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"Alternatives to monogamy" or "What it means being true"


Art by Siri Berlin

Fidelity - often translated as the value of being in a monogamous relationship(not having sex with others than your partner) - seems to be of very high value in our society. And still, in most cases, it is not lived by. In this article, I want to discuss what we mean when we talk about „fidelity“ and „being true“ or „faithful“, how we live it, and where it might come from. I would also like to investigate whether there are ideas (nonmonogamy(1)) that could broaden our horizons. And yes, it is about a lot more than just sex.


(Disclaimer 1: I am aware that my text is written from a cis female European perspective. If I miss something or you discover my blind spots I encourage you to let me know so I can improve. Thank you.)


(Disclaimer 2: In this article, I take a very open perspective on relationships and I want you to know that you are fully entitled to your feelings, values, and ideas on how you want to live your life and your relations. This is my perspective. From my perspective monogamy or non-monogamy is a choice. And it is important to talk about your values, ideas, and feelings openly with your significant others and also not assume that everyone else, even in your cultural bubble or relationship, has the same ideas and values.


While reading(2) about nonmonogamy and having more and more people around me who investigate the idea of opening up their relationships, I also see many people around me with broken hearts, dramatic split-ups, and revenge ideas when their significant other had sex with another human. I see long-term partners splitting up wonderful relationships and others sticking to their partner even though they have lost each other a long time ago. I see people denying themselves fantasies and flirts and shaming themselves for nonetheless having them. Is monogamy better than non-monogamy or the other way around? I don’t know. I guess we all need to figure out for ourselves how we want to live our relationships. What I do know is, that I would like to encourage more communication, especially between partners, and therefore foster more understanding of each other. And I also want to create a space where it is ok to question traditional values to allow ourselves to be(come) who we really want to be.


If we come from a background where „being true“(3) is a high value we usually talk about that we do not want our partners to have sex with someone else. Why is sexual intercourse such a morally sour boxed-in aspect of our lives? Why is good communication, a very intimate friendship, creating art, dance, or music together so much less threatening? Is it just something we decided as a society to believe in or are there good reasons for creating these rules? Talking about our sex life is already for many people a taboo. Maybe talking about „being true“ is, even more, a taboo. Is it because it could bring up doubts and fear of losing someone or something?


Coming from history, not very female-friendly, women belonged (in a possessive way) to their husbands. Girls went from being her dad's liability and belonging to being her husband’s liability and belonging. And yes, if you do not get an education, are not allowed to earn your own money, if you have no say in the relationship and also not in society then another partner in your partner's life will potentially endanger your and your kid's physical and mental safety (food, shelter, care). And raising someone else’s children - looking at the male perspective in case the woman had sex with someone else and got pregnant - seems to have been even a worse fear and „no go“ for centuries (4). Even though it seems that we are far away from this scenario, these fears might be still in our bones. Maybe these remains are the reason why there is so much suffering around the topic of having sex with someone else. But is it just something we believe in? Like: If you like to do XYZ you are not a good partner and I do not want to be involved with you. Are we limiting ourselves or our partners here?


A wonderful - and for most of us very demanding - way of looking at it I was introduced during a tantra workshop: „If I see my partner making love, giving pleasure to someone else, I can enjoy this. I can see beauty and bliss between these two people and it affects me in a positive way. Like people who have a giggle together. Even though I don’t know what they were talking about, it makes me smile“


Depending on the way we were raised different fears can show up when we are confronted with the idea that our significant other is sexually involved with someone else. We can feel frightened to be not worthy of love in general, so no wonder our partner looked for someone else. We can feel that we look bad in comparison to the new partner. We are just not good enough. We can fear not belonging anymore. We might fear to lose our home, financial and emotional security. Another fear which can play a role in creating relationship problems is the fear of not having enough freedom and space. The good news is: all these are aspects we can work on. We can establish secure bonding styles with ourselves and others and then make our decision for the relationship style we want to live in from a more informed and confident position.


If we look at the literal meaning of „being true“, doesn’t it actually mean to be your original, to be your authentic self? And wouldn’t that be the best way of living and also being in a relationship? Being open and honest?(5) Fidelity comes from the Latin word fides, which translates to belief or trust. So, if I have the freedom of being my authentic self and if I am appreciated and not shamed because of it, isn’t it more probable that I talk about my needs and wishes and I also might take my partner's feelings , ideas, and values into consideration? But if I am shamed, if I have to restrict myself, If I have to look the other way and not talk about it, doesn’t that make it more probable that I will act on it when my discipline for what reason ever fades?


