March 22, 2023

What if you want the stability of a monogamous relationship with a taste of non-monogamy’s thrills?
MOST OF US were taught that monogamy is the only path to a lasting relationship. Thanks to increased visibility of relationship styles like

consensual non-monogamy (CNM), views are changing—but CNM isn’t right for everyone.
What if you want the stability of a monogamous relationship with a taste of non-monogamy’s thrills? You might want to be “monogamish.”
What does a monogamish relationship look like, and is this relationship style right for you? Read on to learn about the benefits and challenges of being monogamish, according to experts.
Coined by Dan Savage in 2011, the term “monogamish” quickly entered the mainstream as a means of describing some non-traditional relationships. “There is no singular way to define ‘monogamish,’ as there is no universal definition of monogamy,” says Dr. Jess O’Reilly, Ph.D., sexologist and host of the podcast Sex With Dr. Jess. “My definition of ‘monogamish’ refers to the space between monogamy and non-monogamy.”
Monogamish relationships make room for activities that fall outside of the traditional expectations of monogamy. According to O’Reilly, those activities might include sharing non-monogamous fantasies, flirting with people outside of the relationship, or “being open to extra-relational sexual interactions with specific boundaries in specific situations.” Those “extra-relational sexual interactions” might be threesomes, swinging, or having friends with benefits—as long as both partners are on board.
It’s important to remember that there’s no “one size fits all” approach to being monogamish. Every monogamish relationship has its own unique boundaries based on the needs and desires of the people involved, and communicating with your partner is the only way to find out if being monogamish is the best choice for your relationship.
Monogamish couples center their romantic lives around a single committed partnership. This is different from polymamorous relationships, in which partners are open to having multiple committed relationships simultaneously. Some polyamorous people have additional partners outside of a primary relationship, while others might be in relationships that involve three or more individuals (throuples, quads, etc.).
Open relationships are much more similar to monogamish relationships. People who are in open relationships have one committed, romantic relationship, but unlike monogamish couples—whose version of non-exclusivity might be as modest as allowing for extra-relational flirting—people in open relationships usually have casual sex outside of their relationship.
Don’t monogamish couples have casual sex outside of their relationships, too? Sure, sometimes. The line between a “monogamish” relationship and an open relationship is pretty subjective. That’s why it’s important for couples to discuss their personal definitions of any relationship structure before applying a label to their partnership.
“Oftentimes, we assume that our personal definition of monogamy ought to be universally applied, but this is when we run into unmet expectations, disappointment, and conflict,” O’Reilly says.
Sexologist Marla Renee Stewart has personal experience with monogamish relationships. “For me, I’m a very sexual person and I like to flirt and be sexual with many people, but unfortunately, I don’t have the emotional depth to hold more than one person in my personal life,” she says. “That’s why ‘monogamish’ fits for me.”
Stewart says one of the biggest benefits of this relationship style is establishing clear boundaries with a partner. This helps couples understand how to take care of each other and allows each partner to feel safe and heard.
Another benefit? “You can activate your happy hormones with other people and with your partner,” Stewart says. When we experience attraction to new people, our bodies release high levels of dopamine and norepinephrine. Those chemicals make us feel giddy and euphoric. When you have the option to flirt with new people, dance sensually with strangers, or welcome a special guest star into your sex life, you can ride that high a little more often—and you can enjoy the thrill with your partner, too. A 2020 study found that couples who share new experiences together feel more satisfied and secure in their relationships.
Speaking of thrills, O’Reilly says being monogamish injects “excitement and a sense of risk” into a relationship, which is the key to long-term passion. A 2014 study published in Sexual and Relationship Therapy found that older adults in open relationships are happier and more sexually active than others of similar age and relationship status.
Monogamish relationships also inspire couples to examine the systems that shape our expectations. Discussing alternate relationship structures encourages partners to have meaningful conversations about their values and challenge “toxic notions of monogamy, which are often rooted in heteronormative, patriarchal, and colonial approaches to relationships,” O’Reilly says.
Monogamish couples face challenges just like everyone else. If your desires don’t align with your partner’s, that can lead to conflict, and if you’re transitioning from a monogamous relationship into a monogamish one, you and your partner might face some growing pains.
“Your partner may become jealous of the time you spend with other people,” Stewart says. “If you form a [friends with benefits] situation, you may catch feelings, and that might complicate things with your partner.”
If you’re interested in a non-exclusive relationship structure, being monogamish is one of many options, and it might not be right for you and your partner. “Another limitation of monogamish approaches involves a hierarchical approach to relationships, which positions romantic relationships above platonic friendships and positions monogamy as the ideal arrangement—which it may be for some, but not for others,” O’Reilly explains. (If the hierarchical approach isn’t for you, you might be interested in learning more about relationship anarchy.)
Fortunately, if you openly discuss your needs and lay out some boundaries before embarking on your monogamish journey, you and your partner can save yourselves from some hardship.
Stewart says you should study up before entering into a monogamish relationship. “Couples should do a lot of education on their end,” she says. That education might look like “reading lots of books, going to classes or seminars on non-monogamy, and networking with others who are in the lifestyle or have that relationship style.”
Stewart also suggests discussing the timeframe of your monogamish arrangement. While some people choose to be monogamish for a limited time under specific circumstances, others might be seeking a long-term lifestyle, so it’s important to share your expectations: “Do you think this is something that is temporary? Or do you think [being monogamish] is who you are?”
O’Reilly says partners should discuss how you define “monogamish,” what appeals to you about a monogamish relationship style, and what concerns you have about being monogamish. Here’s one of O’Reilly’s prompts to get the conversation started: “Close your eyes and envision your ideal relationship arrangement for 30 seconds. What does it look like? How do you feel?”
Ultimately, you and your partner might decide that being monogamish isn’t right for you, and that’s okay. It never hurts to revisit your relationship structure and talk about your needs. It’s important that you and your partner feel fulfilled and happy, no matter what your relationship looks like—and if you decide to be monogamish, remember to keep the conversation going. Relationship structures can always evolve.
“I think it’s important to underscore that there is no universally ideal relationship arrangement,” O’Reilly says. “You can find your ideal, and it may change over time.”
Ro White is a Chicago-based writer, sex educator, and Autostraddle’s Sex & Dating Editor.

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