Relationship Anarchy: What Is It, And Is It For You?

You may already know that anarchy is synonymous with freedom from government oppression and authority (plus, it calls to mind your favorite punk bands). But did you know there's a way to put anarchy in the context of personal relationships? It's called relationship anarchy. It sounds a little intense, but bear with us — we'll explain. 

This term was first discovered in an essay by Swedish blogger Andie Nordgren, and the definition circulated online in the early-2000s. According to Nordgren, there are nine tenets to this philosophy, but at its core, relationship anarchy revolves around communication, autonomy, and the rejection of hierarchical power. 

Some people thrive on traditional standards and ideas of what a relationship "should" look like — maybe the goal is marriage and kids. For others, these norms enforced by society and in rom-coms just don't cut it. Relationship anarchists want to make their own rules, and why not? It's 2023. There are endless ways to love and to be loved, and there's no need to limit yourself to what other people think.

What is relationship anarchy?

Relationship anarchy (RA) is a philosophy by which people create and agree upon their own rules based on shared core values between partners. One of the key aspects of RA is the rejection of hierarchal systems. For instance, relationship anarchists don't believe that their romantic relationships are more important than other types of relationships in their lives. "Love is abundant, and every relationship is unique," says Andie Nordgren.

In an article for The Cut, two people named Kelli and Aviva discussed the ways they practice relationship anarchy with each other. While many couples have anniversaries to show their commitment and mark how long they've been together, Kelli and Aviva instead had an "unniversary" party. For them, it was a celebration of their relationship itself regardless of its duration. "We're not promising to be together forever, because maybe we won't. Neither of us believes that longevity is the marker of a successful relationship," said Aviva. This is a prime example of a pair creating their own rules that go against the grain of traditional couples, and it works for them.

Can RA work in monogamous relationships?

Many relationship anarchists believe you can love multiple people at once without it taking away from any of those relationships, but there's some debate among the RA community about whether you can be both monogamous and a relationship anarchist. Some people, like Aviva, believe that this is impossible because RA is meant to go against traditional norms like monogamy. "My personal belief is no, because RA is inherently political, and fights against coercive or closed relationships," she said. 

Other people, like relationship coach Dedeker Winston, believe that there are ways to practice RA while still in a monogamous relationship. "As long as you are questioning the status quo, examining your values, and communicating your needs, it is possible to build a radical relationship anarchist life," she told Mind Body Green.

Because relationship anarchists often have intimate relationships with multiple people, RA is often discussed side-by-side with ethical non-monogamy. While things like polyamory, open relationships, and swinging are all relationship styles, relationship anarchy is more of a philosophy or political approach to relationships. In other words, polyamorous people may be relationship anarchists, but not all relationship anarchists are polyamorous.

Is relationship anarchy for you?

Every person is unique, and so is every relationship. Relationship anarchy is definitely not for everyone, as some people thrive and find comfort in a traditional relationship style with its largely pre-defined structures. But other people find hierarchies and cultural expectations like marriage and gender roles to be limiting. If you wish to seek out relationships that stray outside of society's norms, relationship anarchy may be a good fit for you.

One important thing to keep in mind, should you want to give it a try: Relationship anarchy is not a complete elimination of rules, but rather a way of defining your own rules in your relationships. There's no right or wrong way to do it, but it's also not an excuse to do whatever you want with no regard for others around you. It's certainly not a free pass to cheat on your partner with no repercussions. Before making any changes to your relationship, you should communicate with your partner first — all decisions should be consensual and agreed upon with each other.