What are Multi-Partner Relationship Structures?
Multi-partnered relationship structures include many variations in relationship structure in which all of the partners involved agree that having sexual and/or romantic relationships with other persons is acceptable. Other terms often used are "Consensual Non-Monogamy", "Ethical Non-Monogamy", and/or "Disclosed Non-Monogamy" which may highlight the challenge of consent and ethical participation in a non-monogamous relationship as opposed to non-consensual or disclosed forms of non-monogamy (i.e. an affair).
Multi-Partner relationships structures can vary greatly. This umbrella term can be used to describe polyamory, swinging, and other forms of open relationships. People in this type of relationship may negotiate the rules and boundaries of these relationship structures differently, based on the things that are important to them.
Depending on their situation, community, and family attitudes, persons in these relationships may not share their situation with others for fear of judgement and/or discrimination. Common discrimination of individuals in alternative relationship structures have included things such as the loss of friends and family, loss of jobs, judgement about their parenting and even loss of child custody, and identification as "sexual deviants".
The unfortunate truth is that most mental health training does not include education in multi-partnered relationship structures, and research either neglects the study of these relationships, or do not differentiate consensual from non-consensual partnerships outside of monogamy when looking at relationships beyond a two person structure.
Here at the Ohio Center for Relationship & Sexual Health, we not only support and celebrate individual choice in relationship structure, but also work with people who are navigating the complexities of those relationships in a non-judgmental and informed manner.
Despite the fears portrayed in majority culture and media, relationships like this can work and are NOT an automatic sign of problems or pathology in your relationships. In fact, these relationships can be just as healthy, happy, and fulfilling as two-person monogamous ones. And even though two-person monogamous relationships are the assumed normative and assumed relationship structure in the US culture, there are many more people in variable relationship structures than most are aware.
If you are in a relationship and seeking therapy services at OCRSH, we invite you to share this aspect of your identity without fear of negative judgment or reactions, and without the assumption that your personal life difficulties are directly correlated with your relationship structure. Additionally, if you are working on navigating difficulties in your relationship structure, we are here to help address the common pitfalls that can get in the way of a fulfilling relationship.