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What Does It Mean to be Ethically Non-Monogamous

Relationship Agreements

Monogamy vs Non-monogamy refer to different relationship agreements. Relationship agreements are arrangements that people in relationships make.

These agreements have rules that outline whom each member of the relationship can date, have s-x, or form relationships.

Relationship agreements also tend to include rules or boundaries for when relationships with partners outside of the relationship can occur, and what situations would constitute infidelity.


Monogamy is a relationship agreement which typically has two partners who have agreed to only date, have s-x with, and have a relationship with each other.

Monogamy is a common agreement. While it stems from the heteronormative belief that relationships and marriage are between one man and one woman, many people of diverse sexual orientations and gender identities, have monogamous relationships.


Non-monogamy is an umbrella term for relationship agreements have explicit rules or boundaries for whom individuals can date, have s-x with, or form relationships with, and under what circumstances.

Ethically non-monogamy refers to the practice of having vulnerable and transparent conversations about your relationship needs with partners (both in and outside of your relationship).


Polyamory is a term that refers to people who are in romantic relationships with more than one person. Polyamorous relationships can include people who are all in a relationship together (like a throuple or triad), or someone who has various partners. Polyamorous relationship can look different for all people.

Polyamory can also be an identity label for individuals who have the capacity to fall in love or build romantic relationships with more than one individual at a time.

Polyamory is often conflated with polygamy. These are not the same. Polygamy is the practice of someone having more than one spouse, and all spouses are monogamous to the main spouse. Polygamy is not legal in the United States.

Why People Have Non-Monogamous Agreements

People may decide to create a non-monogamous agreement for several reason. Some of those reasons include:

  • Desire
  • Physical, emotional, or mental needs
  • Exploration
  • Fantasies, kinks, or fetishes
  • Excitement
  • Identity
  • Anxiety

Why People Have Monogamous Agreements

Conversely, people might deicide to create monogamous agreements because of:

  • Need or desire
  • Trauma
  • Attachment
  • Knowledge
  • Security
  • Anxiety
  • Societal norms

These lists are not exhaustive. People choose to create agreements for their relationships for unique reasons for their relationship. Someone’s relationship agreement is private information for them, their partners, and whom they decide to share.

Myths on Polyamory, Monogamy, and Non-Monogamy

  • All monogamous relationships look the same.
    • Even if monogamous relationships agree to only date and have s-x with each other, what people decide counts as monogamy or infidelity will look differently per couple.
  • Being in a relationship equates to monogamy.
    • Many couples assume monogamy when relationships get serious, which can cause misunderstandings and ruptures.
  • Infidelity does not occur in non-monogamous or polyamorous relationship.
    • Infidelity still occurs in non-monogamous and polyamorous relationships when one or more partner violets the agreement.
  • Non-monogamous and polyamorous relationships cannot be as meaningful or intimate as monogamous relationships.
    • A relationship agreement does not dictate meaning or intimacy in a relationship. Trust, honesty, and love dictate these things. Arguably, people in polyamorous and non-monogamous relationship have more honest and vulnerable conversations with each other, which can foster deeper meaning and trust.
  • Non-monogamy and Polyamory are for LGBTQIA+ individuals.
    • People of all sexual and gender identities (even heterosexual people) are in non-monogamous and polyamorous relationships.

Tips for Relationship Agreements

Creating relationship agreements can be difficult conversations. Here are some tips to think of:

  • Identify your own relationship needs and boundaries.
  • Frame the conversation around your needs (rather than what your partner cannot provide).
  • Open with vulnerability, transparency, and a warm approach.
  • Consider what boundaries you will need to protect your emotional, physical, or mental security.
  • Consider what you need to maintain the intimacy of your relationship.
  • Ask yourselves what boundaries you might want or need.
  • Identify what counts as infidelity.
  • Decide how often the agreement will be revisited.
  • Decide how and infidelity will be discussed and managed.

This page is also part of the Roamers Therapy Glossary; a collection of mental-health related definitions that are written by our therapists.

While our offices are currently located at the South Loop neighborhood of Downtown Chicago, Illinois, we also welcome and serve clients for online therapy from anywhere in Illinois and Washington, D.C. Clients from the Chicagoland area may choose in-office or online therapy and usually commute from surrounding areas such as River North, West Loop, Gold Coast, Old Town, Lincoln Park, Lake View, Rogers Park, Logan Square, Pilsen, Bridgeport, Little Village, Bronzeville, South Shore, Hyde Park, Back of the Yards, Wicker Park, Bucktown and many more. You can visit our contact page to access detailed information on our office location.