Tips for Practical Nonmonogamy Negotiation

This post has been superseded by a more recent post that contains the below tips, plus many more.  I am leaving this one up for historical reference.

Recently, my life partner Jen and I presented a workshop on boundary negotiation in nonmonogamous relationships to a room full of kinksters at our local pansexual play space. The workshop was geared towards nonmonogamy in a BDSM context, but most of what we said applied to any form of nonmonogamy. This essay and the accompanying list of nonmonogamy tips are derived from the handout we distributed.

Nonmonogamy seems to be a big deal these days. While I am well aware that I inhabit a self-selecting sample, it seems like nonmonogamy is on the move. I am not sure what is fueling this modern nonmonogamous wave. Perhaps the sexual revolution is actually coming to fruition in some ways, after a thirty-year delay, or perhaps sex-positivity is really taking off. Perhaps the rising status of women is creating a more positive environment for nonmonogamy. In any case, nonmonogamy of various sorts seems to be everywhere these days, for example here, here, here, here, and here. Nonmonogamy is so prevalent in certain subcultures (for example bi, BDSM, and some radical communities) that those groups have to make a concerted effort to support monogamous people in their ranks.

Howeer, there is no culture-wide standard language or conceptualization for nonmonogamy, so everyone seems to be rolling their own. A particular person or group might model their behavior on swinging, polyamory, open relationships, or group marriage, or they might make their own modifications on the monogamous standard. The end result is a confusing hodgepodge of concepts, strategies, and new words.

Language in particular has gotten tricky. The joke in polyamory circles is that you do not just need to know that someone is polyamorous to date them, but you have to check what sort of polyamory they are doing: group marriage, polyfidelity, poly network, primary/secondary, polysexual? And of course, what are their actual arrangements and plans? Similarly, when someone says they are nonmonogamous these days, they could mean anything from “I can kiss people at parties” to “I want to have sex with you now”. Even monogamy is not entirely clear any more: we have been seeing numerous discussions on the “new monogamy”, which seems to strongly resemble nonmonogamy. In the BDSM community, many people describe themselves as monogamous even though they reserve the freedom to do BDSM play outside of a primary relationship, and that play can for many people include sexual components. In the polyamory world, we have been seeing a lot of mixed poly/mono relationships, where one person is not interested in relations outside of the relationship, but is fine with their partner seeing other people. This is definitely monogamy on the part of the monogamous person, but at the same time it is a new kind of monogamy.

My point here is that we simply cannot trust these words any more. Someone could easily be in a situation that others would alternately describe as monogamy, nonmonogamy, or polyamory, depending on who you ask. What this really means is that these things are all up for grabs, and everyone (even monogamous people) should be engaging in fairly explicit negotiations around (non)monogamy in their relationships. So my first tip to you is: be really explicit in your (non)monogamy negotiations, and do not depend on these words when doing so.

One of the primary innovations of polyamory is the development of a fairly consistent set of “how to do nonmonogamy” ideas and suggestions. Arguably, this is the primary reason polyamorous community exists: many poly gatherings turn into poly technique discussions, and poly conferences are stocked full of “how-to” workshops. These poly tips are useful for all kinds of nonmonogamy, whether or not you consider yourself polyamorous. In fact, much of this carries over to fully monogamous relationships, so I recommend that monogamous people who want to be more conscious in their relationships also take a look at poly resources. This is my second tip: view polyamory as a set of relationship resources, whether or not you happen to be polyamorous.

For some reason, people assume that to be polyamorous you have to be some sort of incredibly evolved relationship master. This is simply not true. (Well, there are some such masters in the poly community, but they are a tiny minority.) Poly people can get jealous, can be insecure, do dumb things, and occasionally mess up relationships in a truly spectacular manner. We just do nonmonogamy despite all this. You do not have to be super-evolved to be polyamorous or nonmonogamous. It is a little more difficult than unexamined monogamy, because we live in a monogamous world. But I firmly believe that most people can switch to nonmonogamy, assuming they make a commitment to do so and work through the rough spots.

The following boundary negotiation tips represent a bit of fairly common poly wisdom, gleaned from online forums, poly reference books, and the like. It is targeted at people who are newly nonmonogamous but not necessarily polyamorous. The style is very brief, to avoid writing a book. All the usual caveats apply: some of these are gross overgeneralizations, many of them will not apply to you, do not take this as gospel, some poly people will disagree with much of this, there are entire subjects these do not address, and so on. If you have anything to add or any quibbles, please speak up.


