It is very common for people to ask me the following question: “What are the rules are for polyamorous relationships?”
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).
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 polyamory? 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 with 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 polyamory and polyamorous relationships? 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, agreement, and agree, what did you notice in how you experienced those words? Was there any difference? When you consider your relationship 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 a polyamorous relationship coach, I am genuinely curious about what motivates people to make the choices they make. There is definitely a level of uncertainty in the practice of polyamory. People who are curious about the poly lifestyle want to feel somewhat grounded in this uncertainty. Some people want to create structure in their relationship in order to feel safer. 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 poly 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, and there’s room for them to change over time. In the event an agreement is broken, then another agreement must be made to address it. Again, the word “agreement” seems much more engaging to me. Creating an agreement with someone is an invitation for everyone to get clear with their desires, communicate those desires, and do so in a way that values themselves and others.
In contrast, my experience of rules in 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. It seems to limit growth potential for those who are in the open relationship lifestyle. You either obey the rule, or you break it. If you obey it, you’re doing it right. If you break it, you’re doing it wrong and 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 exploring the polyamorous relationship lifestyle, consider the following:
Authenticity is what drives people to be who they are in their fullest expression. When we practice authenticity, we give ourselves an opportunity to show up, again and again. Being authentic as you explore the ups and downs of open relationships, 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.
Practice open communication
Communication in the poly lifestyle is essential. 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.
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 or partners come to an agreement on what you want to do in your poly relationship. This is where everyone is seen and heard. Scenarios are considered and action steps are taken. By action steps I mean, “now that we know [insert information here], how do we want to proceed?” This is where I encourage my clients to go slow and take a small step in the direction of your goal. This is much better than jumping off the deep end. For example, say a husband and wife want to open their marriage and be sexual 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 and use that as a way to move forward. Maybe this first time, they agree to be social with other couples and play with each other. When we slow down, we create space for new possibilities to emerge. Going slow doesn’t mean you don’t get what you want. Going slow means you follow your desire while staying in connection with those around you.
Make a “Yes” list and a “No” list
This is where you bring everything together. This is where you ask clear questions and get clear 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. The idea is to have something in place that gives everyone the freedom to follow their desires in a way that supports their relationships. Here are a few examples:
- How do we handle dating other people?
- How much information do we share with each other and how do we share?
- What are the parameters around having sex with others?
- At what point do we discuss STI’s with others?
- How do we want to practice safe sex? Do we agree to use condoms with others?
- How do we handle red flags? What is the best way to share this info?
- Can we have sex with others in our home? In our bed?
- How can we best own and share our feelings without losing our sense of freedom?
It is incredibly important to get to the root of why you do what you do. What fuels your fire? What are your intentions? What drives your behavior?
If you are genuinely curious about polyamory and polyamorous relationships, then 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 be poly to get something for yourself and leave someone behind (aka selfish reasons), then don’t call it polyamory. Consider what I have written in this post and get clear with what you want and how to get it in a way that nourishes connection.
Lastly, if you are in a polyamorous relationship because your partner wants it (and you don’t really want it), please be honest with yourself and with your partner. You don’t have to be, do, or tolerate anything you don’t want to. There is an edge (and a learning curve) to this lifestyle. The edge can bring up a lot of emotional baggage for some. This is a common experience for those in the lifestyle. It’s okay to embrace and move through the emotional turbulence when it comes up. It’s okay to say “no thank you”. 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 always have a choice.
Please choose wisely. Please be respectful. Be honest. Be transparent. Practice open communication. And, enjoy the ride.