ENM Relationship Meaning: What It Is & What You Should Know About It

Not every relationship looks the same. While some people are happy having “their person,” others would rather not be tied down to one partner. If you’re feeling suffocated or unfulfilled by the idea of monogamy, you might be considering whether an ENM relationship is for you. Here are some things to know about EMN relationships.

The meaning of an ENM relationship


ENM stands for ethical non-monogamy. You might also see it referred to as consensual non-monogamy (CNM), polyamory, and open relationships. However, these terms don’t always mean the exact same thing. ENM relationships, although usually romantic, are not exclusive. So, everyone involved is free to date others, but everyone else in the relationship is aware of this dynamic and consents to it. Whereas an open relationship could just mean having sex with someone who is not your partner without any sort of romantic or emotional connection.

ENM vs Cheating

It needs to be said that ENM and cheating are not the same thing. The issue with cheating is it’s non-consensual. One partner did not give the other permission to make a move on someone else. So, cheating is a huge violation of trust. However, in ENM relationships, everyone involved knows it is not an exclusive or monogamous scenario and is okay with that.

Why do people choose ENM relationships?

People choose this arrangement in their relationships for various reasons, including the desire for greater personal freedom and autonomy, an interest in exploring multiple romantic and/or sexual connections, and a belief that love and intimacy are not limited to only one person.

ENM relationships can take many forms, including polyamory, open relationships, and swinging, and people choose these relationships for a variety of reasons that are unique to them. Ultimately, the decision to engage in ENM relationships is a highly personal one, shaped by a variety of factors such as individual values, personality, life experiences, and relationship needs.

More things to know about ethical non-monogamy

  1. They’re more common than you think. There’s still a lot of stigma surrounding ENM relationships. They’re pretty misunderstood, but chances are, you may have already encountered people in these relationships without knowing it! Research found one in five American adults has engaged in an ENM situation at least once in their life.
  2. It’s not always the same as swinging. ENM is essentially an umbrella term to cover non-monogamous relationships. Swinging usually refers to a couple having sex with other people outside the relationship but doing so together. For example, having a threesome. Open relationships generally involved both partners hooking up with other people separately. ENM and polyamorous relationships are usually more about having romantic, emotional, and sexual relationships with multiple people than casual hookups.
  3. ENM relationships can be just as fulfilling as monogamy. People who aren’t into ENM might struggle to understand how others feel secure in these scenarios. Research actually found people in ENM relationships can be just as satisfied emotionally and sexually as monogamous couples.
  4. You need to set ground rules. Like monogamous relationships, ENM relationships need consent and communication to survive. Not all ENM relationships look the same. The people involved may agree on a set of ground rules everyone must follow. For example, maybe no one is allowed to have unprotected sex with strangers, or everyone needs to be consulted if you want to bring another person into the mix. If you can’t respect the ground rules, it won’t work.
  5. Everyone needs to be on the same page. Unfortunately, ENM can get a bad rep when cheaters use it to justify their behavior. If you don’t want to be monogamous, you need to be upfront about that immediately. Having someone in the relationship under the impression you’re exclusive is downright sleazy. Consent needs to be informed. You should never mislead people because you suspect they’ll be put off by the truth. Some people will just never feel comfortable in an ENM relationship, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Instead, try to find people who are open to an ENM relationship.
  6. Some people consider polyamory a sexual orientation. Some people view ENM relationships as a lifestyle choice, others see polyamory as a sexual orientation. There is a lot of debate within the LGBTQ+ community about whether cisgender, straight polyamorous people are also part of the community. People in ENM relationships are more likely to identify as gay, bisexual or pansexual, but ENM is definitely not something only exclusive to the LGBTQ+ community, meaning everyone can partake.
  7. It’s not right for everyone. You might try entering an ENM relationship and realize it’s actually not for you at all. Some people struggle with feeling jealous of others involved in their relationship, feeling possessive of a partner and neglected if someone else is involved, or maybe you’re just not able to have feelings or attraction to multiple people at once. If it’s not for you, it’s not for you. Don’t force it if you’re only going to get your feelings hurt when a partner is still actively dating. How you feel is valid.
  8. Not everyone understands. I’ve known some people in these kinds of relationships over the years, and they regularly have well-meaning friends trying to warn them that their partner is “cheating” after spotting them on a date with someone else. They then need to assure their friends that it’s literally impossible for their partner to cheat. Although well intentioned, not everyone in your life is going to understand the dynamic, no matter how many times you try to explain it.
  9. Not everyone approves. Sadly, no matter how happy you might be and what meaning you might find in an ENM relationship, some people in your life just will not approve. As far as I’m concerned, as long a relationship is not abusive, the dynamic doesn’t matter if everyone involved is a consenting adult. Do what makes you happy. Hopefully, your loved ones will come around one day; but remember, the only person your relationship really affects is you.


Aisling is a 20-something year old Irish writer who is the life and relationship guru of her social circle. She loves music, movies, and coffee.