Breaking the Monogamy Mold: Alternative Relationship Concepts

Times change and our preferences for our relationships change with them! Alternative relationship concepts aren’t new, but they are now more relevant than ever before.


The notion of “Free Love” championed by the 1968 movement experimented with communal living, attempting to harmoniously share love and responsibilities. Although this idea of loving multiple people and coexisting in a community is intriguing in theory, its practical realization often proves challenging. In theory, this sounds super-logical, but, in reality, it often may seem quite utopian. Not everyone envisions living with several partners under one roof, and that’s perfectly acceptable. The common thread in alternative relationship concepts lies in relinquishing exclusive sexual rights, fostering openness and prioritizing communication as a basic requirement.

Monogamy no longer seems to fit into current affairs. In 2012, the German weekly newspaper Die Zeit featured a headline that read “Monogamy: The Big Lie”; and, this year, “Monogamy: The Big Illusion?”

Why is it challenging for some of us to break free from the monogamous mainstream and explore our sexual interests within a relationship, or even better, to embrace the possibility of loving more than one person simultaneously? Love, by its nature, is changeable, inexhaustible, and omnipresent. Attempting to confine it to a rigid framework would strip it of its richness. There are so many ways in which you can love: amicably, maternally, romantically, platonically. We don’t harbour jealousy when our friends connect with others and have fun. It’s not just sex that is fun and connects people—deep conversations, understanding, shared experiences and recognition also serve that function.

However, when it comes to the concept of an “open relationship,” it’s the same set of questions that often surfaces, causing uncertainty and confusion for many:

Does “Living Openly” Automatically Mean “Being Poly”?

No. An open relationship primarily means that third parties serve as affairs or just as a form of sexual variety or adventure. On the other hand, living polyamorously entails having some sort of loving relationship with several people at once. An open relationship does not necessarily imply this romantic attachment.

Polyamory (Poly) distinguishes itself from other non-monogamous lifestyles by the following characteristics: (1) Poly is not “cheating”, (2) Poly is not patriarchal polygyny, (3) Poly is not swinging and (4) Poly means loving more than one person romantically.

Do You Just Not Really Love Each Other And Want To Keep Everything Open?

In my opinion, the question is completely irrelevant, especially since having fewer framework conditions or restrictions (exclusive sexual rights) implies a high degree of trust and thus more tolerance and fewer criteria for exclusion. Everyone loves in their own way. It’s a wonderful gift when two people find each other and love in the same way. In my opinion, loving also means “letting go” and trusting that your partner will come back, growing together instead of each separately on their own side.

In addition, there is always something absolute about having to define something and isn’t life actually about living in the moment? For me, it is clear that I want to show up in my relationship as vividly as I do the rest of my life. After all, things always turn out differently than how people think they will… right?

Don't You Run The Risk Of Losing Focus In A Relationship If You Don't Focus Exclusively On One Sexual Partner?

In an open relationship, in which both parties have forgone exclusive sexual rights, the hours away from home are primarily about experiencing variety as a form of pleasure. Speaking against the general perception, poly people are not seeking someone better, simply someone different.

But why? After all, your partner doesn’t put up any barriers and tolerates temporary trips to other people’s beds. Of course, there is always an exception to the rule, because as soon as needs are no longer met and dates pose a threat, cards must be laid on the table, just as in a monogamous relationship. In most cases, cheating can only be prevented by openness and honesty, or, at least, explained in retrospect.

In addition, I find it naive to believe that one person should “provide for” all of their partner’s needs. Isn’t that a lot of pressure to put on someone? Aren’t those expectations difficult to meet? Disappointment is inevitable! In our daily lives, we often long for more freedom, variety, self-realization, etc. Why not also in love?

Is There No Such Thing As Jealousy In Open Relationship Concepts? And If So: How Do You Deal With It?

Oh, but there can also be jealousy in polyamorous and open relationships! The question is how to deal with it. In alternative relationship concepts, the focus of the discussion is not on the what but the how. So it’s not about sleeping with or becoming intimate with someone else, but how it all happened. How did I communicate the whole thing? How did I protect my partner from unpleasant feelings and take their feelings of loss or fear away?

Yes, there can be jealousy in these scenarios! But since jealousy can be debilitating, it’s a conscious decision on how you choose to deal with it. Feelings change; they drive you crazy, they calm down, they come back. Feelings eventually disappear or turn into barely noticeable pinches over time. Of course, you also experience unpleasant moments of self-doubt and fear of loss, and there may be phases in which your partner’s night trips might deeply bother you.

“If we took the place of other people, the jealousy and hatred that we so often feel towards them would disappear; and if we put others in our place, pride and imagination would decrease a lot” (Goethe).

In the end, nothing in life is free. Acquired behaviours, such as capitalist ownership, don’t disappear overnight. As soon as you finally realise that your partner will be sitting in front of you smiling again tomorrow and that everything will go back to the way it was, the negative emotions towards the whole situation will also subside. At some point, you will even be happy for your partner when they come home in a good mood with freshly polished self-confidence.

Are There Still Rules, Limits, Guidelines ...?

