Some parts of this writing are from my personal writing on my blogs and Fetlife account. There may be repeat into, but I eel this more concise.
Most people believe that monogamy is the only way to structure a relationship when in fact it’s not. Monogamy became a norm because it had advantages that are seen beneficial to individuals. These benefits fall into the categories of: social, economic, and power. It essentially guaranteed you had a partner to share resources, produce and raise offspring, and in some cases, it gave you a boost in status.
But monogamy has never been the only way to structure relationships. What humans do is called serial monogamy. It’s essentially the idea that you be with one person at a time, so we aren’t truly monogamous. It helps to avoid some nasty emotions, like jealousy, sometimes. We choose a structure that was easier to use during human evolution and assigned our meaning to sex and relationships which even today you can tell that people have varying beliefs when it comes to those, whether culturally or religiously defined.
Relationships structures, like most things, are a spectrum. You have monogamy to non-monogamy and then even non-monogamy is broken down further. There are essentially 7 basic types of non-monogamy
- Cheating which is unethical and non-consensual.
- Polygamy which is multiple spouses. The common form of this we here about is Polygyny a male have more than one wife, but polyandry, a woman having more than one husband exist.
- Open relationships. Open relationships just mean you are open to a relationship of same nature forming outside of the primary grouping (more commonly dyadic groupings or couple). I will re-clarify here that open is not the umbrella term for non-monogamous relationships. Many are in fact closed aside from the people in them and have various structures for how and if new partners may be added.
- Swinging which is more of a sex-based interaction that can produce friendships or more.
- Monogamish, a term coined by Dan Savage and the couple, emphasis on the couple, is open to an extent determined by them.
- Polyamory and polyfidelity. Polyamory is simply engaging in multiple relationships with consent to all involved or affected. Polyfidelity is the same but closed, meaning emotional and sexual fidelity is required from all its members.
- And relationship anarchy which breaks down distinctions between relationships of all types. No one relationship, even friendship, and marriage, are of higher value.
Please note that type 2 – 7 are all types of ethical non-monogamy where cheating is still looked down on, though those who engage in the activity are not necessarily condemned because it violates the consent of the other individuals involved.
Polyamory is the type of non-monogamy that people hear about more often and what people assume they are when they find out they aren’t monogamous. I just want to point out that you might not be Polyamorous. It’s not the only way to do this.
There are a few working definitions of polyamory, because everyone expresses love and structures their dynamics differently. The one I like is saying that poly is multiple relationships in which all parties have INITIALLY consented to their existence. In other words, no secret relationships. Let’s note that secret and “I don’t want to know anything other than you have a partner”, “I don’t want to know if you have a partner” and such are technically quite different.
There are so many dynamics and configurations; so many types of people that are poly. All of these people come with varying backgrounds and beliefs systems, so trying to find a definition and guidelines that are all encompassing aside from multiple consensual relationships would be near impossible. It would pretty much be the opposite of the nature of non-monogamous relationships and poly in general which the freedom to be our authentic selves.
But the big question is how do you make these relationships work?
It doesn’t hurt to start with open communication (which includes active listening and being truthful about what is affecting you), trust, support, and respect. All of these things can be learned over time and become easier, not easy, as members take proactive approaches to have more effective communication.
One of the great ideas I discovered in the Poly community is processing. In the terms of poly dynamics, this occurs when groupings, whether the entire group or parts of it sits down (physically or figuratively) and process about the relationship and talk about what is going on. During this process, people should be able to respectfully express how they feel, what problems they are struggling with and how they can move forward.
There are many ways to do this including a sit-down talk and journaling.
You should not feel that you can’t voice your opinion in a relationship or say that something isn’t working for you. Relationships are based on consent.
I do caution you, though, if you are a couple going into poly or experimenting, you are dealing with another human being. Make sure you are involving them in the processing, even if you choose to engage in hierarchal poly rather than egalitarian (i.e. Primary/secondary where the first partner(s) is the one who receives primary use of resources or the more common definition where a couple sees themselves as the more important relationship vs all dynamics being on the same level of importance.)
How to be honest in a poly relationship?