Boundaries are limits obeyed by one partner in a relationship (often around what said partner can do with other people) so that the other partner can continue the relationship without losing their shit.

Boundaries are good. All relationships have boundaries. Most relationships have boundaries around what one partner can do with other people. Most nonmonogamous relationships have safer sex boundaries.

Boundaries are really hard stuff. There is often crying, advances and retreats, renegotiations, things that have to be revisited multiple times or over the course of years. Try to get good at (re)negotiating boundaries while keeping your cool.

Do not feel guilty about boundaries that you need, but at the same time only create boundaries when you need them. If there is a boundary that you need but that you do not want to need, then try to dismantle it slowly over time, while taking care of yourself.

Boundaries are not the opposite of freedom. Well-negotiated boundaries make the relationship a safe space which can allow you to potentially be nonmonogamous without getting dumped. Do not think of boundaries in terms of “freedom from” restrictions but rather in terms of “freedom to” do things. Good boundary negotiation helps you get what you want while still retaining security in the relationship.

Boundaries have to be really specific. Do not make a boundary around “sex”, “kink”, “D/S”, or something similarly vague. If you find yourself doing this, instead spell out specific acts and brainstorm scenarios. It is fine (indeed preferable) to make flexible boundaries centered around intent, but be aware that there will be surprises.

Boundaries may not make much logical sense. Sometimes they are based on people’s jealousy triggers or a need to feel secure, and these things are often not logical. It is important to excavate why a boundary is needed or what feeling is triggering it, as that can be used to figure out a creative boundary that blocks the trigger but is not onerous. Do not try to hide or bury the (potentially illogical) feelings or needs that are behind the boundary, and do not use a boundary negotiation in place of actually revealing those feelings or needs.

Good boundaries are renegotiable, and often change over time. Often they will loosen over time as people become more comfortable in a relationship or situation. Drop the impulse to create rules that supposedly last forever. Create a situation where boundaries can be evolve (via a new negotiation) without automatically creating a breakup situation. Consider creating boundaries that automatically have to be renegotiated after a set period of time, like six months or a year. Do not try to predetermine how those new negotiations will go. Also, sometimes boundaries will tighten, or new boundaries will need to be put in place, and that is okay.

The best way to relax boundaries is by extending the safety and trust they create over time. Constantly fighting boundaries or breaking them on purpose rarely helps the situation. Instead, respecting one’s partner’s needs and sanity tends to give them the strength to let down their guard.

It is okay to have different boundaries for different people in the relationship. Instead of having one set of rules for everyone in the relationship, it is common to have different rules for different people. This is because the partners in the relationship have different levels or kinds of comfort, and because they are seeking out different things. Do not use this as an excuse to create unfair situations: the goal is a working compromise where everyone involved gets some of what they want, whatever that might be.

When a boundary is broken, do not break up. It will happen, if for no other reason than misunderstandings. The first time a boundary is broken, use that as a starting point for a conversation or renegotiation. While trust is of course important, do not become a “my trust has been broken” martyr. Remember that the person breaking the boundary is almost certainly not doing it to purposely hurt you.

Often a person will not know that they need a boundary until it has been breached. When this happens, follow the rules for a jealousy fit. Do not break up. Discuss the boundary when everyone has calmed down. With BDSM, there are more opportunities for this sort of surprise, because there are so many sorts of play and play situations. For example, a partner who has been fine with their partner doing all sorts of pain play may suddenly get extremely upset when they engage in blood play.

Sometimes boundary negotiations are irreconcilable, and one person wants a limit that another person refuses to obey. Then, it is time to radically rethink the relationship. People often avoid talking explicitly about their boundaries or what they want to be able to do, because they fear this happening. But it happens eventually anyways when people’s needs become clear, and sooner is better than later.

Boundaries should be realistic, and should not put people in a really difficult-to-maintain position. For example, do not make “you can date them, but you can’t have any sort of sex for six months” boundaries. Instead, tell your partner(s) that you are uncomfortable with them having sex (or playing, or what have you), and ask them to delay dating until you can get more comfortable.

