Lessons from Polyamory for the Monogamist
Polyamory is a relationship style where a person has multiple consenting sexual or romantic partners. This isn’t a new phenomenon, but it’s certainly one that’s growing. While polyamory (often shortened to “poly” or “polyam”) isn’t for everyone, even the most ardent monogamists can learn lessons from these kinds of relationships.
Communication is key
Polyamorists tend to advocate regular, honest and open communication. While monogamists can also take this approach, the involvement of more people in a polyamorous relationship means communication is of utmost importance.
Polyamorists have to communicate in ways that:
- Consider the feelings of all parties
- Understand the needs of others
- Create boundaries
Polyamorists may use quite complex and in-depth ways to achieve these goals. For example, many poly people maintain monthly (or even more frequent) “State of the Relationship” check-ins with partners. Others write a Dating User’s Manual to communicate boundaries, expectations and more to new partners. No matter what your relationship style is, communicating often, thoroughly and openly will benefit everyone.
Choose your own adventure
Monogamists generally subscribe to an accepted roadmap for relationships. This roadmap is often referred to as the relationship escalator because of its rigidity and predictability, including these steps:
- Date one partner exclusively
- Have intimate relations both physically and emotionally
- Become engaged
- Get married
- Live together
- Have kids
- Live in marital bliss until death (at least 50 percent of the time)
Since polyamory is a deviation from this guideline, polyamorists tend to feel less obliged to follow a particular relationship structure or scenario.
Polyamorists may have arrangements for living spaces, child-rearing, sexual contact and other areas of relationships that differ substantially from monogamy. It’s not uncommon, for instance, for blended families with several adults and children to live together. People in poly relationships commonly have separate bedrooms, an idea that is sometimes seen as unusual or perhaps a sign of failure in a monogamous relationship. People who identify as solo polyamorous may even avoid the idea of being part of a couple or living with intimate partners entirely.
Remember that relationships can really be whatever you want them to be, even if you are monogamous. In monogamy, the escalator model may seem like the more straightforward choice, at least in terms of societal norms. But before you get on that escalator, you may want to evaluate if those steps are actually what you want.
Even in monogamy, you should approach each relationship as unique and intentional and not something that has to stick to a particular script. If following social step-by-step norms doesn’t make both parties happy, consider an alternative route that works for you. What you call your relationship really doesn’t matter; making it successful does.
Change is inevitable
So often in monogamous relationships, change is seen as an indicator of failure and often the end of a relationship. Variations in intimacy levels, sexual attraction, time spent together and outside entanglements may be viewed as catastrophic events.
In polyamory, change is often viewed as an unavoidable part of any relationship. Without a roadmap, poly individuals may be more open to the idea of a relationship changing in significant ways without considering it a failure. For example, one increasingly common idea in polyamorous spaces is the concept of deescalating a relationship, in other words, decreasing involvement with a partner without breaking up. This may take the form of a transition to separate living quarters (rooms or homes), becoming less financially dependent, seeing each other less or decreasing sexual contact.
That’s not to say deescalation is not difficult. The process is about doing what’s necessary to maintain a healthy relationship with a partner, even if it appears like going backward through the lens of traditional monogamy.
In the end, only you and your partner can decide what a healthy relationship is and how successful you’ve made it. Your relationship may stay the same forever or it may change.
Just make sure you and your partner(s) are the ones defining success. Just because a relationship looks a certain way for a long time does not mean it’s a failure if one day it looks different.
As they say in France, vive la différence.
Learning from others
Whether you choose to pursue monogamy, polyamory or something else, learning about alternative relationship styles can reveal new methods, tools and skills to apply to any type of relationship. Besides the ideas mentioned here, polyamory can teach valuable lessons about independence, safer sex practices, consent and intentionality in relationships.
Even if you are a monogamist through and through, you may find there are principles you can learn from polyamory that will help enrich and enhance your romantic life.