In a monogamy-oriented world, I can understand how some people have a hard time imagining polyamory as something that is a healthy and beneficial addition to an existing committed relationship.
But for me, and for many of the polyamorous people I know, that is exactly the case.
We aren’t trying to make our marriages or other committed partnerships more palatable by including other people into our romantic lives; we’re actually enhancing those relationships. My marriage has gotten stronger and deeper as a result of our journey into poly life, which is not to say that it was always an easy ride or that it’s something that everyone should be doing. However, I do want to clarify some misconceptions.
Misconception #1: People who are engaged in polyamory or other forms of ethical non-monogamy (ENM), such as swinging, are tired of their partners and just looking for an approved way to cheat.
Reality #1: First off, it’s not cheating if you and the other people involved are all engaging with each other honestly, openly, and with everyone’s consent. Cheating is when you are going behind someone’s back and lying about it.
Although there often is an element of wanting to add in novelty by having romantic and sexual involvements with other people, those who don’t already have a stable and basically healthy relationship aren’t going to be able to make polyamory work.
My husband and I opened up our marriage because we were going through a connected and exploratory phase and wanted to see what including other people might bring to our relationship. We have chosen to only see other people together, but even those who have separate relationships usually find that it brings a lot to all the connections that they have, including an original or primary partnership.
Misconception #2: It’s not possible to love more than one person at a time, so any additional people are primarily about having new sex partners.
Reality #2: Polyamory is an expansive outlook on love and sexual attachment, meaning that there is no assumption that one connection takes anything away from the others. In fact, it’s typically the opposite, where the increased levels of communication and honesty help partners to feel closer to each other even as they expand their attachments to include other people. Love isn’t a pie to be divvied up. You don’t love your first child less when you have a second one. You can have more than one close friend.
In the case of certain polycules (all the people who are linked through a polyamorous group), those who are not romantically involved may still socialize together or otherwise support each other. For example, I have a friend who celebrated Thanksgiving one year with several of her lovers who are not involved with each other, some of their additional partners, and one former lover. They had a great time.
Not everyone does this, of course, but it is an indication of what’s possible when people aren’t territorial and instead look at love and connection as something that brings more to everyone.
Misconception #3: You might love your original or primary partner still, but are bored with the sex—that’s why you want to be able to see other people.
Reality #4: Sex and sexual variety is a major part of most ENM relationships, but this is not always the case. I have a committed partner who now lives far away, so I no longer have sex with him, although I’m still in love with him. And if you have sex with someone on a regular basis, you are going to develop feelings for them.
Not every single one will necessarily be an “I’m in love with you” relationship, but they could be or they could be one of the many other flavors and expressions of romantic emotion. A part of the beauty is that it’s not a one-size-fits-all way of being together with somebody else. What that means for the people involved is something that they get to figure out and cocreate.
Some people do open up or take part in polyamorous connections because they have parts of their sexual self that aren’t getting attended to in one relationship alone, but this is not always the case. Sometimes it’s just to expand your horizons as a couple, as was the case with me and James. We then discovered that we are pansexual, but that unfolded through the experience of going on this journey together. It wasn’t something that we were conscious of being missing from our relationship with each other.
Misconception #4: You should be able to be happy and satisfied with one person and if you aren’t, there is something wrong with you or you are selfish.
Reality #4: James and I had a happy and satisfying relationship for 20 years before we opened up our relationship. We didn’t feel we were missing something, but nonetheless, opening up brought us a host of new experiences and altered—for the better—the way that we relate to each other.
As I said before, we were at the height of a close and connected phase when we decided to add in other lovers. It’s not so much that the other people in our lives provide things that we don’t have together, but they do still bring new opportunities. Since we only see other people together, we do threesomes and foursomes. This shifts the sexual dynamic simply because there are more people involved.
We didn’t know how bought into husband and wife roles we were, both inside and outside of the bedroom, until those got dismantled by polyamory. Now we operate more as partners who are able to explore and cultivate all of who we are without worrying about upsetting the other person. For example, I feel like someone who is naturally inclined to be in three-way relationships, but I didn’t know this about myself until I had the opportunity to find it out.
Feeling more authentic in who I am as a person who loves, and as a person who has sex, means that I am happier and more self-confident. It means that I have more to give not just my newer partners, but I also have more to give to James.
Misconception #5: Polyamory is just like monogamy with more people involved, which is why it can never actually work because it’s just too complicated and weird.
Reality #5: Polyamory is actually a totally different mindset than monogamy, which is why you can’t judge one through the lens of the other. Monogamy is quite often built around traditional beliefs about being in a couple, which tend to come out of patriarchal paradigms.
Someone (usually the man) is the head of the family, and the other person (usually the woman) and any children are followers. Even if this is not an overtly subscribed to paradigm, it is often in the subtext and a part of the tension that lends itself to power struggles within the relationship. Polyamory lends itself to partners looking at each other as individuals whom they need to talk to and negotiate with about what they want and need.
This does take time, effort, and intention, which means that it doesn’t go perfectly all of the time. But in my estimation, when polyamory isn’t working well, it’s usually because there are some monogamy mindsets in play. Although all polyamorous relationships are built around whatever the people involved want them to be, in general, the outlook of ENM is that people ought to be able to do what they want as long as they do it honestly and with consent. This fosters not only good communication and openness, but also self-understanding and self-responsibility.
Of course, as in anything that people participate in, results may vary. Insecurities, old habitual ways of relating to lovers, or other human nature elements can still create issues, but for the most part, polyamory and other types of ENM enhance people’s relationships by steering them away from jealousy and codependent tendencies. Even when those feelings arise, there are structures or at least precepts to help someone who wants to deal with them in a healthy way to do so.
In the beginning, it wasn’t always easy, because James and I needed to deprogram ourselves from monogamy-oriented ways of thinking and relating to each other. But once we did that, we found a relationship style that has helped us to grow both as individuals and as a couple. It adds a lot of deeper intimacy to our relationship with each other and it just makes us happy.