Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Three Rules of Polyamory

Relationships are complicated. Multiple relationships per person is considerably more complicated. There are a great many bits of advice that I could give to make things run more smoothly, but this article is about three common rules which one who is engaging in polyamory would ignore at their peril.

One of the core concepts of Smart Love is that there is a great deal that monogamous couples can learn from poly couples. To help illustrate this, each of the three rules of polyamory will be accompanied by a companion rule of monogamy.

Smart Love Poly Rule #1: Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
Mono Companion Rule #1: Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
Entire articles could be written just on this rule. In fact, entire books could be and have been written on this topic. Communication in any relationship is vitally important. It is even more so in a polyamorous relationship because of additional factors that must be managed.

One of the most common reasons not to communicate is that someone does not want to cause trouble. They might be worried that saying something would cause a fight or make the other person unhappy. What they forget in doing this is that the issue will come out sooner or later. When it comes out later, it usually comes out at a much more inopportune moment and often with much greater emotion making it more difficult to deal with than it otherwise might be.

I discuss some other aspects of this topic in this post.

Smart Love Poly Rule #2: Never Make One Choose Between Lovers/Never Accept an Ultimatum
Mono Companion Rule #2: Never Make Your Partner Compete

Emily says: I was in a relationship of a few years when I met and started dating a new boyfriend. At first, things were great, but then the new boyfriend started to think that the old boyfriend was not good for me. There was no real basis behind this, but he got more and more down on the old boyfriend. Finally, he told me that I had to choose between them. I was young and foolish and still wrapped up in new relationship energy, so I picked the new one. It lasted about a month after that before I got fed up with his jealousy and possessiveness.

This illustrates the second rule of polyamory, which is that you should never ask a partner to choose between you and another partner. Conversely, if someone demands that you choose between them and someone else, choose the someone else. Why? Because someone who really understands what polyamory is about will respect you enough to respect the choices that you make, even if they are not thrilled with them. If you yield to one ultimatum, perhaps the next one will not be far behind.

This rule does not completely apply in the situation of primaries. In a primary relationship, it is not uncommon for the primary to demand that a relationship not begin or, if it has already begun, cease. The difference here is that, in a primary relationship, the authority to make such demands is often pre-negotiated. This is very different from a secondary coming into an open marriage then demanding that his lover leave her husband for him.

The companion rule for monogamy is not to make your partner compete with your outside interests. It almost goes without saying that your partner should never feel that he or she is competing with other people that you might otherwise be dating were you not with your partner. This rule is also saying that your partner should not have to compete with other activities for your affections. She should not have to be more fun than a baseball game or more exciting than a trip to the mall. These activities provide something different from and not comparable to your partner.

Smart Love Poly Rule #3: Don't Let Strife in One Relationship Create Strife in Another
Mono Companion Rule #3: Don't Let the World Outside Your Relationship Create Conflict Inside
Into every life a little rain must fall, and this is quite true for relationships. It's not always clear weather and smooth sailing. Sometimes something will go wrong. This is even more likely with new relationships. An advantage that some people find in polyamory is that they get to experience new relationship energy again and again. The flip side to this is that they get to experience the stress of new relationship growing pains and even failure again and again.

When one decides to enter into a poly relationship, it is understood that they may encounter these ups and downs. It is important, however, not to allow these tribulations to spill into other relationships. Every relationship has its own internal conflicts. If you allow the conflicts in one relationship to spill into another, you may soon find that your strife from on relationship has started marching through your life like Napoleon's armies through Europe.

This is not to say that you should not say anything about what is bothering you. Your partner can be an excellent source of support in hard times. However, there is a difference between getting support and dragging your partner into your conflicts with shortened tempers and even accusations of being part of the problem.

Likewise, for both polyamory and monogamy, it is important to do your best to insulate your relationship from outside stressors. Fights with the boss, defeat of your favorite basketball team, getting a ticket on the way to work, etc. These are fine things to talk to your partner about, but they are no excuse for losing your temper or  becoming more demanding at home.

This is certainly not everything you need for a successful relationship, but if you keep these three rules in mind, you may find that you are able to avoid a great many of the more common pitfalls in polyamory.

1 comment:

  1. Insulating relationships from outside stressors sounds like a great idea... but I have never met a person who can do it.