OK, I'll just put it out there: Being monogamous is hard. While that’s usually a comment that my polyamorous friends get when they come out about their relationships (including, I’ll confess, from me), the truth is that it’s not like monogamy is a helluva lot easier. Sure, polyamory comes with the added stress of multiple relationships but monogamy is straight up fighting against our natural instincts so… There’s that.
But let me take a step back for a second and do a little term-defining. Monogamy is what most of you are probably doing if you’re in a relationship or have done in past relationships if you’re not currently partnered. It’s when two people commit to a sexually-exclusive relationship. Monogamy has been the foundation of millions of whispered promises between teenage lovers and hundreds of millions of wedding vows. It is, essentially, what our culture bases our conception of romantic love on.
Polyamory, however, is an alternative romantic structure that has been practiced by plenty of people, mostly in private, for probably millennia. It has been gaining mainstream attention recently as more and more poly folks come out of the closet and start talking about what their lives look like. And while the definition of polyamory is still evolving, even amongst those who practice it, it’s generally understood to describe having more than one sexual or romantic partner.
“Polyamory come from the greek word for many and the Latin word for love,” Polly Superstar, author of Polly: Sex Culture Revolutionary, told Bustle. “It refers to the practice of having more than one sexual or intimate relationship.”
So, yeah, I’d imagine having multiple boyfriends and girlfriends could get a little tricky. But you know what’s also tricky? Dealing with having a crush when you’re in a monogamous LTR. Not cheating on the partner you’ve monogamously committed to, even though statistics show that the majority of us will cheat and be cheated on. Feeling smothered by a monogamous partner’s jealousy and possessiveness. Yeah, all of those are hella complicated too, aren’t they? Monogamy is starting to look a little less simple every second.
I reached out to a couple of polyamorous communities (including Polly’s, which is mainly based around her sex positive organization Mission Control) to see what lessons they think monogamous people could learn from polyamorous people in order to make relationshipping just a little bit easier. This is not to say that either lifestyle is “better” or “worse” — whatever works for you and your partner(s) works for you and your partner(s). It’s just to say that there are certain things we could all learn from each other in order to make life more enjoyable all around.
1. B, 59
How to really communicate.
2. J., 37
Sacrifice brings you all towards the lowest common denominator. Honest communication and negotiation bring you all closer to optimal happiness!
3. Amanda, 40
4. Mogli, 42
Work to find the solution where everybody wins.
Healthy relationships engage the issues that arise in that particular relationship. Poly relationships, by definition, have more relationships engaged and so tend to have more things that come up.
I'd point out a couple of areas that this tends to impact (every relationship set being its own beast, obviously, with its own quirks):
1. A more acute awareness of managing finite resources (time, attention) versus non-finite resources (love).
2. More focus on the notion of no individual having to be the end all/be all with their partner, avoiding the trope of "one true love that completes me."
3. Following on #2, a greater understanding of relationships as individual interactions with their own set of dynamics that are not always neatly covered by a common term like "wife/husband/girlfriend/boyfriend" which brings about the need to create more individual-focused narratives and labels instead of societal short cuts.
4. Perhaps a greater acceptance of non-traditional family structures that bring in more "chosen family" even when they may not be romantic/sexual partners. Once you've gone the route of tossing aside traditional notions of how a relationship/family has to be, it opens up a lot of possibilities about making things the way you want, not just in the sexual arena.
6. Diane, 32
Insecurity is the main reason for jealousy and unreasonable behavior, and you don't have to keep hold of it.
7. Rachel, 29
Jealousy is real, but it doesn't mean anyone is doing anything wrong.
Communication skills especially regarding what you both feel and want. How to love a person without feeling the need to be possessive of that person.
9. Karl, 31
No conversation is off-limits, all boundaries are negotiated (whether explicitly or implicitly), and you will always be bridging a gap between two (or more) different comfort zones to find a solution that works for you; dictates from culture and friends, mono or poly, never help as much as real communication. And it's always hard.
10. Anselm, 48
How to lower drama levels in my life.
11. Katie, 26
How to handle jealousy - recognized the why of it, owning it, and dealing with it in the appropriate fashion. That no one person can ever meet all of your needs - and that this is ok.
Wear a rubber.
13. Connor, 24
Sleeping with multiple partners is awesome.
14. VSL, 30
How to communicate needs and how they differ from wants.
