by Bianca Palmisano
One in five single Americans are or have been in a consensually non-monogamous (CNM) relationship. The growing number of non-monogamous people in the United States suggests that therapists and social workers need to be ready to address alternative relationship styles like polyamory, open marriages, swinging, and casual hookups in their practices. While non-monogamy may seem like an unwieldy topic to broach, in most cases, practitioners won’t need to change much about their approach to counseling in serving this community.
Do I need a certificate to do this?
Non-monogamy can have rules and meanings as varied as the clients who practice it, just as traditional relationships are all complex and unique. This is good news for therapists, says Yana Tallon-Hicks, MA, a relationship therapist and sex educator. “As therapists… we already know that each couple has their own ways of defining intimacy, trust, commitment, and even what a relationship is. Chances are, if you got all of your couples together for a dinner party and asked them to define sex, commitment, or what marriage means to them, you’d get some wildly different responses and quite the heated dinner conversation!”
It can be helpful for practitioners to have some basic understanding of the different flavors of non-monogamy, but it is more important to understand “that all relationships are self-defined and on a spectrum of health,” Tallon-Hicks continues. “[This understanding] gives us the freedom of knowing that even if we don’t have a lot of experience with non-monogamous clients, we already know how to meet clients where they are and let them lead us through their own definitions and meanings of what makes their relationships tick.”
Non-monogamy….That’s like, cheating, right?
While personal understanding of non-monogamy varies greatly, it can be useful to have some basic working vocabulary on the topic.
Polyamory: the custom or practice of engaging in multiple romantic relationships with the knowledge and consent of all partners concerned
Swinging: the custom or practice in which singles and partners in a committed relationship engage in sexual activities with others as a recreational or social activity with the knowledge and consent of all partners concerned. While swingers can and do form romantic attachments outside of their primary relationship, the delineation between polyamory and swinging is used most often to note the dominance of a dyadic relationship in which other relationships are more casual, and frequently more focused on sexual encounters and friendship than romantic attachment. …