What’s a relationship anarchist?

Relationship anarchy is an anti-normative approach to romantic and intimate relationships. This posts will take you through some of the basic ideas behind this approach to relationships and give you some resources for further exploration.

The anarchist symbol painted in black on a white surface. Online counselling and therapy with William Smith.

Who introduced the idea of relationship anarchy?

The term relationship anarchist was coined by Andie Nordgern, a queer feminist based in Sweden.

What are the principles of relationship anarchy?

Back in 2006 Andie wrote a short instructional manifesto for relationship anarchy. The nine original tenants were:

  • Love is abundant, and every relationship is unique
  • Love and respect instead of entitlement
  • Find your core set of relationship values
  • Heterosexism is rampant and out there, but don’t let fear lead you
  • Build for the lovely unexpected
  • Fake it til’ you make it
  • Trust is better
  • Change through communication
  • Customize your commitments

Far from being an anti-relational approach, the manifesto focuses on things such as the importance of valuing the uniqueness of every relationship, recognising that entitlement is not a feature of healthy love, and that communication facilitates change.

How do we usually think about our relationships?

[Cue over-generalisation warning!]

Think about the types of relationships that you have. You probably have some “close” relationships – some family members, possibly one or more intimate and/or romantic partners, maybe a friend who you entrust and disclose a lot about your life to.

Then there might be some more “distant” relationships – the primary school friend you still have on Facebook, ex-work colleagues, a cousin that you’ve seen once in your life, an ex.

Invariably we found ourselves categorising different types of relationships due to their closeness and may find that we behave in different ways according to the ‘type’ of relationship we think we are in.

If we think specifically about ‘romantic’ relationships we know that there is a huge societal pressure to move from being single into a monogamous relationship – ideally for life. We see it in fairy tales, in tax breaks for couples, in the adverts for summer holidays and… well, pretty much anywhere you look.

But why must it be that way?

What is different about relationship anarchy?

Relationship anarchy offers a radically different way of viewing relationships (hence the anarchist bit).

As we saw from the manifesto, it places value upon relationships that are anti-hierarchical and anti-mononormative (meaning a rejection of the belief that a ‘good’ relationship can only take place between two monogamous partners).

Relationship anarchists reject relationship hierarchy. So an intimate partner is not more or less important than a friend with whom you share stories and chat too. Importantly, that friend doesn’t need to be someone you never have sex with – and it wouldn’t somehow degrade the relationship if you didn’t have sex again with them.

Isn’t it just a way of saying anything goes?

Choosing relationship anarchy as a framework for your relationships doesn’t mean that everything is up in the air and ‘anything goes’.

In fact, because it doesn’t rely on existing beliefs about relational intimacy, it places a high value on open and frequent communication. Something that many people in relationships deeply struggle with and a common reason for seeking online therapy.

The anarchist framework makes commitment possible in a way that respects non-coercion, mutual aid, consent, ongoing communication and the reminder that the relationship is a voluntary choice that a person can say no to whenever they want, without cause or reason. (Kale Gossen at the website relationship-anarchy has a video and blog post about this if you’re interested in reading more).

How is relationship anarchy different from polyamory?

Polyamorous relationships are consensual, non-monogamous relationships. However while a relationship that follows relationship anarchy will be consensual, it doesn’t need to be non-monogamous if that’s what the partners decide.

Could you be a relationship anarchist?

After reading this, what comes up for you? Does being able to let go of all the rules of relationships leave you feeling liberated or terrified?

If you want to explore some of these issues with a trained therapist, feel free to contact me.

Want to learn more about relationship anarchy?

A great starting point is https://relationship-anarchy.com/

Photo by Orit Matee 

By William Smith, MSSc, BSc, MBACP

Will (he/his) is a psychological counsellor specialising in change, identity and gender. He holds a Master of Social Science degree in Gender Studies and a Bachelor of Psychology (with Honours) degree. Will's a Registered Member (No. 375157) of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) and a Graduate Member of the British Psychological Society (BPS).

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