15. Elaine, 19
If you're ashamed of your insecurities, they will be very difficult to solve — but don't milk them, either. Process them without judgement.
That emotional challenges are fantastic opportunities for growth. Most monogamous people will try to shield each other from the emotional challenges of life — rightly so — but polyamory presents different emotional challenges... and with them, the opportunity to help each other face them. When I see poly couples try to shield each other from challenges so much that no growth is happening, that's usually a relationship where the "poly" part is faltering or failing.
17. Casi, 34
Communication, even over-communication, is key.
18. Sheldra, 45
Honesty is essential in all relationships.
19. Carly, 31
No relationship can be successful if the parties involved don't have emotional support networks outside that relationship. At the most extreme level – one of the first things that abusers do is isolate their victims from that support network. But even in healthy relationships, maintaining friendships and family ties outside that relationship is one of the best things you can do to stay healthy. Other people offer perspective on your relationship that you can’t see from inside. That valuable outside view can cut through raw emotion and help you see when you’re being treated badly, or when you’re treating someone badly. Moreover, deep friendships provide a space to talk through tools and plans for resolving conflict inside your romantic relationship. They also provide an outlet for all kinds of emotional stress, giving you the resilience to treat your partner better. For me, these friendships have a sexual component. But that’s not remotely their primary function. Even if you’re not having sex with your friends, serious friendships where you can be yourself and be honest are a crucial tool for making any relationship work, and for combatting unhealthy co-dependence.
To ask for what you want and need. Poly only works when people can communicate clearly and effectively which is something missing from the relationships from my mono friends.
21. Josh, 37
Clearly stating what your intentions are toward the other person and have this talk often.
22. Maxwell, 27
Jealously is a natural human emotion regardless if you are poly or not. It's what you do with those feelings and how you communicate them that defines your experience in the relationship.
23. Ky, 24
Learning to control/let go of/discuss your own jealous feelings as well as truly listening and accepting the desires of another person. Accepting them for who they are and what they want, and not trying to fit them into your box.
Love is not a finite resource. Physical intimacy is not the boundary of longterm commitment. Commitments require constant examination and upkeep. Knowing how to say what you want takes bravery and persistence.
25. Sam, 33
Don't try to fit yourself, others, or your relationship in to a mold. Allow each to grow/change as needed and accept that change.
26. Eric, 38
Work on jealous feelings.
27. Ruthless, 22
28. Robin, 29
It's important to be as honest and respectful as you can with your partner, no matter how difficult it might be, or if you're afraid that the honesty will hurt him/her. If you hide something you're feeling or concerned about, it will only get worse and may hurt you and your partner more than it would if you just address the issue head on. I've found this out both by doing and not doing that. When you are honest, your partner will (1) respect your integrity, and (2) see if there's something that you can work on to address the situation. And especially be true to yourself. Don't disregard a feeling that seems inconvenient. The saying "listen to your heart" is very true.
Trust. Though not every poly group I've known has succeeded, the ones that have demonstrate more trust than most monogamous couples are capable of.
30. Anon, 37
Maintain a sense of self and some autonomy and independence for a happy relationship.
31. Emily, 24
Open communication about desires. Too many monogamous people are afraid to talk about their desires because they are afraid their partner will think they are cheating! Also, poly people talk about everything! This really helps to clear up any kinds of miscommunications.
32. Jana, 38
Your partner is a whole person, bigger than what they are in your relationship. And it is that whole person you must love, not just what means something to you. You are also a whole person. You must ask your partner to recognize that and set the expectation that they love that whole person, not just the parts that mean something to them. "Honesty" always rang hollow until I owned up to this.
33. Becci, 33
Communication is absolute key.
34. King, 35
A little bit of controlled jealousy can put the spark right back into a dead-bed relationship.
35. Trixie Shiksa, 27
Honesty and compassionate communication, even if it's hard, even if it feels bad to admit.
Vulnerability. A person who is willing to communicate and let go of their ego. The negative feeling of owning another person... Jealousy is not a healthy quality for any relationship. It is a selfish emotion. Monogamous relationships can function with jealousy... But polyamorous ones cannot. We've all seen bad "on and off" relationships with monogamous individuals more than with polyamorous ones. One thing monogamous people can learn is to let go of ego and jealousy... Because one will learn that no one owes you anything, no one "belongs" to anyone... And selfishness has no place in any relationship where more than two people are involved. It's a little more accepting in society for monogamous people to be in a relationship where one party is giving more than the other.
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