We are super-chuffed to have the Intimacy Coach aka the lovely Dr Lori Beth Bisbey with us today, sharing her expertise on polyamory: what it is, who it’s for and what to look out for. Read on!
Polyamory has become a very popular topic over the last 10 years. Everywhere you look at the moment, people are talking about polyamory and other kinds of non-monogamy. It is trendy to have an open relationship. People talk about how hard it is for one person to meet all/most of your needs and how much healthier it is to have a variety of places to get your needs met. It’s the responsible way of managing varied and disparate needs. After all, they are your needs. Why should a partner be responsible for them?
In the past 30 years, I have worked with polyamorous couples, groups and singles as well as monogamous ones. The differences are not found in the relationship style, they are found in the ways in which the people involved approach issues, conflict and the resolution of problems, commitment and the relationships themselves. With all of this, your mileage may vary. There are many different definitions used to talk about non-monogamy and each individual, couple or poly group create their own rules for their relationships.
Polyamory is ethical non-monogamy where people have more than one love and sexual relationship at the same time. There are other forms of ethical non-monogamy that don’t involve having multiple romantic relationships but just involve multiple sexual relationships. For example, swingers often meet at clubs or private parties and confine their escapades to these clubs or parties. They may form friendships with some of the people they have sex with but they don’t usually form lasting love relationships or commitments.
Polyamorous relationships take many forms. Some are hierarchical. In these, there is a primary couple bond and other relationships are seen as secondary. Some find this terminology harsh and prefer to see all relationships as egalitarian and to work together to give equal time, energy and priority to all relationship partners. Others acknowledge that when people make a commitment to live together, share finances, raise children together and look after each other during times of illness and difficulty, these relationships take the most time and energy and often have priority.
Some people choose to live alone and have a variety of committed polyamorous relationships. Some people form a polyamorous group that is faithful to each other. Polygamous (one husband many wives) and polyandrous (one wife many husbands) marriages often fall into this category. Some poly groups that are faithful are made up of a few couples or a triad (three people) or quad (four people). Some people form a vee structure where the person in the middle is closer to the other two people than they are to each other. They may not even be involved with each other.
However people choose to structure their relationships, two things are essential in polyamory: honesty and informed consent. In all polyamorous relationships, everyone involved is honest about their other partners. All people who join these relationships give informed consent. They discuss the structure of relationships and any rules and agree to take part and keep to any of the agreed upon rules.
What are the joys of polyamory?
Well, there is the obvious – multiple sexual partners who are interested in seeing your needs are met. For many people, even more important is multiple people who are emotionally available, supportive and interested in seeing your needs are met.
Compersion is the feeling of joy a person has when experiencing another person’s joy. Imagine a toddler laughing with glee at petting a puppy. Most people will find themselves feeling joy in response. Compersion is experienced on a spectrum from appreciation of your partner’s pleasure at more of a distance to intense sexual excitement because of your partner’s sexual excitement.
For example: Arla feels happy when Jethro is happy. When he goes out on a date, she experiences contentment when Jethro is enjoying himself. She does not want to know the details of his date nor does she want to be told all about the person he is dating. Jethro wants all the details of Arla’s experiences. When Arla is excited, Jethro is guaranteed to get an erection. Compersion is one of the reasons why polyamorous relationships work well. Feeling compersion increases emotional intimacy, the bond and attachment that partners have to each other and to their partner’s other partners. Compersion is seen as the opposite of jealousy.
Not all polyamorous people experience compersion and some monogamous people experience compersion. It is something you can learn to experience by expanding your emotional repertoire.
Polyamory is interesting. More relationships bring more variety of experience into your lives. This can range from being part of raising children if you have not had your own biological children through to new cultural experiences through to hobbies that you may well have never discovered and explored. Sexually, people who are polyamorous tend to be more flexible and happier to explore more new things in the bedroom.
There is almost always someone there to help with any given problem. If you have partners a local area, then this includes physical help. If your partners are long distance, this may usually be limited to emotional support (though sometimes financial support is there as well). However, advance planning can mean that physical support is there as well. A partner can visit to help out after you have surgery, for example. Partners can work together to sustain a household when a parent is ill.
What are the challenges of polyamory?
Time is a limited resource and juggling multiple relationships can be extremely challenging. Problems with time and prioritising relationships are one of the most common issues that brings polyamorous people to me for help.
Excellent communication is essential for relationships to run smoothly and with minimum drama. People who do best find that they are able to talk about their emotions, take responsibility for their own feelings, communicate with a minimum of blame and apologise effectively. All of these are skills that can be learned and practiced until a person becomes an expert communicator.
Jealousy can be a challenge. Most of the time, jealousy arises from feelings of insecurity or from a perception of favouritism. If Jack is home without a date when Maria is out at a coveted party, he may feel jealous whereas if he is also out on a date, he may not feel jealous. When jealousy is as a result of insecurity, it is often more difficult to deal with. Sometimes a person simply insecure and others it is insecurity in the relationship that is the problem. It is important for people to learn to own their jealousy and do what is necessary to manage their feelings without asking their partner to change behaviour in most cases. Sometimes people need to re-negotiate the rules of their polyamory so that jealousy happens less often.
For example, Jane finds it difficult when Margaret tells her all the details of her escapades. She finds herself jealous each time she has lots of details. She asks Margaret not to share details and then she finds her jealousy decreases. This type of negotiation can work well but only when the person understands that it is their jealousy, not something their partner is doing wrong.
Is polyamory for you?
Do you love emotionally intimate relationships and find yourself falling for more than one person at a time? This is a good indication that polyamory might work well for you.
Are you emotionally literate and do you enjoy sharing your emotions with others? If so, this bodes well for any relationship you get involved in and works especially well if decide to be polyamorous.
Do you have a high sex drive? Polyamory is one way to make sure that your sexual needs get met. In monogamy, differences in sex drive can cause big strains on a relationship. Sex can become a battleground with one person feeling their needs are never met and the other feeling constantly pressured. Having relationships with multiple partners means no pressure anymore as you know you can get your needs met within the network of partners.
Do you find people of multiple genders attractive and find it hard when you are in a monogamous relationship because of what you are giving up? If so, polyamory is a relationship style choice that can give you the option to have all the relationships you want and take away that FOMO feeling.
If this has whet your appetite or if you have further questions, contact me about next steps at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dr Lori Beth is a sex & intimacy coach and psychologist who works with individuals, couples and polyamorous groups to help them explore sexuality, explore kink and BDSM, recreate a healthy sexual identity after trauma as well as deepen their awareness and understanding about intimate relationships. Her mission is to take sex and conversations about sex from shadow to light. She hosts two podcasts: The A to Z of SexÒ and Sex Spoken Here every week. Book a discovery session to see how she can help you create a lasting sizzling authentic sexual life.