The #1 Mistake People Make Going from Monogamy to Non-monogamy

Apr 15, 2022
Pretty, bright-colored flowers gathered in a small round container for a ritual.

~ 4 minute read ~

YAY! You’ve decided to join the cool kids and venture outside the monogamy box.


This is going to be fun.


You’re learning new vocab–polyamory, compersion, metamour, polycule. You’ve got a fresh take on what your relationship boundaries are. You’re all set to swipe right, find some adventure, kiss some hotties… 


I love this part. You’ll love this part.


But before you do, can I share a secret with you?


There’s a mistake almost everyone makes when they shift from monogamy to non-monogamy: they skip their grieving.


I know… buzzkill. And, what the hell am I talking about grief for? This is about LOVE and JOY and FUN.


And it is about all those things, absolutely. And when you are shifting from a monogamous relationship, especially one that has been monogamous for a while, grieving is an essential step in the process. 


Skip it at your own risk. 


The biggest mistake people make when opening up their marriage


Many of my clients are going from monogamous marriage to a polyamorous or some type of creative open relationship after decades of being together. They met, married, and made a life together based on the premise of monogamy. A life they love. A life they don’t want to wreck. 


And yet, they want more.


You know about this want. It’s BIG. The desire to feel open and free and expansive. I’m totally here for that. I live that life myself and I help people achieve it. 


And still… I want you to grieve.


Letting Go to Move Forward in Polyamory or Open Relating


Let’s get really clear: grieving the loss of the relationship you have as a monogamous, one-an-only person does NOT mean you need to end your relationship, talk about divorce, or even take off your rings. Grieving this is an inner experience of actively processing the loss of the life you were used to and the one you probably expected to have forever. 


Grief is often a neglected action in modern life. It’s something we might only think about connected to death. Even with death losses, though, in our society, we are encouraged to focus on the fact that the world is still spinning. We keep juggling, We carry on. Our hearts callous over too quickly and we miss the opportunity to be present to grief and all its potential for depth.


Other big losses also bring the opportunity for depth… if we just take a beat and acknowledge the change. 


In opening a long-term committed relationship, especially a marriage, we are talking about the loss of an identity as well as losing a certain sense of security and a particular dreamed-of future. 


Often my clients report feeling really happy about *most* of the changes but there are also often (almost always) some aspects of their old life they miss. Missing your monogamous life doesn’t mean you necessarily want to return to monogamy, and it doesn’t mean you've done anything wrong. 


Feeling nostalgia for the way we were is natural. One of the underlying reasons for nostalgia is that we didn’t grieve the loss that happened when we chose a new path. When you are celebrating the future of a bold new relationship style it can feel dangerous to mourn your old ways. 


There is an unspoken worry:  “If I mourn monogamy, doesn’t that mean I don’t really want a new relationship style?” or it could be, “If I mourn the loss of who we were, will my partner change their mind?” In that worry, you push away the sadness about what you are letting go of and focus on the future. And that’s just great. Until it isn’t.


Luckily it isn’t too late to approach your grief and let it become part of your growth path. 


Now that you are opening up your relationship (or even if it’s been a while but you’re noticing some old stuff resurfacing), let’s get practical about the how-to of grieving.


How to grieve with a simple ritual


My preferred method for doing grief work, especially re-approaching older grief that wasn’t grieved in the early days of loss, is ritual.


Let’s keep this simple though- ritual doesn’t mean you have to get super fancy or be super woo. Be as woo as you like and not one ounce more :)


Ritual template

Gather two things: a bit of time and an object to represent what has been lost. A stone, feather, or another natural object will work, or you might have a photo, piece of clothing, or journal that reminds you of the lost thing, or you could write something down and fold the paper up into a little nugget that holds the energy of what is now gone.


Set Your Intention: speak your intention for this ritual. An example: “I am witnessing my own grief today. I am holding who I once was and being present to what is no more.”


Symbolic Action: psyche responds to symbols. This could be the lighting of a fire (or candle), the pouring of water onto the ground, offering your story to the silence around you, or singing/listening to a song. Holding the object in your hands and allowing yourself to feel how it is full of the old life, your old Self, the old form of love. You have choices here. Lean into the symbolic act. Wash, burn, tear, or bury the object. Or hold it as you cry. Or set it out to become part of the natural world again, both separate from you and also a part of a whole universe you belong to. There are a million ways to symbolically allow grief to be seen. Music can be incredibly potent, so try this if you are struggling to settle into the feelings of sadness or loss of old grief. Let it get physical: tears, wailing, sighing, hitting something soft, or other physical acts of moving the emotional release through your body. 


Completion: speak again. Speak to your former self, to the old marriage, to the person you were and the dream you missed. Thank that grief for the visit, for the way it reminded you of how rich in experiences your life has been, for letting you feel it. Speak your intention to move forward with this grief integrated, learned from, and honored, not forgotten. 


Return to life: Get back to your day-to-day experience but know that this kind of work is nothing short of ESSENTIAL for a life lived with purpose. You now have a new level of honest self-reflection about your transformation from monogamous to non-monogamous person integrated into who you are. As you move forward, do it with the knowledge that you invested in your Self and the future of your relationships by doing this grief work. 

P.S. It’s completely normal if you never noticed the need to grieve your old relationship when you transitioned to polyamory or ethical non-monogamy before. It’s not too late- a grief ritual can work its magic at any point in your journey.

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