Like with any relationship, monogamous or not, safety is a big thing that needs careful attention and thought. The responsibility to maintain safety increases when you are intimately involved with more than one person; simply by virtue of there being more than one relationship, as well as the fact that the existence of any one relationship or dynamic can and may influence the others. You have to take responsibility for your own safety as an individual, and, if you’re trying to be a half-decent person, you should care about the safety of the people who encounter you. There is no one wrong or right way to go about this, but at the very least, you can start by using all the knowledge and information at your disposal to empower yourself. Safety is important in the maintenance of any healthy relationship, and it’s important to consider how conversations on safety can manifest themselves.
Emotional and mental health: It all starts with you
The best favour you can do for yourself as you explore your non-monogamy is to be brutally honest with yourself. Be honest with yourself about the things you need and what your boundaries are, in order to maintain your mental and emotional health. Here are some questions you could ask yourself that may give you ideas on what it takes to maintain your mental and emotional health in non-monogamous dynamics.
- What is an ideal scenario where you would feel confident in your ability to maintain your mental and emotional health?
- Which scenarios can you identify that would definitely threaten your mental and emotional health?
- How can your partner/s create an environment where you feel safe when they have other partners?
- How are you going to maintain your and your partners’ emotional and mental stability while navigating different energies, different spaces and different people?
- What capacity do you have to show up for your partners, and if applicable, their partners?
- What will your boundaries be? What are your non-negotiables?
- What are your fears and insecurities? How are they provoked, and how can you and your partner/s avoid provoking them?
- What are your hopes and desires? What are some things you and your partners can practise regularly to elevate them?
- How can you use your and your partner/s’ love languages to maintain mental and emotional safety? What other information do you have at your disposal that can help you in this regard?
- Are you going to seek out help, support or use the services of a relationship coach to learn better communication styles, for example? What other resources and forms of support do you have access to that can help you maintain safety in your relationships?
Consider your capacity.
Be honest about your capacity and what you are able to offer. Not every non-monogamous dynamic or relationship will be conducive or right for you, no matter how attractive it may feel at that time. Remember that your non-monogamy is not defined or qualified by how many partners you have or are seeing at the same time. I often encourage people to think of non-monogamy as a way of looking at love, connections and relationships. For me, it is not a relationship status. I can be with one person for many years, and I would still consider myself a non-monogamous person because of my beliefs and ideas on love and relationships. Those don’t necessarily change depending on the number of people or the nature of the relationships I am in. For me, non-monogamy is a set of values that I navigate my relationships with. It is a part of me, not something circumstantial.
So, don’t fill your life with multiple partners at the expense of your mental health and capacity. Not dating, or dating only one person with your capacity and wellbeing in mind won’t make you any less non-monogamous if that’s how you identify. You don’t have to be in multiple relationships to resonate with some of the values or principles of non-monogamy. At every point in your life, you have to be honest with yourself about the capacity in which you’re able to show up for multiple people and relationships. If you are in a place in your life where your responsibilities or aspirations are leaving you physically exhausted, for example, or maybe you want to focus more on your education or career or your therapy journey, it is ok to say I can’t or don’t want to maintain a relationship right now. Perhaps you only have capacity to maintain very casual relationships and are not necessarily ready for an emotionally charged connection. Whichever you choose for yourself, prioritize your well-being and capacity.
Once you are honest with yourself about your capacity, it becomes easier to accurately communicate this with potential and existing partners. Remember, it is natural for potential and existing partners to have expectations of us and the only way that they can manage those expectations, or be cushioned against disappointment of a relationship not working out the way that they might hope, is by communicating as much as you can about what you can and cannot offer as soon as you identify it.
Physical and Sexual Safety
There is an added responsibility to maintain your physical and sexual health when you are in multiple relationships, simply because, statistically, more numbers means the chance and risk of infections increases. If you will be having multiple sex partners, you may want to consider medication like Prep, the HPV vaccine or any other contraceptive that could reduce your risk of contracting an STI. You may consider pregnancy prevention methods or even a vasectomy if you know you don’t want to have children. You need to consider what your expectations of your partners are going to be to maintain a mutually empowering and safe environment. Your non-negotiable may be that you test regularly with your potential or existing partners, or they have to produce test results every so often, at the very least. You may decide you are only going to have one sexual partner and that you will navigate intimacy in your other relationships in other non sexual ways. Some people may express that they are not using condoms with one or more partners. How will you navigate your desire to be intimately involved with a partner in that situation? In the instance where your partner is allergic to the latex in a condom, or has other negative experiences of them, what other safety measures could you take? What would that mean for your other partners and their partners?
To be able to talk about sexual health in the relationship, a safe and conducive enough environment needs to exist. You need to consider how you’re going to create and maintain this environment in an empowering, serious yet non-judgemental way. Again, there isn’t necessarily a wrong or right way to go about these conversations. A good place to start is to try to make sure that your hopes and intentions, and I hope they are good intentions, are always clear. Be kind, be respectful and be considerate. Remember that everybody else also has a right to navigate issues around their body and sexual health in a way that suits them. Stay clear of using words that may sound like you’re shaming or being judgemental. You have to be very careful about insisting on suggestions that a partner may not feel comfortable with. If there is something that crosses one of your hard boundaries, you have the right to remove yourself from the situation and rather find a partner who at the very least allows you to take responsibility for your own safety the way you deem necessary. While there is room for compromise and negotiation in relationships, remember, the issue of people’s health, safety and autonomy over their bodies is a very sensitive topic. You don’t want to be that person who tells somebody what to do with their body, or who judges them for their decisions. You are better off trying to find someone with similar values or ideas than to impose yourself on other people.
Dare to be vulnerable, and always be kind. This improves your chances of being able to have difficult conversations where people are also comfortable to be honest, open and not defensive. Should you require support, resources or help, speak to your doctor or use the services of a coach or counselor to learn better ways to broach these topics.