The social and physical constructs of what defines a “romantic relationship” look completely different than how maybe even our parents learned. It is easy to see that a traditional romantic relationship was between two people, whether dating or marriage, and that is called a monogamous relationship.

Standard monogamous relationships were fundamental and predominate relationship type for a long time. Now, there are enough forms of non-monogamy to count on two hands. Just like everything else in our society and culture, relationships have adapted and evolved to bring together new desires and ways of life.

According to psychology, there are seven forms of non-monogamy. While in this article we will briefly mention all of them to give you a good baseline of understanding, the main focus will be on polyamory vs open relationship.

Monogamy means that two people have agreed to have sex with only each other, no outside sexual partners. In modern US society, the term serial monogamy is used to describe an individual who engages in a monogamous relationship for a certain time period, breaks up, and enters a new, sexually-exclusive monogamous relationship.

It is important to note that while there are certain people who view non-monogamous relationships as cheating, the most important aspects of any relationship is honesty, openness, agreed upon rules/structure, and emotional connection. And it is because of these aspects, that society has broadened the spectrum of romantic relationships.

The Many Forms of Non-Monogamy

  • Polygamy

While monogamy may be the most popular and conventional type of relationship, polygamy predates its exclusive counterpart. This form of relationship is characterized by marriage involving more than two people.

The most common type of multiple partner marriage is called polygyny, which is one husband who has many wives. All the wives are sexually exclusive with the husband.

Polyandry is the complete opposite and very rare- one wife with multiple husbands. While certain cultures and religions are the biggest proponents of these types of marriages, it is not often seen here in the US.


  • Swinging

Of all the forms that will be discussed, it is easy to claim that swinging is by far the most popular. Swinging is the act that involves committed couples openly and consensually swapping partners for sexual needs and desires.

Fun fact about swinging is that US Air Force pilots in WWII are credited for starting the swinging trend by holding key parties. The diverse nature of swinging can range from random encounters with a stranger couple met at a bar or sex party to a close group of friends who have known each other for years.

  • Monogamish

This term has been brought to the sexual relationship table as of the last few years. It is used to describe couples who are primarily monogamous but allow for varying degrees of sexual contact with others or set rules/structure to the encounters.

While many who label themselves as being in a monogamish relationship admit to lacking nothing in their relationship with their significant other, sometimes it’s just to fulfill a sexual fantasy. Other times there may be something lacking, and an external sexual partner can sometimes fill that void.

For example, some rules may be that everything except intercourse is allowed or only one-night stands. Or maybe one of the partners has a cuckold fetish or bi-sexual tendencies — whatever the reasoning may be, the monogamish lifestyle is slowly becoming more popular and accepted.

  • Polyfidelity

This is a bit more of an unconventional relationship construct but is fairly straightforward. This closed relationship style involves a group larger than two that requires emotional and sexual fidelity to the intimate group.

Polyaffective is a similar type of relationship that involves two emotionally, non-sexually intimate individuals who are connected by a shared sexual connection.

  • Relationship Anarchy

In a nutshell, a relationship anarchist (RA for short) dispels the need for relationship constructs and seeks to eliminate the hierarchy of love prioritized over friendships.

Also, RA’s feel that it is better to end a relationship than to compromise on any beliefs or actions that are undesirable by the partner. Overall, RA’s believe that love is abundant and that people can have many simultaneous loving and meaningful relationships that are not bound by societal or cultural norms.

Finally, now that the other five types of non-monogamous relationships have been defined, we can discuss what the difference between an open relationship and polyamory is.

An open relationship is a broad term that is used to describe a consensual, non-monogamous relationship of a primary couple, individuals who are “open” to sexual contact with others. Whether the openness is stipulated by specific rules, expectations, or communication, the most important aspect of an open relationship is that the primary relationship is a priority.

Polyamory is the practice of having multiple open, sexual, and/or romantic relationships simultaneously. While not always, it is typically ideal to have the knowledge and consent of all individuals who are involved or affected by the relationships. Polyfidelity and polyaffective relationship are two offshoots of polyamory.

The biggest differences between the two are:

  • A polyamorous relationship is considered an open relationship.
  • An open relationship is often a personal preference.
  • Identifying as polyamorous is almost a sense of hard-wired feelings to the love-life.
  • Outside of the primary relationship, open relationships are most often just about sex. Polyamorous relationships involve commitment and connections with multiple partners. Polyamory directly translates to “many loves.”


So, there you have it, the main types of romantic relationships broken down and compared. While these are just a few, there really is no limit to how you want or need your relationship to be constructed and function.

We are all hard-wired differently and need to focus on different aspects of our relationships to be happy and fulfilled, so take this information above, think about it, and hopefully, it will help you keep an open mind to new ideas, or maybe even spark a newfound desire that may fill a void in your love life.

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