Is Polyamory Right For You? Ask Yourself These Four Questions

By Julene Mays

Polyamory is on the rise as our society with more and more couples considering opening their relationship to include multiple partners. As we become more and more open to fluid definitions of sexuality and gender, we are also more open to fluid definitions of what a relationship entails and how it is defined. Maybe you or your partner are curious about what it would be like to not limit your romantic options to just one partner, or you have made a connection with someone that identifies as “poly”, and you are wondering if a relationship with that person is right for you. It can sound exciting to have the security of being in a relationship with that special someone but still having the freedom to pursue other people. However, polyamory, just like monogamy isn’t for everyone! To shed some light on what polyamory is (and what it isn’t) Here are a four questions to ask yourself before you choose to open your existing relationship, or begin a new romance with a polyamorous person.

1. Are you actually looking for a polyamorous relationship or a sexually open relationship?

Wikipedia defines Polyamory as: “the practice of, or desire for, intimate relationships with more than one partner, with the informed consent of all partners involved.” This entails much more than just a sexual relationship outside of your main partnership. A polyamorous couple will likely have met (and possibly pre-approved) the additional partners. They might “double date” and socialize with each other’s partners. You may for example have a platonic friendship with your partner’s additional significant other, or even a sexual one. You might elect to be in a in a “throuple” or a “triad” (a relationship with three people as equal partners). There are infinite possibilities in how polyamory can exist in your relationship. As exciting as this might sound, be honest with yourself about how much of your partner’s intimate details you want them to share. Some people do not have a problem hearing about the salacious stories of their partner’s sexual escapades with another person, and consider it a way to enhance their own intimacy. Other people will find this level of disclosure completely intolerable, and prefer a “don’t ask/don’t tell” policy.

The physical reality of your partner’s sexual engagement with someone else may be a lot easier to process than the emotional intimacy that they share. Are you ready to hear that your partner is in love with another person? That when you are together with your partner that they are thinking about missing that other person? Are you ready to console them if they are distraught over a breakup? To possibly mediate disputes between them? In the bloom of new romance, most of us can be completely consumed by our infatuation for someone new. That excitement can pale in comparison to everyday realities of a long-term relationship. You might have to be prepared to hear for the hundredth time how witty John/Jane is, or how attractive, or talented in bed they are. This person is now going to be an important part of your partner’s life, and they will expect you to be happy for them and embrace the new relationship. That leads to the next question:

2. Be Honest: How Jealous Are You, Really? What About Your Partner?

Allowing your partner to pursue other romances while you are also open to the same privilege can sound great in theory. Are you ready for it in practice? What of your own insecurities will be triggered by your significant other’s choices? Think about who if anyone you would consider “off-limits”. For example, would you veto a candidate who is significantly younger than you, someone you know, an individual in your social group, or someone you (or your partner) would perceive as significantly more physically attractive than yourself? Think about what if anything might trigger you. Many poly couples insist in their polyamory agreement (a contract some couples use to outline the “rules” or their poly relationship) that they get veto power over any potential new mates. That arrangement works well for many couples. However is a large contingent of people in the poly community for whom that would constitute an enormous breach of freedom and privacy. What happens if your partner has a lot more success finding new romances than you have? If lack of opportunity renders you monogamous by default, but you feel that your partner is out there “living it up” you might resent it, even if going poly was your idea! Surprisingly, many aren’t jealous of the new paramour, but actually jealous of their partner. Think about whether or not you feel personally secure enough to open your relationship.

3. Are You Sure You Want to Be a Unicorn?

“Unicorn” is a slang (sometimes considered pejorative) term in the poly community for an outside partner in an already established couple. This is different than being part of a triad. A “unicorn” is partnered with only one half of an existing couple, or the “primary” relationship. If you are embarking on this kind of relationship, you might be considered your partner’s “secondary” or if you are the third, the “tertiary” partner. Ideally, all the needs of the various romantic participants are to be factored in any decision. In practice, consideration is often doled out in accordance to your “rank”. The primary relationship, is just what the term describes, it comes first, especially if the primary couple is long-term, if they are legally married or if they have children or other joint responsibilities. How often will you be okay with your needs coming second? Or third? Your version of polyamory may not coincide with that of your partner’s partner. Remember, there will be two (or possibly three) other people who make decisions that affect your life. With whom will your partner spend holidays? Your birthday? Do you have to have the primary partner’s permission to go on vacation, or even go out on a date? When you some of your needs be a priority? One client of mine in a polyamorous relationship described it as feeling like “a married man’s mistress, except she’s in on it.” Make sure that your needs are being met, and if you are not the “primary” partner, that you are not keeping yourself as the only monogamous person in the relationship. It is important that you exercise your right to explore other romantic opportunities as well especially if you one day hope to have your own “primary” partner in life.

4. Are you doing this for the right reasons?

Make sure if you decide to engage in a polyamorous relationship that you are doing it for the right reasons. Polyamory is more than having a sexually non-monogamous relationship. You need sexual variety. That can be accomplished with a sexually open relationship that does not encompass strong levels of emotional intimacy. If you are naturally monogamous, your attraction to a polyamorous person will not automatically make you like-minded. DO not use their desire for sexual and romantic variety as a barometer for their love and affection for you. Don’t not force yourself into a relationship model that will trigger jealousy and discord. You can accept that your potential partner has a different romantic orientation, in the same way that someone can have a different sexual orientation than you have. Conversely, you can’t bully or manipulate your partner into participating something that is contrary to their true feelings. Both partners have to be ready to explore the opportunity to expand the love in their life. The word “polyamory” is a combination of the Greek: “Poly” and Latin “Amor”. It’s most basic definition means “many loves”. To carefully consider your partner(s) feelings in all aspects of your romantic life is the truest way to demonstrate love. Therapy, couple (or throuple!) and individual can help you navigate both the easy and more challenging aspects of polyamory. Polyamory looks different with every romantic situation. It’s best if all parties are able to communicate and be on the same page, counseling with an objective third party will definitely help you on your way.