How to Love a Polyamorist

If you’re a monogamist who loves a non-monogamist, there are three things you need to know.

How To Love A Polyamorist

by

photo courtesy of Nemanja Glumac

filed under Advice

The good news is that monogamous people can enjoy fulfilling relationships with polyamorous people. The bad news is that mono/poly relationships are not easy. Mono/poly pairings aren’t exactly doomed to failure, but the inherent dynamics are much more challenging than relationships in which both parties share similar love-styles. Not only does everyone love differently, but we all find fulfillment in different ways. The success of mono/poly relationships depends on both partners accepting and respecting each other as individuals with different emotional needs.

We live in a mononormative culture that tells us relationships are only valid when they’re exclusive. Mono/poly relationships challenge this unwritten rule because only one partner remains monogamous. Sounds challenging, right? As a polyamorous person, I’ve seen up close how a monogamist handles such a situation. I dated someone who had a monogamous wife. She was easily one of the best metamours I’ve ever had. (“Metamour” refers to your partner’s other partners. More on that later.) A monogamist in a relationship with a poly person must come to terms with the following realities:

Polyamory is about your partner’s individuality, not you.

Polyamory is my natural love-style and my lifestyle reflects it. My polyamorous orientation is a fixed trait and not something for me to overcome. It’s a part of my individuality. While people can and do change their minds about polyamory, your best bet is to assume it’s never going to happen. Sure, it took a little easing into after years of mononormative cultural conditioning. But at this point, after so many years of being poly, monogamy is almost as alien to me as polyamory is to strictly monogamous people. It’s not my years of experience that validate my polyamorous identity; it’s my feelings. Start thinking of polyamory as more of an emotional orientation rather than a set of relationship habits.

Don’t bother investing any effort in trying to fix something that isn’t broken. In this case, it’s a poly person’s heart. If you love and accept someone as an individual, you won’t want to stand in the way of their happiness. Anyone who can’t come to terms with polyamory being a fixture in their relationship is probably better off finding a monogamous partner.

We all just want to be our harmless selves in peace, don’t we? My partner of seven years wasn’t so crazy about non-monogamy when I first expressed a desire for it. But upon experiencing the joys of polyamory, he changed his mind and we’ve been happily non-monogamous ever since. My ex-boyfriend’s wife (my former metamour) tried polyamory out, but it wasn’t her thing. She had all the freedom to explore but felt most fulfilled by being monogamous with her husband, even if he wasn’t monogamous with her. I’ve noticed that most people, however, are monogamous in the sense that they only feel comfortable with other monogamous people—one of the things that make successful mono/poly relationships quite rare.

You will never be their one and only, and that’s okay.

Loving your poly partner for who they are means that you’ll also accept their desire to have multiple relationships. Though my partner wasn’t thrilled about non-monogamy from the get-go, he wanted me to live a full life. Every functional mono/poly couple I’ve met understands that the poly partner’s needs can’t begin and end with one lover. Metamours will eventually come into the picture and the poly partner will experience NRE, or “new relationship energy,” that intoxicating feeling of infatuation we’re all familiar when a fresh relationship is in its honeymoon phase. When your partner becomes infatuated with someone else, you won’t be the center of their attention. It’s a fact of biochemistry for which we all must brace ourselves.

If a monogamous person cannot foresee themselves ever coming to terms with the wild ride of polyamory, they should reconsider. Sure, poly people might experience lulls in our love lives for the same reasons as other people: not meeting anyone we fancy, being overwhelmed by other responsibilities, health problems. But eventually another poly person will show up and the cycle begins again. If your stomach knots at the thought of someone else laying their paws on your partner, then you still have work to do. With that said, the wife of my ex admitted to me that though her feelings of jealousy have waned, they never completely died and continue to occasionally pang at her soul. She just learned how to deal with those uncomfortable emotions without taking it out on either of us. Some mono-metamours get overwhelmed with jealousy and impose rules like DADT (don’t ask, don’t tell), often to create the illusion of monogamy while in a relationship with a polyamorous person. In turn, the poly person has to live up to the challenge of respecting each lover’s boundaries while nurturing each relationship to its fullest potential. No matter what, you must be prepared to be nice to your partner’s partners, just as they’d better be nice to you. It is never excusable to treat your lover’s lover with hostility, nor should your partner tolerate it if someone they’re dating disrespects you in any way.

Monogamous people not only need to accept that their poly partners love other people, but they have to become comfortable with the fact that they’re not their partner’s “one and only true love.” It often requires a substantial amount of emotional labor for a monogamous person to become comfortable with the mere thought of their lover being with someone else. If you don’t want to put that effort it, that’s understandable, and a mono/mono relationship is probably your best bet.

