June 21, 2013

How Should Polyamorous Families Break Up? ~ Orpheus Black

How do you handle a break-up within a polyamorous family?

Should the person that’s being released be completely ostracized from all members of the family?

I think I’ve sat here for nearly an hour trying to write a response to this question. And every time I start, I well up with emotion and have to walk away. Honestly, I think it’s because I am, in my own way, still struggling with decisions that I have made in my own poly dynamics over the years.

Some I stand by and some I regret. And most of those regrets revolve around my decisions to release someone from my dynamic.

“My Dynamic!”

You know, if I could go back in time the first thing I would tell myself is:

“It’s not your dynamic.”

While everyone in the dynamic may belong to you, the relationship itself does not belong to you.

In fact, that way of thinking is severely detrimental to the dynamic because it rests all the responsibility on your shoulders alone. The truth is that you have to give every person in the dynamic partial ownership and therefore accountability for the success or failure of the dynamic.

A poly family lives and dies as a result of the combined efforts of all involved.

The dominant or “head of household” (as omnipotent as we may seem to be) can’t nor should be expected to shoulder all of the burdens, assume all of the responsibility and be accountable for every affectation of the household.

Remember what poet John Donne said.

“No man is an island,

Entire of itself.

Each is a piece of the continent,

A part of the main.”

That’s why it’s called a poly family, which I define as a group of people that are vested in creating one committed loving relationship where everyone has a vested interest in the success of the dynamic. But when one person tries to assume all of the responsibilities for the success of the dynamic, they also bear all of the associated guilt, shame and blame when it fails.

To be completely transparent, I think I have lived with guilt and shame for the failure of “my dynamics” for nearly a decade.

The worst part is that every perceived failure has a direct effect on the next dynamic. What I have found out is that you can’t have another successful dynamic until you unyoke yourself from the perceived failures that hold you back and you absolve yourself of your actual transgressions.

The next thing that I would remind myself is,

“You don’t have to make all of the hard decisions alone and that includes breaking up with individual members.”

The hard fact about a break-up in a poly family is that it affects the whole family, so the whole family should be involved in that break up.

Why? When a “head of household” or “plural dominant” breaks up with an individual in the family he or she has effectively ended several other dynamics in the process. This includes dynamics that may not have been experiencing any issues—dynamics that may have been based on love and trust.

Therefore, every member of the family should be included in the decision making process.

Each member needs to be able to have their individual feelings heard and to know that they were considered. While that might not offer closure or solace, it may reduce some of the latent feelings of animosity and anger that could be directed at the dominant or household head. Which brings me to the following question:

On one hand, a break up or release has to have some kind of finality and exclusion, but to what extent? How do you tell people you love that they can’t see or spend time with the people that they love?

If a poly dynamic has transparency and is inclusive to the point that everyone’s individual feelings are considered, a new dynamic can be created around the principles that work for all involved.

Yes, it will require a redistribution of trust and accountability and yes, it will require the redefining of boundaries and expectations—but this is a small price to pay for the continued happiness of those you love. Unless the person that you’re releasing is toxic to your family, you should do everything that you can to redefine the dynamic and consider everyone’s feelings.


Orpheus Black is a sex educator specializing in poly, D/s and M/s dynamics. He is also a professional and lifestyle dominant, and alternative lifestyle speaker in Los Angeles. For more information on classes or speaking engagements please email him at [email protected]. You may also visit Orpheus on Facebook.


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Assistant Ed: Catherine Monkman/Ed: Bryonie Wise

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