Polyamorous Relationship Rules - Not Made To Be Broken

Last Updated 31.03.2022
12 min read

There is an old, old saying - "Rules are made to be broken." In the case of polyamorous relationships, this is not the case.

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Relationships can all be complicated. Ask anyone who has ever been in one - monogamous or anywhere in the LGBTQ+ spectrum. And when people want a healthy relationship whether that means monogamy or some form of partnership, they have to communicate, have some shared goals, be committed to one another's personal happiness, and, in general, think long-term.

But what about a polyamorous relationship? Can people have a serious relationship with multiple partners at the same time, including an emotional connection with each of them? Given that there are lots of successful open relationships with multiple partners, it's obvious that they can work.

But if monogamous people face problems in their relationships, those can only be multiplied when several partners may be involved. In fact, according to Jane Greer, Ph.D., and relationship and family therapist, "the more people in a relationship, the greater the chance of complications because you're dealing with more feelings."

The solution to avoiding serious issues when in an open relationship with multiple partners is to set out some guidelines that everyone can agree to, especially when a new partner comes on the scene. What follows below are some polyamorous relationship rules that people involved in poly relationships need to consider.

Decide How Much All of You Will Share

Everyone in poly relationships is an individual with their own personal needs. For example, one might want the openness to include details of the dates or encounters that their partners have with other partners. Others, who know that they do have a jealous tendency may not want to know any of these details and prefer that their partners simply keep their dates and sex with others to themselves. Polyamorous dating includes lots of complexities. So, it's important that everyone involved in a poly relationship know the feelings and needs of every other partner.

Sharing also relates to how much each partner wants their participation in a polyamorous relationship known to outsiders. Some partners don't care who knows about their romantic or sexual relationship with other parties. Heck, many of them have written books about their polyamory. The point is that each partner in a polyamorous relationship has the right to whatever amount of privacy they want.

You Cannot Communicate Too Much

Polyamorous relationships require lots of communication, just as a monogamous relationship does. But it is far more complex when there are multiple people involved. Each partner must believe that they can be as open and honest in their communication. If, for example, there is a primary relationship between two partners (e.g., a marriage), then one or both may have some things they will not tolerate when one partner begins a relationship with someone else. There may be certain days that a partner wants to be reserved just for them; there may be places one partner will not want the other to take a third person. Even a small thing can be a deal-breaker and cause serious issues. These details are important if a polyamorous relationship is to be successful.

Just as important is fully honest and open communication between partners in a polyamorous relationship. Both need to be on the same page in terms of the breadth of the relationship - how often will they get together? Are threesomes okay? Where will they meet up and what will be the types of activities? If they are romantic partners, then activities might include dates that may or may not end up in bed.

The important thing that every relationship and family therapist will tell all partners in relationships is that communication has to be completely open. And this is largely true. The only exceptions should be if one partner in a polyamorous relationship requests that some details of their personal life not be revealed - their living arrangements, their other partners, their finances, their sexual histories - all of these things should be honored, without question.

Decide on the Boundaries

Polyamorous relationships demand that there are set boundaries.

  • Is there one primary relationship with less important relationships on the side?

  • Are one-night hookups "allowed?"

  • If a partner practices solo polyamory, will those restrictions be honored?

  • Will all your partners know about each other or not?

  • How will safe sex be guaranteed, especially if casual hookups are involved?

  • What will be the arrangements to spend time with all the partners?

  • How will polyamorous relationships be ended if that becomes necessary?

  • When partners bring in more people, how will that be handled?

  • Where will sexual intimacy happen?

Because all polyamorous relationships are unique, this is by no means a complete list of all of the boundaries that may need to be addressed. Situations will arise, and additional boundaries may need to be set.

Open relationships evolve, and those changes will require that new boundaries be set. If you are not comfortable in your current poly relationship, then you need to think about what boundaries you need to be happy. If they cannot be met, then you must leave those relationship problems behind, no matter how painful that leaving may be.

Be Realistic About Expectations for Your Polyamorous Relationship

Polyamorous couples, particularly when they are new to this life, may have all sorts of expectations about how this is supposed to work and work out. Many enter this poly relationship thinking that it will be "fun," that it will bring new "life" to their current relationship and bring new great sex to what they feel has been missing. They have a lot to learn, before they actually embark on this type of relationship.

The best advice anyone could give potential polyamorous couples is "do your homework." If you know other polyamorous couples and they are open about this type of relationship, then spend some time talking to them about their lifestyle - its benefits and its challenges.

If you don't know any other couples, then you need to gather some reading material and get going. Amazon has a full range of books, many of them written by polyamorous couples or singles involved in such a relationship. You and your partner need to have an honest talk about the parameters you need to set and what you each expect to get out of bringing one or more other parties into your relationship.