Boundaries should not be used to determine the shape of a relationship. For example, do not make a “you can only see them once a month” boundary while thinking “this will keep their relationship from getting serious”. Instead, first explicitly negotiate what shape you want your relationship to have, and then use boundaries to keep yourself comfortable and safe in the relationship with that shape.

Do not use safer sex boundaries as a stand-in for emotional boundaries. You should definitely have safer sex boundaries, if you are nonmonogamous. However, do not mix boundaries that are due to your emotional needs with the safer sex boundaries. If you need a boundary for reasons other than safer sex, admit it.

Negotiation Skills

Practice negotiating on relationship topics. If every negotiation turns into an all-night crying jag or blamefest, then negotiation will not happen because you will be afraid of it. Practice various sharing and listening exercises until you can negotiate effectively even on emotional subjects.

Be willing to not solve the problem in this round of negotiations. Bridging some differences will take a number of periodic negotiations. Also, try to keep the negotiation short.

Create space in your negotiation for “illogical” emotions (which are rarely as illogical as they might seem at first). Admit the emotions you are feeling. Practice listening without judging or interrupting. Acknowledge your partner’s emotions without feeling like you need to necessarily do something about them, or that you need to fight them. Do not try to make all your arguments logical, and do not try to use logical arguments to conceal your emotions on a subject.

If possible, drop your D/S dynamic for any serious relationship negotiation. This is not the time to be a good submissive. If the dynamic cannot be dropped for some reason, then somehow work it into your D/S practice. For example, by having a mechanism where the submissive can make nonmonogamy requests of the dominant.

Do not negotiate while upset or freaked out. Take a break (possibly of a couple days) or a long walk if you need to. If the negotiation is happening because of a surprise jealousy experience or similar surprise, wait a while before addressing it.

Dig into the reasons behind your negotiating position. If you can establish a chain of reasons for the way you feel, often this will provide creative solutions that are satisfactory at a different level than the initial concern that started the negotiation.

Negotiate even when there is no obvious need. Not only does this keep you in practice, but it gets you to brainstorm possible scenarios, which can be key to avoiding nasty surprises later.

Leave space for reopening negotiations. Leaving a space open for renegotiation prevents people from feeling trapped, which helps them honor any agreements. Creating a hard permanent rule just encourages your partner(s) to break it. Of course, this should not be abused: do not try to open a renegotiation just to take advantage of a particular situation.

Managing Jealousy

It is okay to be jealous. Do not beat yourself up over it. Joining a BDSM, polyamory, or other nonmonogamous community does not instantaneously cure you of a lifetime of heavy monogamous conditioning. Most people (including most nonmonogamous people) get jealous, though some people do not.

Accept your jealousy. Do not be scared of it. Do not be scared of your partner’s jealousy, and do not get on their case about it. If you are afraid of jealousy, or you try to bury it or hide it, it will get worse, and it may come out in unproductive ways.

Feel your jealousy. The way to reduce or get rid of jealousy is to ride it out. Beat up a pillow or two, go for a long walk, or just feel crappy and do what you can to take care of yourself. It will get better.

Own your jealousy. Take responsibility for it. Do not take your jealousy out on your partner or use it to try to change their behavior. Do not use your jealousy as an excuse to create distance between your partner and their lover/partner/play buddy. Do not negotiate boundaries while upset due to jealousy. Do not hide your jealousy from your partner(s), but at the same time let them know that you are taking responsibility for it. Do not cater to your partner’s jealousy.

Figure out your jealous triggers. Often these will be relatively silly things that you can avoid without putting a crimp in your relationship. If you know your partner’s triggers, do not poke them if there are other reasonable options.

Jealousy often hides some other problem or emotion. Try to analyze your jealousy. Have things changed recently, and the changes could be threatening in some way? Have you changed in some way? What fears are at the root of your jealousy? If you can figure out the root of jealousy, it can often be defused, for example by facing the fear in question and accepting it.

Put together a reassurance script for your partner(s). For example, “I am very attracted to you, I am not leaving you for them, you are a wonderful top, this does not change things between us, etc”. Recite it (and mean it) when jealousy is getting to them.

Jealousy is often a surprise. Try to take it in stride. For example, if you are at a social event, try to bow out gracefully. Ride the jealousy, and take care of yourself, whether that means taking a walk, beating up a pillow, going to a movie, etc. Do not make relationship decisions of any sort in the midst of a jealous fit. Discuss the jealousy when everyone has calmed down.

