Basics of loving more than one
Living in a polyamorous lifestyle involves having more than one love interest, and with the knowledge and consent of all people involved. There are many special terms that the polyamorous community uses to describe relationships and relationship issues. Understanding some of them can help you understand the issues facing the lifestyle.
Ethical non-monogamy, is having more than one active sexual partner, again with the knowledge and consent of all persons involved. Polyamory usually but not always involves more than one sexual partner, thus someone polyamorous may be practicing ethical non-monogamy.
When a couple living together decide to open their relationship, one or both can take on other love interests. The other love interests are sometimes called the Other Significant Other(s). The term metamour refers to one’s partner’s other significant other. For example if a woman has a husband and a boyfriend then these two men are metamours.
Single people can also practice polyamory and the term Solo-Poly has been coined for this. (I have also seen the description Poly-Singlish being used). It is a way of dating multiple partners with the consent and knowledge of all involved.
Most polyamorous relationships have agreements that they follow and these agreements govern disclosure, discretion, consent and boundaries over their sexual and emotional relationship and the relationships with others. The intention is to keep all of one’s partners at choice about their relationship with you. The agreements can be adapted as circumstances and feelings change but at core is the idea that for a relationship to be conducted ethically then ones partners want to be “at choice” at all times.
In a marriage that has become open there is sometimes a hierarchy of such agreements. The primary relationship being with the live in partner and sometimes that includes a veto power over the activities with other significant others.
Dealing with Society
Living in a polyamorous lifestyle is outside of societies norms, and this has consequences.
Firstly it can be socially unacceptable to be out about your polyamorous lifestyle. Some religions are averse to unconventional relationships and polyamory as a choice is not defended in the charter of human rights, unlike a sexual orientation which is. Discrimination based on your lifestyle choice is therefore acceptable in mainstream society. Coming out can have repercussions in the workplace, with family, and with neighbours and friends.
A second aspect is that one the taboos of society are broken there are few boundaries except those that are set by the individuals themselves. This isn’t a problem in itself but will provide a challenge for you to explore and find out what boundaries and consent are all about. This is turn requires a whole set of communications and honesty in relationships that were not often required (though could have been useful) in monogamous situations.
Ethical behaviour in relationships
In the opinion of this author, there are four aspects of conducting relationships in an ethical manner which are very significant to successful polyamory: honoring agreements, paying attention to discretion and disclosure, ensuring your partners are at choice, and being genuine.
As mentioned before, making and honoring agreements is paramount to every relationship. This is quite a black and white issue. What goes into the relationship agreement depends entirely on the issues that matter to the two persons making the agreement. The agreement may be verbal but it should be clear and understood and honored. It may be about many things, such as sexual activities, relationship limits, permissions and disclosures, but in essence it proscribes a code of conduct on both parties that make both feel comfortable with activities with each other and with others. If the code is breached, and mistakes do happen in life, then the party must come clean about what happened.
Disclosure and discretion is often within the agreement and it is about saying what needs to be said and not saying what doesn’t need to be said. Every relationship will have some expected conduct from the partner regarding what and when to communicate. Some will want to know every detail of encounters with others and at the other extreme “don’t ask don’t tell” being the level of expected disclosure. What makes this right is the agreement itself. The agreement between two people is done to make sure that a choice is made as to what is a healthy communication between the two. Honoring that choice is the path of integrity.
Allowing one’s partners to be at choice requires sufficient communications and presence of mind to keep all partners informed about the things that may affect them. Allowing all partners to be at choice is an element of integrity. Ongoing consent and respect of boundaries is something that should not be taken for granted and requires open discussion and equally, an open mind to the discussion.
Being your genuine self is also important to making relationships successful. Being in relationships for the right reasons not just for your partners but also for yourself is an aspect of walking with integrity. Sharing intentions and goals with your partners also means baring your soul a little and being honest about yourself. For example if all you want is great sex from time to time it isn’t a bad thing but don’t pretend to yourself or to your partner that there is actually a deep connection that you are seeking from them. Not all relationships are about sex. If you want the other person in your life but not as a lover say so. It’s amazing how being truthful has a way of enabling you to find what you seek.
Egality in relationships
Polyamorous relationships come in many and varied configurations. With any poly configuration comes the issue of being fair to everyone involved. Often a couple that live together may look at that relationship as their “primary” relationship and the relationship with others as “secondary” relationships (or OSO’s). This hierarchical structure is sometimes necessary for the smooth running of a household, for parenting issues, and for the economic well-being of the live-in couple. In some cases the Primary Partner has what is known as “veto power” over other relationships.
It isn’t necessarily a hierarchy from the point of view of the feelings involved. Other Significant Others aren’t necessarily any less significant from an emotional romantic, passionate, spiritually fulfilling, or sexual gratification point of view. In fact it could be that the OSO brings more excitement in many of these ways. Add to that idea that any one partner wants to feel just as important as another. Being considerate of partners feelings goes towards having happy relationships. My opinion is that egality is about behaving towards all your partners with respect and appreciation, and treating them as social equals.
Egality does not mean trying to have equal time and attention to each love, but rather the honoring the time and attention that each love deserves . Sometimes finding the time for each relationship is more difficult than finding the love for each. Out of town relationships may have a lot less together time than the partner in the same town, but when you see that out of town partner then that time together is likely to be very important and exciting when it happens.