Personal Growth Through Consensual NonMonogamies
Considering boundaries, facing shadows, and embracing spirit.
Posted Aug 04, 2019
For some people, the emotional rigors associated with consensual non-monogamies (CNM) offer a pathway to self-growth. Because the popular media tend to focus on sexuality when discussing polyamory and other forms of CNM, it might be surprising to hear that multiple-partner relationships can foster anything beyond orgasms, much less the lofty goals of personal growth.
This is not to say that all or even most polyamorous folks are spiritually evolved, or that monogamous folks are any less spiritually evolved than those in CNM relationships. Discussion among some poly people or groups can have an obnoxious holier-than-thou tone, exalting CNM as superior and more evolved than monogamy. That is not this blog. Rather, the point is that polyamorous people can seek personal growth through their relationships—and some of them even find it.
Selecting a CNM relationship means going outside of the conventional social boundaries that have been very clearly identified in the mass culture. In addition to the personal relationships of the people around them, people see monogamy and cheating demonstrated repeatedly in movies, television shows, songs, and pretty much every other form of media.
If people want to have CNM relationships, they need to consider what they want, what they will not tolerate, and what they might be willing to compromise on. Pondering one’s boundaries can encourage self growth through reflection and testing limits. Many forms of CNM, and especially polyamory, emphasize self-possession, rather than partners possessing each other. This orientation towards self-possession means that people in CNM relationships are required to focus on and manage their own reactions, boundaries, and emotions.
Carl Jung famously defined the dark, unconscious, or repressed parts of a person's psyche as their shadow. Jealousy and other challenging emotions commonly relegated to the shadow can occur frequently in polyamorous and other CNM relationships.
While some people can watch their lover making out with someone else and feel joy that their beloved has found a cutie to snog (in poly lingo, that special kind of joy is called compersion), for most people, that it an incredibly challenging situation. Feeling the jealousy, learning how to manage it, living through it, and coming out the other side can be a harrowing journey that creates strength and resilience in the long run. Facing the jealous, angry, grasping, competitive, territorial, or insecure parts of their personalities and refusing to allow them to be in charge can help people grow beyond these shadow elements. Cultivating unconditional love, tolerance, and kindness through learning to tolerate and move beyond jealousy and insecurity can bring tremendous personal growth and peace.
Some people find spiritual enlightenment through CNM relationships. Tantra, a sacred sexuality tradition based in tenets of Buddhism and Hinduism, offers some practitioners of CNM a way to integrate meditative and yogic elements into their multiple partner relationships. Polygamous relationships, a traditional form of multiple partner marriage—often practiced as polygyny in which one husband can have multiple wives—are often embedded in religious communities such as the Fundamentalist Latter-Day Saints (Fundamentalist Mormons) or Islam.
In some cases, Afrocentric cultures in the United States also embrace polygyny as a way to reconnect with traditional practices of many African cultures. Racist laws, law enforcement, and sentencing mean that a disproportionately enormous number of African American men are incarcerated, leaving fewer possible partners for African American women who wish to marry an African American man. Such a gender imbalance among the heterosexual population can encourage polygamy. In other cases, the draw of connection in a hostile and divided world sparks people’s interest in intentional communities that blend spirituality, marriage, and mutual reliance.
Pioneering polyamorous couple Carl and Kenya Stevens have developed models that support persons choosing CNM in applying tools that integrate personal growth as a conscious and even mandatory part of polyamorous relationships. The Stevens, married for 24 years and polyamorous for 14 of those years, were the first African-American couple to openly practice and advocate polyamory on a national and international level. Their personal growth through polyamory philosophy has helped people attempting CNM relationships to navigate and grow through multiple-partner relationships.
When serving folks in CNM relationships, Kenya and Carl Stevens start all of their clients with one common understanding: the purpose is growth. When seeking personal growth, participants are aware from the beginning that the challenges they face are meaningful, anticipated, and can serve as opportunities to explore internal development. According to the Stevens, CNM can provide exponential growth because there are more avenues, or relationship scenarios, to experience.
Stevens, Carl. (2017). The Art of Open Relating, Volume 1: Theory, Philosophy, and Foundation. SelfAsSource Publishing. ISBN-10: 098016639X