Your poly partner’s love for someone else doesn’t negate their love for you.

If I fall in love with someone else, it doesn’t mean I’m falling out of love with my primary partner. I hook my partner up with my friends because I seriously feel that secure in his love for me. Unlike time, love is not a finite resource. My strong sense of security is founded in bulletproof trust. I don’t care if my partner hooks up with a babe at the party we both attend and then takes her out the next day. Why? Because I know he loves me. I don’t mind him dating other people because his love for them casts no shade on his love for me.

When you’re content with your partner being polyamorous, you’ll fully trust that they love you no matter how many other partners they have. Like so many other poly people, I’ve been subject to poly-shaming by people even when I was direct about my desires. The fact that we live in a mononormative culture doesn’t justify any mistreatment. I am not ashamed about sharing my love with more than one person. If you’re monogamous and you care about your poly partner’s satisfaction, you’ll support their right to love freely and not hold them to ethics they don’t believe in.

Remember that unrelenting jealousy my ex’s wife spoke of? She also said those feelings were strongly outweighed by the fact that she knew how much her husband loved her. She was confident in her knowledge that nobody could take her place. That feeling of security and contentedness is the key to successful mono/poly relationships. If you’re willing to put effort into cultivating a sense of comfort in a mono/poly arrangement, you might find love in an unlikely place.

Ghia Vitale is an assistant editor at Quail Bell Magazine.

 

Suggested Reading:

Your Brain on Sex: How Smarter Sex Can Change Your Life

The Ethical Slut: A Practical Guide to Polyamory, Open Relationships & Other Adventures

Sex at Dawn: How We Mate, Why We Stray, and What It Means for Modern Relationships

29 Comments
  • Eileen Leslie
    Posted at 06:06h, 30 May Reply

    I co-facilitate a facebook discussion group for people in mono/poly relationships. Through my polyamorous eyes, this article appeared pretty straight forward at first, but the monogamous people in our group objected that it seems to put all the onus for adjustment on the monogamous partner. I must say I agree, based on my own experience.

    While my husband and I are both poly, when I found a new serious relationship, I made a lot of effort *not* to be so overwhelmed by NRE as to let my husband feel he was losing my attention and affection. I was SO careful to make sure he felt as loved and valued as he was before. In fact, he complained once that I never discussed how I felt about my new partner or showed any signs of caring about the new relationship. Even so, I think I handled it the right way and will always do it that way.

    My husband on the other hand, who had less experience with relationships in general, made every mistake in the book and it almost destroyed our marriage, despite me being poly as well. I think a monogamous person would have been driven to depression and divorce.

    The polyamorous partner must keep their monogamous partner in mind, or it isn’t ethical non-monogamy. This article should address this from the mono person’s point of view. It could offer signs to watch out for that their poly partner is going overboard and doing stuff that isn’t acceptable in poly community (trust me, being a jerk to the established partner is definitely not acceptable to polies) and what to do if that happens.

    • M
      Posted at 15:03h, 31 May Reply

      As a person in a mono/poly relationship, I’d be interested in taking a look at your fb discussion group. Would you be willing to link/share it?

    • A
      Posted at 01:31h, 03 June Reply

      Agreed, would you please share a link to the group. I’ve just entered into a mono/poly relationship and would appreciate some other input in terms of what to be aware of.

    • Clementine
      Posted at 17:50h, 07 November Reply

      I’m also interested in the FB group on mono/poly relationships!

    • Monica
      Posted at 19:11h, 06 July Reply

      Please share the discussion group here. I would like to join.

  • Salem Penor
    Posted at 17:27h, 04 June Reply

    1 thing mono people dating a poly person needs to know … dump them. It isn’t going to turn out well and you don’t want to spend anymore time with such a selfish person.

    • Tamara
      Posted at 09:43h, 05 September Reply

      Exactly my thought (and what ended up happening). It’s total bs that you can ‘love’ all of your conquests just as much. Cut the crap, grow up and just own that you are not all about love but all about ego. No one gets your full attention/love/investment, it’s all about the poly’s needs. It’s selfish. You can’t divide your love amongst a dozen others, one of them will end up in tears and it sure as hell won’t be the selfish poly chaser. It seems like poly is the new ‘trend’. Nice little excuse to go screwing a lot of people over. And yes, I’m (monogamous) one of those who got screwed over by a (self proclaimed) poly trying to convince me I was special and he loved only me, and gave that crap up for me. It’s not love, it’s ego. Don’t get into relationships with monogamous people and vice versa. Leave each other the hell alone, it will never work!

