We often take the definition of monogamy for granted. Most people agree that being unfaithful or cheating is wrong. However, it's rare that couples sit down and have a real conversation about their personal boundaries and definitions of monogamy and infidelity.
Monogamy means different things to different people, so it's wise to discuss and negotiate what monogamy should look like when you and your future partner or spouse are committing to a relationship or marriage.
You aren't alone in this. We've put together a guide to help you discuss and define the boundaries around monogamy in your relationship.
Find a Time and Place to Have the Conversation
Before you talk about your relationship, you need to find a safe space. We recommend having this conversation when you are sober, at a low-stress time and in a private place.
Some of the topics discussed can bring out jealousy, anger or sadness. One partner may feel watching porn is a form of cheating, while the other has no idea and watches it weekly. Having conflicting views on monogamy and betrayal can be painful and confronting, hence the need for a safe space. Take breaks if needed and fight against the Four Villains of Communication [link].
Is Thinking It the Same as Doing It?
Some people believe thoughts are the same as actions. Thinking sexual thoughts about others may be okay with one person and upsetting for another.
Would you be upset if your partner was thinking about other people? Does your partner want you to share these thoughts? Imagine you find your new coworker sexy. Do you tell your partner? Is that something either of you wants?
It helps to discuss when these thoughts are appropriate for sharing? It may be as soon as possible, or it could be never. Would you want to know if your partner was inching closer to acting on thoughts?
Does Fantasising Spice up the Bedroom or Entail Betrayal?
Imagine your partner sees someone at the bar and later fantasises about them while you're in bed together. Should they keep it to themselves, or do you want to know? Could you share in the fantasy together and use it as fuel for the bedroom?
The key behind answering these questions is whether or not it would help or hurt to share the fantasy. Would you or your partner's feelings get hurt if they knew you were fantasising about these things? Does it feel threatening? If so, it's crucial to respect these boundaries.
Can You Discuss Your Deepest Sexual Desires?Do you want to share and discuss your sexual desires with your partner? Determine if you want to share your deepest and sexiest desires. It might be something you want to hide or something you want to share with your partner.
It's also important to discuss whether you tell your partner when you are aroused or turned off. And whether you will have sex when your partner is aroused but you aren't, and the other way around.
Many people want to try things in the bedroom they haven't done before, or with either current partner. Some common examples include bondage play, pegging and anal. You might think or know your partner isn't into that type of sex, and you're afraid you'll be judged for sharing your desires.
If you two want to begin negotiating these boundaries, discuss what the conversation will look like, as well as when you will have it. This can be a difficult topic for many people for many reasons, not the least of which is past trauma.
Is Flirting Innocent?
Would you be okay with your partner flirting with someone else? Would they feel the same if you did it? Flirting can be innocent, or it can bring up feelings of betrayal.
Even if flirting is harmless, you may need to clarify with whom and where flirting is and isn't appropriate. Can you flirt with friends or coworkers? Are bars and clubs okay? You may be okay with some places and people, but not with others.
Are Emotional Connections with Others a Deal Breaker?
Having different kinds of emotional connections with people is natural and healthy, including friendships and relationships. What happens when you feel sexually attracted to a friend of your gender preference? Is an emotional connection with a man more okay than with a woman? When should you share this information?
Even if you two decide to keep this stuff to yourselves, there's still more to be negotiated. You may agree to stop spending time with people you feel attractions for. You might put restrictions on friendships and relationships, such as only hanging out when in a group or with the other partner.
Some couples agree to spend only a specific amount of time with the friend. Others want to know every time their partner sees, emails, texts, or messages the friend. Some negotiate what can and can't be talked about when with that friend. Can you share about struggles in the relationships, or is that off the table?
Lights! Camera! …Action?
When it comes to spending time with others, especially those you're attracted to, it isn't possible to cover every possible scenario. You probably won't be stranded on a desert island for months with a handsome stranger, for example.
It's possible to negotiate the basics and go from there. Discuss actions ahead of time. Most of the time, it is not better to ask for forgiveness instead of asking permission.
Actions you might want to negotiate as part of your agreement include:
- Social media
- Meeting up for activities such as lunch, hiking, and other hobbies
- Holding hands
- Sharing relationship issues
- Discussing personal problems
What Happens when there's an Outside Connection?
You need to discuss whether what will happen if you or your partner feels a strong emotional or sexual attraction to someone else. Is an open relationship a potential option? Some people want total sexual and emotional monogamy, while others are open to possibilities.
Open relationships require guidelines that you both follow. They require thought, open discussion and agreement if they are to work well. You will need to talk about how you'll deal with jealousy, what is allowed and what isn't, sleeping arrangements and much more.
Sex and intimacy are integral parts of every relationship and negotiating your sex life is a big part of negotiating monogamy. This goes everywhere from sensual touch to how often you make love to how you have sex to whether and how you play with others.
There are many topics that fall under sex, and it would be impossible to list them all. But, we can list the most typical our couples come in to discuss:
- Love-making initiation – who, when, where
- Contraception and protection - condoms or no condoms?
- Sexual acts allowed outside of the relationship and whether details are divulged
- Sex after childbirth – if and/or when
- Lovers of the same gender
- Threesomes, foursomes, orgies, swinging
- Sex when children are home. In the next room? When the baby is in the same bedroom?
- Strip clubs, sex workers and brothels
Falling in Love with Love, or with Someone New?
Falling in love is one of the best feelings in the world, but the meaning of love can get confusing when you love more than one person. Ex-partners and lovers can bring up a lot of feelings, including love and jealousy. Many people get back with exes. Do you want to know if your partner has cheated in past relationships, and do you want them to know if you did?
Does Detachment mean the End?
Everyone knows someone who's fallen out of love. We call it emotional detachment, and it happens more often than couples admit. How do you bring that up in your relationship? Do you try to reconnect afterwards? How? Couples therapy may be on the table. You will also need to discuss how and when you will know it's time to reconnect.
Some level of independence is health in relationships. Each person needs time to themselves, but there is also housework and essential tasks that need to be discussed. This includes childcare, chores, family visits, and finances. Having these discussions now will help you prevent detachment or resentment down the line.
Renegotiation: The Final Frontier
The final step in negotiating monogamy is agreeing upon the conditions under which someone can call a renegotiation. There may come a time where the agreements that you made no longer work and one of you wants a change.
Renegotiation helps avoid breaking rules and breeding mistrust, feelings of betrayal and even the end of the relationship. Discuss when and how one of you may call for your relationship agreements to be renegotiated. It's wise to set a date in the future for you to sit down and discuss how the current arrangements both work for you.
Negotiating Monogamy in Your Relationship
If you and your partner are having a difficult time negotiating monogamy in your relationship, our Perth location offers relationship counselling. Book an appointment with us online, call, or stop by to speak with one of our friendly office staff.
Do you have any questions about negotiating monogamy? Are there any topics you aren't sure how to tackle? We are relationship therapists, so feel free to reach out to us at [link]. We look forward to hearing