10 Realistic Rules for Good Non-Monogamous Relationships
by Andrea Zanin
(Please note I said good poly. Anyone can do poly badly, but I don’t advise it.)
by Andrea Zanin
(Please note I said good poly. Anyone can do poly badly, but I don’t advise it.)
1. Know yourself. For starters, be brutally honest with yourself and answer the following questions. I’m not kidding about the brutal part. Sugarcoating will not help you here. Also, remember that the answers to these are never final… you change every day and with every experience you have, so it’s worth revisiting these questions over and over throughout your lifetime. (I think this point is well put, and it reminds me a lot of Byron Katie's The Work and how your journey of inquiry is never done. It also reminds me of Osho's philosophy about constantly relating and re-relating to your partner(s)- and to yourself as well- because everyone changes all the time)
- What kind of person are you?
- What are your core values?
- What are your life priorities?
- What are your needs within relationships?
- What are your shortcomings within your relationships?
- Why have your past relationships ended? Are you able to articulate what part you played in that?
- How do you deal with conflict and anger?
- How are your communication skills?
- What kind of people are you generally attracted to? Are there any predictable patterns in your attractions? Are they positive or problematic?
- What do you have to offer a partner? What sort of partner, lover, friend are you?
- What does your life look like? Your schedule, your energy levels, your health, your obligations, your stresses, your joys? What would you like to change?
3. Be happy ALONE. Yes, that’s right. Alone. All alone. No partner. Married or otherwise partnered already? That’s fine, but you still need to have this one down. If you approach your relationships with the idea that they’ll make you happy when you can’t make yourself happy, you will inevitably be disappointed.
Very few relationships actually last a whole lifetime; it’s wonderful if they do, but let’s be realistic. You can’t base your entire concept of love and relationship around an ideal that a small minority of people actually achieve. Not to mention that longevity is not an indicator of happiness – some relationships should last a few months, some a few years, some a few hours. This is not an indication of failure, it’s an indication of reality.
Be happy alone first. Then add one or more partners to enhance, deepen and enjoy that happiness with you. But do not make your happiness dependent on someone else’s presence in your life or your bedroom, let alone two or three people’s presence. That’s not relationship, that’s codependence. It also gets real complicated if your honey has three partners and you don’t – unless you are (ta-daa!) happy alone. (This again reminds me of Osho: "When you don't need a person at all, when you are totally sufficient unto yourself, when you can be alone and tremendously happy and ecstatic, then love is possible." )
4. Communicate. Honestly. Now comes the time where you take all that brutal honesty with yourself, and translate it into brutal honesty with your partner(s). Good poly happens when things are put on the table. Are you jealous? Say so. Are you scared, worried, angry, upset? Use your words. Are you happy, in love, admiring? Spread the joy! Is there something on your mind that you don’t want to tell your partner? MAJOR warning bell… this is almost a guarantee that you should be telling them!
I absolutely promise that if you keep shit to yourself, you will run into problems. If you have the first three rules down and drop the ball on this one, your poly is still going down the tubes. Buy self-help books. Go to joint therapy. Take an active listening workshop. Read up on jealousy and other issues to see how best to deal with them. Whatever it takes, improve your communication skills. You’ll thank yourself for it!
5. Know what you want. Here’s another list of questions for ya. (Hint: Rules 1 to 4 come in real handy before you get to this one.)
- What would your ideal polyamorous relationship look like?
- What joys do you think polyamory will bring to your life?
- What challenges do you think you will face? Do you think you’re equipped to handle those challenges?
- Do the benefits you want match up with the kind of room do you have in your world for multiple partners?
- Do the benefits you want match up with what you have to give in return in terms of time, energy, availability, etc.?
- What do you think an incoming partner might want from you? How might she or he feel about your situation?
- If you have an existing partner, do your values, desires and abilities match up well? Are you looking for the same or compatible sorts of polyamory?
- Are you open to a range of options within the range of polyamorous arrangements, or is your interest very specific? If it’s specific, why? What do you hope to gain from that particular form?
