How to Make Polyamory Work
Polyamory, just one of many labels that fall under the umbrella of ethical or consensual non-monogamy, is a relationship style in which individuals may have more than one sexual or romantic partner with the consent of all involved. With the topic being highlighted in various media channels, people are beginning to wonder, “How does that even work?”
Because monogamy—that is, a relationship between two people only—is the cultural norm, most monogamous people have difficulty conceptualizing how alternative relationships can function. However, research, communication and self-knowledge are some of the most important elements of success in polyamorous relationships. Ultimately, many of the items in the polyamorous “toolbox” are very similar to those monogamous people use, too.
Do your research
If you’re reading this article, congrats, you’ve already taken a step in the right direction. Perhaps the most important advice for success to a polyamorous newbie is to conduct research—and lots of it. Polyamory is truly a whole new world for most people, with its own vocabulary, tools and controversial subjects. Therefore, knowledge about the topic is essential to successful experimentation or transition into the lifestyle.
Thirty years ago, finding the necessary resources would have been relatively difficult, but now, there’s a wealth of information available for a deep dive, in both print and online formats. Read books recommended by the polyamorous community. Join online discussion groups in forums or social media. Listen to podcasts.
In short, consume whatever you can find. Most importantly, make yourself a subject-matter expert before you even begin.
If you’re opening up an existing relationship, researching with your partner is an excellent bonding experience. Consider purchasing dual copies of books you’d like to read and work through them as a pair. Discussing what you learn with your current partner(s) can be a great way to process all the new information you’re absorbing and figure out what might work as a couple as you open the relationship.
Communication is key
As in a monogamous relationship, perhaps the most important pillar of a successful polyamorous relationship is effective communication. With more individuals, dynamics and feelings involved, skilled communication becomes even more important. Honesty, vulnerability and frankness are crucial in this aspect, as well as the frequency of conversation. The circle of trust and openness must exist without favoritism or negative criticism.
If you feel your ability to communicate is lacking, never fear, because it’s a constantly developing skill, just like any other, which can improve with practice. Delving into communication techniques such as nonviolent communication (NVC) and active listening can greatly improve your ability to grow closer to and better understand your partner(s).
If you’re truly considering polyamory, now is the time to do some self-exploration and to reflect on your needs, boundaries and values. These are the cornerstones of a successful polyamorous relationship. Once you’ve reflected on these items and better defined what they mean to you, consider writing them down as a reminder of what is most important to you in your new relationship.
In many ways, polyamory may act as a lens to magnify ineffective coping mechanisms, self-destructive behavior and past trauma. These issues, which you may have been able to sweep under the rug in a monogamous relationship, must often be addressed in order to effectively manage multiple relationships. Therefore, working on your own social or mental issues becomes essential.
Therapy is a very effective way to address underlying issues. If you are opening up an existing relationship, couples therapy is a useful tool to work through conflicts that may arise and to learn better communication skills as a team. Therapy is obviously not accessible to everyone; fortunately, you can do plenty of work on your own. A multitude of books and workbooks are available about attachment styles, trauma, jealousy and more.
Are you ready for a polyamorous relationship?
No matter how much research and self-reflection you undertake, your first endeavors in polyamory will likely lead to some unexpected feelings and reveal things about yourself you never realized. Part of the beauty of ethical non-monogamy is the way it pushes you to grow in ways you never imagined. But, with an open mind and the tools and strategies we’ve discussed here, you can begin navigating the world of polyamory and enjoy a life of abundant connection.