Chances are you probably know someone in a polyamorous or open relationship. You may not be aware that you do, but you probably do. And chances are, unless you are the someone in a polyamorous or open relationship, you may not know as much as you think you do about how such a relationship works and what some of the biggest benefits and challenges are. Below, five different women discuss their experience with polyamory and open relationships (they aren’t necessarily the same thing), and some of the biggest misconceptions people have about the lifestyle. For example, jealousy is NOT generally the biggest challenge people in polyamorous relationships face. Find out below what is.
In a poly marriage of four years. She also has a boyfriend of almost a year. Her husband has one other partner he has been with for 18 months. He and his other partner of a year recently broke up. Jill’s boyfriend has no other partners; her “metamour” (husband’s partner) has several other serious and casual partners.
Currently single, but dating a man in a polyamorous (hetero) marriage, and also seeing a man who is not poly (“I have not discussed exclusivity with him yet.”). Earlier this summer, Jill was seeing both the same man in a poly marriage and also another friend who was in a poly relationship.
Currently in a monogamous relationship with a man but was in a poly marriage with her ex-husband. They dated for a year, were married for five years, and were open for five and a half of those six years.
She is currently single and looking. She dated a polyamorous man for about a year and a half, ending the relationship last fall.
In a poly marriage with her husband of five years.
People have different reasons for adopting a polyamorous lifestyle (or dating someone who is polyamorous)
For Kacie, it was a way to experiment with her newly-realized queer identity without cheating on her husband:
“The spring of 2016, I realized I was queer. I talked to my husband and expressed my anxieties related to cheating. He asked me if I wanted an “open marriage.” I told him I didn’t even know what that would look like, and wanted to explore the idea together for at least six months, before jumping into anything. For those six months we read books and blogs and articles, we met with my therapist, and the two of us talked. And talked. And talked some more. After months of this, we decided that I only wanted to date/sleep with women while my husband had no interest in dating outside our marriage.
This lasted a few months. I had a few experiences, ranging from mediocre to great. Through this, we landed on the conclusion that we were both more “polyamorous” than just non-monogamous (less about sex, more about meaningful relationships). Around this time, I had a girlfriend I was seeing seriously, and my husband and my best friend (who also happens to be married to HIS best friend) started to have romantic feelings for each other. We tried hard to make that work, but in the end our friends decided being poly was not for them. At this point, my husband and I jumped feet first into the dating world (mostly online) where I met my current boyfriend and he met his partner.”
For M.R., dating a polyamorous man for about a year and a half after ending another relationship allowed her to be involved without being monogamous with anyone or have what she felt would be a “full on” relationship.
For Jill, opening herself to non-monogamy was motivated by wanting help communicating, setting boundaries, and overcoming anxiety, after a few mildly traumatizing relationships:
“I was also tired of selectively dating men one at a time, because when it didn’t work out I would be irrationally crushed. My friend mentioned she changed her profile to “open to non-monogamy” and began seeing a poly man. I was curious. I figured people in sustaining poly relationships are more likely to be adept at open communication.
Therapy helped, but I wanted practice. I also thought it would be a great way to try dating multiple people without leading someone on. I changed my profile, too, and within a month was chatting with a man in a poly marriage. ”
There are a range of benefits
“Our marriage has benefitted greatly. There is no longer the pressure to be “everything” to each other, and we have other partners we can rely on for emotional support. My husband and I are much closer than we have ever been. When he went through several really hard break-ups, I was there to support and love him through it. I have learned so much about myself. There is so much more love and happiness in my life. My husband and I have mismatched sex drives, and having multiple partners alleviates that. With the seriousness of our relationships as well, we have become slightly more financially entangled, and four incomes no kids means we are doing well in that aspect. Same thing with chores!” — Kacie
“The biggest benefit has been the fact that it essentially forces you to learn how to clearly communicate with your partner, while also being open and honest with yourself. Being able to recognize my feelings, boundaries, wants, and needs and express them well has helped me in every relationship in my life.” — Michelle
For Christine, who identifies as a swinger (as opposed to polyamorous), the biggest benefit has been spicing up her marriage: “We have been together for eight years and that is a long time to stay spicy. When we are with other people (same room, full swap), we enjoy watching each other and enjoy each other’s pleasure. Then when we are alone, it is hot to talk about it.”
