A polyamorous relationship is not the same thing as an open relationship. Polyamorous people want to commit to multiple-partner relationships, which may develop emotionally and include feelings of love.
An open relationship includes having multiple casual sex partners, however, developing emotional ties with your partners is usually not part of the deal. It’s not uncommon for gay couples to negotiate open relationships. The primary partners in the open relationship decide on the rules of engagement or have an agreement on what sexual behaviour is and isn’t permitted with others.
Some people think that monogamy does not conform to basic human nature—men and women are both genetically wired to find multiple partners—so polyamory is something of the halfway mark. Instead of secretly cheating to fulfil your desires, you’re asking permission from your partner to go outside, and staying inside the set boundaries.
It’s a lot easier to start living polyamorous lifestyle if you’re already single. Asking your current monogamous partner to try the “poly life” with you can be challenging, but in some cases, it can work.
Your relationship needs to be solid
A shaky monogamous relationship can’t withstand polyamory – it will implode under strain. Just bringing up the possibility could end the relationship. You have to know your partner very well; if they’d never agree to share you with others, respect this, whether it means shelving the idea or breaking with them.
And if you and your partner have children and want to try polyamory, it’s going to be even harder. Who gets to go out with their new person while the other stays home and watches the kids? Polyamory is not for couples who struggle to feel safe and secure in their relationship, or easily feel jealous of their partner and others they spend time with.
Communication is the way through
It’s difficult enough to communicate well with one partner, but when you’re poly, you must communicate with all your partners, if you expect any of the relationships to succeed.
And communicating doesn’t just mean telling your spouse what you want and proceeding with your desires—you have to listen to their needs, fears, and desires and reach a compromise. A couples’ therapist can help here, especially in the beginning.
Have clear sexual boundaries
If you two agree to both go polyamorous (or your partner agrees to share you while staying monogamous), establish a sexual agreement with commonly agreed-upon boundaries.
Sexually transmitted diseases are no fun, and left untreated they can cause cancer—so only hook up with partners that agree to get tested, and whom you can trust (in other words, people who aren’t sleeping around constantly).
Have a plan for how to address issues when things go wrong
When things go wrong in a relationship, you can only deal with the problem at the moment it surfaces. But if you have a plan in advance to address specific issues, at least you’ll have some idea where to go next. If one of you does something so far outside the boundaries you’ve set up, it might be a deal-breaker.
On a related note, revisit your agreement on a regular basis. Is it working for each of you? How are your outside relationships impacting what you have together—is it better or worse?
Remember, all decisions you make in the primary relationship must be in the best interests of both partners.
Consider all pros and cons before starting
An established monogamous relationship impacts more than just the two people who made it up: children, family, and friends are all affected to some degree by the relationship. It’s wise to consider how your choices will affect them before you start. Will polyamory be a pro or con for you, for your original partner, and for your extended circles?
The reality is polyamory not for everyone, and some couples will struggle to navigate the complexities of what’s involved. Even when the strongest couples decide to have a polyamorous relationship, jealousy and insecurity are never far away if things start to go wrong.
And how will it affect your finances, and even your schedule, to have multiple committed relationships? It takes a great deal of energy just to keep one going—several at one time make for a juggling act.
If you are feeling totally imprisoned in your monogamous relationship, and think that polyamory is a way out without causing a complete break, you’re setting yourself up for a fall. To make a polyamorous life work, you have to tend all the relationships with equal care and energy. If you choose this path and do the work, it can benefit everyone; if you make it all about you, get ready for grief, pain, or potential disaster.
Do you need relationship help?
Since 2003, Clinton Power has helped thousands of couples and individuals as a counsellor and psychotherapist in private practice in Sydney and online in Australia. Clinton regularly comments in the media on issues of relationships and has appeared on Channel 7, The Sydney Morning Herald, and ABC Radio. Clinton’s eBook, 31 Days to Build a Better Relationship is available through his website or Amazon. Click here to take Clinton’s relationship checkup quiz to find out how well you know your partner.