The Role Of Communication In Ethical Non-Monogamy

communication in ethical non monogamy

If you’ve read our earlier posts on ethical non-monogamy, most specifically the one on how to get into ethical non-monogamy, it should be clear by now that communication in ethical non-monogamy plays a significant role in such relationships. While communication is vital in all kinds of relationships, it is even more so in ethical non monogamy because of the dynamics involved. 

To put it simply, you’re expected to communicate clearly with more than one partner. In fact, we can even go further and say that communication in ethical non monogamy is the binding glue of all ethical non monogamous relationships. Of course, consent and consideration are just as important, but we wouldn’t have them without communication.  

Communication in ethical non-monogamy will not only help you to transfer information about your needs or what you’re experiencing, but it also serves as a medium to help you build and maintain connections with your partner(s).

In the absence of communication in ethical non-monogamy relationships, partners wouldn’t be able to set rules, define boundaries, or give feedback about their experiences. Even so, it’s important to note that what you and your partner/partners need in an ENM relationship isn’t basic communication, but clear, active communication. Before we go deeper into the article, let’s take a look at why communication is vital for ENM relationships.

Why Communication Is Vital In Ethical Non Monogamy

  • Remove The Guesswork

Whether you and your partner are just getting into ENM or are experienced, communication reduces the need for guesswork. Learning essential communication skills means you can enjoy ENM without having doubts about whether what you’re doing is right or wrong, whether your partner would be ok with what you’re about to do, or whether you’re about to cross a partner’s boundary. Everything is laid out from the beginning and no one has to doubt whether what they’re doing or are about to do is acceptable. 

There’s transparency all around and everyone can go about their business without the worry of getting found out. Communication can help to strengthen mutual trust, honesty, and respect. It can make you feel closer to your partner and significantly impact the happiness and enjoyment you feel in your relationship. Be sure to communicate good things to your partner as well as bad ones!” (Bowles)

  • No Room For Misunderstandings

No matter how good your partner’s may seem to be, remember that we all experience bad days from time to time and when we do, the wheels that keep our relationships in motion can get flats or fall off. Effective communication ensures that there aren’t any miscommunications. We learn to express ourselves openly and don’t leave stones unturned. In the end, we become accustomed to explaining ideas, concepts, and needs in a way that those around us can understand. This makes room for healthy relationships as no one is worried that what they said can be misconstrued to mean something else.

  • Builds Trust

Trust is vital in any relationship, more so, in a relationship made up of multiple partners. The truth is that developing trust takes time, but if partners have no intrinsic trust in each other, a relationship may never grow or breathe. With that being said, it’s important for partners to understand that they have to be consistently open with each other because that is what will build confidence in the relationship. Without effective communication, people in an ENM relationship cannot feel secure or prosper in their relationship.

  • Value And Respect

When you listen to what someone else has to say, you show them that you respect them. This is well portrayed by actively listening to what a partner has to say in their ideas, feedback, or suggestion. Effective communication shows that you and your partner(s) value each other and see each other as assets. When there’s an absence of communication in an ENM relationship, someone could become a liability to another.

An Example Communication Process in ENM

When you and your primary partner meet potential partners, there’s bound to be a conversation about the types of ENM you practice. Keep in mind that if you do consider yourself polyamorous, not everyone does or they might only identify with a portion of the poly lifestyle. From the very first meeting, you will have to communicate about the kind of relationship you’re looking. 

Even though this relationship might evolve and change with time, it’s important to take the steps and consider how you want it to look from the beginning. Whether it’s a commitment to your primary partner or others, these should be defined clearly. Ethical non-monogamy cannot work where there are assumptions. 

You and your partner(s) will have to explicitly put down the rules and define your expectations when it comes to communication. As your relationship evolves, you will also have to have a candid conversation with your partner(s) about it as you introduce new variables. “The most successful long-term relationships are the ones with enough flexibility to redefine themselves over and over again through the years.” (The Ethical Slut: A Practical Guide to Polyamory, Open Relationships & Other Adventures)

How To Prevent Breakdown Communication in Ethical Non-Monogamy

By now, you understand how significant a role communication plays in the practice of ENM. Those who want their relationships to work in this practice take time out regularly to talk to each other about casual matters, their hardships, dreams, feelings, and how to make the relationship more successful. It’s essential to listen to your partner(s) and when they speak and pay attention to what they’re telling you. 

While this sounds like a simple thing to do, many people are only focused on crafting responses in their mind rather than focusing on what their partner(s) have to say. This can lead to misunderstandings or other people feeling unheard. Whether or not there’s a hierarchy in your relationship, there has to be a give-and-take when you communicate. 

Communication cannot only be about one partner and their experiences, all partners should be made to feel important in the relationship. If only one side talks about their expectations, likes, dislikes, or struggles, the other partner(s) may end up feeling alienated.

How To Establish Effective Communication In Ethical Non-Monogamy

Effective communication is vital for a successful ENM relationship. Here’s some examples of what effective communication looks like:

  • All partner’s in the relationship need to state their concerns, needs, and expectations without feeling like they’ll be overly criticized or blamed for specific circumstances.
  • You give your partner(s) your complete attention and ensure you make an effort to understand and listen to their perspective.
  • There’s room for feedback in the relationship.

Many of us didn’t learn how to identify and communicate our needs when we were younger. Still, that doesn’t mean we can’t learn how to do this when older. 

  • The Role Of Empathy In Communication In Ethical Non-Monogamy

There’s no way you can do all this communication in ethical non-monogamy without empathy. Empathy is essential when you and your primary partner have to set rules and boundaries with your non-primary partners. Remember that you aren’t alone in the relationship, and the dynamics of what you have means that whatever you say or do can potentially affect everyone in the relationship. As a result, you have to be careful about how you choose to communicate issues or how you bring them up within the collective.

  • Communicating About Jealousy

Jealousy is bound to crop up in an ENM relationship. When it does, it’s vital to understand why these feelings are coming up. “Jealousy may be an expression of insecurity, fear of rejection, fear of abandonment, feeling left out, feeling not good enough, feeling inadequate, feeling awful. Your jealousy may be based in territoriality, or in competitiveness, or in some other emotion that’s clamoring to be heard under the jealous racket in your brain.” (The Ethical Slut)

Remember that jealousy can also present itself as envy. Maybe you’re not comfortable with your partner doing something with other people and would prefer them to do it with you. Perhaps you’re feeling a loss, or like you’re losing something because your partner is enjoying sex with someone else. However you choose to address it, the first step would be to ensure that there’s some security around you that isn’t dependent on being sexually exclusive to your partner.

You can allow your partner to experience the joy of being in a new relationship with someone else and be happy for them without worrying that you won’t have a strong connection with them. Everyone is bound to feel jealous at some point, even those who are very secure about themselves. However, communicating with your partner and finding out whether there’s anything else that could be causing the jealousy is a great way of ensuring everyone is ok.

It’s not unheard of for people in a relationship to use their partners to get out of doing what they don’t want to do. However, in ENM, everyone should take responsibility for their choices so that no one feels abandoned. This means that when managing your schedule or creating space for all your partners, you should also be open about your partner missing time with you as you do other important things. 


Effective communication in ethical non-monogamy is interpersonal and mutually interactive. Your partners are people you should speak with rather than speak at. Communication is vital for mutually respectful and healthy relationships. Remember that everyone wants to be respected, heard, and listened to in all interactions you have.