Lately, especially within the newer generations, polyamory is becoming a much more common practice… A much more common relationship structure. What is polyamory? Literally translated, polyamory means “many love”. Most of the time, this implies having intentional, intimate emotional and/or romantic and/or sexual relationships with more than one partner at the same time. This being the case, all relationships in the individuals’ life are technically “open”. If you want to learn more about this, you can watch my video titled: The Truth About Polyamory.
There are many forms of polyamory. And each one of these forms comes with its own unique set up upsides and downsides. But in this article, we are going to look at some of the main upsides and downsides, gifts and challenges of polyamory in general.
First, let’s start with the downsides or challenges of polyamory.
- Polyamory does not get you away from relationship dysfunction. No matter what relationship arrangement you are engaged in, you’re still dealing with people. This means, you’ll still be dealing with things like incompatibility and with people’s relationship opposing patterns.
- You cannot un-do thousands of years’ worth of programming for monogamous relationships, and therefore the issues that programming creates, when trying to live a polyamorous lifestyle. To give you just two examples, we have been completely programmed into our self-esteem being about being chosen by someone to be their one and only. This makes it so that even when we choose a polyamorous lifestyle, we will experience a self-esteem dip when someone chooses more than just us. And we have been programmed to believe that we only have security in a relationship when we are someone’s only sexual partner. Exclusivity is currently what we base our security on. Exclusivity is what people often derive a sense of significance and specialness from. To understand more about this, you can watch my video titled: Why you Need to Separate Security From Sexuality in Relationships. The very structure of monogamy is what we have built our relationship security on. So, even when you choose a polyamorous lifestyle, you will experience deep insecurity. Being polyamorous means working on every single layer of programming, so as to feel good and secure in a structure that we have been programmed to believe is completely insecure and even bad and wrong. This means, polyamory implies constant self-work. And the reality is that this social programming for monogamy can make polyamory so hard and so painful, that it is easier and even preferable for people to simply go back into the monogamous structure of relationship. Something we are now re-wired for and a structure we understand.
- We live in a mono - normative world. Society doesn’t immediately change with the times. Human society is currently based on monogamous relationship. Monogamy is assumed. Choosing multiple partners is still seen as immoral. And this mono normative mentality creates tons of pain. There can be real consequences for deciding to live a polyamorous lifestyle. Things like conflict, pain and loss of relationships with people and groups who do not support it. Being treated like a threat. Being legally unprotected. Being unable to legally marry more than one partner. Non monogamy being considered adultery in many places, regardless of whether it is consensual or not, which can come with very serious ramifications. People not recognizing or acknowledging the significance of a breakup or a death you experience with a partner because “you have other partners.” Home denials and evictions and other home related issues because houses and housing laws are built around the nuclear family. Getting fired or experiencing career challenges. Custody battles. Being unable to bring more than one partner or spouse to social functions and events. Risking your social status. Medical discrimination. Being denied access to partners in hospital settings. No longer seeing yourself represented in culture. And all of this can create a sense of being separated from society, not belonging, being unsafe, being alone with no one to turn to; and other people being against you.
- It increases the complexity in your relationship life. It is an intense lifestyle that can become very time consuming. There is nothing simple about polyamory. The things you would do with one person to make one relationship work, you need to do with several people. You are juggling multiple people and their feelings and needs. Being polyamorous comes with community drama. Most polyamorous dynamics are full of gossip and complex relational behaviors. It can increase the potential for conflict. On top of this, one element of complexity that is often overlooked, is that in most polyamorous arrangements, everyone in a polycule is in some kind of relationship with each other. This means, you can’t just break up with a partner and go your separate ways. They have a close relationship with everyone else. So, you will be around them and see them, whether you like it or not. And setting a boundary not to, puts everyone else in the middle and in a difficult situation. Complexity can either be life enriching or crushing pressure depending on the many different factors of your life. If you want the benefits of polyamory, it will come with the downsides of drama and complexity.
- The polyamory community is full of amazing people who are masters of relationship. It is also full of people who are superbly relationally dysfunctional and who use non-monogamy as a way to be able to live their dysfunctionality, rather than to change it. For example, people who want to take zero responsibility for another person’s needs and feelings, gravitate towards a polyamorous lifestyle because they feel they can have relationships without being relied on. And people with an avoidant attachment style gravitate towards a polyamorous lifestyle because they can more easily avoid feelings of enmeshment. And people for whom sex is an addiction gravitate towards a polyamorous lifestyle because they have a potentially endless supply. Etc.