First off, honesty doesn’t always feel good. If you ask for honesty it can result in hurt feeling. What you should do is remember to remain open. Your relationship should be a safe place to discuss issues and find solutions.
Realistically there is no specific way, to be honest in poly. Your honesty should not be out of malice or with the intention to hurt your partner(s). Take care to note timing and what is going on in their life. It’s not the best time to tell you partner that they are doing things that are deal breakers when they have lots of stress, but you must also be honest and true to yourself in discussing issues that can affect you negatively.
Take time before you approach your partner(s) to get your thoughts in order, that way you can say what you really mean to say.
Be receptive to your partner explaining their part, without allowing people to weasel out of their responsibility.
Every person in a relationship has responsibility and honesty is a big part of that.
“So since we are being honest I’m jealous of…”
Jealousy is a valid emotion. A lot of poly people especially new to polyamory people, feel the need to shut it down. Instead, I believe that you can use your feelings of jealousy to your advantage. Again, I bring in the idea of relationship processing, but this time use it on yourself to determine what you are feeling and why you are feeling that way, how you can approach it.
You need to know if it is provoked jealousy from you partners doing things that you have mentioned before, or unprovoked jealousy triggered by boundaries that you have not stated. That helps narrow from a potentially abusive situation.
Once you’ve determined the cause of your jealousy you can chose your course of action. You can ask to reset boundaries, but understand that relationships take compromise from all side, so you may end up compromising some too. My experience has taught me that if it’s not an abusive situation then jealousy is based off of insecurity and fear, and we should take it as a chance to share with partners and grow as a person by working to address them.
One of the things you have to understand is that relationships all look different and in your poly dynamic you will likely see interactions you want. Ask for that. Be authentic about your needs and wants because you partner(s) cannot read your mind and give you what you desire.
Your emotions are natural and a reaction to stimuli. The only thing you should ever feel bad about is hurting someone based off of your emotions without communicating intention first. Many times when we feel jealous we may jump to the conclusion that we were hurt on purpose. It’s often a misunderstanding, so again share.
Boundaries in Polyamorous dynamic are crucial to set. With monogamy there is a template that many dyadic grouping easily fall into. With poly there is not template. You have to define something, even if it is just that you will let the relationship organically form and develop.
At least consider defining the following:
- What is cheating in this dynamic?
- Is there a hierarchy?
- Can we be out about our relationship or since it is alternative do we have to be careful who knows?
- Are we using labels?
- What is everyone’s ideal dynamic? This can help address unrealistic expectations about the relationship.
- Is sex a group thing or separate?
- Is everyone in the group expected to be together or are there metamour relationships?
- Are we fluid binding?
- How much time do I have to devote to this relationship?
People like to say how if someone loves you, they will make time for you; but how often do we realistically address that some people have work and family that are a big part of their time resource. In the last section I included how much time you have to devote because some people have less time that others and it doesn’t’ matter how much you care for your partner, you have responsibilities and do you best. Unfortunately sometimes your best isn’t enough. If however you can accept that you are not entitled to your partner’s time and be willing to work with everyone on scheduling, you can make busy schedules work.
Flexibility is a big plus in poly relationships. No matter how organized you get sometimes plans fall apart. It sucks, but with a little flexibility adjustments can be made.
Depending on the dynamic you have you may schedule weekly or monthly dates/ hang time with each partner and keep it mark in a calendar. I heard of a few groups that use google calendar and other similar apps to mark everyone’s schedules to plan dates, or doing the same on paper during processing sessions.
The best thing to do in my opinion is to not focus on having the same amount of time spent with every partner but instead enjoy the time you do have together and avoid non-emergency distractions.
People in poly relationships, people in relationships in general, still have a right to privacy. It’s not being dishonest and it’s not being unfair. In your relationships you have to work out what privacy means to you, but using privacy as guise to lie is unfair and does not follow what poly means.
Try to remember that polyamorous means engaging in multiple consenting and ethical relationships. You and your partners make the rules, no one else.
Talks about similar discussion in this article:
Helpful info for navigating non-monogamy
- Infographic in article – https://aurelientt.wordpress.com/tag/map-of-non-monogamy/