  • Del Jones
    Posted at 03:15h, 12 October Reply

    How to be in a poly/mono relationship when you’re poly:

    If the mono in the relationship isn’t down with you being poly, don’t lie and date others behind their back just to avoid hurting them while still fulfilling your desires. I’ve seen this happen in too many mono/poly relationships. Yeah you might lose them by being honest, but it’s not your decision to make.

  • Dennis
    Posted at 07:50h, 14 October Reply

    “Polyamory is my natural love-style and my lifestyle reflects it. My polyamorous orientation is a fixed trait and not something for me to overcome.”

    Could this also be true of the monogamous partner? Their monogamy is an orientation, a fixed trait and not something for them to overcome. A relationship is a dynamic between two people. I think it’s too simplistic to say, “Polyamory is about your partner’s individuality, not you.” It is about the relationship. Yes, if your partner is bisexual but monogamous, that trait is about them and not you. However, if you want to have multiple intimate, romantic and perhaps sexual relationships with other people, and you are in a relationship, it is about the relationship and not just about you. It seems polys recognize this because they realize they have to conduct themselves a certain way in relationship. Their have to be “rules” that everyone agrees to and abides by, because it’s about the relationship and not just about the individual.

    For a monogamous person to be with someone who is poly is not simply about not being poly themselves. It’s not just about “well, if you don’t like it, you don’t have to do it yourself”. That may work in some issue in life, like “accepting” same-sex marriage, but in this case, since it is about the relationship, it is also about the monogamous person being with someone who is monogamous also, at least for some. It put this down to simply to the flaws of jealousy or the desire to control is, I believe wrong, and disparaging to the mono person. It is about what kind of relationship do I want to be in.

    If you were married and suddenly your spouse came out as gay and said, I can’t have sex with you any more and I really have no romantic feelings for you any more, but I love you and respect you as a person and want to remain married, the issue would not be about the straight person not having to become gay. It would be about the change in the relationship and the nature of the relationship that would result. So, it’s not simply about each person as an individual, it is about the relationship as well and the sort of relationship each person wants to be in. Polys understand this is seems where poly is concerned because they want to be in a poly relationship and general would not be happy in a mono relationship. They would not be happy simply having the mono partner accept them and love them having their poly feelings, but not being able to express those feelings in a poly relationship.

    The article comes across as if it is the monogamous person who is “lesser”, who needs to “expand” and get their head around their partner being poly. It seems to be about, you just don’t love your poly partner enough, because if you loved them enough and really wanted them to be happy, you would be willing to be in a poly relationship even if you, yourself acts monogamously. The onus and burden that seems to underlie the article is that the mono person is “wrong” or “lesser” or less loving and so on. It seems to say, that poly can’t change, but mono should be able to.

    I have a friend (yes, really) whose girlfriend recently “came out” as poly and wants a poly relationship. She wants to be able to date and be intimate with other people (she is bisexual). This is what he is struggling with. These were not the terms of the relationship originally.

    • Mikayla Pryor
      Posted at 01:00h, 05 April Reply

      I agree with your comment I think this article is strictly from a poly person’s point of view. Polyamory maybe my partner’s identity but it isn’t all about them. This article is kind of giving a condescending opinion of what I consider my natural love style..

    • Linda Rinn
      Posted at 22:45h, 21 April Reply

      Totally agree. It’s not fair the mono person has to adapt. Polyamorists seem very selfish to me.

    • Tamara
      Posted at 09:45h, 05 September Reply

      This ^^ Totally agree!

  • Lena Hei
    Posted at 11:53h, 27 October Reply

    For those of you who find the way poly people talk about a poly-mono relationships being slanted in favor of the poly partner, this is not always the case. I myself am in a long term relationship. I am poly and my partner is mono. In our case I am the only making the compromises in terms of my orientation, I do not engage in other relationships because that would be a deal breaker for him. I have learned to accept this though it can be difficult at times.

    Some have argued that this arrangement is unfair to me, stunting my experiences. The way I see it is that I am poly, just not practicing as long as I am with my partner. Compromise doesn’t have to be only on the mono side, we just don’t hear about it often!

