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Swinging With Attachment Styles

How to talk to a partner about being consensually non-monogamous.

Key points

  • Attachment styles predict attitudes toward, and willingness to engage in, consensual non-monogamy (CNM).
  • Higher attachment avoidance, but not anxiety, is related to more positive attitudes and openness to CNM.
  • Predicting your partner's reactions might help you avoid emotional pain and preserve your relationship.

Whether it is fear of missing out, sexual boredom, or an innate pull toward polyamory, couples are increasingly considering consensual non-monogamy (CNM) as a lifestyle choice. This choice likely includes weighing values, societal judgments, family systems, emotional tolerance levels, and trust. Taking a value-neutral position, this post is intended to help readers evaluate the balance among rational choice, emotional tolerance, and trust in considering a CNM relationship.

A 2024 Match Singles in America report indicated that of those open to CNM relationships, 11 percent endorsed polyamory, 13 percent open relationships, 21 percent becoming monogamish, and 12 percent swinging, among other options. If you have never engaged in these types of relationships and are considering it, or if you are considering a new relationship partner who either claims or aspires to one of these forms of CNM, you might want to consider your attachment style. Similarly, if you have been in a monogamous relationship and either you or your partner have become interested in exploring some form of CNM, a clear discussion of each of your attachment styles is in order.

Attachment Styles

Attachment styles develop in childhood, remain relatively stable across adulthood, and have a powerful influence on how adults think, feel, and behave in relationships. Four primary adult styles are discussed in the adult attachment literature: secure, dismissing, preoccupied, and fearful.

  • Secure. People with secure styles value relationships and are able to generally see and accept people for how they are—the good, the bad, and the ugly. Secure people do not typically overreact to social threats, are not prone to jealousy, are able to control their emotions, and use their emotions effectively in making decisions.
  • Dismissing. People with this style learned early in life that their caregivers would not tolerate sad, needy, or vulnerable feelings and rarely talked about love or provided comfort. They adapt to this by ignoring rejection and denying the need for comfort, reassurance, or emotional intimacy. Because they do not feel a need for these things, they have a hard time seeing why other people would need them and struggle to provide these functions to romantic partners.
  • Preoccupied. Those with preoccupied styles typically had parents who were unreliable and inconsistent. So, they learn to keep a close eye on their attachment figures—parents in childhood; romantic partners in adulthood—to make sure they will be available when needed for comfort and support. As adults, their hyperactivated style of looking for social threats makes them distrustful of romantic partner availability or consistency, so they often seek reassurance and are prone to very strong emotional experiences and distress if their relational security is threatened.
  • Fearful. When people are raised by parents who are frightened or frightening, they will often develop this style. Chaotic early environments made it difficult for these people to develop a consistent dismissing or preoccupied style. So, they use a mixture of both styles but enact them in a haphazard and unpredictable manner that leads to a disorganized and dysregulated emotional system. Because of their early life experiences, they may expect to be hurt or wounded by their romantic partners.

Despite societal stigmatization, many people engaged in CNM relationships report a high level of relationship satisfaction with common processes of communication, honesty, negotiation, and consensus. These processes are like those typically found in secure attachment, which may be important for the successful realization of CNM relationships (see Moore et al., 2015 for review).

For those who have never engaged in CNM but might be considering it, Moore and her colleagues (2015) found that those with higher levels of attachment avoidance had more positive attitudes toward and willingness to engage in CNM (although they still generally prefer monogamous relationships). These researchers hypothesized that “avoidant individuals may prefer CNM relationships because these relationships allow them to dilute emotional closeness with one partner by investing less across multiple partners.” Ka, Bottcher, and Walker (2020) came up with nearly identical results in their 2020 study, with higher levels of avoidance relating to more positive attitudes and willingness to engage in CNM relationships.

In Moore et al.’s and Ka et al.’s studies, higher levels of attachment anxiety (underlying preoccupied attachment) were not related to positive attitudes or willingness to engage in CNM.

A pattern that is often seen with couples in therapy is that a more avoidant partner in an initially monogamous relationship either has a history of, or interest in, CNM relationships and seeks the cooperation and/or participation of the preoccupied partner to tolerate or participate in CNM themselves (e.g., swinging).

This arrangement requires a great deal of trust and discussion of motives and the difference between rational decision-making and emotional tolerance. First, the more anxious/preoccupied person will want to know if you really like/love them and may have a hard time understanding how (in their mind) they are not enough for you. They are also likely to need to understand how you could be depended on as a relationship partner if you desire sexual contact with others. You will want to clearly think out the answer to this question in advance so you can clearly articulate how and in what ways you will be a loving and supportive partner who can, at least partially, meet their relationship needs.

If the more anxious/preoccupied partner is convinced that a CNM relationship makes rational sense, it will be important to ask them to take stock of their own jealousies and emotional tolerances. The rational brain and the emotional brain have some overlap but are in different areas that do not always talk to each other that well. It could be expected that a preoccupied person might agree in principle to a CNM arrangement only to find that once this arrangement is initiated they feel jealous, shameful (particularly if they did not really want to have sex with another but did it to please you), and flooded by negative emotion. Emotional reasoning might make them feel betrayed (even if they agreed to it) by you, deeply wounded, and unable to continue in the relationship.

If you think that a CNM relationship is for you:

  1. Take your time introducing the idea and getting used to it.
  2. Know your own and your partner’s attachment styles.
  3. Consider both your and tour patrner's short-term and long-term reactions.
  4. Consider the likely emotional reactions separately from conscious/rational thoughts.
  5. Think about your end game: As your relationship matures, how do you envision it all ending?


Conley, T. D., & Piemonte, J. L. (2021). Are there “Better” and “Worse” Ways to be Consensually Non-Monogamous (CNM)?: CNM Types and CNM-Specific Predictors of Dyadic Adjustment. Archives of Sexual Behavior: The Official Publication of the International Academy of Sex Research, 50(4), 1273–1286.

Moors, A. C., Conley, T. D., Edelstein, R. S., & Chopik, W. J. (2015). Attached to monogamy? Avoidance predicts willingness to engage (but not actual engagement) in consensual non-monogamy. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 32(2), 222–240.

Ka, W. L., Bottcher, S., & Walker, B. R. (2022). Attitudes toward consensual non-monogamy predicted by sociosexual behavior and avoidant attachment. Current Psychology, 41(7), 4312–4320.

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