Jill says: “It’s also made me a kinder and more understanding person to the men I date. Before I would want it to work so badly that I didn’t sit back and get to know HIM, and I didn’t check in with what my real feelings were. My interactions with me are a lot more authentic now and I appreciate the individual in front of me, not the potential boyfriend. Also, having great sex without the strings attached is pretty nice too.”
The biggest challenge across the board tends to be managing logistics
“It’s a lot of people’s schedules and needs to juggle (google calendar helps!). I’m an extremely organized person, and that makes it smoother. I think a lot of m/f couple experience emotional and social labor imbalance, and sometimes I feel that even harder. Reminding my husband about his relationship with his partner (like did you buy a Valentine’s Day card for them?) or planning meals and social engagements for four people at a given time can be exhausting. But we both make steps to ease this.” — Kacie
“My biggest issue in the relationship was time. Besides the fact that he was seeing other people, he was very social. After the initial ‘honeymoon period’ wore off it became very difficult to find time to spend together. We’d have to plan dates a month in advance.” — M.R.
Another challenge is “coming out” to people (family, friends, co-workers) or keeping it a secret:
“I’m a high school teacher, and my husband also works in education, so there can be some potential pearl-clutching. I am blessed to work in a school whose whole mission is about personal freedom, expression, and diversity so when I am out with my boyfriend or husband, I act the same, without worry about “who sees.” It has led to some awkward situations, but I am happy and open to set the record straight with anyone and everyone curious.
We are also out to our families. This was a necessity since we live very close to my in-laws and did not want them to think someone was having an affair. Again, at first it was awkward, but we’ve attended functions and meals with my in-laws and our other partners, and it’s usually a pretty chill time. My own family lives 1000 miles away. I told them over the phone. It hasn’t gone super well, and my dad has made it his personal crusade to let me know he disapproves of “My Lifestyle,” but I am old enough and independent enough to set strong boundaries with them.” — Kacie
“Keeping it a secret is hard as only other lifestyle people understand. I feel like I lie to my vanilla friends and family.” — Christine
Here are some common misconceptions:
Misconception: It’s all about selfish sex, lack of boundaries and “free love.”
“For an open relationship to be successful there has to be plenty to thoughtful communication and agreement on both sides.” — Jill
Misconception: People in poly relationships will have sex with anyone
“[When I was in my poly marriage,] I got propositioned by a lot of men who could not understand that I could — and even would — say no; my least favorite men were the ones in monogamous relationships who would argue their point by saying “come on, you cheat on your husband.” That’s another misconception (that we’re cheating). Each poly relationship has it’s own rules, so it is possible to cheat on your significant other, and that’s why communication is especially important in poly relationships.” — Michelle
Misconception: Poly couples feel superior toward couples in traditional relationships
“Poly couples are prone to the same feelings and make mistakes as we all do. No one touts the “right” way to approach relationships, except jerks.” — Jill
Polyamorous relationships generally exploit women and benefit men
“UGH. This annoys me the most. Women have full agency in good poly relationships, as they do in good monogamous relationships. I’m as feminist as they come. I’ve met my partner’s wife before, and I’ve listened carefully about their life when it comes to dating, family obligations, chores, children. They seem to have a more solid understanding of household equality than most.” — Jill
Thank you to the women who contributed to this post! If you’re interested in learning more about polyamory and open relationships, here are two books to get your started: The Smart Girl’s Guide to Polyamory: Everything You Need to Know About Open Relationships, Non-Monogamy, and Alternative Love; and Eight Things I Wish I’d Known About Polyamory: Before I Tried It and Frakked It Up.
Formerly in Women Discuss: How to Express Condolences (And Why It’s So Important!) and Lessons from Divorce.
* If you would like to contribute to future Women Discuss posts, shoot me an email at wendy(AT)dearwendy.com with “The Hive” in the subject line. If you want to share your age, marital status, where you live, and whether you have kids, that would also be great. And if you’d just like to share ideas for topics you want to read more about, feel free to pass those along, too. Thank you!!