Can Multiple Partners Fulfill Different Needs?

Different people in a relationship can fulfill sexual, emotional, physical, spiritual, and material needs.
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Picture this, you meet someone who is kind, shares your interests, and is great in the bedroom. But they’re not interested in a family life, and you’ve got kids from a previous relationship. Can having multiple partners make this relationship work out?

In a monogamous relationship, this would usually be a dealbreaker because we expect potential partners to meet all–or at least the vast majority–of our needs. But expecting one partner to be your everything is a tall order, which can heap mounds of pressure on your relationship. 

For those practicing consensual non-monogamy (CNM) with multiple partners, however, different relationships can meet varied needs. Now, some of you may be wondering “what the fuck is CNM?” at this point. Fear not, we’ve got great guides explaining it and how you can go about opening up a monogamous relationship, too. 

If you’re already up to speed, it’s easy to see how CNM folk don’t need to find all their desires in one place. But in practice, it might not feel obvious regarding how to figure that stuff out. How do you know what your needs are, and how can you approach the topic with potential partners? 

The concept of relationship taxonomy can help here, and crafting a successful one can be key to happy CNM relationships.

What is Relationship Taxonomy?

Relationship Taxonomy is a way of classifying all the types of mutual activities, commitments, and life infrastructure one could possibly share with a partner so you can decide what you want to share and with whom. Things like:

May, a 34 year old Londoner, has three partners, “I’ve been with Jamie for ten years, and we have a child together. Four years ago, when we wanted to buy a house, we realized that we couldn’t afford to buy in London, but my other long-term partner, Kezia, also wanted to buy and couldn’t afford to do it on her own. We ended up buying a place together and we split the bills and mortgage three ways. It works really well for all of us, and my son has a live-in aunty.”

Relationship taxonomy hasn’t just enabled May to create a family and housing set-up that suits her, either. 

“Bobbie is my other partner–she’s solo poly and the only partner I have who’s kinky, like me–we have a D/s dynamic that I love. This dynamic means there’s no pressure on me to suppress that side of myself, as I’m able to get those needs met with Bobbie.”

A Choose-Your-Own-Adventure Relationship Guide

Maybe you’ll embrace your kinky side with this partner, cohabit with another one, and raise a puppy with yet another person. The possibilities are endless!

Your relationship taxonomy isn’t about checking boxes; it’s also about specifying the frequency and intensity of different aspects of your relationships. For instance, how often do you want to see each other? Which financial commitments will be shared and which won’t? Who’s going to book the puppy in for his vaccination jabs?

How to Design a Relationship Taxonomy

It’s important to be clear with yourself and your multiple partners about what’s on offer and what’s not. For some people, talking about needs can be as comfortable as a thick wool sweater in the summer. However, open communication is a must in CNM. 

Even with honest communication, designing a relationship taxonomy with multiple partners might seem complex and overly conceptual. There may be more variables than you’d initially anticipated. Thankfully, there are tools around to help…

Multiple Partners and the Relationship Smorgasbord

Some relationship anarchists use the Relationship Smorgasbord as a tool to explore with multiple partners. It reimagines each relationship as a plate filled with a selection of items from a buffet of relationship options. 

These options are available on a helpful worksheet and cover lots of different aspects of a relationship, from legal involvement and emotional support to caregiving and kink. 

The idea is that you sit down with each of your partners and consider the wide range of options together, breaking them down into whether they’re something for right now in your relationship together, a possibility for the future, or completely off the table and a non-starter. 

As relationships change over time, you and your partners can revisit your smorgasbord together whenever a conversation is needed. Or you can just use the concept as a starting point for your discussions.

Embracing Your Unique CNM Journey

The beautiful truth about consensual non-monogamy is that there’s no one right way to do it. Your relationship taxonomy is as unique as your fingerprint! Making relationships work well isn’t about conforming to a particular way of doing things.

Rather, it’s about taking the time to understand your needs and your partners’ needs, being honest and open in your communication, and building relationships that work for the people involved, not anybody else. 

So, go forth, relationship explorer, and craft the connections of your dreams! With a relationship taxonomy as your blueprint and clear communication as your building blocks, you’re well on the way to CNM bliss!

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