries.

“If you are interested in opening up your relationship or exploring ENM as a single person, make sure you understand and communicate what you need from the situation in order to feel emotionally fulfilled, and also be very clear on your boundaries, especially on what you are into and what you aren’t.”

“The Bachelors Australia” airs at 7.30pm, Sundays – Wednesdays, only on 10 and 10 Play on Demand.

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