Expectations may vary a lot. They might include:

  • Boosting self-esteem by another person's attention

  • An emotional or romantic relationship with another person

  • Need to feel loved by another person

  • Exploration of sex with another partner

Polyamorous people have all sorts of reasons for these relationships. Whatever makes sense to you is right.

Respect for Each Other's Partners

This can be one of the biggest challenges for polyamorous people, especially when one partner has some insecurities and/or is prone to jealousy.

In a recent forum on Polyamory.com, a woman told her story. She is very much in love with the man she is engaged to, but he approached the subject of wanting a side relationship. Her lack of self-esteem and insecurity was so apparent. she agreed to let him have this side relationship, even though he wanted her to remain monogamous. And she has. This other partner spoke, through her fiancée, about wanting to meet with her to discuss expanding their relationship to a threesome. She was not opposed because she had been in such a triad once before with this same man. But contact and conversation never happened. Now, this other partner tells her fiancée that she is in love with him and that he needs to leave her because she is no good for him.

This is probably the most glaring example of lack of respect there is - all brought about by insecurity and jealousy on both female partners. And the man? He is probably enjoying the total control he has in this situation. He is the top dog. He respects neither one of them.

There is a myriad of complicated feelings involved in this situation, but the lack of respect on the part of both women comes from jealousy and insecurity. As psychotherapist Jan Merrill says, "No one makes a person feel jealous or insecure so owning our feelings, taking responsibility for them, and working towards self-healing through self-compassion is a healthy way forward."

When any partner shows a lack of respect in polyamorous relationships, no matter what the cause, the entire relationship is doomed.

Me Time is Me Time

This is a key to successful polyamorous relationships. You have both decided that monogamous relationships are not for you. At the same time, you value the time that you spend alone with each other. During these times, there should be no talk of your partner's partners. You both should want to hear how happy you are to be together in this moment of intimacy. You will then leave this encounter and feel fulfilled by the experience.

When two partners in a polyamorous relationship can agree that this is one of the key rules, the chances of success are much greater.

There is another aspect to "me time." When a partner is off with another, it's important to work on yourself and to do those things that make your life more fulfilling. Read a good book, take yourself out for a night with other friends, take a course, do some volunteer work - whatever enriches you as a person. The other benefit of this "me time" is that you become a more interesting partner to be with when that other me-time happens.

Be Honest About Your Motivations

This is another one of those polyamorous relationship rules that you and any partner must agree upon and be totally honest about. There may be many types of motivations, some healthy, some not.

  • A person may just not be satisfied with a single sexual relationship

  • A person may believe that sex with someone else may give them ways to enhance their primary relationship

  • A person has tired of their monogamous relationship and wants out

  • A person wants to make a primary partner jealous or insecure

  • Both monogamous partners agree that their relationship is not working

  • Partners agree that their idea of a serious relationship has changed

  • A partner wants to make the other jealous

  • Other people appear in one or the other partner's life and an attraction

  • A partner agrees in order not to lose the other.

Identifying your motivations and those of your partner will tell you if each of you can accept the other's motivations and agree to move forward. A couple of these, making a partner jealous or hoping to hold onto a partner, are not good reasons. The couple needs to break up and both move on.

Safety Comes from Respect

STIs are common among people with multiple partners just as they are uncommon when partners practice monogamy.

Once a person opens themselves to polyamory, the risk rises by 100%, unless caution becomes one of the ground rules. Every person involved in a polyamorous relationship MUST agree to this rule. And other relationships that are brought on board later must agree too.

What is safe sex? Well, it's not birth control or morning-after pills. It means that during sex, all precautions are taken - male condoms or internal condoms for females. There are also dental dams and tongue condoms depending upon the type of sexual activity.

Beyond condom prevention, all partners must agree to disclose any history of STDs, absolutely including HIV, and what medications are in use to prevent transmission (e.g., PReP). And all must agree to inform others if they should contract an STD.

For super safety, any new partner should get tested and reveal those results. And all partners should be tested periodically.

The point is this: polyamorous partners should have enough respect for one another to practice fully safe sex.

Polyamorous Relationship Rules are Just a Start

Non-monogamy is a big step for those who have always been in traditional relationships, whether those relationships are straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, or other.

There are lots of emotional (and intellectual) factors involved. Anyone who has reservations or who emotionally struggles with such a relationship should probably seek some outside professional help to deal with them before starting or staying in the relationship.

Polyamory can be fun, exciting, and emotionally satisfying if all partners are on the same page, follow the relationship "rules" they have agreed to, and stay mindful of each others' needs.

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