- Polyamory involves engaging in multiple romantic or sexual relationships with different people.
- Some people have a primary partner but are free to pursue casual relationships with others.
- A successful poly relationship involves regular check-ins with your partners and open communication.
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While most people today think of two monogamous partners when they think about romantic relationships, there are other types of relationships out there that are equally valid.
In fact, a 2012 study found that about 4% of relationships are consensually non-monogamous – and polyamory is one of the more common forms.
Here’s what you need to know about polyamory, including tips for how to make a polyamorous relationship work.
What is polyamory?
In the simplest terms, polyamory involves engaging in multiple romantic or sexual relationships. But unlike cheating, which is marked by deception, polyamory involves openness and consent from all parties, says Emy Tafelski, MA, LMFT, sex therapist and founder and CEO of ME-Therapy. You may hear people who practice polyamory call themselves “poly” for short.
- Hierarchical poly: These people have a primary relationship with one person, and secondary relationships with others. For example, the primary relationship could be a marriage where partners are only allowed to pursue casual relationships with others.
- Anarchist poly: These people have fewer “rules” around their activities. People in this kind of relationship don’t have a primary attachment to one person and instead have the freedom to explore any kind of relationship with any person.
How to make a polyamorous relationship work
Like every other relationship, polyamorous relationships require hard work and dedication. Here are five tips for a successful polyamorous relationship, according to Tafelski.
- Communicate openly: Communication is always key in relationships, and it’s especially crucial in poly relationships to make sure all parties are informed and consenting. Tafelski recommends that you be honest and transparent when you discuss your feelings, needs, desires, and fears.
- Listen actively: Listening is just as important as speaking because it ensures that you understand your partners’ feelings and needs and vice versa. “Meet them where they are from a place of compassion and empathy rather than defensiveness,” says Tafelski.
- Check-in with yourself and your partners often: Just because your partner was okay with something last month, doesn’t mean they still are. It’s important to check in with all partners often, and of course, with yourself too, to make sure everything is healthy and everyone is still consenting.
- Create a safe space for all the feelings: It’s important to be open to the emotions of your partners. Remember that all feelings, including jealousy, are valid, and they should be attended to.
- Renegotiate your “relationship contract” often: Tafelski says poly relationships are constructed by the people in them. You may create a “relationship contract” with your partner or partners. “People change and grow as do their needs. It is useful to periodically review for yourself, and with your partner(s), the relationship contract and adjust according to current needs,” says Tafelski.
While polyamory certainly isn’t for everybody, it’s a good option for people who want to have a non-traditional relationship that isn’t monogamous. Remember to communicate openly with your partners and ensure that you always have consent in order to keep your relationships healthy.