Is a Monogamish Relationship Right For You?

Klaus Vedfelt / Getty Images
Klaus Vedfelt / Getty Images

Medically reviewed by Ivy Kwong, LMFT

A monogamish relationship is something in between a monogamous relationship and an open relationship—it looks different for every couple, is not fully closed or fully open, and involves commitment with flexibility when it comes to intimacy outside the primary partnership.

“A monogamish relationship is a flexible agreement with boundaries and rules about relational encounters with third parties. It’s not a blanket agreement but rather one that is unique to each couple, according to their values and needs,” says Claudia de Llano, LMFT, a licensed marriage and family therapist and author of “The Seven Destinies of Love.”

The term “monogamish” was first coined by Dan Savage, an American journalist, author, and columnist. Savage used the term to describe his relationship with his long-term partner, wherein they were both in a committed relationship with each other but had occasional intimate encounters with other people.

This type of relationship can be a starting point for couples who would like to explore ethical non-monogamy, also known as consensual non-monogamy, by opening up their relationship in a slow and mindful way. Since ethical non-monogamy can take many different forms, you may wonder whether this type of relationship would be a good fit for you.

In this article, we explore what monogamish relationships could look like, the potential benefits and risks, and some strategies that can help you talk to your partner about potentially being monogamish.

What Does It Mean to Be Monogamish?

Like other types of open relationships, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to monogamish relationships. This type of relationship can look different with every couple, says de Llano.

Broadly speaking, it involves being mostly monogamous with one partner and engaging with others outside the relationship based on a set of agreed-upon rules, boundaries, and circumstances.

The couple essentially decides and determines the “ish,” says de Llano.

Related: 10 Open Relationship Rules to Follow for Success

How It Might Work

If you decide you are open to exploring a monogamish relationship, it's important for you and your partner to thoroughly discuss your feelings, preferences, needs, and boundaries, and mutually agree on what’s permitted outside the relationship.

For instance, you might decide that flirting, texting, chatting with, or going on occasional dates with other people are allowed, that you would like explore intimacy with a third party together, or that you and your partner are allowed to fulfill certain fantasies or needs (emotional or physical) with others, de Llano explains.

In addition to deciding what is permitted outside the relationship, you and your partner can also decide what activities or level of intimacy are off-limits. For instance, you may agree it is okay to have sex with someone but not sleep over, date someone but not have sex with them, or vice versa.

You may establish boundaries around different types of touch and whether you are intimate with others separately or only together as a couple. You may set limits on how many times you can see the same person or the frequency or content of communication in between meetings.

You can also set rules for this arrangement, such as how often these encounters are allowed or where they can take place.

It’s important to remember that a monogamish relationship is a type of relationship arrangement that prioritizes the committed couple involved and honors the agreements established between them. Both partners need to respect the rules of the arrangement and communicate their feelings, requests, and needs along the way.

Above all, the arrangement needs to be consensual. Both partners should want it and agree to the terms.

Claudia de Llano, LMFT

Trust, consensual agreement, and honest communication are key to making a monogamish relationship work.

Related: How to Have a Successful Open Marriage

Potential Benefits of a Monogamish Relationship

These are some of the potential benefits of a somewhat open relationship.

Allows You to Customize Your Relationship

The idea of monogamous marriage is centuries-old and based on religious underpinnings, says de Llano. However, that type of relationship isn't necessarily the best fit for everyone.

Being in a monogamish relationship allows you to customize your relationship so that it works for you. You and your partner can work out an arrangement that fulfills both your needs with adherence to your personal values.

Though it may seem unconventional, non-monogamy is not as uncommon as you might think. It is estimated that more than 5% of people in North America are in some type of consensual non-monogamous relationship.

In fact, a 2020 study with over 800 participants in monogamous relationships found that nearly one-third of them fantasized about opening up their relationship, and 80% said they wanted to act upon this fantasy in the future.

Gives You an Opportunity to Fulfill Unmet Needs

If you or your partner have needs that are not being met within the relationship, a monogamish relationship can help you explore them.