- Jealousy and insecurity are serious issues in polyamorous relationships. Some of this is due to what we make things mean because of our monogamous programming, rather than what it inherently does mean. But the reality is that you will be confronting enhanced issues of jealousy and enhanced issues of relationship insecurity in polyamorous relationships. The normal go to solutions to for creating security and decreasing jealousy in relationships apply only to monogamous relationships, and by definition oppose the practice of polyamory. Because currently, instead of relying on the quality of the relationship itself and the conduct of the other person for a sense of security, people rely on the structure of monogamy itself to be what gives security and helps people avoid jealousy.
- The potential of preventing growth and improvement. When we commit to one person, we have the potential to prevent growth and keep each other stuck by simply adapting to and finding ways to cope with the other person’s behavior, so as to maintain the relationship, no matter how dysfunctional it is. But it can work the other way as well. We also have the potential to grow and become more and to evolve and improve together, because the relationship requires that we do so. If we just bounce out on someone the minute things get hard, that path of growth and change does not occur. Even if we aren’t bouncing out, and are instead simply adding other people, we may be preventing that growth by doing so. For example, in a monogamous relationship, if one person is emotionally unavailable, they may need to work to become emotionally available, something that greatly benefits their life and causes the relationships to become deeper. But if you simply add an additional partner, who is emotionally available, that growth and depth in the relationship may never occur.
- A serious lack of assistance for relationship problems. For poly people, there is a shortage if not an absence of role models. There are hardly any relationship therapists that are trained to deal with poly relationships and so most traditional relationship advice does not apply. Almost every book that offers solutions for relationships is about monogamous relationships only. And the likelihood of getting shamed and discouraged from your polyamorous lifestyle when you do seek help, is high. There will be a feeling of being the first to face a problem and of having to piece things together to solve the problem on your own. There are no guard rails for polyamorous relationships.
- Depending on the type of polyamory that you are engaging in, sexually transmitted infection is an increased risk. As is dealing with the fact that your sexual choices impact many people, not just one. And every person involved will have their own opinions and boundaries about this. Making it complicated.
- It’s very easy to get stuck only socializing with your polycule. There is only so much time and with multiple partners, each person needs some of that time. You can easily feel maxed out socially with solely your polycule. With the complexity as well, it is all too easy to find yourself only spending time with those people, and not expanding your social sphere. And this can also mean you end up with no monogamous people in your social network.
- If the polyamorous arrangement isn’t a closed loop dynamic, it is easy for energy and resources and value to be added to a person or to a relationship and to have it not come back in a beneficial energy exchange, but rather for that energy and those resources and that value to be given to someone else. For example, a person might pour themselves into really being there for one of their partners, only to have that person pour their energy into being there not for them, but for another one of their partners. This can easily create a self-serving set up where a person just takes. It can also create a set up where the energy exchange element of a relationship goes way, causing a resource and energy bleed. And in a lack of good energy exchange, ultimately the relationship dissolves.
And now let’s look at some of the main upsides or gifts of Polyamory.
- Polyamory is a more natural relational style for a physical human. But the structure of society has been set up completely around monogamy and the nuclear family. And people have been intensely programmed for that new structure. People born into society simply assume that society was set up this way because this is what is natural for people. But really, their wires have been crossed and this causes what is natural, to feel unnatural. When we switched from a foraging lifestyle to an agrarian lifestyle and property ownership became the most important thing, the structure of society changed and with it, our relationship practices. We are now completely programmed against polyamory. And you can’t just un-do this programming overnight. This programming makes what is natural, feel bad to a person. But programming aside, when a being lives in-alignment with what is natural to them, their wellbeing increases.
- More resources. Added support. People in today’s world are severely under-resourced. They have become more and more separated from each other and have gotten further away from the tribal structure/community structure which is natural to them. The problem with this is that one person cannot reliably provide all the needs that you have from other people. One person cannot offer us all the resources that multiple people, or tribe once offered to us. When you include more people in your life, naturally you have more resources. More people to solve a problem. More people to help out. More people to meet any one specific need you might have. More of a guarantee of availability. Access to and support from people with varied skills. You end up more satiated, less having to fend for yourself and in many ways more secure regarding your needs being met.
- Polyamory affords much more freedom. The restrictions that monogamous relationships require a person to comply to, no longer reign supreme. And there is room for creative arrangements that accommodate for each person’s unique personality and needs and desires and strengths and weaknesses.
