Monday, February 14, 2011

Introduction to Creating Poly Rules

Suzie asks: My boyfriend and I have decided to make our relationship polyamorous. We are negotiating the rules, and I was wondering if there are any rules that are particularly important.

This is a tricky question. It is like asking what size dress you should buy. You should buy the dress that is the right size for you. I know, not the most helpful answer. The rules that work for one couple could be disastrous for another, so instead of suggesting specific rules, here are some guidelines for a process to develop rules.

Open and Honest Communication
The first and most important thing is open and honest communication at all times, especially when negotiating rules. If you are not comfortable with something, you need to say so immediately. If it is uncomfortable in theory, it's not going to get any better when it moves into practice. Generally, adding restrictions in negotiation are not too difficult. Trying to add restrictions after an outside relationship has begun is like trying to squeeze toothpaste back into a tube.

Reciprocity and Fairness
A common fallacy is that rules must be reciprocal. This is not true. They must be fair, but they do not have to be the same. Imagine a couple who we'll call Alice and Bob. Alice is more concerned about sexual health and Bob is more concerned about emotional issues. Having different concerns, they would need different rules to address their needs.

Alice might require that each new partner bob has must be tested for STDs before he sleeps with them and every 4 months after. She is less concerned that they will steal his heart than that they will rot his crotch.

Bob, on the other hand, finds condoms and regular testing to be sufficient for sexual safety, but, because of some bad experiences in the past, he is afraid that Alice's other lovers might try to steal her away for their own. Thus, he would not need regular accounting of sexual health, but he might want to meet and get to know any potential lover of Alice's before she takes up with them.

Common Rules
Having told you that there are no universal rules, I will go back and provide some examples of rules commonly found in poly relationships.

Notification: Most couples require some type of notification of extra-curricular activities. For some this means that permission must be obtained before doing anything. For others, this simply means that it should be mentioned when it is convenient after the fact.

Veto: This is a more controversial concept. Some couples swear by it, others swear at it. The veto concept is  that the primary partner can veto a secondary partner. Usually the veto can only be used when a new secondary relationship is starting, although there are some couples where the primary can veto at any time. An entire article could be written on this concept alone.

Sexual Health: Most couples have some rules relating to sexual health such as requiring the use of latex barriers or new partners being tested before taking up with a primary partner. This is usually based on the comfort and concern levels of the primary partners as well as the style of relationship one has. This becomes more important is more swinger-type relationships than in more poly-fidelitous relationships with far fewer partners.

Keep the Lines of Communication Open
You will see this word a lot: "communication". You can't just set rules and leave them. Things change over time. Comfort levels change; people become more or less comfortable. While the rules are negotiated in full at the start, it is important to periodically revisit them and make sure that they meet the needs of all parties involved.

As always, this is just a brief overview with some general concepts, rather than a comprehensive study of poly rules. Your mileage may vary.

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