Polyamory is a relationship style that is getting attention from sociologists, psychologists, legal scholars and the general public. It is not a new concept and has been practiced by our hunter-gatherer ancestors and presently in many cultures around the world. Polyamory means many loves in Latin. There are many different forms of Polyamory that can include several or more casual relationships or various married or committed unions as well. Some poly relationships can be individuals having multiple partners and other poly partnerships may have multiple involved people living together. There are no set rules for how poly should work and there are many different configurations that can occur.
The defining difference between polyamory and monogamy is that sexual involvement and intimacy is not exclusive between only two people for life as is in traditional monogamous marriages. Polyamory allows for novelty and variety in intimate relationships be they casual, committed, or married.
Let’s take a look at some of the important aspects of a poly relationship. Since these types of affiliations involve multiple individuals and good communication, scheduling and logistics are paramount. Arranging time to spend with various partners takes input from all involved parties so much communication is needed on an ongoing basis. The good part about this extra work is that a high level of communication is good for relationships in general and many traditional couples don’t always converse enough until something goes wrong. Given all parties tend to be liberal in their sexual values, jealousy issues, if they occur, can be worked out more easily than in monogamous unions.
Poly relationships don’t operate by any specified rules as in monogamous ones. Poly partners create their partnerships from scratch, so to speak, and all involved work out how the dynamics will be. Individual needs fulfillment is considered and encouraged. Partners don’t allow each other to be consumed by the relationship. They respect diversity, novelty and variety such that their interactions are rich and nourishing. Issues that are troublesome are open to discussion and resolution, the ultimate goal being mutual gain and no winners and losers.
Jealousy issues are bound to arise in any relationship configuration. Attending to this issue is extremely important as it will affect all involved parties. Overcoming jealousy by sheer determination often doesn’t work. It must be realized that no one has ownership over another. Discussing feelings and needs is important and all parties need to be sensitive to such dynamics. Getting professional help for issues like this can be helpful and growth producing for all.
Terri Conley from the University of Michigan did a study on polyamorous individuals and discovered some clear benefits that poly unions offered. Findings revealed that:
Polyamorous people maintain more friendships because they tend to keep a larger social network. They are also less likely to cut off contact with a person they break up with.
Monogamous couples typically withdraw from their friends when they first become monogamous with a partner and may continue to do this.
Communication is often noted to be more frequent and rigorous in poly relationships.
Jealousy is often less frequent and problematic in poly unions.
Relationship satisfaction is often said to be higher in poly partnerships.
Non-monogamous individuals are more likely to practice safe sex.
Children who live in parents who are in poly relationships often say that they like having more parental figures to interact with. They feel they benefit from different points of view and life experiences of multiple adults.
Poly relationships take more work but the benefits appear to be worth the extra effort.
Polyamory centers around the notion that humans have a capacity to love more than one person and that involvement with multiple persons is actually very healthy. Having multiple partners allows individuals to have many different kinds of experiences that include social, emotional and sexual. When one is monogamous, they only experience what their partner has to offer. That is why long-term monogamous relationships often get boring and partners tend to cheat on each other to experience the high of being in a new relationship. Unfortunately, this strategy more often than not, ruins the relationship and divorce becomes the devastating consequence of this dynamic. If couples were able to communicate their needs openly and explore alternatives to monogamy, I believe more people would stay together and still get their individual needs met.
Unfortunately, polyamory is not well accepted in Western nations and there is a false perception that the main motive for this relationship style is to be able to have lots of sex with different people. There is also a perception that monogamous people are more committed to their partnerships and are overall better people morally. Another notion is that children will be affected negatively by the nature of poly unions. These notions are frequently fueled by conservative social and religious institutions. Some poly individuals even buy into the negative perceptions of the conservative public and act apologetically for being poly.
Things to Consider in Choosing a Relationship Style such as Monogamy, Polyamory or other Open-type Relationships.
Most of the populous in Western nations have been raised in monogamous families and thus monogamy has come to be considered the normal or natural way to have relationships after a period of learning about relationship skills when we date.
Other forms of partnership have been demonized or simply discouraged due to our familiarity with monogamy or because religious and social institutions tend to favor monogamous unions. Monogamy has been given a sanctimonious status and alternative forms of partnership have been deemed as wrong and even immoral.
My sense is that sex, being one of the most powerful drives in humans, has caused religious and social institutions to believe they must limit or control it to some degree due to the fear that excessive sexual behavior will somehow result in undesirable behaviors and diminish societal functioning. Approval of monogamous relationships that limits sex to one person for one’s lifetime after dating seems to satisfy the need of the establishment to control and manage sexual behavior to a significant degree.
But look at the porn industry today and how many people engage in it. It reminds us of prohibition. The more a society tries to limit a behavior, the more people typically engage in it. Yes, there will always be inappropriate sexual behaviors that must be dealt with but to try to establish an actual limit on a most important human need is patently ridiculous.
It is interesting to note that 83% of other countries accept monogamous, polyamory and other open type relationships and do not discredit or demean any particular form of partnership.
I believe there are many styles of relationship that can work without the need to qualify any one as being right or wrong. Relationship styles should be a choice, not an obligation. I also believe that healthy individuals can create healthy affiliations, no matter what form they may choose.
Some Suggestions for Identifying an Appropriate Relationship Style that Will Work for You.
Be aware of what you want in a relationship before you adopt a relationship style.
Explore different relationship configurations to see which style or styles will fit your needs and lifestyle.
When you discuss creating a relationship with a chosen person, don’t assume anything. Discuss in detail what you each want and then choose a style that will work for you. Often, individuals gravitate towards monogamy because they feel it will eliminate jealousy and being abandoned but this strategy is known not to work given current research and data.
Discuss both or all parties’ expectations for the relationship in detail and make workable agreements. Any topic should be open to discussion and negotiation.
Talk about sexual compatibility and what this means to all parties. It takes time to explore and know how to be with a partner sexually and to be able to work out things that may be uncertain or uncomfortable. Try to be open and honest about your needs and preferences.
Initiate meetings or check-ins to see how things are going on a regular basis. Don’t wait until the ship is sinking to bring up issues that are problematic or uncomfortable.
Be open to negotiation and re-negotiation whenever it is needed. Always look for what is wanted and needed to make things work.
Monogamy is difficult for many to maintain and this is not to be seen as problematic. Choose a partnership style that truly works for you and don’t compromise on your absolute desires and needs.