- The pressure on each person in the relationship goes down and there is more space for potential incompatibilities as well as bad days. This goes hand in hand with the last point. In a monogamous relationship arrangement, quite often, a person’s one partner becomes their only source of security and their only source from which to get their needs met. This means, if there are any relationship ruptures of any kind with that one person, or if that person becomes ill or dies, suddenly, we lose all our sense of security in life. And we are suddenly starved of our needs. Most of us live our lives in red-zone level insecurity because of this. We are under-resourced and many of us are chronically anxious in our relationships and in the world. We become desperate and furious with our partner when he or she can’t reliably be there for us in the exact way we need them to be. This means, we put A LOT of pressure on our monogamous partner. When a person has multiple partners, this red zone panic tends to go down, because they are experiencing more abundance relative to their needs being met and thus feel more secure in that way. And there is much less pressure on the people in their life because of it. More room for bad days to happen, without it compromising the relationship. Much more room for finding truly creative arrangements that accommodate for incompatibilities that would make a monogamous relationship arrangement impossible.
- Polyamory is an absolute recipe for personal growth. Having multiple partners will force the exposure of your shadows, blind spots and relationship baggage. It will force you to become good at communicating. It will force you to become aware. It will force you to master relationship skills. It will force you to define yourself. It is an aggressive path of growth and self-development.
- The potential for an enhanced sense of security in life and in relationships. We have discussed how polyamory threatens security. But it can work the other way as well. Think of how much more secure you would feel in life if you felt like you had a secure attachment to multiple people rather than just one. And if you felt like there were many people committed to being there for you when you need them, rather than just one. To get a felt perception of this, imagine that you were a child growing up in a tribe, and try to feel the security of knowing that if this person wasn’t providing a sense of deep understanding, someone else was. Or if that person wasn’t providing protection, someone else was. And if multiple people were there to provide the same thing, you would simply feel more of an abundance of that thing, and therefore less and less insecurity about it. Though polyamory challenges our sense of stability and security, it also has the potential to make us much more stable and more secure.
- People can be truly accepted and appreciated for what they are, rather than end up in pain because of what they are not. In monogamous relationships, all the focus is on finding Mr. or Mrs. right, someone who checks all the boxes. There is great pressure to get a person to change to be what you want them to be. A great many people would be fabulous partners in one way and terrible partners in another, causing a person looking for a monogamous partner to have to write them off. But with polyamory, you can be with one person who is a fabulous partner in one way and another that is fabulous in a different way. This opens the door for opportunity to enjoy someone because of what they are, rather than to suffer because of what they are not. It also prevents all people involved from falling into the trap of trying to be something that they aren’t. And from that all too common negative self-esteem spiral that happens when you are not what someone wants or needs you to be.
- Dynamic relationships that do not become stuck or stale. To generalize, in polyamorous relationships, people are consistently re-appraising their relationship. And people are much more honest with each other. They are consistently working on things to make their relationships better. There is less coping going on and more proactive action to make changes in the relationship. Things do not fester, unresolved the way they do in monogamous relationships.
- Way less assumptions. Way more clear agreements. In monogamous relationships, people assume. They assume that they are on the same page with their partner and that they have the same vision as their partner and the same rules and boundaries and ideas of what is ok and not ok and what should happen as their partner does. This usually results in disaster. In polyamorous relationships, rather than assuming, there is a lot of communication to get on the same page and lots of negotiating to establish clear and mutually agreed upon guidelines and boundaries, so that all people involved can co-exist in a mutually pleasing way.
- Relationships that are based off of expanded love and inclusion. It is actually unhealthy that people’s definition of love revolves around excluding others. And it is not true that love is a finite resource to divide up rather than one that can grow and grow. Polyamorous relationships don’t operate according to the mentality of exclusion or scarcity around love and caring. In polyamorous relationships, love is not treated as a zero-sum resource.
- Expanded opportunities. Each relationship, especially each partnership, is a kind of opportunity for new and different things. Things like new and different resources. New and different things to learn. New and different experiences etc. In monogamous relationships, people limit and cut off those opportunities for the sake of their primary relationship. A Polyamorous lifestyle makes it so you can take many more opportunities. Opportunities that may prove incredible for all people involved, not only you.
It would be a wonderful thing if polyamory did not come with contrast. Alas, contrast is a fundamental part of this time space reality. This means monogamy comes with gifts and challenges. And polyamory comes with gifts and challenges. And so, it is important to look directly at that contrast, so that you can choose what is truly right for you.