  • Ester Lyons
    Posted at 02:23h, 24 January Reply

    I’m curious as to the length of these relationships. Are there any staticis on how many are 2 women and one man or 2 men and 1 woman? I do know of a 30 year old woman in this relationship with a woman and man. When first told, I was quite open and we talked rather openly. I’m from the 60s free love generation and don’t think I’ve ever judged others. I’m now judging. Do those here commit to life long relationships? In times of sickness do you stay? Until the end? Change diapers of those you’ve loved for years? Spend endless nights beside your terminally I’ll partners? Curious.

  • Sue Lesser
    Posted at 16:29h, 24 February Reply

    I would like to join a group discussion of Poly/ Mono relationships. I consider myself monogamous, although I haven’t always been. When I married my husband, he was very clear about his polyamorous orientation. I was cool with it. Over time, I feel the need to connect with other people in p/m relationships as I find it very difficult to talk to my strictly mono friends and sometimes I just need to feel a bit more understood, and possibly be of help to others.

  • ben skinner
    Posted at 05:20h, 13 March Reply

    Grim

  • Simon Templer
    Posted at 04:54h, 29 March Reply

    I believe that there is a place for polyamory in relationships that would otherwise have ended in a divorce. The trauma to children from a disputed divorce can be so severe that any alternative that would save the marriage and provide 24/7 parents to the children should be considered. Poly relationships in a fulfilled sexual marriage are doomed to failure simply because humans do not like to compete on a sexual level. It may start as swinging or fun but it will eventually end in divorce. However, where one partner loses complete interest in having sex, the other partner may find benefit in polyamory relationships., The unwilling partner disposes of the burden of sex while the other one can fulfill a desperate need with the consent of the former. There is an extension. Why do men frequent prostitutes? Because they are unwilling to subject their wives to the kind of sex they desire or they know beforehand that the wife will never consent to fulfill the sometimes kinky needs of the husband.. For example one partner is into BDSM and the other will never consider it. To prevent a catastrophic divorce that will also be negative to the children, polyamory relationships could be the way to go. The one caveat is STD prevention to the marriage partner.. Frank discussion and clear conditions must be agreed between the marriage partners. Discovery of polyamory can be seen as betrayal and lead to divorce.

  • Sue Lesser
    Posted at 14:17h, 29 March Reply

    Checking in again.. Not sure why Mr. Skinner responded to my post as grim, for things surely aren’t. As time goes on, I see polyamory as a very viable way to express love, and it is not a threat to my long term committed relationship with my husband. Loving others doesn’t detract from my relationship with my husband. I guess it would if we weren’t happy together, but then, why would we be together? I also feel that each step we have taken, with every screw up and mistake, has led us to be closer and more loving. If we hadn’t taken these risks and worked through them, we would be much less close and loving with each other… Admittedly, it has taken a long time ( 6years) to get to this point.. But I feel every day has been worth it.

  • Simon
    Posted at 16:39h, 05 April Reply

    Folks, let’s not kid ourselves with fancy names for what we are discussing. Intimate relationships out of wedlock whether by consent or not is called adultery. It has been called adultery for thousands of years and it will not change into something else just because we call it ‘polyamory’ or ‘friends with benefits’ . That however does not detract from the way we deal with extramarital relationships. If you feel justified to enter into such relationships, do so but just don’t believe it is a lesser thing than adultery because it is not and never will be. by whatever other name you wish to invent.

    • Hannah
      Posted at 07:01h, 15 April Reply

      What utter nonsense! Adultery is cheating without consent or knowledge. Honestly, this kind of gatekeeping of love is harmful to everyone. Stop your silliness and open your mind.

  • KAI AEI
    Posted at 13:21h, 29 May Reply

    lol
    Poly Agonism : the result of processing and sharing info thru :honesty. .I;E DRAMMA
    Poly Sadism : the use of poly status to hurt a partner and or the projection of that hurt to a third. I:E He fked her or them so I’m gonna fk her and him etc.
    Poly Masochism :being in a hurt full poly relationship when you know damn well it doesn’t suit you I:E. giving away your power
    Poly Escapism : the use of the poly word or lifestyle to escape dealing with a failed marriage or partnership. I;E THE CRUTCH.
    I am in a mono poly mono relationship .Her and I are as far as I know mono sexually .They are married with kids and Biz partners .The husband has many sexual partners .This is new to all three of us .As far ethics go, I a male mono I actually seem to be the only one that has any or enough to make it work .She is trying very hard but allot of Poly Sadism is at play .there is allot of Validation thru the affection of others going on her side as she has been neglected by her spouse for years and is now out banging woman half his age .Did iI mention she has very young children ?Shes not really ok with this but is trying to embrace it because of the kids and her love for him .She thinks its a phase of their relationship.
    Bottom line ? IF YOU AND YOUR PARTNERS AND THEIR PARTNERS ARE NOT INCREDIBLY EMOTIONALLY MATURE OR COLD THAN YOU PROBABLY WILL NEVER HAVE A HEALTHY POLY EXPERIENCE.In these times and the American culture its so hard to just have a healthy relationship or marriage that adding more makes it even harder .UP FOR THE CHALLENGE ?You BETER BE .and if your bored in life than this is the game of thrones you been looking for lol

