Polyamory, Open Relationship and Polyamorous Relationship Coaching Tip: Rules vs. Agreements

Laurie Ellington, Poly-Coach, Offers Coaching Tips for Open Relationships, Polyamorous Relationships, Poly Dating, and Ethical Non-Monogamy.


It is very common for people to ask me the following question:  “What are the rules are for open relationships and polyamory?”

To address this, I’m going to lead us through and exercise.

Below, you will find the definition of rule, agreement, and agree.  As you read each definition, I invite you to pay close attention to how your body responds to what you are reading.  Notice what sensations arise in you, as well as what feelings and emotions begin to stir; and finally, take note of what thoughts, stories and/or images appear as a result of what you are reading.  (For extra points, consider reading it out loud to yourself, or have someone read it to you).   

Let’s begin….


Simple Definition of rule (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/rule)

: a statement that tells you what is or is not allowed in a particular game, situation, etc.

: a statement that tells you what is allowed or what will happen within a particular system (such as a language or science)

: a piece of advice about the best way to do something

Notice what you notice:  sensations, feelings, emotions, thoughts, stories, etc.  How do those feelings shift when you consider your experiences with open relationships, polyamory, poly dating, etc.?  Take a minute to make a mental note, or write down your observation. 

Now take a deep breath, and continue to the next definition.


Simple Definition of agreement (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/agreement)

: the act of agreeing (see definition of “agree” below)

: a situation in which people share the same opinion : a situation in which people agree

: an arrangement, contract, etc., by which people agree about what is to be done


Simple Definition of agree (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/agreeing)

: to have the same opinion

: to say that you will do, accept, or allow something that is suggested or requested by another person

of two or more people or groups : to decide to accept something after discussing what should or might be done ( Brit )

Again, notice what you notice.  What sensations, feelings, emotions, thoughts, stories, etc. come up for you when reading the definitions of agreement and agree?  How does your experience of those words change when you consider open relationships, polyamory, poly dating, etc?  Take a minute to make a mental note or write down your observation.  Breathe.

Here’s the final part of the exercise:

In reading the definition of rule, and those of agreement and agree, what difference did you notice in how you experienced those words?  Was there any difference?  When you consider your relationship (whether it be an open relationship, polyamorous relationship, or poly dating) what word would you say genuinely feels better to you?  What feels most aligned?  

I get that this is a question of semantics; and, I believe words carry energy.  What we say and what we create is based on how we feel about ourselves and each other.

As an open relationship and polyamorous relationship coach, I am genuinely curious about what motivates people to make the choices they make.  There is definitely a level of uncertainly in open relationships and polyamory.  People who are curious about an/or actively engaged in the open and poly lifestyle want to feel somewhat grounded in the uncertainty.  Some people want to create structure in their relationship in order to feel more safe.  Some do so to feel more control.  Others want to know that what they currently have won’t be lost (a variation of safety).  Still others want to have the freedom to do what they want to do, and so create a situation that allows them to do so, usually with a certain degree of limitations (a variation of control).  All of these things make sense to me, and, I keep coming back to the intention underneath the desired action; the energy used to create the kind of life, the kind of relationship, that feels most open, most free, most aligned, most harmonious with ourselves with the people we choose to engage with.

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter to me what you do, or how you do it.  That’s your choice.  What’s important to me is the awareness and intention you bring to what you do in your life and in your relationships. 

Speaking for myself, I am an advocate for creating agreements (not rules) in open and polyamorous relationships.  In my experience, agreements have more room for people and relationships to expand and grow in ways that seem most supportive of the human experience, and the process one goes through in cultivating nourishing relationships.  Agreements are created with a team focus, everyone participates, there’s room for them to change over time, and they may sometimes be broken.  In the event an agreement is broken, then there is another agreement made to address it.  Again, agreement seems much more engaging to me.  Creating an agreement with someone really asks everyone to get clear with their desires, and to find ways to communicate what they desire in a way that values themselves and everyone involved. 

In contrast, my experience of rules in open relationships and polyamory has been akin to something being created from an outside force.  It feels like an imposition of something that is put in place in order to keep something a certain way;  to keep it “safe”, to maintain a level of control.  Rules tell me what I can and what I can’t do.  There’s little room for freedom and exploration in that for me, and it seems to limit growth potential for those who are in the open relationship and polyamorous lifestyles.  You either obey the rule, or you break it.  If you obey it, you’re doing it right; if you break it, you’ll be punished.  Certainly, this is my story, and I think others share it too.