Every couple must chart their course because individual limits vary greatly. What causes one slightly uncomfortable pinch in the stomach for one person can be a total emotional fiasco for the other. The crucial element is open communication. Open relationships can take various forms: Some couples may choose to date only when apart or travelling, while others may opt for a commitment to notify each other before any dates. Some prefer not to know the details but ask their partner to communicate if a situation becomes serious. Some couples also told me that they consciously avoid continuous affairs and only see their external bed companion once. Some consider a veto right to be necessary, others may use it as a pressure point. The key principle is equal rights for all. As long as both partners openly communicate and genuinely respect each other’s boundaries, there are no limits to the variety of framework conditions and possibilities.

But What If Someone Falls In Love Or The Sex With The Affair Is Better?

Even in a monogamous relationship, you are not protected from the fact that your partner may feel attracted to someone else and—in the worst case—let you down. This is where trust counts the most. Trust is good; control is fucked up. Unless a relationship is based on trust, it is doomed to fail. Even in the worst-case scenario, regular communication is essential.

It is different in polyamorous relationships, especially since a romantic second or even third relationship does not pose a threat here. On the contrary, some poly families consist of more than 2 actors and that works extremely well. It doesn’t matter whether you live together under one roof or are scattered across the city. The important thing is that everyone involved must agree, staying informed and happy with the situation. The true challenge in polyamorous setups isn’t love—love is limitless and flourishes when shared. Instead, the challenge lies in time. So the question should rather be, “How can I manage multiple relationships, in addition to everyday work and leisure?” I’d say that this is more of an organizational problem…

How Much Openness Is Good For A Relationship Or The Partner?

Every partner has to decide that for themselves. Some opt for a minimalist approach: “As little as we can, as much as necessary.” Others subscribe to the belief that ignorance spares emotional distress: “What my partner does not know does not make him/her/them as upset or angry”. Another model champions “full transparency and honesty, regardless of temporary emotional losses”. Increased clarity tends to reduce psychological fiascos. Finding the right balance is an ongoing process—experiment, assess, and, if necessary, redefine boundaries to ensure the well-being of both partners.

What Are The Essential Things I Use To Create Such An Enormous Basis Of Trust?

Mindfulness—openness towards yourself and your partner—is the key. However, it is not so easy for everyone to talk openly and freely about their negative emotions, such as jealousy, fear and insecurity. Of course, it is important in return to show your partner their importance despite possible temporary pleasures with third parties. Expressions of this commitment can take various forms, whether through gestures, gifts or verbal affirmations. The main thing is recognition and appreciation.

Do Polys Or People In Open Relationships Generally Just Need More Sex And Therefore Don't Want To Commit Exclusively?

Moments which present the opportunity to pursue one’s lust—without consideration for possible losses—may exist. Life, like a relationship, unfolds in phases, and the opportunity to explore personal desires may arise occasionally. Just because something is allowed doesn’t mean that it happens all the time or that it is particularly good. At some point it just becomes normal. The assumption that polyamorous individuals seek multiple partners purely for an increased quantity of sex overlooks the potential of having a lot of sex with the same person if all you want is to have more just sex.

And What Of The Desire To Have Children And Start A Family?

At this point, I can only refer to blended families, which also represent a counter-model to the conventional “mother-father-child” structure. In some cases, several adults can influence the upbringing of the child. Let’s be honest: If there’s one thing a child can’t have enough of something, it’s caregivers. When these caregivers can coexist harmoniously, it creates an ideal foundation for a nurturing and secure childhood.

But Isn't This Way Of Life Actually "Anti-Evolutionary-Biological" And Offensive To Our Basic Instincts?

Doesn’t viewing sex solely through a procreative lens reduce it to a duty rather than a source of pleasure? Why is there so much sexual violence then? Why do so many people suffer from sexual disorders that affect their entire lives? Why are there regular reports of rape and sexual abuse in the news? Why is the porn industry bigger and more profitable than any other industry on the planet? Why are there so many cases of abuse in the Catholic Church when celibacy is supposedly God-given and human? Why are there more and more single households and higher divorce rates than ever before?

The theme of serial monogamy is this: “Get a divorce and start over”. This approach, though seemingly “honest”, has contributed to a widespread epidemic of broken families and single-parent households. “Serial monogamy is a sympathetic reaction to the contradiction between what society dictates and what biology demands[…] Even if the flight into serial monogamy is described as the decent decision, it has led to the current epidemic of destroyed families and single parents. ”(Jétha / Ryan: Sex. The true story, Klett- Cotta 2016.)

Mankind is estimated to be 150,000–300,000 years old and has only been civilized for around 12,000 years. Biology and primal instincts influence us much more than some of us would like to admit. Monogamy is not programmed into our genes. You can tell how strong an instinct is by how difficult it is to suppress it. It is therefore questionable which behaviour in love or which relationship framework is really “anti-evolutionary-biological”.

What Is The Most Striking Difference Between A Monogamous And A Non-monogamous Relationship?

An open relationship does NOT put sex in the foreground, especially since it is not a destructive or dangerous force. The focus of these alternative relationship concepts is the emotional connection between the two partners—just love.


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