How Relationship Anarchy Rejects Traditional Expectations of Love

Is It Right for You?

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Medically reviewed by Ivy Kwong, LMFT

Relationship anarchy is the concept of applying anarchist principles to romantic relationships. This means that rather than focus on the standard Western relationship models of monogamy and hierarchy, relationship anarchists instead opt for a vantage point of autonomy and community.

The term was popularized by Andie Nordgren in her Tumblr essay "The short instructional manifesto for relationship anarchy" on July 06, 2012. The essay was originally written in Swedish, and was translated by Nordgren herself. The term was initially used at the OpenCon convention in 2010.

How It Works

Relationship anarchy involves a few key principles. Here are the main points that together, make it into a type of relationship model that someone could choose to follow. Of course, it's worth noting that because it is centered around anarchy, or a lack of rules, none of these ideas are steadfast. They are based on Nordgren's manifesto.

Lack of Hierarchy

One of the basic tenets of relationship anarchy is that it isn't hierarchical. If you aren't sure what that means, think of a typical monogamous relationship: Your partner is often considered one of the most important people in your life, whom you would defer to over friends or acquaintances. In a polyamorous or non-monogamous relationship, people often have a primary partner. That person is who someone would defer to, prioritize, or value the preferences and needs of over their secondary or other partners.

However, in relationship anarchy there isn't hierarchy. All partners, if there are more than one, are considered equally and each commitment is customized to address the unique needs of the respective relationships. Partners decide for themselves, not based on societal norms or expectations, how they will interact in ways that are not based on entitlement or conventional roles, but on mutual respect, autonomy, communication, self-determination, and authenticity.


Communication is important to everyone involved being able to maintain their autonomy and support the agency of others. Discussing thoughts, feelings, and needs honestly and openly may be uncomfortable, especially if they are different from mainstream or cultural ideas of being in relationship.

Being able to openly discuss what commitment, partnership, marriage, having other partners, children, cohabitating, and other concepts mean to you and mean in your relationships is important and defining what they mean for you and your partner or partners is an important practice of relational anarchy.

Additionally, being able to discuss with your partner(s) when one of you is experiencing feelings of jealousy, or anything else, is vital.

Abundance, Not Titles

Relationship anarchy functions through the idea that there is an unlimited supply of love to go around. Because of that, you don't need to focus on how you label the people and relationships in your life. You might choose to call someone a partner or a lover, or you might not. The idea here is that you have full freedom, and operate from a place where you understand life as being without limits.

Love is a choice, not something one person is entitled to from another. Trust is an important facet of building anarchist relationships, which will also help you communicate with others and feel free with them.

Choosing Commitments

Because relationship anarchy values autonomy, it may involve commitments that look different than traditional roles and cultural norms. In relationship anarchy, you can choose to focus your time, energy, and attention on people and commitments that are important to you, whether they are platonic, romantic, or sexual, and choose to honor those equally, rather than prioritizing the ones society generally tells us are most important.

This may look different for every person, and figuring out what commitments are important to you is an element of knowing what you want out of your engagements with others, which brings us to the next principle.

Know What You Want

Being able to clearly define your own needs and wants will help you to function without titles or firm rules around how you engage with others. The idea is that you are the person who decides how you engage, so you should be clear about what you want.

There is work to be done to unravel what society has taught us about heteronormativity and heterosexism, too. Relationship anarchy functions outside of that framework.

Values of Relationship Anarchy

Relationship anarchy is customized to fit the needs of every relationship in a person's life without any overarching rules. The main tenets of relationship anarchy as proposed by Andie Nordgren in the Relationship Anarchy Manifesto are:

Love is infinite and abundant and every relationship is unique

The capacity to love someone should not prevent or limit us from loving others just as fully. Love for one person does not reduce the amount love available for another.

Lay a foundation of love, communication, and respect instead of expectations and entitlement

Love should not be limited by hierarchies such as a romantic partner being more important than a platonic friend. Expectations force behaviors that may not be true or honest and restricts the natural development and expression of love and care between individuals.

