What are we willing to compromise and why? It is not uncommon for people to find themselves engaged in swinging, for example, because they were too fearful to lose their partner if they didn’t. We need to be extremely self reflective and ask ourselves difficult questions such as our potential for jealousy or people pleasing. We need to be able to reflect on what sexual messages we have been given from parents, school, church etc and ask whether they actually reflect our own sexual and relationship values and if not, why not? If we are heading into a poly relationship, what are our expectations? Are we entering into it just for sex or emotional connection?
Multi-partnered relationships can be very fulfilling but they can also go horribly wrong. As previously mentioned, infidelity can still occur if one partner changes the goal posts without everyone agreeing. Strong feelings can occur for another person when that was never the intention, leading to the green eyed monster running amok. One partner could be more into it than the other and fantasy may not reflect reality.
Write your own rules
Non-monogamy can work in certain relationships for certain people. Meg-John Barker, a leading authority on poly and multi-partnered relationships advises that if you think this could be for you, do lots of research to help figure out which style feels right. Be prepared to do lots of negotiation and also know that you can reconfigure boundaries if you discover some are not working for you. Take it slow, look around and most importantly, write your own rules.
For centuries, the idea of what an adult sexual relationship should look like was pretty straight forward. We married for either financial security or ensure we could produce a family. Women simply didn’t have the means to financially support themselves or any children, so commitment to the marriage was often purely practical, along with a hefty dose of guilt provided by the church. Obviously, being gay, lesbian or bi (or anything else) was never going to be taken into account, so we were pretty much all in the same boat.
Thankfully, things have changed and we are now free to marry for love, but even that is changing. Marriage is an outdated concept. As well as it being very heteronormative, we simply don’t need to do it. Even co-habiting is losing it’s flavour, with less choosing to do it even in committed relationships. The rule book appears to be changing, however, one thing that often still sticks in the throat of our cultural norms is non-monogamy.
Can you only love one person at once?
I was taught to think that anything else was impossible. I could truly love one person but if there were feelings for another, that was infatuation at best or an indication that I wasn’t happy in the primary relationship. This lead to considerable confusion and breakdowns in long term relationships. I heard a talk recently in which the presenter challenged this thinking by asking if that also applied to only being able to love only one of your children. We would consider that concept to be ridiculous, of course we could love more than one! So why does this not apply to our other relationships? Social conditioning is a very tough thing to move away from, especially when we have been given the idea of happy ever after from a young age. We run the risk of alienating ourselves from our culture, family and friends when we deviate from the norm, and who wants to deliberately isolate ourselves?
Types of non-monogamy
Non-monogamy can take on many facets but the basic principle is that there is a consensual agreement that there can be more than two people in the relationship at any one time. Sub types can include polyamory, open relationships (including swinging), polygamy and solo polyamory. The blog Rewriting the Rules gives some great information on what each of these types of relationships consist of. It would be easy to think that it’s always about sex, too – but it isn’t. Polyamory tends to be about people being in relationships with each other, but sex can be included in that. The most important factor here though is that it’s consensual.
A great thing about these relationships is that there is no one size fits all. A polyamorous relationship may have a primary couple who invite others to join them for a long or short term relationship. They may all cohabit together or may live separately. The couple in the open relationship may have an agreement that they can each sleep with other people, but only when they are away from the area, for example on a trip for work. The point is, there are endless possibilities.
Non-monogamy is exceptionally common in our society but not in the consensual form. Affairs are rife with people of all genders and orientations partaking. What constitutes as an affair is as individual as the person experiencing the trauma and betrayal when on the receiving end of one. Affairs don’t just happen in monogamous relationships, they can occur in the open relationships too, as it’s simply going beyond what has been mutually agreed.
So could it be for you?
In all of these types of relationships, communication and trust is key. We need to be able to express our desires, fears and vulnerabilities. We need to be clear on what is OK for us and what’s not. We need to be able to listen to our partner(s) and decide whether what they are asking for is acceptable.