  • nice try, Satan.
    Posted at 12:38h, 16 June Reply

    It was great to read this. I’m poly, in a committed relationship with someone open to being poly, although so far they’ve only been with me, and with another poly person who is also in a committed relationship. It works for us, although first coming out and having the conversation with my partner was *terrifying*.

    There’s someone I have a really deep friendship with, and because they are monogamous it can be quite confusing for me, by the standards of that group if our bond is acceptable or not. And while I’m a little in love- by their definition- it’s not a relationship because it’s unconsummated? But I think of sexless relationships that are still committed ones- through in ideas like emotional infidelity and it seems like monogamy is saying that it’s incorrect to have deep friendships with anyone but the person you’re *with*- and that strikes me as abuse. (What do abusers do, they isolate their victim from their friends and family! How is *that* correct?) and then I think we’re incompatible, because there’s no way I would abandon my relationships for anyone. Confusing. It’s nice to know this kind of relationship is at least possible, even if it is rare.

    Monogamy always strikes me as a *touch* disingenious- since it doesn’t really appear to be lifelong. I’ve seen way too many friends flit from one relationship to another, dump, get dumped, come back together, separate again- all to keep to some illusion of fidelity?

    No. Fidelity is loved once, loved always, to my mind.

  • X
    Posted at 21:41h, 16 June Reply

    Thanks for writing this. I am currently looking at dating someone that is poly. We both admitted that we had a crush on each other. Hell, I’m even having lunch with her tomorrow at Noon. But when she told me that she just got laid last night, I felt uneasy and alone. See, I’m monogamous. I’ve considered switching to being poly for her sake (and because I like to keep an open mind). But there really isn’t anyone else out there for me. But your paragraph “Your poly partner’s love for someone else doesn’t negate their love for you” really made me feel a whole lot better. At least in an emotional sense. You see, I’m a virgin, so there’s really nothing physical going on in my corner at all. I’m not even sure if we are a thing or not yet. So hearing about her having sex kinda hits a nerve. Not sure if it’s jealousy over the fact that she has another partner or jealousy of the fact that there’s nothing physical going on for the foreseeable future. I guess only time will tell.

    • loverlover
      Posted at 15:50h, 09 July Reply

      I’ve just started dating someone who is poly…I’ve never really explored being poly myself but am open to the idea…again, not sure if its because I am truly open to it or if its for his sake. The sentence, “Your poly partner’s love for someone else doesn’t negate their love for your” made me feel so much better as well…especially since my partner has had another partner for a month longer than we have been together. Tomorrow I am meeting my metamour (my partners other partner…)…so maybe that will give me more clarity on whether or not this poly/mono/maybe poly relationship will work…who knows….like you said, only time will tell……

  • Anna
    Posted at 06:32h, 20 September Reply

    Mono/poly relationships never work. The poly person will always cheat on the mono. That’s just how it is. Polyamory is disgusting, Also, hello STDs!

  • paul baumbach
    Posted at 12:36h, 17 October Reply

    I am in a married relationship with a woman I have known for 30 years intimatly. We are married 15 years. 2 years ago while she was caring for her mother she started an affair with a 22 year old neighbor she has known since he was 8. She is 62 years old and a milf very sensual and attractive. Now I know of there other relationships with young men and all this she thinks I do not know about. When I mention her secret life she says I am calling her a whore. Does this sound like a polyamory lifestyle or a woman who wants to experience her sexual energy before it is too late? I am 70 and fit and active and sexually active with her although not very often. I am struggling with not being number 1 in her life.

    • Eileen Smyth
      Posted at 10:48h, 18 October Reply

      Paul, her behavior isn’t polyamory, it’s cheating. But it’s quite possible that you are actually still Number One in her life.

      I suggest you two find a kink-aware or poly-friendly marriage counselor super fast. If the counselor is a good one, they won’t try to get you to agree to anything you’re not ready for, but will instead point out to her that ethical non-monogamy is based on mutual consent. He or she will also help you both communicate about it in a healthy adult manner and decide *together* what the future of your marriage will look like,

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