Identify your core set of relationship values

Instead of defaulting to values based on societal or cultural patterns or expectations, relationship anarchists determine their own values and how to engage in different relationships. The people in a relationship decide what is right for it and that isn't.

Don't let fear and pressure force you into following relational rules that aren't true to you

Society and culture will tell you how to be in a relationship and attempt to shame and judge you for not following the rules. Notice when you feel pressured to mold to the expectations of others and reconnect with what is true for you.

Create and connect for the sake of connection without a relational goal

Connect with another person and explore what comes of it naturally instead of starting out with a hope, expectation, or goal (i.e. to become exclusive with someone, to marry them, etc.). What would you discover without the limitations of duties, demands, and disappointments? Spend time exploring your unique connection together and stay open to what may unfold.

Change through communication

It is important to communicate openly, honestly, and steadily about how each of you are feeling. Listen and share with mutual respect, curiosity, and care.

Customize your commitments

You are encouraged to be flexible with your commitments and to customize them in each unique circumstance.

The Relationship Anarchy Smorgasbord

This smorgasbord, or chart, offers different components for what may be considered in a personalized customization of relationships. If all parties agree, then the item can included in the relationship:

  • Emotional intimacy

  • Physical intimacy

  • Sexual intimacy

  • Companionship

  • Caregiving

  • Co-Caregiving

  • Cohabitation

  • Short term partnership

  • Long term partnership

  • Collaborative partnership

  • Social partnership

  • Kink

  • Legal partnership

Polyamory vs. Relationship Anarchy

Polyamory and relationship anarchy may sound similar, and sometimes, they are. Polyamory is the practice of having more than one partner. If a polyamorous relationship is hierarchical, it isn't anarchy. However, if a polyamorous relationship is non-hierarchical and eschews the standards of relationship models that relationship anarchy avoids, then it may be both poly and anarchic.

What It's Like

Everyone's experience with relationship anarchy is unique, which makes sense because this is a model that is designed to be customized to your specific needs, wants, and retention of personal autonomy.

For example, Tehani, a late 40s woman who identifies as queer, says she loves relationship anarchy because it allows her to live her life on her own terms. She has lived with a long term primary partner in the past, but now prefers to live alone, and has considered herself a relationship anarchist for several years. She says that relationship anarchy allows her "the freedom to be me, always," and because it provides her with more fluidity than other relationship models she has had in the past.

Relationship anarchy, thanks to its interest in existing outside the standards, rules, and norms of relationships, can look like essentially anything you want it to, provided that those you choose to be with agree and consent enthusiastically to the ways you want to engage.

Monogamy and Relationship Anarchy

While you might assume that relationship anarchy always involves numerous partners, that isn't necessarily the case. A relationship anarchist can be monogamous, polyamorous, or without a label. Someone who practices it might enjoy only being with one partner at a time, which we consider monogamy. They may do this in ways that look standard, such as living with a partner, or ways that appear less common, like living alone long term.

Monogamy and relationship anarchy can absolutely coexist: The point is simply that someone is choosing their partnerships based on their own principles and guidelines, not society's rules. That may involve one person, many, or none, at any given time.

How to Know if Relationship Anarchy Is Right For You

After learning about relationship anarchy, you might be considering whether it would be a good choice for you or not. The best way to know that is to examine how you feel when learning about the principles: Do they resonate with you and sound exciting? Or do they sound different from your own set of morals and boundaries?

If you're interested in relationship anarchy, you'll want to spend time first figuring out what you want and need in your relationships. From there, you'll want to make sure that anyone you currently partner with is equally on board to take things in this different direction.

Relationship anarchy is ideal for people who want their relational life to be centered around freedom and authenticity. It is important to develop and practice communication skills and be able to speak openly about your feelings with others. One book on the topic so that you can do more research is Relationship Anarchy: occupy Intimacy!. The website also has a resource page.