The idea behind monogamish relationships is that two people don’t have to be everything to each other and therefore can set up rules to have specific needs met outside of the relationship in a way that brings more balance to their lives, says de Llano.

With this type of relationship, people can depart from the antiquated precept of two people needing to fulfill one another in all ways for always, she adds.

Having your needs met can make you feel happier and more fulfilled, which can benefit your relationship with your partner.

Offers Fresh Experiences

As much as you may love your partner, your relationship may start to feel a little stale or boring after some time. You may find yourself craving excitement and variety.

A monogamish arrangement allows you to seek fresh, exciting experiences outside the relationship, while still having the stability and companionship of your long-term partner.

Engaging in non-monogamous encounters with other people can enable personal growth and help you gain deeper insights into yourself.

Improves Communication and Bonding

Though it seems counterintuitive, being with other people can help strengthen the bond between you and your partner.

If you and your partner are sufficiently secure in yourselves and your relationship, having an open mindset could enhance the quality of the relationship, says de Llano.

By discussing your needs, encouraging each other to seek fulfillment, and sharing your vulnerabilities and insights, you can deepen your bond with your partner.

The option to have unmet needs fulfilled elsewhere can also help reduce friction and disappointment in the relationship caused by expecting your partner to meet all your needs, which they may not be able to do.

In fact, research suggests that people who are in consensual non-monogamous relationships are just as happy and satisfied as people in monogamous relationships.

Related: How Does a Throuple Work?

Potential Risks of a Monogamish Relationship

A monogamish relationship can also come with some risk:

  • Jealousy and insecurity:  If partners are not sufficiently secure in their mental, emotional and physical definitions and values of themselves outside of and within a relationship, adding in third parties can complicate the relationship, says de Llano. Even if both partners have consented to the arrangement, they may experience jealousy upon seeing their partner with someone else, particularly if they’re insecure or have trust issues. Jealousy is a natural human emotion and having the willingness and ability to navigate hard feelings together with care, curiosity, and compassion is important.

  • Misunderstandings: Clear, honest communication is key to making a monogamish relationship work. Poor communication, unspoken expectations, or a lack of clear boundaries can cause misunderstandings and lead to relationship conflict, says de Llano.

  • Imbalanced dynamic: A monogamish arrangement may not work if both partners are not on the same page. If one partner is not very comfortable with the arrangement and feels coerced into it, they may start to resent their partner.

  • Romantic involvement: Partners may develop emotional attachments with people outside the relationship, which can jeopardize the relationship, says de Llano.

  • Dishonesty: A monogamish arrangement requires partners to agree upon the rules and respect them. Being dishonest, breaking the rules, or crossing boundaries can amount to cheating and violate the trust in the relationship, says de Llano.

  • Stigma: Unfortunately, non-monogamous relationships are still accompanied by social stigma in many societies. Partners need to consider the potential impact of taking this step on their professional, personal, and social lives.

Related: What to Do When Your Partner Wants An Open Relationship—and You Don't

How to Talk to Your Partner About Being Monogamish

De Llano shares some strategies that can help you talk to your partner about being monogamish:

  • Broach the subject gently: Bring up the subject gently and respectfully. Explain what you have in mind. Don’t be pushy about it if your partner isn’t open to the idea.

  • Discuss your needs: Talk to your partner about your needs. Tell them what you want from the relationship, both now and in the future. Ask them what they want.

  • Be honest: Transparency, vulnerability, and openness are key in expressing your desire to have a monogamish relationship. Maintain an open, honest dialogue throughout the process.

  • Decide how it would work: If your partner is open to the idea, you can discuss how the relationship would work. Together, you can decide what would be allowed and what would not.

  • Consider the benefits and risks: Talk through all the potential benefits and risks of the arrangement, so that you’re both comfortable with it.

  • Seek therapy: Couples therapy can help you and your partner navigate the situation together, particularly since your needs and wants may evolve over time. Therapy can also be helpful if you're in a position where one partner wants a monogamous relationship and the other doesn’t.

Read Next: Exploring Polyamory and Ethical Non-Monogamy as a Latina Woman