Red flags in non-monogamous relationships are signs or signals to warn us that a person’s behavior is not okay, that values or beliefs are out of sync, and that something needs to be addressed.
Red flag-behaviors can be very obvious like bold-face lies and deceit, but they can also be more subtle and insidious, thus more difficult to recognize. Red flags may have to be waved several times over for someone to realize there’s a serious issue in their ethical non-monogamous relationship.
When red flags are ignored repeatedly bigger problems can develop that aren’t always fixable in non-monogamous relationships. And in the early heady days of a new relationship when NRE is flowing freely, it’s easier to ignore or try to justify behaviors that outsiders may clearly see as red flags.
One’s instincts and gut are often reliable sources when it comes to spotting red flags that we don’t want to be true. Red flags need not always signal the end of a relationship if the behavior is called out with compassion and maturity.
11 Red Flags in ENM Dating and Relationships
1. Being New to Polyamory and ENM
Every non-monogamist has to start somewhere, whether that be at twenty, thirty, forty, fifty-something or older. Few people are born knowing that ethical non-monogamy is their path because it’s not the prevalent relationship construct in most societies.
If you are in a relationship with an ENM newbie, be aware that they are still learning and apt to make mistakes in the polysphere. Encourage this partner to learn on their own, read, watch, and listen about nonmonogamy.
2. Pretending to Be Poly
The great pretenders are sometimes called polyamory cowboys or cowgirls. They’ll tell you they are into nonmonogamy just to lasso you into a relationship, and they will try to turn you monogamous, once you’ve fallen for them.
You wouldn’t be the first person to fall for a cowboy/girl, and you may not be the last. Someone who is interested in you, but not your other relationships may be a pretender.
3. Lying about What They Want
Non-monogamous relationships can be fluid when all partners involved are open and honest in their communication, regarding terms and agreements of the relationships.
A red flag is waved when a person says they want one thing, whether that be an open relationship, a swingers arrangement, or a kitchen table dynamic, but doesn’t express that desire in their actions.
4. Moving Too Fast
It’s easy to get caught up in a new and exciting relationship, but a slow-and-steady approach is often the best, especially when you have more than two people’s feelings to consider.
Sharing with a primary partner what is going on outside that relationship as it happens is a good policy that will help slow things down. Also, moving to open a monogamous relationship for the first time as a quick-fix to deep-seated issues, is never a good idea when done in haste.
5. Crossing Boundaries
A big ENM red flag is crossing a partner’s boundaries or playing by one’s own set of rules. Nonmonogamous relationships don’t work without establishing ground rules that are respected from all sides.
When a partner crosses one of your boundaries—number of partners, safe sex practices, don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy—it’s a red flag you can’t ignore. Failing to respect another person’s boundaries is a huge breach of trust and sometimes a sign of worse behavior to come.
6. Expressing Unhealthy Jealousy
Jealousy isn’t inherently a “bad” emotion, but it is often expressed as such. And there is a misconception that non-monogamous folks don’t get jealous. Ha!
Take note of the red flag that is a partner who acts out jealous feelings in a degrading, humiliating, verbally or physically aggressive manner. Never stay with someone who is abusive in any way.
7. Instigating Metamour Drama
Non-monogamy isn’t always one big happy family, especially when individuals like to stir the pot. Some people enjoy drama in their lives, actively inviting it in. When a partner intentionally tries to turn you against your metamour or theirs, take note.
It’s unrealistic to expect all individuals to be super close in polycules and other non-monogamous dynamics, but civility and respect are essential to healthy relationships all around.
8. Playing the Blame Game
Many people have difficulty owning their mistakes and sometimes even apologizing. And when there is more than one person in the mix, they have options for blaming others.
Another red flag to watch for is a partner projecting their bad behavior onto you or another partner when it is obvious that they are responsible. Call them out, with receipts if possible.
9. Disrespecting Privacy of Partners
Not everyone is out of the poly closet or interested in broadcasting their non-monogamous relationship. Privacy issues may stem from familial or work concerns, or just a matter of choice.
When someone shares private information or “secrets” with you about a metamour, know that this is a red flag. They may also be sharing information about you that you would rather be kept between the two of you.
10. Taking on Too Many Partners
One of the most beautiful things about non-monogamy—dating and loving more than one—can also cause problems. Many polyamorous people will share that at some point in their life, they have experienced polysaturation.
There are only so many hours in the day to seek out new relationships while nurturing existing ones. When you see a partner overextending themselves or talking about meeting new people when your relationship is suffering, that’s a red flag.
11. Disrespecting Time or Schedules
Good time management is essential to having more than one relationship. An ENM red flag is a partner who not only struggles with managing time, but also disrespects your time and the schedule you may have arranged for time together.
Many poly arrangements for groups include schedules that help to keep couples and throuples, and moresomes on track. Forgetting dates, showing up late, or trying to switch plans at the last minute are all red flags in non-monogamous relationships.
Share examples of red flags in your non-monogamous relationships? How did you deal?