Do not compare yourself to your partner’s other partner(s). There will always be someone more domme-y, more subby, more sexy, taller, shorter, or with better opera singing skills. Accept that people are actually unique, and that you bring important things to any relationship. If insecurity is a problem for you, try to find ways to be more secure in yourself.

BDSM creates a number of new potential triggers for jealousy. The focus on public play parties creates sensitive situations to negotiate, and the wider range of play techniques means there are more opportunities for triggers. Non-kinky nonmonogamists worry about sex and love, but kinky nonmonogamists also worry about D/S, pain play, bondage, kidnap scenes, erotic wrestling, wax play, etc.

Do not mistake social weirdness for jealousy. Meeting a partner/lover/play buddy of your partner or lover will always be awkward the first time, but the awkwardness will disappear after a couple such meetings. Do not be afraid of such meetings, as they will almost certainly happen.

Your jealousy may never go away, and will certainly not go away overnight. It is rare for someone to be able to entirely divest themselves of jealousy, and it usually takes a couple years when it does happen. However, jealousy can almost always be managed and it will almost certainly reduce in intensity over time.

Nurturing New, Secondary-style, and
Play Buddy Relationships

It is difficult to manage new, secondary-style, and/or play buddy relationships. These relationships present a different set of difficulties than primary-style relationships. We have plenty of models for primary relationships, but none for relationships with less involvement, less attraction, less time commitment, or that are growing in the shadow of an established relationship. Pay attention and do not take these relationships for granted.

It is okay to have uneven relationship involvement levels. These are a fact of life in nonmonogamy. Do not pretend that relationships are at an equal footing when they are not. If nothing else, a longer history with one partner will create an unequal footing. If you want things to be equal, you will typically have to overcompensate to do it. Do not use the excuse that the relationships are unequal to squish or sideline a less-involved relationship.

Boundaries and negotiation are not just for primary or primary-like relationships. When starting a new or less involved relationship, lay out your desires and expectations to ensure they are compatible. Go through relationship negotiation similar to that in primary-style relationships.

Be willing to ask for what you want. If you are in a less involved relationship with someone who has a primary-style relationship, do not be afraid to ask for what you want, as that is almost always preferable to trying to suppress, or trying to get it other ways.

Find ways to reassure non-primary partners. People in less-involved relationships tend to assume they will be cast aside without care at the first hint of trouble. Figure out what you can promise to them in terms of stability or commitment, and then make those promises.

Give the new/secondary/play buddy person a voice. Try to avoid making decisions in your primary relationship(s) and then presenting them to other relationships as a done deal. Try to create a three-way negotiation pattern, even if it is one that is unbalanced or has to be channeled through the shared partner. Even if a big decision is something non-primary partners will not have a say in, discuss it with them.

Build trust and comfort between primary partner(s) and non-primary partner(s). This is an effort that should go both ways, and one that will pay off for everyone involved despite any initial awkwardness. Have partners mingle in social settings, go out together to movies, have everyone over for dinner, or otherwise interact. Do not start by having everyone go to the same play party: sexualized environments do not create comfort.

Be flexible about where a new/secondary/play buddy relationship can go. Relationships (even play buddy relationships) tend to have a mind of their own, so trying to fit them into a particular pre-defined mold causes drama and often fails. Instead, try to go with the flow as time passes and things find their own level or rituals. This goes both ways. For example, do not assume that a new relationship will necessarily become more serious over time – often the reverse happens.

Do not be a cowboy or cowgirl. A cowboy/girl is someone who enters a nonmonogamous scene and tries to “rope one off from the herd”. Do not plan on being nonmonogamous for now and becoming monogamous later, unless you have explicitly negotiated it. Do not fool yourself into thinking that you will someday replace a primary relationship: this rarely happens purposefully, and trying to make it happen will just create drama and get you dumped.

25 Responses to “Tips for Practical Nonmonogamy Negotiation”

  1. nabil Says:

    Interesting. Thanks for the insights.

    I’m particularly interested in thinking about secondary relationships right now– how they work, how to be fair to somebody when I have a primary. I’ve not dated a ton the last couple years, and find myself now interested in dipping a toe back in the waters– and having rather dramatic fears of breaking somebody’s heart.

