A lot of coverage of polyamory in the media these days is either positive, talking about the advantages of polyamory, or are more on the neutral, informative side. But just like any relationship structure, poly relationships have both pros and cons. Mostly, poly relationships can suffer from a lot of the same potential pitfalls as monogamy — usually because they have to do more with unethical behavior than relationship structure, such as jealousy, incompatibility, broken agreements, dishonesty, taking your partner for granted, and others — but they often look a bit different in poly relationships.
After years in poly relationships and a great many mistakes on both my part and other people's, I can safely say that I’ve experienced every one of these downsides, some more recently than others. In some cases, my partner(s) (and sometimes metamours, aka my partner's partner) and I managed to work through it; in others, it led to the end of a relationship, or at least a change in dynamic. I’ve learned to avoid some of these pitfalls, while I’m still working on figuring out how to lay good foundations in order to steer clear of the rest.
Whether you’re a newbie to the poly world or just curious, here are eight difficulties of polyamory, and some strategies for avoiding them.
1. Assuming You're On The Same Page
You know what they say about when you assume, right? Well when it comes to poly, assumptions do more than make an "ass" out of "u" and "me" — they can ruin relationships. Whether it's assuming you're using the same definitions of poly jargon or assuming that you or your partner are operating under the same boundaries without having a frank discussion, the risk factor here is high, but it's a common newbie mistake. Define your terms (of which there are many), talk about all your boundaries, triggers, etc. It's better to know upfront than to find out by crossing a line you weren't aware was drawn.
2. Forgetting Your Priorities
New relationship energy isn't particular to poly relationships — it happens in monogamous ones, too. But the effect of NRE on already established relationships can be disastrous. It's easy to get swept up in your new love, I get it. Just make sure you are focusing on keeping your other relationship(s) strong, and your other partner(s) feeling important. Polyamory is a balancing act.
3. Starting New Relationships When Existing Ones Have Problems
Relationships impact each other, which is also why trying to compartmentalize relationships usually ends in tears, too. If there are issues in your current relationship(s), trying to start a new one is likely to exacerbate them or cause more. It's best to wait until you and your partner(s) are in a good place before seeking or starting a new relationship.
4. Ignoring The Consequences Of Your Actions
If you cross boundaries you've agreed to, it seems obvious that you should apologize and deal with the consequences. But what about when you cross a line you weren't aware of — and that the other person may not have even been aware of?
Sometimes, even with the best of intentions, people get hurt, they have unexpected emotions, or things otherwise don't go as planned. While owning up to your mistakes is important, so is acknowledging the results of your actions even when you don't mess up. Instead, folk often seem to default to "well, I can do whatever I want/I didn't break the rules," which, while it may be technically true, is not going to help you resolve the issue with your partner or metamour. It's much more functional to talk to them about their feelings and try to find a way to resolve the situation so that everyone feels OK moving forward, and no resentment builds up.
5. Trying To Force Relationships Into Pre-Determined Molds
Whether it's looking for a secondary who won't demand more than a certain level of time and commitment, or trying to find that special unicorn to be part of the family, this is mostly an issue related to hierarchical poly relationships. It turns out though, that having a long list of traits you require in a partner is unlikely to serve you well. Instead, try to be open to what comes along and how you can fit into each other's lives.
6. Making Decisions Without Consulting Partners
I myself am guilty of this, and have also had it happen to me. Whether it's switching up date days, becoming fluid-bonded, planning a cross-country move, or considering marriage and kids, anything that impacts your polycule should ideally be discussed with everyone, rather than informing some partners of decisions that have been made. This goes back to No. 2 — even if you can make unilateral decisions, it may not work out in your favor.
7. Love Isn't Finite, But Time Is
The saying in the poly community is that love isn't a finite resource... but time certainly is. Same with money and energy. You might have the emotional capacity to love 10 or 20 people, even, but many of us have enough going on — work, partners, children, friends, alone time, hobbies, etc. — that having active, involved relationships with 10 or more people seems pretty impossible. There's no real solution to this, because no matter how much you use Google calendar, you cannot make more hours in the day. Be aware of your time limitations so you don't over end up polysaturated — or without any time for yourself!
8. The Potential Real-Life Consequences
Polyamory isn't a protected Gender/Sexual Minority, which means that in most places, discrimination against you for choosing this relationship style is legal. Unfortunately, you could be fired, social ostracized, or even lose custody of your kids.
Know your rights and both state and federal law, find a good health care provider, and consider donating to organizations who are working to help poly folk to live and love without fear.
Images: Fotolia; Giphy (4)