13 Unconventional and Alternative Relationships Explained

Are you in an unconventional relationship, or perhaps seeking an alternative relationship because traditional monogamy doesn’t resonate with you?

More and more people are questioning ingrained cultural customs when it comes to relationships, and seeking to design their own ways of relating in love and sex.

There are a variety of unconventional and alternative relationships already in practice, and others being created as a custom fit for the needs and desires of unique individuals connecting in their own way.

What Is an Alternative Relationship?

An alternative relationship is any relationship style outside of the traditional monogamy historically valued in western culture.

Read: Why People Choose Monogamy

Alternative relationships offer a variety of ways for people to connect that may feel more natural, authentic, or realistic.

13 Examples of Alternative Relationships

1. Long-Distance Relationships

Long-distance relationships are usually viewed as doomed to fail. After all, the lovers in question are simply not there much of the time.

It can be heartbreaking when one lover moves far away, or when we meet a soulmate while travelling, and have to say goodbye.

While these unconventional relationships don’t work for everyone, they are uniquely suited to certain individuals or situations. This alternative relationship works really well for independent or introverted people who don’t want as much in-person companionship from their relationship.

People who are wealthier may find it easier to fly frequently. And people who are in several relationships at the same time and have a more local connection for romance and sex may find no reason to break off a long-distance relationship.

Read: Why Polyamory Works for Long-Distance Relationships

Woman on the phone, in an alternative long-distance relationship.

2. Friends with Benefits

Friendships that include sex have the reputation of being rare. But in fact this is an ancient alternative relationship with a lot going for it. Busy people who don’t have the time for a full-time relationship or independent people may find the friends-with-benefits option fits into their life as is.

Read: How to Not Fall in Love: 11 Tips and Ideas

Friendships have a unique intimacy and trust, and some folks don’t see a good reason to date strangers or hook up with people they don’t know for sex, when someone they already love and trust is available.

Separating love and sex is difficult for some people, but not for everyone. And some don’t see a need to separate them—they can have a friendship that is sexual without expecting “more.”

Read: 4 Tips for Friends-with-Benefits Relationships

3. Fuck Buddies

Fuck buddies is kind of like having casual sex or hookups, but with the same person. The relationship is based on repeated sexual connections and not much else, usually. It’s friendly but keeps its distance.

The idea of fuck buddies seems cold to some, but it’s an unconventional relationship that works really well in certain circumstances.

It can be difficult and frustrating to find sex, and hooking up with a new stranger every time isn’t always convenient, possible, or safe. Having someone on hand that you trust and get along with is a great idea.

Read: What Is Solo Polyamory and Is It for You?

Couple in an alternative relationship in bed together.

4. Open Relationships

Many couples historically had “arrangements.” They remained together either for appearance, for the kids, or they discreetly opened the door for one or both to have other lovers.

Having an open relationship today is a kind of unconventional relationship where a couple is together socially and romantically, but they are free to seek out sexual encounters or relationships on the side.

Read: Still Deciding? Open Relationship Pros and Cons

5. Polyamorous Relationships

There are many kinds of alternative relationships in polyamory, which is an umbrella term for dating, loving, sleeping with, or being in relationships with more than one person at a time.

Polyamory can involve unconventional relationships such as throuples or polycules—three or more committed partners together.

Polyamory can mean having many wives or husbands. It can mean the bisexual partner in a relationship is free to seek out same-sex lovers on the side. It can mean having many sexual relationships. There are many ways to practice polyamory.

Read: ENM Relationships: 10 Examples of Ethical Non-Monogamy

Polyamorous threesome Eating Breakfast Together

6. Relationship Anarchy

Relationship anarchy can best be defined by what it’s against. These kinds of unconventional relationships are all about autonomy and being designed by the people in them, but they outright reject rules, heteronormativity, social constructs, monogamy, and especially, hierarchies.

Read: An Introduction to Relationship Anarchy

7. Female-Led Relationships

Female-led relationships are unconventional relationship styles that flout traditions and norms of gender roles. They are led by the woman, who takes charge sexually, financially, and in household decisions. Sometimes called FLR, this alternative relationship style puts the female in the driver seat.

While many female-led relationships are part of BDSM power exchange relationships, there are many other couples who choose female-led relationships—some view it as the natural order, the opposite way we have culturally viewed gender hierarchies.

Read: How to Find a Dominant Woman

8. BDSM Relationships

BDSM relationships are not necessarily non-monogamous, but they are still alternative relationships because the power exchange in these relationships is not just in the bedroom.

Master and servant hierarchies or dominant and submissive roles can be full-time relationship power exchanges. BDSM relationships are consensual agreements of sex and gender roles, often with contracts and rituals of ownership and obedience.

Read: How to Meet People Into BDSM

Couple in a BDSM relationship lying togeher on the floor.

9. Stag and Vixen Relationships

The stag and vixen relationship is built around a vixen—the hot wife—who has sexual encounters outside of her husband, for her own enjoyment AND for his. He is an alpha male or a very secure male who takes pleasure in her desires and gets off on the attention she receives and on her having sex with other men.

In the stag and vixen relationship, both husband and wife get pleasure from her sexual encounters with her other lovers, called bulls. The stag does not have outside sexual encounters, unless he joins his wife and bull for a threesome or voyeurism.

Read: Hotwife 101: What Is the Hotwife Lifestyle?

10. Cuckold/Cuckquean Relationships

This unconventional relationship style is like the stag vixen, but only on the surface. The psychology is completely different, even though it is also a male and female couple with the female seeking outside sex for her pleasure and for his.

In the cuckold relationship, the male partner is not a stag but a cuckold—he gets off on the humiliation of not being able to please his wife, who must find sexual satisfaction with hotter, richer, well-hung men. Humiliation is an essential part of the eroticism in this kind of alternative relationship.

The cuckquean is the female version with the tables of this scenario turned. Couples who enjoy the erotic humiliation of the cuckquean do exist, but the cuckold scenario is much more common.

Read: Cuckold 101: All About Cuckolding

11. Swingers

Swinging is a kind of polyamory, but it is very much something a couple does together.

The swinger lifestyle is an alternative relationship because the couples enjoy sex with others, but essentially it is about dating other couples together and exchanging partners. It is very social. There are swinging parties and traditionally, swinging couples always go home together.

Read: Swinger Relationship Basics: What to Know

Threesome of women Lying in Bed with Legs Up

12. Group Marriages

An alternative relationship is a group marriage, more commonly called polyfidelity, where more than two people are committed and are faithful to people inside that group.

Read: Polyamorous Marriage: 8 Common Questions

13. Mono-Poly Relationships

Very unusual unconventional relationships are mono-poly relationships, where one partner is monogamous and the other is polyamorous. This is not for everyone, obviously, but there are all kinds of circumstances where mono-poly relationships have been the preference or simply what worked out best.

Monogamous-minded people have fallen in love with poly folks, and simply accepted them, or vice versa. Other times, circumstances lead to a decision to continue in this kind of alternative relationship.

Read: How to Make a Mono-Poly Relationship Work

Are you in an alternative relationship? What makes it work for you?

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