    It helps when my darling makes fun of me– “It’s true, all your exes are sitting sadly in a room together right now, sighing heart-brokenly about you.” Heh. I love teasing as nurturing.

    Still. It’s hard to trust others to be resilient.



  2. pepomint Says:


    It’s hard to trust others to be resilient.

    I’m assuming that your worry here is that you will end up with someone who wants more (time, love, attention, etc) from you than you can give, and their heart will get broken from that.

    Poly people have a number of strategies to avoid this sort of thing:

    1) Be very clear and upfront about where you are willing to go in the relationship. This tends to head off mismatched expectations before anyone gets too serious about the relationship.

    2) Date people who are already in one or more primary relationships of their own, or who have a longstanding preference to not be in primary relationships at all.

    3) Date people where your connection is not super-strong, so that the relationship will naturally not become very serious. I know this sounds totally crass, but it actually works and is quite reasonable. One of my girlfriends started dating me specifically because she thought we would work out well in a casual manner. It’s been less casual than expected, but has bumped along at a fairly low commitment level, which is just what the two of us were looking for.

    4) Create space for any secondary relationships to grow as needed, by negotiating that space into your primary relationship. In this way, you can actually head to a co-primary situation if the relationship warrants it. Part of my current arrangement with my life partner is that if a secondary-style relationship gets serious, we’ll let that happen and re-jigger to accommodate it, hopefully without threatening or significantly devaluing our current relationship.

    There’s other things to do, I’m sure, including some of the tips listed above. Hopefully this was helpful to you.

  3. pands Says:

    Oh, wow. So much helpful stuff here. Thanks so much!

  4. Lady Lubyanka Says:

    Hello Pepper,

    I love this! Nicely organised, and pretty comprehensive. I especially love that cowboy/cowgirl thing. I didn’t know there was a name for that. :) That’s been attempted on me, and turned out exactly the way you described (there was drama, he got dumped).

    Oh wait, does that make me a cow? Ok…

    moo. ;)

    In the spirit of what you said:

    “If you have anything to add or any quibbles, please speak up.”

    I have a quibble to add. :)

    The one thing I wasn’t so sure about was the way you put the boundary thing. I agree absolutely without question that boundaries are good, and required, and must be discussed a whole lot. What I don’t agree with is that any boundary is not utterly and completely a personal boundary (as opposed to a relationship boundary or something). My experience has shown me that managing relationships has a great deal to do with managing the personal boundaries of the specific individuals involved.

    I disagree with your summary of what a boundary is:

    “Boundaries are limits obeyed by one partner in a relationship (often around what said partner can do with other people) so that the other partner can continue the relationship without losing their shit.’

    I think boundaries are more defined by being set, rather than by how they are obeyed. In my experience, boundaries are more about what a specific individual needs within their interactions with other people, not about how or whether those needs are respected. If I were to rephrase your definition so it fitted mine, I might put it something like:

    Boundaries are limits (based on needs) which are set by an individual, so that other individuals are aware of how to specifically respect and meet those needs. In this way, every participant in a relationship can continue in that relationship without losing their shit.

    I know that being more aware of my personal boundaries has made it much easier for me to negotiate limits with other people and resolve any difficulties satisfactorily.

    I feel it’s incredibly important for people to be aware of their personal boundaries. I think it’s crucial that people take full reponsibility for owning and communicating those boundaries clearly (pretty much as you said, but with the addition of the “personal” and “responsibility” parts).

    I think that without knowing that the boundaries you have are personal, it’s less straightforward to own and take responsibility for your boundaries, and that can lead to difficulties, in my experience. I mean, without awareness and responsibility taken for boundaries, then I can’t see how those can accurately be communicated, and therefore be respected by others, if other people don’t know about them properly?

    Knowing boundaries are personal makes it much easier to have consistent rules which apply to individuals. This idea is supported by what you said:

    “Instead of having one set of rules for everyone in the relationship, it is common to have different rules for different people.”

    If you look at it another way, consider that everybody has personal boundaries which must always be respected, and which are likely to differ amongst individuals. Personal boundaries will hardly vary so much or conflict (much :p ) within the same individual. This way, I know how I must be in order to respect the boundaries of this person or that person. And this idea also impacts on, and addresses jealousy issues, and helps to establish whether a jealous feeling is as a result of a person’s personal issues, or as a result of a boundary transgression.

