Polyamory: What is it, what it´s Not, and How it works
Polyamory is becoming more and more common and therefore more accepted in society. Nowadays, some people may experiment with it and see how it goes, others feel it is their ideal way to have relationships, and others feel it´s not for them. All options are valid!
Seeing as it´s a very open-minded way of relating to others romantically, it is mostly practiced by younger generations, seeing as before this idea didn´t exist and would have been considered preposterous. It is for people who feel they cannot identify or live by monogamy.
What is Polyamory?
It comes from the Greek word ¨πολύ¨ poly, which means ´many´, and the Latin word ¨amor¨, which means ´love´.
It is a relationship that consists of more than two people, in which there is absolute consent amongst all members. It can also be referred to as ´Consensual non-monogamy´.
It is not gender-specific; this means that it is not necessarily a heterosexual o homosexual relationship between men and women, but that both men and women or non-binary individuals can be in the same polyamorous relationship.
How does polyamory work?
Polyamory-relationships can have different forms.
Polyfidelity, for example, is when all partners within the relationship are romantically exclusive between them, and there are no other partners outside that relationship.
Another form of polyamory is to have one primary partner, which could be considered the primary couple, and each member then has secondary partners outside that relationship.
It´s also possible for the relationship to be hierarchical, with one partner being the primary one, or non-hierarchical where all partners are equal.
The most important thing is that all polyamory relationships are built on LOVE. It´s definition actually means ´many loves´. Therefore, all relationships involved are meaningful. Equally important is the fact of CONSENT. All members are aware of all the relationships involved and they have given their consent.
There are different ways sex is handled too. It may be that all partners have sex between all of them, not necessarily at the same time but can be, some might have sex with some but not with others, or might not have sex at all!
What is NOT Polyamory?
Let´s first differentiate the different terms that may be confused with Polyamory.
- It is not an open relationship!
An open relationship is one where a couple decides to open their relationship and see other people, mainly focused on having sexual relations with other people, but not romantic relationships, thus maintaining the couple as the primary relationship. In such a case, the partners do not necessarily know the other people involved, and those people often keep changing. Therefore, there is consent to open the relationship, but the partners are not involved when it comes to choosing other people to relate to, nor is the objective to form new meaningful relationships with others.
- It is not Swinging
Swinging is when couples meet with other couples, it may be with one or more specific couples or go to a swinging venue with many couples, and they can exchange couples or mix and match for the night.
Both of the above are more related to sex, whereas polyamory is more focused on love. As I mentioned earlier, it´s possible for some polyamorous partners to not engage in sex with some or all partners involved.
- It is not Cheating
All members are informed of all the relationships happening and give their consent. Each polyamorous relationship has its own set of ¨rules¨ or agreement in how it works.
Cheating can happen in poly relationships too!
If a member has another relationship that they did not tell the rest about, that´s still cheating.
What is required to maintain a polyamorous relationship?
The most important values are:
- Communication (a lot of it!)
- Mutual respect
- Boundaries (agreed upon)
It´s crucial to trust all partners involved, and that is supported by being open and honest, thus communicating their feelings, ideas, worries, etc. Through this communication, the set up is agreed upon and therefore everyone gives their consent, they commit to this relationship and they respect each other fully.
What are some of the struggles of polyamory?
Jealousy can still arise. Even though there are consent and a lot of love, it´s only human for jealousy to sometimes take the best of some. Polyamory is not such a utopic concept as some people may think. However, it may be handled a bit better than other relationships by bringing it up and talking about it openly.
If children are involved in a poly relationship, it can sometimes get a bit complicated. Depending on whether the kids were already there before the relationship was formed, they may get confused as to who is their parents and who isn´t, or it may feel like too much supervision.
If there´s a partner turnover it may also be challenging for some children, as they may feel the loss for the partner that´s no longer there, or may have difficulties adjusting to change.
If the kids come after the relationship is formed but then the relationship ends, there may be complications related to child custody.
Having said that, it´s important to also say that there is a very high rate of divorces currently in monogamous relationships anyway, and due to the nature of poly relationships, a break up may be handled more openly and honestly, which in turn can help children grow up to be more open-minded and accepting.
It has not been proven to be in any way more stigmatizing.
Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) are another challenge that poly relationships need to be aware of and careful of.
Polyamory individuals may also face the social pressure of having to manage their relationship ¨perfectly¨ as if it was this magical way of having relationships with no stressors. This is not true; problems arise just like in any other relationship.
Therapy could help you to create a polyamory agreement with clear limits and expectations between partners. If you feel like this would be a good option for your relationship you can always ask for counselling or support in couples therapy.
Here is a link to a Radio show program where myself and my colleague Mia Weinberg were discussing Polyamory. Go and listen, for more information: RKB English Radio.
Text by: Daphne Christofides
Photo by: Rebecca Pericleous