How Polyamorous Relationships Work

Written by Harini Natarajan , Certified Emotional Intelligence Practitioner

Polyamorous relationships have had a lot of negative representation in the recent times. They are often frowned upon in societies and treated as scandalous gossip. However, the acceptance of such relationships is slowly growing, and many people are revaluating the principles of their relationships.

Psychologists claim such relationships to be deeply satisfying and perspective-changing. To break stigmas, it is necessary to understand what polyamory is and how its dynamics work. Here, we discuss everything you need to know about polyamorous relationships. Keep reading.

Basics Of Polyamory

Polyamory is also known as consensual non-monogamy – it involves engaging in relations with multiple people with the consent and full knowledge of all involved. These relations can be sexual or romantic in nature. Polyamory is often mistaken or used interchangeably with polygamy. However, the two are different.

Polygamy is marriage to multiple spouses that happens on the grounds of cultural or religious practices. It is also legally recognized. Polyamory, on the other hand, allows all genders and sexual identities to freely engage in relationships with the partners of their choice.

Being In A Polyamorous Relationship

A polyamorous relationship is no more special than a regular relationship. Individuals in a polyamorous relationship are often thought to be sexually charged and promiscuous. But that is definitely not the case.

Some polyamorous relationships consist of a primary partner along with a secondary partner who they engage with consensually. Not all dynamics are the same, though. But they all rely on a deep sense of trust and respect for each person involved. They rely on faith in connections and developing deeper bonds with people.

In fact, many have described being in polyamorous relationships as being overwhelmed with and surrounded by love. There is an understanding and communication among all involved, which helps create a strong support system.

The Different Types Of Polyamorous Relationships

Since polyamorous relationships consist of more than two people, the dynamics are bound to change. While each relationship is unique and is built on its own specific rules, polyamorous relationships could occur in any of the following types.

  • Hierarchical Polyamory

In this type, there is a primary relationship that consists of two people. They are often couples who are married that live together, may have children, share financial plans, property, etc. The people they engage with are known as secondary partners, who do not hold as much power as a primary partner. These secondary partners may not share the same level of connection and intensity as the primary partners. This is understandable, as the relationship with a primary partner may take more involvement.

For people who follow this type of relationship, their primary partners are who they consult or keep in mind for big decisions. The primary partners usually have an agreed-upon set of rules when it comes to engaging with other people and often hold power to ‘veto’ a person their partner is interested in.

  • Non-Hierarchical Polyamory

In this relationship, all partners are considered equal and hold the same importance. While the time spent, intensity, and dynamics may differ among partners – no one person is the primary partner. Each partner may contribute to some need and may have a certain significance, but all hold an equal voice.

  • Kitchen Table Polyamory

This type of polyamorous relationship is one where all partners involved are connected. It follows more of a family-like approach. The partners may or may not be involved with each other, but they do share a friendship. Such relationships create a strong and bonded support system, where each person can help the other out in their day-to-day lives.

It may involve spending time with each other platonically, helping with children, going to events, having dinners together, and more. Individuals in such a relationship can end up sharing deep bonds.

  • Parallel Polyamory

Members of this relationship type can have their own ‘parallel’ relationships that do not involve their other partners. In this dynamic, the members do not share a connection with others. While they may know of them and acknowledge them, they are not interested in getting to know them.

  • Mono-Poly

These relationships consist of one partner who is monogamous and the other who is polyamorous (of course, with the consent of the monogamous partner). The polyamorous partner is interested in pursuing relationships apart from what they are in, and the monogamous partner prefers to be involved with just one partner.

These polyamorous relationships have their own set of rules and boundaries that are explored when sexual needs and desires, distance, time, and orientations differ.

  • Solo-Polyamory

Here, a polyamorous person does not have a primary partner and chooses to engage with multiple people without commitment. This person does not want a relationship or attachment with their partners. They are interested in a more casual relationship with their partners. People who do not have the time and energy for a committed relationship may opt for this relationship type.

This relationship type is very fluid – some people may have emotional relationships that feel primary, but they do not hold power over the other person’s life decisions.

  • Relationship Anarchy

Though not considered a type, it is more often thought of as a philosophy. This is where members are free to engage with whoever they chose without labels or duty towards their partners. This philosophy rests on spontaneity, freedom, consent, and honesty. It works without hierarchical bonds, rules, and expectations.