    Oh dear, this has got rather long.

    Ok, I think I’ve made the point: Boundaries are personal, not relationshipal (or something).

    Other than that, I thought this post was just spiffy. :D

    Cheerful waves, from

    Lubyanka. :)

  5. pepomint Says:

    Lady Lubyanka:

    You are correct that I’ve given personal boundaries short shrift in this writeup. Now that you’ve pointed that out, I will likely include something on personal versus relationship-specific boundaries in future versions of this document (for future presentations, which are being planned as we speak).

    There are some advantages to thinking of boundaries as being personal. As you’ve pointed out, it encourages one to own one’s boundaries, or rather be responsible for them, manage them, and communicate them. Also, attaching boundaries to people encourages consistency across relationships.

    And of course, boundaries tend to rise out of a person’s particular state of mind, approach to nonmonogamy, and so on, so there’s a certain amount of sense to thinking of boundaries as personal.

    That said, sometimes boundaries do depend on the particular relationship involved. For example, people in secondary-style relationships (or casual relationships, or play buddy relationships, etc) often have less boundaries than when those same people are in a primary or live-in or similar relationship. Partly this is because they may not have as much emotional investment, or it could happen because they simply don’t feel they have the right to the same boundaries that they would want in a more involved relationship.

    Live-in stuff is a good example. People often discover that they have more boundaries in a relationship once they have moved in together. Some of this is simply space considerations – if two (or more) people are sharing a bedroom, then there’s usually more negotiation required around who sleeps with whom where and when.

    So we could think of boundaries as essentially personal, but activated by particular circumstances or particular sorts of relationships.

    Though there are still some that end up being relationship-specific, that arise because of the dynamic between two people. I have had to deal with quite a bit of this, because I have a slutty attitude and I find a very wide range of people attractive. This tends to make my partners insecure about me and my other lovers, even though it’s rare for me to actually be all that slutty. But there’s a possibility there, and they can feel that, and that tends to bring more insecurity, with more boundaries. The running joke is that I take poly people and make them want to be monogamous, though that’s not entirely true.

    My point being that it is entirely possible that someone dating me will have a different set of boundary requirements than if they were dating someone else. And that’s okay, though it should not be abused to create inequality among relationships. In other words, some boundaries are relationshipal, even if thinking about them as personal may be more advantageous in some ways.

  6. Lady Lubyanka Says:

    Hello Pepper,

    I find that any boundaries which may appear to be relationship specific, because of appearing for the first time between two specific individuals, are even then truly personal boundaries which simply appeared because nobody else behaved in a way which made the other person aware that they needed those boundaries.

    I think you might find that a person who has specific boundaries with you, might find they have similar boundaries with another person, if they share a similar relationship with them as you do, and behave in a similar way so as to trigger awareness of the need for this personal boundary.

    I find that boundaries which may be specific between two people, are really specific to one person, or both people separately, because the new awareness of those boundaries will then persist throughout other relationships that person, or those people have with others who are close to them.

    I think that’s because relationships with people can help increase self awareness, and therefore increase self knowledge about which boundaries are required, and why.

    I know for myself that my personal boundaries do not change with different people. I either add to them, the closer I get to somebody, or they don’t come into consideration because the circumstances aren’t there to require them. But even if I do not specify a boundary with any particular individual, that boundary is there within me, and I will specify it if it becomes necessary to do so. But the ones which are there do not change. I either specify new ones as they arise, or maintain the ones which work for me with everybody else. :)

    And having said that, I tend to specify all my boundaries from the start, so that they won’t come as a surprise later. Any new ones I discover will be mentioned at the time of discovery. I find doing this lessens the other person’s feeling that my boundary is about them, if I mention it during a time when the boundary is not a current issue with that person.

    I hope that all made sense. :)

    Lubyanka. :)

    ps: I’d just like to add my support for your slutty attitude. ;)

    Yay slutty attitude. :)

  7. Charmaine X Says:

    Wow. There are so many things to think about with polyamory!

    Thanks for this; it’s practical, clear and helpful. And I think you’re right about polyamory taking off as a social movement — hopefully it’s not just wishful thinking on my part. But it’s all to the better if it widens the poly dating pool ;P

  8. pepomint Says:

    Lady Lubyanka:

    I like the way you’ve laid it out. Ultimately, some person is responsible for any particular boundary being there, even if it is happening in the context of a particular relationship (and even if it never happens in any other relationship).

