If you’re on social media or dating sites, you may have noticed an uptick in a mysterious three letter abbreviation: ENM. Some profiles simply write “ENM,” while others say that “partners know, but need discretion.” It sounds suspicious or creepy! But a little education will help you decide how you’d like to engage with this phrase and if you’d like to apply it to your own life.
ENM stands for Ethical Non-Monogamy. This umbrella term refers to any relationship dynamic that allows for the people in the relationship to date or have sexual encounters with other people. ENM relationships include swinging, open relationships, polyamory, and even, “don’t ask, don’t tell” dynamics. The main idea is that every partner is aware that their lover is getting involved with another person and freely consents to it. This makes it different from traditional polygamy, for example, where a wife is not afforded the same freedoms as her husband to take more lovers.
Polyamory is a relationship type where partners agree to have relationships with other people outside of their duo. Sometimes this looks like a third person becoming a partner to two people, or a third person becoming only a partner to one person, while a fourth partner becomes a partner to the second person. These relationships have the capacity to have significant emotional depth and commitment. In some cases, this commitment becomes so great that the relationships become closed again, so everyone stops dating other people and only has relationships with their two (or more) committed partners.
Open relationships cover a much wider range of relationship types. Typically, this is where a couple choose to date other people, but don’t intend to love or commit to them. It stays casual. This is different from swinging, as each person in the relationship can independently make decisions about who they’re dating and will see their lovers without their partners present.
Swinging is often people’s first thought when they hear about a couple’s open relationship. While it’s a common dynamic, it’s not for everyone, nor is it everyone’s experience with ethical non-monogamy . Swinging involves a couple in a closed romantic relationship having sex with another person or couple, together. There are usually strict rules surrounding types of sex allowed and how involved each person can get with the outside parties. These couples are not interested in emotional intimacy with anyone else, only sex.
“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” dynamics exist in a gray area of ethical non-monogamy. In this type of relationship, a partner gives their partner permission to have outside relationships, but they don’t want to know anything about it. Many in both the ENM and traditionally monogamous communities reject this type of relationship style, arguing that it can’t truly be ethical if the partner’s don’t talk about it with one another. Others argue that the partner granting permission is all the consent required.
Choosing an ethically non-monogamous relationship doesn’t mean that your first relationship is over or unhappy, but opening up the relationship can be a pretty daunting experience. Even monogamous relationships can bring out jealousy, insecurity, fear, unmet desires, and other, not-so-great feelings. But healthy, non-traditional relationship dynamics are possible, especially with the help of well-informed therapists, such as the ones at Valued Living Therapy.
Valued Living Therapy offers therapy in person in the Twin Cities area and via telehealth throughout Minnesota. We are inclusive of all relationships, sexual orientations, and identities, and passionate about helping you make lasting change.