I tend to find that people come to polyamory in one of two ways. One, they’re in an existing dyad, and one or both partners decide together that their relationship will be improved by opening it up, or that they will both be happier/living more ethically in a non-monogamous relationship. Two, someone finds out about polyamory through research or by having poly friends, and decides that polyamory better fits their moral code or style of romance, and chooses to identify as a polyamorous person from that point on.
The couples in that first category have a number of barriers between their existing monogamous relationship and a healthy polyamorous relationship. I don’t actually think the biggest problem is jealousy – that gets talked about a bunch (heck, I might talk about it a little bit), but I see the two biggest barriers to beginning polyamory as an existing couple are motivation and logistics*.
So, motivation – Why does polyamory appeal to you?
Some reasons I see established couples trying out polyamory include:
– Having a mismatched sex drive, where one partner wants to have more sex than their partner does.
– One partner identifies as polyamorous and feels trapped or restricted in a monogamous relation, and asks their partner to try it out.
– Both partners feel like they would enjoy having other partners.
– Both partners feel like monogamy isn’t working for them anymore.
– The relationship involves lots of arguing, and having other partners looks like a solution to those arguments.
– One partner wants more affection or attention or time than their partner is able to provide.
– One or both people feel like they need more partners in order to be happy.
If a relationship has problems, it is likely that polyamory isn’t going to solve those problems. If the problems they’re trying to fix are related to disagreements within the dyad, adding more people to the mix is not likely to do anything but put a bandaid over the issue, at best. If the problems exist because the partners don’t communicate well, or they disagree on the fundamentals of how their relationship should look, having more partners is likely to eventually highlight those issues and make them worse. This isn’t *always* true – if the problem they’re trying to solve is one where an addition of people will fix it (and not just patch it over), polyamory can be great. Say, if one partner is very busy and has no free time, and the other wants more snuggles and romance in their life, having a polyamorous relationship can give some valuable support to that dynamic. But if a couple’s motivations for trying out polyamory aren’t clear or healthy, they’re going to have a really hard time adjusting to a polyamorous relationship. The switch to polyamory can be a tough one, and that can cause more problems in an already-rocky relationship. Polyamory as a relationship style (and not just having an open relationship, where sex with other people is on the table) can be really, really fundamentally different from monogamy. It involves redefining your view of romance and throwing out a lot of culturally-mandated assumptions of what a relationship is supposed to look like. That can be tough.
The solution to this issue is for new-to-poly folks to take some time and interrogate their motivations for trying out polyamory.
What motivations are healthy vs. unhealthy?
I would say, if you feel specifically pulled towards opening up your life to the *possibility* of having more partners, that’s a healthy motivation. If you are trying to obtain more partners to make yourself happier, that’s an unhealthy motivation.
What’s the difference between wanting more partners, and wanting to be *able* to have more partners?
Most poly people spend some portion of their lives dating only one person, even while still identifying as a polyamorous person. It doesn’t make them less polyamorous, it just means that at that time, they are only romantically and logistically compatible with one person. Being polyamorous means that, if you are in one relationship and you meet someone else and get a crush on them, there’s no “automatic no”. The automatic no is when you say, “oh wow, you’re cute, but I’m in a relationship. It’s not socially permitted for me to find you attractive, or act on my attraction to you.” Polyamory means you get to say “oh wow, you’re cute, let’s both look at our calendars/relationship styles and see if we want to try dating!” You’re not necessarily looking for another partner to fill some quota (“I have to be dating at least three people, or I’m not happy” or “my partner has another partner – I need to find another one, too!”), you’re recognizing that you have the ability and desire to juggle and enjoy multiple romantic partnerships, and you want the foundation of polyamory to support that.
If you’re considering exploring polyamory or are new to it, consider really looking into yourself, and talking with your partner. Are you looking to fix a problem, or to name the existing desire to share more affection and romance?
* Next poly post, logistics!