Lots of people have an idealized vision in their minds. We often get caught up in the packaging without remembering that relationship is about what’s inside. You and your honey might spend years seeking out the ideal couple to form the perfect quad, while your best friend and her boyfriend have been working up the nerve to ask you out for months. You might want your wife to have fun with a cute gal for your entertainment, when in fact that guy she met at the BBQ last week would make an amazing addition to your world for years to come, loving her deeply and being a wonderful friend to you… and maybe you should try dating that woman you met at the gym.
Think of polyamory as a state of openness to love in whatever form it comes to you, and then take responsibility for managing that abundance when it arrives… rather than sticking with a particular formula you believe will be ideal. See rule #10 for more. (This has been one of my biggest revelations in the past 6-7 months, and has been a very conscious turn-around for myself. And I am happy for myself in practicing based on content and not on form!)
7. Be nice. Polyamory is not about the technicalities. It’s the spirit, not the letter of the law that counts. Polyamory is not all about you getting laid. In fact it’s not really all about you at all. It’s a philosophy of moving through the world that’s about plurality, generosity and giving, and guess what – it goes way beyond your Friday-night date. Love is not tit for tat; it’s not a pie with only so many pieces to go around; and it’s not there just to beef up your ego. So…
- Don’t date someone else’s partner behind that person’s back just because it’s not “technically” your problem.
- Keep an eye out for the people you get involved with to make sure they’re all right, and doing poly for the right reasons, even if that’s not “technically” your call to make.
- Know your boundaries and respect them; watch out for other people’s boundaries too, even if that’s not “technically” your job.
8. Have safer sex. This doesn’t just mean use a condom. It means figure out how to talk about sex with all your partners. It means figure out what acceptable risk looks like for you. HIV is not the only risk out there, and condoms don’t protect against everything. For example: if someone has oral herpes, will you kiss them? Will you let them go down on you? This answer might be different if, say, you see them only three times a year… if you have a compromised immune system… if you are healthy as a horse.
Here are a few questions worth thinking about. Remember, this isn’t just about you. Conceivably, your sexual choices could affect dozens of other people… people you care about. Sex is awesome. Keep it that way.
- Are you informed about the relative risks of the various things you like to do in bed? If not, do you know where to find the information you need?
- Are you aware of how and when to use safer sex products like condoms, gloves, finger cots, Saran Wrap, dental dams, silicone toys, etc.? If not, do you know where to find the information you need?
- How much are you comfortable telling your doctor about your sex life? How will those limits affect his or her ability to provide you with appropriate care?
- Do you have access to STI testing? If so, how often do you think it’s appropriate for you and your partners to get tested, and for what?
- How might you deal with an unexpected pregnancy – yours or someone else’s?
- How do you feel about alternative sexual practices, like fisting or anal sex or BDSM?
- Do you have limits around blood play, bondage, penetration…?
- Are your limits different with different people or in different situations?
- How do you feel about your partner(s)’ limits? Are they compatible with yours?
- Where are you willing to compromise, and why?
- What are your needs and limits around your emotional safety in sexual situations?
- What happens if you find out you have contracted an STI – who do you have to tell and what will you do?
To handle this, it’s really helpful to have strong friendships, a strong philosophy, an independent streak, a lot of self-confidence, a good sense of boundaries (other people’s, not just your own), some well-articulated knowledge and words with which to defend or explain your choices (answering questions in this list can help with that, as can reading a few good poly books), and a community that includes other poly people.
Here are a few more questions to think about:
- Can you deal with the social pressures you will face because you’ve made a different choice than the mainstream?
- How, exactly, will you deal with this? What would your approach be for each of these situations I listed above?
- What do people need to know? How much are you comfortable telling them about your choices?
- Is it safe for you to come out to people about your multiple loves? Will this affect your child custody, your career, your community standing?
- Is it actually unsafe for you to come out to people about your multiple loves? Or are you internalizing social pressures and censoring yourself before even giving your friends and loved ones a chance to show their support and open-mindedness?
- How will you deal with it if you’re perceived as a cheater, a slut, a greedy person, an immoral person?
- What will you do if people whom you didn’t want to tell end up finding out?