While committing to a monogamous relationship might sound fulfilling and be the appropriate option for a lot of people, the idea of “till death do us apart” seems daunting and unattainable to others. Some people need more than one sexual and/or romantic partner to feel content in relationships and choose to engage with multiple partners romantically and/or sexually in the form of polyamory. In this blog we will explore what polyamory is and whether it might be the right relationship structure for you.
What is Polyamory?
Polyamory quite literality means “many loves” with the Greek word “Poly” meaning “many or several” and the Latin word “Amor” which means “love.” Polyamory is a form of consensual non-monogamy (CNM) and is the practice of, or the desire for intimate relationships with more than one partner at a time with the full consent and knowledge of all parties involved. The element of consent distinguishes polyamory from cheating and being deceptive. Other forms of practicing consensual non-monogamy include swinging and open relationships.
Some people may be polyamorous as a lifestyle choice during some phases of their lives. Others may view it as more of a relationship orientation and consider themselves more innately non-monogamous because monogamy never worked or was not interesting for them.
An estimated 21 percent of people in the United States have engaged in consensual nonmonogamy at some point, a number that researchers say holds steady across categories of age, race, socioeconomic group, educational level, and political affiliation, and about one in 20 is in one right now. A growing body of research shows that partners in consensual non-monogamous relationships find their bonds to be just as satisfying and fulfilling as monogamous people.
There are no set rules about what poly relationships should or should not look like and they can be as unique as the people involved in them. There are different approaches when it comes to practicing polyamory, including Solo Polyamory in which the person has multiple romantic relationships with people but has an independent or single lifestyle because they generally embrace autonomy as a paramount value. For example, they might be the secondary partner to several people, but prefer not to have a primary partner. Triad (also referred to as ”throuple”) is another type of poly relationship in which three people are involved which could look like one person dating two different people or three people dating one another.
Some people choose to engage in polyamourous relationships with a hierarchal structure where there are primary and secondary partners whereas others prefer a more egalitarian relationship where one person doesn’t get privileges over another.
How to Know if Polyamory is Right for Your Relationship?
Dan Savage, the writer of the famous column Savage Love, states that there is no “correct” type of love, romantic connection, and relationship. People should look inside themselves and determine what type of relationship is right for them.
When it comes to relationships, there is no one size fits all and there are advantages and disadvantages to any type of relationship couples choose to engage in. You and your partner get to decide whether or not polyamory is the right fit for you. Here are some questions you can discuss with your partner that can provide some insight and clarity if you have an interest in polyamory.
- Why are you considering polyamory? What are your motivations?
- Is this something you both want?
- What are you currently not getting in your relationship that you’re hoping to get from a poly relationship?
- What are you envisioning for your relationship?
- Are you comfortable with your partner being with other people?
- How well do you communicate or handle conflict? Are you good at making compromises?
- Are you good at drawing and maintaining boundaries in your relationship?
- What are your expectations, hopes, and fears for this process? How do you talk to each other about those?
- Are you willing to pull the ripcord in order to save the relationship if you have to?
- What aspects of such potential relationships do you find appealing and what sounds intimidating to you?
- How secure do you feel in your current relationship?
If your responses to the above questions are fundamentally different than your partner’s, that’s probably an indication that polyamory might not be right fit for you at this stage or it might be an invitation to explore deeper into each of your needs. It’s crucial for couples to continuously evaluate and communicate their ongoing relationship needs and how they feel seen and supported within the relationship. Laying out a blueprint as to how to handle possible ruptures or unexpected hiccups is also crucial in this process.
If some of your basic needs are not being met within your current relationship, it’s probably not ideal to re-structure the relationship at this time as a band aid and you might want to focus on repairing what you have with your partner to develop a stronger foundation first. If you’re looking to polyamory as a last resort or as an attempt to keep your partner from cheating, that’s also a major red flag. Managing a polyamorous relationship can be a slippery slope if you lack the necessary foundation.
While the idea of engaging romantically and sexually with multiple people simultaneously might sound like an exciting alternative to long term monogamy, navigating successful poly relationships also comes with complications and difficulties.
Some of the more challenging parts of a poly relationship could include dealing with feelings of jealousy or insecurities that may arise, new and complicated dynamics due to multiple loving people being involved, and balancing between different partners. However, jealousy can occur in monogamous relationships too.
Talking to Your Partner About Opening the Relationship to Polyamory
Opening your relationship to other partners is likely not part of the original agreement you made with your partner either through vows or verbal contracting. This could create some hesitation about broaching this subject and having a conversation which could potentially create emotional turmoil. Remember we are not static creatures, it’s okay if your needs and wants have changed and you should be able to have a conversation about it with your partner to unpack it.
A healthy relationship of any variety requires that we are able to communicate openly, even when it is uncomfortable. Share your thoughts about wanting to explore this more and make sure to hold space for your partner’s thoughts and feelings. Try to have empathy for your partner and see where they are coming from. Don’t be quick to respond or judge and try not to rush coming to a conclusion.
Stay curious and make sure you give your partner some time to reflect. Some couples discuss this over the course of weeks or months before they actually take any actions. It’s important to make sure you’re on the same page as far as what the next steps are or what the pace should be.
If one partner has some serious doubts about changing the relationship structure it may be better to focus instead on achieving more satisfaction and fulfillment with your partner,
If you decide to enter a poly relationship, it is uncharted territory that may come with new challenges. Additional struggles sometimes exist simply because more people and dynamics are involved. Often times people in poly relationships may be hesitant to discuss their issues with others because they believe they are less socially acceptable and the perceived stigma attached. A polyamory-friendly therapist can help you navigate this new territory in a kind and compassionate manner that breeds curiosity and not judgment.