Myths About Polyamorous Relationships

A lot of the information on polyamorous relationships comes from heavily biased, dramatized, or exaggerated sources. This, in turn, drives speculation and misinformation, leading to many myths. We have covered such myths below:

  • They lead to increased STIs

This is based on the common assumption that people with multiple sexual partners have a higher chance of contracting STIs. This is false, as partners in polyamorous or consensual non-monogamous relationships tend to be more careful about their sexual practices, practice safe sex, and get tested more often. These relationships seem to have lower rates of STIs compared to those in non-consensual monogamous relations (cheating and affairs).

  • They are unsatisfying

The rates of satisfaction are higher in polyamorous relationships as compared to monogamous ones. Each polyamorous relationship is unique and works on different rules and boundaries. Partners need to be open and communicate with each other. This improved communication gives better emotional intimacy and may lead to higher satisfaction from the relationship.

  • They can affect children adversely

Polyamorous families can be conducive environments for children. Though like any family, the children may experience the loss of a parent (similar to divorce in a monogamous family) or stigma associated with the relationship. Children seem to grow to become independent, confident, and secure in polyamorous households.

In fact, parents in such relationships are more satisfied due to their individual wants and needs being fulfilled. Hence, they can offer a broader support system to their children.

  • They lack commitment

Most people commonly assume that people in polyamorous relationships are scared of commitments. This is false, as these relationships involve deep levels of emotional and romantic involvement. People show up for their partners when needed and work on their relationship like any other monogamous relationship. They are deeply committed to them emotionally. These relationships have the potential to develop a deeper and more satisfying emotional involvement due to their open communication.

Terms Used In Polyamory

Along with its rules and types, polyamory comes with a few popular terms that make navigating it easier. Here are some of them.

  • Compression: A feeling of joy one experiences when their partner is in a happy relationship with another.
  • Metamour: A partner’s partner.
  • Polycule: A network of polyamorous people based on their connections to each other.

Polyamorous Relationship Structures

Within polyamorous relationships exist multiple types of people and more complex dynamics. Looking at their structures helps us understand them better.

  • Vee: This is a relationship where one person is involved with two people. It forms a V-shape. The two people remain uninvolved.
  • Triad: Here, 3 people are involved in the relationship. They can be together romantically or sexually.
  • Quad: This is a relationship with four partners who are involved romantically or sexually.

There can be many more structures based on each relationship type and the levels of involvement. Some people might also be in multiple structures at once.

How Polyamory Works in Relationships

Polyamory puts the focus more on emotional fidelity than sexual fidelity. It takes away the focus from sex and looks more towards a true connection and its meaning. Polyamory helps people focus on their personal growth while being supported by their partners.

Here, instead of expecting one’s emotional and sexual needs to be met by one person (which can be quite exhausting), one may seek the same from different people who are better suited to give them what they seek. With polyamory also comes open communication that can deepen the bonds.

Polyamorous Vs. Open Relationships

While open relationships are also a form of non-monogamous relationships, they do differ from polyamorous ones.

Polyamorous relationships essentially mean that the people involved have multiple romantic relationships. They can be romantically and sexually involved with many individuals.

However, open relationships are skewed more towards sex. Here, people explore sexual needs outside of their relationship but are emotionally and romantically involved only with the partner they are in a relationship with. A lot of them follow a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ rule.

Dos and Don’ts In Polyamorous Relationships

  • Do not expect a single person to fulfill all your needs. This puts a lot of expectations on your partner. Rather, find people that will help fulfill your different needs.
  • Do engage in open communication. The key to any successful relationship is successful communication. This involves being honest about what you feel, what you expect, and what you are not okay with.
  • Do not agree with the condition that you are not comfortable with. If a certain rule does not match your values, let your partners know honestly. Agreeing to something just for the sake of your partner will cause rifts in the long run, making both you and your partner unhappy.
  • Do integrate space in your relationship. Take the time to develop individually and also establish your autonomy.

Avoiding Polyamorous Relationship Issues

  • Practice self-care. If you are not in tune with yourself or feel disconnected, it can take a toll on your relationships with others.
  • Be honest about what you want. Your partner cannot presume what you want, and guessing it is nearly impossible and unfair to expect of them. Let them know if your needs are not being met, so you can resolve the issue together.
  • Be mindful of New Relationship Energy (NRE) – the excitement and energy that comes from entering a new relationship. Navigate it with care.

Conclusion

Polyamorous relationships can be fulfilling if experienced with and by the right people. They transcend beyond sexual relations and prove that a lasting relationship or love comes from emotional connection and friendship. As you can see, they are complex and layered like any relationship – but they are more open in approach without the conflict of judgment. Though they are different, they don’t have to be wrong.

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