What is a Polyamorous Relationship?

It is estimated that one in nine people in America have been involved in a polyamorous relationship. Despite the prevalence of these types of relationships, many of us don’t know what it is or what the difference is between polygamy and polyamory. So what is polyamory? Learn more about these relationships and whether they might be a good option for you.

What Is a Polyamorous Relationship?

Often, people find the term, polyamory, to be confusing. Polyamory refers to the practice of loving and being in a relationship with more than one person at a time but doing so honestly and openly.

It turns away from the social norms of having to only be with one person, offering the chance to have a potentially deep and intimate relationship that is consensual and rewarding for all participants. This approach generally values open communication, honesty, and the acknowledgment of diverse emotional connections.

Polyamorous relationships are not the same as open relationships. Most of the time, an open relationship refers to being able to have multiple romantic relationships. In contrast, polyamorous refers to having emotional connections, as well as romantic and sexual relations, with more than one person.

Polyamorous relationship dynamics can be hierarchical, with some partners having higher roles, more responsibilities, or more of an equal relationship between partners. Usually nothing occurs in a polyamorous relationship without all parties being aware of it.

There are several signs that might indicate you are polyamorous.

If you’ve always felt trapped in monogamous relationships, you may prefer polyamory. Monogamy is the cultural standard, but it doesn’t mean it’s the best option for everyone. If you’ve had trouble with monogamous relationships you may want to consider a polyamorous one.

Do you tend to have multiple crushes or romantic interests simultaneously? That can be another sign you might benefit from polyamory. You may feel like you have a lot of love to give to others and that limiting yourself to one person doesn’t feel right. Trying polyamory can be one way of finding the best balance in your life.

Another sign that you may benefit from polyamory is if you’re okay with your current partner having other partners. That doesn’t mean that if you feel jealousy, you’re not polyamorous. Feeling jealousy and being ready to work through it instead of considering it a deal-breaker is an essential part of any good relationship.

Having commitment issues or an avoidant attachment system is another indicator that polyamory might be for you. These commitment issues can stem from feeling trapped in a monogamous relationship and not wanting to commit to it. You may fear giving up your freedom and enjoy experiencing new relationships, and therefore choose a polyamorous relationship.

What Is the Difference Between Polygamy and Polyamorous?

People often confuse the two terms, but they have very different definitions. When considering a polyamorous relationship vs. polygamy, there are a few things to keep in mind.

Polyamory is the act of having intimate relationships with more than one person at the same time and with each participant ideally having full knowledge of the arrangements. Polygamy, however, is being married to more than one person. Many times, polygamy is connected to religion, while polyamory is not.

Polygamy is almost always heterosexual and usually involves men having many wives. Polyamorous relationships can consist of partners of any gender and any sexual preference.

How Do Polyamorous Relationships Work?

As with any relationship, polyamory arrangements can be unique, but in general, there are a number of e different types of polyamorous relationship:

  • Hierarchical polyamory
  • Non-hierarchical polyamory
  • Solo polyamory
  • Triad or throuple polyamory
  • Quad polyamory
  • Vee polyamory
  • Relationship anarchy
  • Kitchen table polyamory
  • Parallel polyamory

Hierarchical polyamory refers to a dynamic where ranking plays a role. In this type, some partners place more importance on some relationships than others.

There is usually a primary partner who gets more quality time and is involved in decision-making. At the same time, secondary and tertiary partners may have less of a say but also have different relationship dynamics than the primary partner.

In non-hierarchical polyamory, the opposite is true. Every partner is equal in the relationship. The watchword is equality.

Solo polyamory refers to a relationship in which each partner lives as a single person while sharing romantic connections. You may share financial responsibilities or have other connections, but you see yourself as someone without real ties.

A triad or throuple is when three people are romantically and sexually involved with one another. Many times, this relationship develops as a result of a couple bringing another person into the mix. Other times, three friends can decide to get involved romantically.

A quad relationship involves four people being romantically and intimately involved. It often begins with two couples joining together or as a group of friends who deepen the relationship.

The vee type of polyamorous relationship involves one partner functioning as the pivot partner, being sexually or romantically involved with two others. Unlike other polyamorous relationships, the two other partners do not have a relationship.
Relationship anarchy refers to the practice of not labeling relationships. The partners involved can all have multiple sexual and romantic partners without imposing rules and without expectations.

Kitchen table polyamory is having a relationship with your partner’s partner.

Parallel polyamory is the opposite of kitchen table polyamory — in this type of relationship, partners don’t feel the need to bond with their partner’s partner.

How to Have a Healthy Polyamorous Relationship

Are polyamorous relationships healthy? They can certainly be healthy if there are rules and complete communication between all the partners. Honesty is essential, as it is with any other kind of relationship.

