In the complex world of non-traditional relationships, making assumptions can lead to unexpected challenges and misunderstandings. My friend Julia recently experienced this firsthand, caught in a whirlwind of new relationship energy and conflicting expectations that highlighted the critical need for open communication.

Julia had just returned from an exhilarating three-day music festival with Zain, a man she had recently started seeing. Despite the physical distance between them—Julia in Europe and Zain in Dubai—their connection felt promising.

The weekend was a whirlwind of electric chemistry, passionate encounters, and seamless cooperation as they navigated the festival together. Every moment spent dancing under the stars and sharing intimate glances felt like a step toward something significant.

Their connection grew so strong that Zain began introducing Julia as his girlfriend. Although they had briefly touched on the idea of maintaining a non-monogamous relationship—given the distance and their mutual desire for sexual freedom—the specifics of this arrangement were left vague.

Dr Zhana H 2023

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Julia, swept up in the excitement of their budding romance, started to envision a more serious, albeit non-traditional, future with Zain.

Less than 24 hours after they parted ways, Julia received a video call from Zain that left her stunned. With a casual grin, he proudly displayed another naked woman in his bed, explaining that she had missed her flight and they had seized the opportunity for some “fun time” together. He even referenced their unsuccessful attempt to find a third for a threesome during the festival.

Julia’s heart sank. She felt blindsided, her mind racing with feelings of betrayal and hurt.

To her, this behavior seemed disrespectful and entirely incompatible with the meaningful relationship she envisioned, even within a non-monogamous context. She assumed Zain was only interested in a casual fling and was ready to end things.

However, a friend suggested she have an open conversation with Zain before making any decisions. This advice prompted Julia to confront her feelings and seek clarity. During their heartfelt discussion, it became clear that their misunderstanding stemmed from differing expectations and preferences around their non-monogamous arrangement.

Zain genuinely wanted a more serious and ongoing relationship with Julia. He had assumed that given Julia’s openness to group encounters during their weekend together, she would be comfortable with and even excited about him sharing his other sexual experiences.

From his perspective, openness was essential to avoid secrets and build trust in their relationship.

Julia, on the other hand, had envisioned a more compartmentalized approach to their non-monogamous arrangement. While she was enthusiastic about shared experiences, she wasn’t prepared for detailed disclosures about separate encounters.

This disconnect highlighted a common issue in non-monogamous relationships—balancing transparency with emotional comfort.

This situation underscores the critical importance of clear, open communication in non-traditional relationships. Assumptions about a partner’s comfort level or expectations can lead to hurt feelings and misunderstandings, even when both parties have the best intentions.

To navigate these waters, it’s essential to ask direct questions and have explicit conversations about boundaries, expectations, and preferences. Consider discussing:

  • How much information do we want to share about separate encounters?
  • Are there certain types of experiences we prefer to keep private?
  • How do we balance openness with respect for each other’s feelings?
  • What are our individual comfort levels with hearing about or seeing evidence of other partners?

There is no universally correct approach to these issues. What works for one couple may not work for another. The goal is to find a model that respects both partners’ needs and boundaries.

In Julia and Zain’s case, their open conversation led to a better understanding of each other’s perspectives. They agreed to keep their separate experiences private for the time being, allowing them to move forward with their relationship on more solid footing.

This story serves as a powerful reminder that in any relationship, but particularly in non-traditional ones, clear communication is paramount. Don’t assume—ask. Be open about your needs, listen to your partner’s perspective, and work together to create a relationship dynamic that suits everyone involved.

By fostering this level of openness and understanding, you can avoid misunderstandings and build stronger, more fulfilling connections.

*Names have been changed to protect privacy.