    I think it is good to keep a focus on where the boundary is coming from, namely the person who is laying it down. We tend to forget this in polyland, and instead boundaries are attributed to all sorts of things. For example, one partner may claim that they now have a boundary because of something their partner did to them. Or they might have it because “it’s just reasonable”, or something similar. I feel like some people in the community (clearly, not you) go through mental acrobatics to avoid taking full responsibility for their boundaries, probably because there’s a certain stigma to having boundaries around lovers’ other lovers in polyland.

    And as you say, owning boundaries tends to help a partner see that the boundary is not all about them or the particular relationship.

    I’ll change up that section in future versions. Thanks!

  9. pepomint Says:

    Charmaine X:

    Glad you liked it!

    I’m currently lost in your blog. You’ve been blogrolled, barring objections.


  10. Lady Lubyanka Says:

    Hello Pepper,

    I feel like some people in the community (clearly, not you) go through mental acrobatics to avoid taking full responsibility for their boundaries, probably because there’s a certain stigma to having boundaries around lovers’ other lovers in polyland.
    I agree. I’ve seen so much prevarication around owning responsibilty for boundaries, in every walk of life and every situation, not just poly. I mean, owning boundaries doesn’t make the owner guilty of something horrible. Responsibilty does not equal culpability for some transgression, especially if there is no transgression.

    I didn’t know about the stigma to owning boundaries in polyland (prolly because I don’t experience guilt or shame, or embarassment of any kind*). This reminds me of your “Your kink does not get a free pass” post. I’m wondering if similar issues come into play with this in poly regarding the ownership of boundaries.

    It’s almost like any “alternative” lifestyle can be used as a barometer for personal issues and limits, because the nature of having to defend such a lifestyle against a world which isn’t so tolerant of difference, can lead to more extreme circumstances which test self awareness to a degree which “normal” life usually does not.
    And as you say, owning boundaries tends to help a partner see that the boundary is not all about them or the particular relationship.
    Indeed, back to appropriate responsibility, without guilt or shame, or indeed blame. :)
    I’ll change up that section in future versions. Thanks!
    Yay! I persuaded! :) :) :) I’ve gone all warm and fluffy now. :D

    Fabulously yours,

    Lubyanka. ;)

    *Not experiencing guilt or shame may be down to the fact that I feel pretty clear on what I am legitimately responsible for and what I’m not. So I can make honest mistakes, being human, and I can regret any unpleasantness those mistakes can cause, but I don’t experience guilt or shame over those. And if anybody tries to hold me responsible for things which I don’t feel I am legitimately responsible for, I can’t feel guilt or shame if I know I’m being attributed with a transgression I did not cause.

  11. bitchyjones Says:

    For some reason, people assume that to be polyamorous you have to be some sort of incredibly evolved relationship master. This is simply not true. …You do not have to be super-evolved to be polyamorous or nonmonogamous.

    Thank you, Pep. I would have said this myself if I was smart enough. Being able to be poly isn’t a super power, or an invite to a special exclusive club. It just is. I like it.

    BJ xxxx

  12. pepomint Says:

    BJ: Thanks! Though I can’t really take credit. After we gave the workshop, one of the attendees said something along the lines of “thanks for making it all seem so real – I thought you had to be super-evolved to be poly”. Next time there’s going to be a “who can do nonmonogamy” talk in the presentation itself.

  13. Musqrat Says:

    I think that to be poly, you have to be what I call a “relationship geek.” One reason poly doesn’t catch on more than it has, in my opinion, is that most people just aren’t interested in the level of introspection and analysis required to deconstruct the relationship paradigm we inherit from society at large, and reconstruct a new relationship paradigm that allows for something like polyamory.

  14. pepomint Says:


    I think that to be poly, you have to be what I call a “relationship geek.”

    I’m not sure you have to be a full-on relationship geek to do poly, but it sure helps. In any case, you do need to be fairly committed to doing nonmonogamy and willing to work through the rough patches. But hey, some commitment and a willingness to work through rough patches is a *relationship* requirement, so poly is just an extension of what needs to happen anyways.

    I have seen people do poly who are not particularly advanced on their relationship stuff. They have a slightly harder time of it, but they do it anyways. The fact that the community provides a series of roadmaps and forums really helps.