If you’re interested in a polyamorous relationship and have gotten past the “What is polyamory, and is it a good choice for me?” phase, you may want to know some of the usual polyamorous relationship rules.

Establish Boundaries

All partners must be on the same page when beginning a polyamorous relationship. Everyone has to know what physical and emotional boundaries each person requires.

One particular concern you want to talk about early in the process is how much information each partner intends to divulge to other partners. That can come down to the type of polyamorous relationship you want and personal preference. Some people don’t want to have contact with other partners or hear about them, while others want to build relationships with one another.

Establish how much time each partner will spend with the others. Doing this early in the process can save a lot of trouble and stress in the future.

You also want to talk about the physical aspect of polyamory. You need to know what sexual acts are acceptable and which are not, as well as what safety practices the partners will adhere to.

Before starting the relationship, take the time to know who’s on birth control, if there are any sexual issues to consider, and all of the other crucial, if unromantic, aspects of relationships.

Avoid Comparisons

One of the most important things to remember about having a polyamorous relationship is to avoid comparing one partner to another. Jealousy doesn’t have to be an issue if you don’t make it one. It’s human nature to compare and contrast, and that won’t change if you try polyamory, but you can take steps to avoid the problem.

For example, if one partner bought the primary partner a gift, don’t try to one-up their gift. In the same way, don’t compare an experience you had with one partner to the one you had with another.

Develop Healthy Communication

All relationships require healthy communication, but arguably, those that involve more than two people need even more. Polyamorous relationships can change, like any other relationship, so communicating those changes is essential. If you are uncomfortable with any aspect, let your partners know.

Because jealousy is a typical human trait, speaking about it can allow you to work through the feeling instead of hiding it. If you don’t talk about it, it may l only get worse.

If you find yourself unhappy with the setup, you might find more contentment in another kind of polyamorous relationship or decide that you are better suited to monogamy. There is no wrong choice here. It’s about finding the right option that fulfills your relationship goals.

Check In With Your Partners Regularly

One great habit to get into if you’re thinking about polyamory is having a set time every week to speak with your partners about the relationship. You can choose to have this meeting involve everyone in the relationship or do it one-on-one.

These check-ins also help with scheduling difficulties. Everyone leads busy lives now, so being able to coordinate schedules with multiple partners is vital to ensure no one feels left out.

Respect Your Partner’s Partners

If you have decided to have separate partners, you must respect the people your partner chooses. You can ask about the relationship and express curiosity, but avoid passing judgment or meddling in those separate relationships.

You may not know your partner’s partners personally, depending on the type of polyamory you practice, and you may not even like them. However, you do have to respect them.

Keep Expectations Realistic

Not every polyamorous relationship succeeds, and it’s vital to remember that. This relationship type is like any other, requiring work, dedication, and compromise. If you go into the relationship thinking everything will be perfect with smooth seas ahead, you are setting yourself up to be disappointed.

Prepare to work hard, make compromises, endure arguments, and deal with changes in the relationship and its participants. It all boils down to the same thing — communication.

Be Prepared to End Relationships

There is no point in continuing a relationship that doesn’t work, so knowing that you can get out of it at any point is crucial. If you are unhappy with someone or the setup, you have the right to end the relationship. Even if your partner is happy, you don’t have to go along with something you don’t enjoy.

Be Honest With Yourself About Your Needs

Keep tabs on your preferences and anything that bothers you about the relationship. As you experiment with polyamory, you may realize your sexual interests are different from what you assumed or that these become more fluid.

Don’t stick to preconceived notions of who you are; instead, allow yourself to experiment and find what makes you happy. As the relationship continues, your needs might change. Be ready to change with them.

You also want to clarify your motivations for starting and continuing a polyamorous relationship. Are you doing it only because your partner wants to, or are you on board, too? It is never a good idea to pretend to be okay with the setup if you’re not.

Learn How to Manage ‘Me Time’

If your partner is off with their other partner and you’re alone, you need to know how to manage the situation in a healthy way that does not prompt feelings of jealousy or ruminations about what your partner is doing. Instead, catch up with friends, pick up a hobby, pamper yourself, or do anything else that makes you happy.

Find a Couples Therapist With Citron Hennessey

So, do polyamorous relationships work? They certainly can, as long as you put in the effort and don’t expect everything to be simple right from the start.

One excellent way of starting on the right foot and creating a solid foundation to have a healthy polyamorous relationship is to consider couples therapy. Couples therapy can help with both monogamous and polyamorous relationships, providing each partner the chance to speak about what they are going through, the issues they have, and anything else that can impact the relationship.

At Citron Hennessey Therapy in New York, we offer in-office and virtual couples therapy sessions for all types of couples.

No matter your therapy goals, we offer evidence-based, culturally aware counseling that gives you an attainable path to a better future. Let us help you begin and maintain a healthy and fulfilling relationship. Contact us today to get started!

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