Rules and agreements aside, if you are interested in and/or actively engaged in open relationships, polyamory, and poly dating, I think it is worth it to consider the following:

1)  Be authentic:  Authenticity is what drives people to be who they are in their fullest expression.  When we bring our authentic selves to our life and to our relationships, we are giving ourselves the opportunity to show up, again and again.  Being authentic as you explore the ups and downs of open relationships and polyamory, requires that you be aware of your experience, you are honest with yourself, you take responsibility for your actions, and you do so in a way that preserves your integrity with yourself, and with others.

2)  Practice open communication:  Communication in open relationships and polyamory is of utmost importance.  Without it, the relationship is doomed to fail.  That said, “what do you do when there is something you want to share and you don’t want to share it?”  You take a deep breath, and you share it anyway.  I coach my clients to preface things they don’t want to say.  For example, “I’m aware that I am feeling jealous.  I have a desire to talk about it with you, but I’m hesitant because I think it might hurt you, or you may think I may want you to change what you are doing.  That isn’t my intention.  My intention is to put this on the table so that I can feel more present with you…”   Again, communication is crucial.   It can be scary to call out the “elephants in the room,” and when you do, you will find there is more space for connection and intimacy.

3)  Be transparent:  Put your desires on the table, share your intentions, share your fantasies and your fears.  Talk about what feels good to you, and what doesn’t.  This is where authenticity and communication come together.  This is where you and your partner/partners come to an agreement on what you want to do in this open and polyamorous lifestyle.  This is where everyone is seen and hear, scenarios are considered, and then action steps are taken.  By action steps I mean, “now that we know ……..,  how do we want to proceed, what do we want to do first/next?”  This is where I encourage my clients to go slow, take a small step in the direction of your goal, rather than jump off the deep end.  For example, say a husband and wife want to open their marriage, and they are both interested in sleeping with other people.  Rather than find any random couple to have sex with, they can go to a lifestyle club and see what it’s like to socialize with other open couples first, they can decide ahead of time what they feel comfortable with, maybe this first time, they talk and kiss, maybe they agree to socialize only with other couples and then they play with each other, rather than with others.  When we slow down, we get to see there are lots of possibilities available to us.  Going slow doesn’t mean you don’t get what you want.  Going slow does mean you follow your desire, while staying in connection with those you are in relationship with.  Of course, each scenario has it’s own set of agreements that you create each time.  It keeps things present, alive, and real. 

4)  Make a list of your “yes’s” and your “no’s”:  Again, this is where you bring everything together and you begin to ask questions, and get clear on your answers.  This is where you check in, and check in again. on what’s okay and what’s not okay.  Keep in mind this may change from situation to situation, however the ideal is to have something in place that gives everyone the freedom to follow their desires, in a way that supports the relationship/s they are in.  Here are a few examples:

*  How do we handle dating other people?

*  How much information do we agree to share with each other and how do we share?

*  What are the parameters around having sex with others? 

*  At what point to we discuss STI’s with others?

*  How do we want to practice safe sex?  Do we agree to use condoms with others?

*  In the event there is a red flag about anything, what is the best way to share this info?

*  Can we have sex with other in our home/ in our bed?

*  How can we best own and share our feelings without taking away our freedom?

To close this post, I want to make it clear the importance of getting down to the root of why you do what you do, what fuels your fire, what drives your intentions.  If you are genuinely curious about open relationships and polyamory, then by all means explore the lifestyle with the utmost of integrity with yourself and with other people.  Consider the things I listed above and have fun!

If you are wanting to explore polyamory to get something for yourself, and thus leaving someone behind (aka selfish reasons), then please don’t call it polyamory.  Please consider what I have written in this post, and take the appropriate action to be more clear with what you want and how to get it in a way that nourishes connection.

Lastly, if you are in an open/poly relationship because your partner wants it (and you don’t really want it), please be honest with yourself, and your with partner.   You don’t have to be, or do, or tolerate anything you don’t want to.  There is an edge (and a learning curve) to this lifestyle; and that edge can bring up a lot of emotional baggage for some.  It’s okay to embrace and move through the emotional turbulence when it comes up, it’s okay to say “no thank you”, and it’s okay to say “yes, I’m interested, and I’m willing to learn how to do it in a way that feels good to me too.”

What’s important to remember is that we are all at choice.  Please choose wisely, please be respectful, please be honest, be transparent, practice open communication, and please enjoy the ride 🙂

For more information about open relationship coaching and polyamory coaching services, and to schedule a Free Exploratory Poly-Coach Session, contact Laurie Ellington, Poly-Coach, today.

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Laurie Ellington

Polyamorous Coach at Poly-Coach
I teach people how to break through false beliefs and negative behavior patterns. I offer my clients tools that empower their life and their relationships.
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