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There is a wide variety of relationship styles. The Venn diagram above shows a few of the more common concepts. The shapes are not to any particular scale. The sizes of the various circles are based on what I needed to fit inside them rather than any kind of population proportion.
Emily says: When I was monogamous, I was never comfortable with that relationship form, but, not realizing that there were any other options, I just assumed that there was something wrong with me.
Too many people believe that there is only one way to have a relationship. For some people it works, but for others, it does not. I happen to like steak, but if I were to open a restaurant, I would serve more than steak. Some people like it, others do not, yet others are allergic to it or have religious prohibitions against eating it.
It is the same with relationships. Different forms work better for different people. All are valid. It is simply a matter of figuring out what works for you. Below, we will discuss the various styles shown on the chart above. It is not an exhaustive list, and there are many overlaps from one style to another. Ultimately, remember, it is all about what works for the person involved. As long as people are being open, honest, and caring, they will probably end up on the right track..
Before discussing the forms, I would like to discuss the concept of a Relationship Contract
Every relationship has a relationship contract. This can be explicit or implicit, but, as a concept, it describes the expectations, limits, and rules under which the relationship functions. This will be discussed in much greater detail in a later article, but I wanted to explain it briefly because it is a very important concept for understanding many relationship forms.
Monogamy is the relationship style that most people in America practice. It is based on the concept that two people form a bond, ultimately seeking a permanent bond, in order to share their lives.
Candy says: I met a guy who told me that he was polyamorous until he found the right person. Sorry, dude. We call that single.
Single - Casual Dating
Many monogamous people will engage in casual dating. This is a matter of going out with various people. For some, this is a process designed to find a partner that they would like to get more serious with. For others, it is simply a way to play the field and satisfy their physical needs. This is one of the relationship forms that most often results in conflict, as people almost never discuss the relationship contract in play leading to various people having very different expectations of where a relationship is headed and the amount of communication that is appropriate.
This is the form of relationship that most of us are most familiar with. Two people have a relationship with only each other with the ultimate goal of forming a strong enough relationship to lead to engagement and marriage, children, etc. Even within this relationship form, there are variations. Some people believe that a couple should do everything together. Others think that it is good to have entire segments of their lives that are separate. Some feel that fidelity is a matter only of physical action, i.e. not touching other people. Others feel that fidelity is a matter of thought as well as action (e.g. Jimmy Carter sinning in his heart). Even though this is the "default" relationship form, one should not take for granted the need to communicate about expectations. Any statement that starts with "Everybody knows that...." is usually the start of or explanation for an argument.
Open LDR (Long Distance Relationship)
This is a common situation in the monogamous world where the principles of an open relationship will come into play. Acknowledging physical and emotional needs, a couple separated by great distance may decide that they can pursue casual relationships with local partners under certain restrictions. Sometimes this is a good stopgap solution for a temporary separation. Sometimes this leads to jealousy and conflict. As in any relationship, communication is key. As in any open relationship it is crucial that both partners be honest about their feelings, concerns, and jealousies, both with their partner and, more importantly, with themselves.
Polyfidelity is a relationship structure in which multiple partners form a committed group relationship. This can be an exclusive arrangement, or it can allow for additional outside relationships.
Exclusive Multi-Partner Arrangements
This is similar to monogamy, but the closed relationship is among more than two people. The members of the relationship do not have relationships outside the group. Besides the obvious, the key difference is that, while monogamy assumes that one will be with one other person for the rest of their life and no other, it is not impossible that a new person could be introduced into the group. This tends to be a fairly complex and uncommon process, meaning that exclusive polyfidelity tends to be a fairly stable, unchanging structure, compared to other polyamorous structures.
Polygamy, meaning one person with multiple spouses who are exclusive to that person, is technically a subset of exclusive multi-partner arrangements. Polygyny is a single man with multiple wives, likewise polyandry a single woman with multiple husbands. Although new partners may be added in the future, by the nature of the arrangement, there will only be one man or woman depending on the type. Historically, this is the common form of multiple partner marriages and arrangements, mostly because, unlike a group marriage, it makes issues of heredity simpler. If the king has 10 wives, you can still tell who his first born is. If the king has 10 wives and 5 co-husbands, it is much harder to know who the first born prince is.
This structure is largely out of favor in most circles: out of favor in the monogamous community because it is so radical, and out of favor in the polyamorous communities because it is so sexually regressive.