Of course, I also grew up with the idea that throughout life one is supposed to find the „one“ romantic love and live happily ever after. TV shows and movies influence our picture of love, romance, and relationship into a - from my perspective - unrealistic kitsch novel. I am not doubting here that the „happily ever after“ is possible. I truly believe it is possible for some. And for this extraordinary blessing, - what it is, next to a shitload of work - we need to learn a thing or two about ourselves and our partners. First of all, we need to learn communication skills. We need to learn self-love, self-respect, and self-value. We need to find out with what ideas, beliefs, and values we grew up. And we also need to investigate whether we - as grown-ups - still want to hang onto these ideas. We then need to communicate these ideas and values. Probably more often than just once. Because these are difficult topics. It takes time to find out who we are and it takes time to communicate this well. In addition: what I find true in my 20ies can be not true for me anymore in my 40ies. And that is ok.


When dating someone from a different culture it might be more obvious or earlier a topic that there might be differences in values, and ways of living a relationship. Nonetheless, these talks are avoided in most relationships.

Maybe we want to protect what we consider precious to us. We want to protect our image, our fantasies about the new love evolving. We don’t dare to look close enough. Because we might find out that what we thought we had in a person or relationship is not really there. Our own so-called shadows also play a role here. Are we really the ones who condemn having more than one sexual partner? Or do we just suppress our own longing? I think it is totally worth it to dare to talk about these so-called difficult topics. Maybe even at the beginning of a relationship or even an affair. And of course, at any moment in life, it makes sense to start the journey of getting to know yourself and your shadows better, make friends with them, and heal your wounds. (Best preparation for relationships!).


At a tantra school, I went to a few years ago they teach the so-called RBDSM rules. (Yes, pun on BDSM is included)

It says that as soon as you feel you want to „relate with someone closer“ you are supposed to have a talk. A talk about:

R: What is your relationship status? B: What are your boundaries? D: What are your desires?

S: When did you last get checked for sexually transmitted diseases?

M: How do we meet after relating / on the next day?


On the given answers you then can decide whether you still want to engage with this other human. This way you do avoid a lot of trouble, confusion, and pain. And yes, it is not the easiest discussion, but totally worth it. And yes, it also takes time to figure out what your answers to these questions are so you can answer them true to yourself.


I believe that we cling so much to „being true“ inside of our relationships because we do not want to face and tackle our fears, shame, and pain. Deep inside, hidden under an emotional rock, we are afraid that we are not good enough, not worthy of being loved. We are afraid to lose someone, to end up alone or we are just afraid of change. Opening a relationship consensual step by step into a non-monogamous relationship can be a wonderful journey of self-healing and self-discovery. Because to stay in the connection you need to face your fears. And ask yourself: Is it true?


Relationships between humans are fragile. They are fragile no matter whether you put them in a tight corset or let them run free and wild. You can never be sure that your partner will be with you for all eternity (they might be mortal). And yes, losing the love on our side is a very very difficult and often very sad and dramatic thing. But: There is life after every relationship. Because there is so much to enjoy in this fragile and yes, in many places broken world.


Maybe after reading all this you want to ask yourself:

What assumptions do I come up with when I think about my partner having sex with someone else?

  • I am too xyz

  • She / he / they are more beautiful / smart /rich / young than me

  • He /she /they are despicable

  • They want to hurt me

  • I want to hurt them


Whatever you come up with: This is your pointer to where you have an opportunity for growth. Whether you want to live monogamously or whether you want to open your relationship.


I love to work with you on these aspects. So, bring them on!


Welcome home, 

Siri


_____________________________


(1)I use the term „nonmonogamy“ here to sum up all kinds of ideas where people can relate sexually and otherwise with other people than their partner. So basically everything which is not monogamy.


(2) Jessica Fern, 2020: Polysecure. Attachment, Trauma and Consensual Nonmonogamy


(3) What we mean by „having sex“ is very individual and worth another full article. Is it more than genitals meeting? Article coming up.


(4) Here we could also step into the discussion of how gay and lesbian sex is seen and evaluated and how this is connected to patriarchy. What does it mean to be a „real man“ etc etc. Again. Another article.


(5) Here we touch on our shadows. What about ourselves to we not want to see? What would we rather deny and suppress. Again: Coming up.

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