Polyamory has become a buzzword in today’s mainstream culture and many people seem to be taking a healthy interest in it. When I first came across the word it was completely by accident. I googled “how to tell your husband you want to sleep with other people, but you don’t want to break up”. Lucky for me there was already a lot of information available for me to turn to. I will apologize in advance, this post is very couple-centric and is written under the assumption that the reader is already in a (monogamous) relationship and just discovering that they are poly. If you’re single or “solo-poly” then go here (link coming soon).
Polyamory is amazing, it is complex, it’s easy, and it’s hard. Polyamory is a form of ethical non-monogamy that requires the knowledge and consent of all parties involved. There are as many ways to practice poly as there are poly people. How it’s done will vary with every poly person that you meet. There is no “right” way to practice poly. Polyamory is not cheating or having a piece on the side. Many people choose to label themselves as poly because it gives space for relationships to develop freely and be about more than sex. It allows you to have an intense level of honesty with your partners that many traditional relationships lack. At it’s core polyamory is simply having multiple parallel committed relationships, that are ideally given the space and freedom to run their natural course regardless of existing partners. Polyamorous people often desire fully committed loving relationships. It’s not all about the sex…unless you want it to be.
Why So Poly?
For a lot of people (myself included) being poly is not a choice, but more of an orientation. Like being queer or bi-sexual, it is an integral part of who we are as people. For others, polyamory is a lifestyle choice based on the acknowledgement of how unrealistic societal norms are about finding one person to be everything for you and complete you forever. No matter which category you fall under, Polyamory is a completely valid lifestyle and you aren’t alone in your desire for a different way to navigate relationships.
If you’ve decided that you’re definitely poly then it can feel as new and exciting as discovering religion. You want to know everything, talk about it all the time, and share it with anyone who will listen. But, if you’re already in a monogamous relationship then it’s very important that you go slowly. Your partner is not likely to be as excited as you are.
So You Think You Can Poly?
If you are thinking that you might be poly then now is the time to evaluate yourself and your relationship. If you haven’t hinted about open relationships before then your partner may feel blindsided, hurt, and distrustful. It is important to be honest and reassure them that you love them. The journey ahead of you will be hard and you may want to get as much help as possible. I offer counseling for couples transitioning to new relationship styles where I can help you and your partner avoid the poly relationship landmines.
The possible outcomes of coming out:
– Your partner eventually comes around and agrees to open the relationship: After some time it is possible that your partner will agree to be in an open relationship with you. If this happens then the most important things to remember are communication and boundaries. You and your partner should talk more about this than you’ve ever talked about any other subject. Don’t assume anything, because it is really easy to step on an emotional poly landmine. You should be discussing everything i.e. safer sex practices, kissing, curfew, number of partners, gender of partners, and who you’re allowed to come out to as “open”. And when you make an agreement with your partner be sure to stick to it.Once you lose their trust the relationship could be permanently damaged, making it very difficult to comfortably continue in an open relationship.
– Your partner has decided that they are monogamous but “allow” you to see other people while they remain monogamous: This is called a mixed-orientation relationship, and is one of the hardest relationship styles that I can imagine, but certainly not impossible. Click the link to learn about mono/poly relationships and my 3 year journey with my monogamous husband.
– You or your partner decides to end the relationship: One of the hardest things you can do is walk away from someone that you love. Partner selection is the key to making a relationship work, and sometimes as you grow and change you may find that your current partner can not follow you on your journey. Know when it’s time to walk away.
– You decide that your current relationship is more important: Some people decide that their partner and their current relationship are more important than practicing poly and potentially losing the relationship. Consider this option very carefully. Make sure that if you are the person who is deciding to be monogamous that you aren’t making too great a sacrifice. Don’t be a martyr. Sacrifice is the fastest road to resentment.
My Lover Is Poly, What Now?
If you’ve gotten this far and you think you might be or want to try poly then the next step is to talk to your partner. Be prepared for the worst. Figure out if you would be okay with each, or any, of the possible outcomes from above. It can be very hurtful for your partner to tell you that they aren’t or don’t want to be monogamous anymore.
If your partner has just come out to you as poly, then take a moment to freak out if you need to- its okay- they just dropped a likely unsuspected bomb on you. Take as much time as you need to process because being non-monogamous will change your relationship in many ways.
If you are the person that has just come out, then be patient. Your partner may not agree with this change right away and they are likely hurting. Its not easy to accept that your partner wants to sleep with and maybe even love other people.
Both of you should take this time to acknowledge the strength of the other. If you’re the person coming out then pat yourself on the back, making yourself vulnerable can be very difficult and you are being brave enough to be completely honest. Don’t forget to thank your partner for taking the time to listen, most people would’ve run for the hills at the first mention of bringing other people into their relationship. If you’re the person that has just had the poly bomb dropped on them then its important that you thank your partner also, it would have been easier to bottle their feelings, lie, or cheat. But instead they came to you and made themselves very vulnerable in an attempt to communicate their needs.
How Successful Are Poly Relationships?
Poly Relationships can be very successful, and last just as long as monogamous relationships. When done correctly polyamory can bring joy, new friends, and an abundance of love into your life. The key to being successful is partner selection. If your partner is jealous, possessive, and unwilling to unlearn traditional beliefs about love then poly may not work for them. If your partner is naturally monogamous, then poly probably wont work for them either. Keep an open mind and be willing to make changes as needed. At its core poly relationships are just like monogamous ones, just with more people, a lot more communication, and google calendar.
Look for Poly 102 in my blog for advice about coming out and dating.
Need Professional Advice?
I am also a professional relationship coach providing services in the Atlanta area as well as by phone and video. Not sure you need long-term counseling? Email TheKinkShrink@kendalsgarden.com for general questions and quick answers/daily advice. Visit my Home Page for more details. Kink and LGBTQ friendly.