  15. BillyB Says:

    Thanks for this. Lots of good stuff here. My wife and I have been technically poly or open or whatever for about a year, but haven’t really “done the deed.” We’ve both flirted, and she’s groped, but neither of us has established another relationship. Lots of the stuff you’ve got here we’ve done (we set really clear limits, etc) while others (renegotiation for no real reason) we haven’t. In fact, one thing you bring up hits close to home: I’ve always been way more kinky than her, while she’s way more vanilla. That said, she’s hosted a play party years ago, but considers it a happy memory of youth (we’re 36), while I haven’t really acted on most of my impulses.

    Anyhow, and this might be an interesting topic for a future post, our biggest issue is just attempting to be unmonogamous in a mono world. “Hey babe, I know you know I’m married, but the wife is cool, see…..” I dunno, doesn’t come naturally for me. My wife is totally not into finding people at random via the internet and is concentrating on guys she’s preaquainted with and finds attractive, while I’m attempting to parley my many hours (already) spent on the internet into my extracurricular activities. But, you know, 36-year-old males that are not hung like a firehose and buff are not all that in demand… unless I’ve got a hot, bi swinger wife (baby). Anyhow, any tips for the uninitiated?

  16. pepomint Says:

    BillyB: I’m glad this was useful.

    You are right that there should be a section on where to find prospective new partners. I’ll look into adding that to the next version. In the meantime, here’s some hints:

    1) There’s no need to be buff, young, or hung like a horse. Think about what makes you attractive, and play to that. Do you have a good sense of humor? Like a particular activity? Have interesting things to say? Ask your wife what it is about you that she finds sexy.

    2) Internet personals. This tends to be the easiest way to find like-minded people in your area. Check out and Be very clear as to what you are looking for in your profile, i.e. secondary-style relationships? Hookups? And so on. Do all the usual good-practice internet personals things: good pictures of yourself, in your profile talk about whatever it is that makes you interesting, write *interesting* messages to people you are interested in, and pay attention to the matching system if there is one. Internet dating is its own skill, so take it easy and don’t expect immediate results. You’ll get better at it with time.

    3) Poly events. There are likely some in your area – find them and go to them if you can. Don’t approach them like a dating pool, but like an opportunity to be part of a community. Once you find friends and acquaintances there, dating opportunities will start appearing.

    4) Sex parties/swinger parties. Most people are not into these, but if you are, they are one of the fastest ways to find other nonmonogamous people. Again, don’t approach it like a sexual buffet, but instead go a number of times and build connections. Also, read my how to negotiate play parties post.

    5) Dating otherwise monogamous people can be hard, depending on what you are looking for. If you are looking for a casual relationship that will probably not get serious, this can be good. But otherwise you will be training someone else (possibly someone reluctant) in nonmonogamy, and that can be very difficult. I understand your wife’s urge to start with friends, but if she is looking for a low-drama relationship that will last, she should make sure that any guys she starts up with are already pre-inclined towards nonmonogamy.

  17. Polyamory is not about the sex, except when it is « freaksexual Says:

    […] Tips for Practical Nonmonogamy Negotiation […]

  18. Sara no H. Says:

    You know, I think I like this even better than xeromag’s dos and don’ts. :) Excellent piece.

  19. Fountain Pens and Handmade Paper » Blog Archive » Links for February 24th, 2008 Says:

    […] Tips for Practical Nonmonogamy Negotiation (tags: polyamory relationships sexuality nonmonogamy mlf) […]

  20. Practical Nonmonogamy Tips II « freaksexual Says:

    […] Tips for Practical Nonmonogamy Negotiation […]

  21. Polyamori Wiki: Polyressurser Says:

    […] peppermint har flere gode artikler på bloggen sin freaksexual. Nevner to stykker her: Tips for Practical Nonmonogamy Negotiation og Practical Nonmonogamy Tips II Han har også en side essays by peppermint hvor han har samlet […]

  22. eugene Says:

    Amazing article, thank you a lot for your hard work.

  23. The Transactional Model of Relationships « atheist, polyamorous, skeptics Says:

    […] I’m allowed to see other people as well.” Side note: this is why I dislike the term “negotiation” in a relationship context. It’s adopting the language of business […]

  24. kinky7 Says:

    Reblogged this on kinky7.

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