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What is Polyamory? An Introduction to Non-Monogamous Relationships

By: Bo

What is Polyamory

What is Polyamory? An Introduction to Non-Monogamous Relationships


The last decade has seen a rise in polyamory. Studies say that about 4 or 5 percent of the population of the United States are in a polyamorous relationship. Though polyamory remains in the minority in favor of monogamous relationships, its popularity continues to grow. This is especially true in the Gen Z demographic. 
Polyamory and alternative relationship structures allow for the consensual forming and building of multiple romantic and/or sexual relationships. The growth in the visibility of polyamory has inspired both curiosity and misunderstanding around what polyamory is and isn't. This has led to both stigma and practices that fall outside of what is defined as polyamory. 

For those new to polyamory, there can be questions about how to form and maintain healthy polyamorous relationships. Here we’ll define what polyamory is, deconstruct misperceptions, introduce various polyamorous relationship structures, and share some tips on how to maintain healthy polyamorous relationships. 


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What is Polyamory?


Polyamory is the practice of consensually engaging in a romantic and/or sexual relationship with more than one person. Consent means everyone involved knows and agrees. 
This is different from open relationships in which there is a core relationship between two people in which one or both are free to become involved sexually outside of that core, but don't necessarily form intimate, emotional relationships outside the main relationship. 


The Definition of Polyamory

According to the Britannica, polyamory is “having or desiring multiple intimate relationships at the same time with the full knowledge and consent of all parties involved.” 
Polyamory falls under the umbrella of ethical non-monogamy. The ethical non-monogamy umbrella includes swingers, open relationships, polyamory, and even, more recently, relationship anarchy. 

Polyamory can include people of various sexual orientations, including asexual, though it is not a sexual orientation or gender identity itself. Though different from polygamy, in which someone has multiple spouses, a polyamorous couple could be married while having other partners or intimate relationships. Though some may not want marriage at all. 
The relationships could be hierarchical, in which one partner or relationship is the primary focus, or non-hierarchical, in which all relationships are held equally.  

At the core of any ethical non-monogamous relationship is the concept of consent. With consent, you are sure of the relationships you have with others and they are aware of any relationships you have and agree to those arrangements. 
What sets polyamory apart from other forms of ethical non-monogamous relationships is the forming of multiple intimate romantic and/or sexual relationships at the same time. 


The Concept of Polyamory


Polyamory vs. Monogamy
Monogamy is the practice of forming an intimate romantic, emotional, and/or sexual relationship with one person exclusively. This is the most common form of relationship structure and the most (if not the only) socially accepted romantic relationship structure. In polyamory, exclusivity to one partner is not a requirement, though exclusivity can exist in a polyamorous relationship. Such as in a triad or in a closed polyamorous relationship, for example. 

Ethical Non-Monogamy: An Exploration
Ethical non-monogamy includes swingers, open relationships, as well as polyamory. Swingers practice “spouse swapping”, in which people in an established couple have casual encounters with people in other established relationships. 
In open relationships, the one or both people in an established relationship engage in casual sexual encounters outside of their established relationship. There is also the newer concept of being monogamish, a concept established by Dan Savage. Monogamish relationships have varying degrees of sexual encounters outside of relationships. These degrees are defined within the relationship and so are unique to every couple. 

Common Misconceptions about Polyamory
One common misconception about polyamory is that it’s another form of infidelity or “cheating”. Polyamory by definition must be consensual. Because of this infidelity can occur in a polyamorous relationship. For example, if you are in a polyamorous relationship and form a new relationship without obtaining consent from your other partners and others who may be affected by this new relationship, that would be a form of infidelity because there was no consent. 
Another misconception is that people who practice polyamory are immature and afraid of commitment. In fact, many choose to practice polyamory after a lifetime of practicing monogamy. Often, they do so after they reach a point in maturation where they can express their needs and work through feelings of jealousy. 
Polyamory requires clear, honest communication with more than one person as well as time, effort, and emotional investment. In polyamory, there is an acknowledgement that one person shouldn’t need to meet all of your needs and/or desires. 

The Emotional Aspects of Polyamory
Polyamory provides a unique opportunity for emotional cultivation. Within the relationships themselves and as an individual. The experience of navigating various relationships can lead to personal growth as you develop a deeper understanding of your own desires, needs, boundaries, and emotions. 
Polyamory often requires this elevated sense of self-awareness and continuous self-reflection. In turn, this leads to clearer communication and an increased sense of empathy, compassion, and awareness of the emotions of others. 
You also have the opportunity to have multiple sources of emotional support who can each share unique perspectives and forms of support. This creates a diversity in emotional expression and care. 

The Types of Polyamory

Polyamory can take on various forms depending on the needs of the individuals involved. Below we’ll introduce you to some of the most common types. 

Hierarchical Polyamory
In hierarchical polyamory, one relationship takes precedence over the others. This relationship would be considered the ‘primary’ relationship. In this type of relationship, the two individuals are each other’s ‘primary’ partners. This is the person you may live with, have children with, or share finances with. Your ‘secondary’ partner or partners may not be as enmeshed in your life. You can also have tertiary partners, etc. in this structure.  

Non-Hierarchical Polyamory
In non-hierarchical polyamory relationships the opinion of each partner is considered in making decisions. Each relationship is allowed to grow organically without the involvement of outside influences. In contrast, in a hierarchical relationship, the primary partner’s opinion takes precedence over those of other partners. 

Solo Polyamory
Solo polyamory is not so much a relationship structure as a descriptor. A solo polyamorous person is a single person who practices polyamory. They may or may not want to be in a relationship, but will not date a monogamous person because they may continue to date other people. 

Other Forms of Non-Monogamy
Other forms of polyamory include kitchen tale polyamory, parallel polyamory, polyfidelity, and relationship anarchy. 
In kitchen tale polyamory there is an emphasis on a family-style to the relationships.The idea is that everyone can sit around a kitchen tale and discuss life together. In parallel polyamory, one or more of the partners may not want to meet the other partners of the person or persons they have a relationship with. 

In polyfidelity, a group of polyamorous partners ‘close’ their relationship. Meaning they are exclusive to the members of the group and will not engage in romantic or sexual relationships outside of that group. 

Relationship anarchy is not a relationship structure at all, but rather a philosophy. A relationship anarchist does away with all relationship structures and considers all relationships in their life as equal. This includes relationships that don’t have a romantic or sexual component, such as friendships or family. In this philosophy, a romantic partner does not take priority over a friend. 
A relationship anarchist may choose to be in an exclusive, romantic relationship. That relationship will just not be prioritized over any other relationship and will be based on choice. A choice that the individuals involved can change at any time, depending on the needs each as individuals and as a community has at that given point in life.  

Polyamorous Relationships

Polyamorous relationships have boundaries that can differ widely depending on the needs of the individuals involved. Here are some tips on navigating polyamorous relationships. 

How Do Polyamorous Relationships Work?
Polyamorous relationships have structures that can change over time as the needs, emotions, and life experiences shift. Because these structures can change, the relationships need a strong foundation of open communication, willingness to express individual needs, empathy, active listening, respect of boundaries, and self-awareness. 

Guidelines for Successful Polyamorous Relationships
Here are some guidelines to follow to maximize the success of your relationships:

  • Be honest about your needs, expectations, and boundaries
  • Practice gratitude, honesty, and self-care to navigate jealousy
  • Be intentional with the time you spend with each partner
  • Arm yourself with knowledge to face social stigmas about choosing polyamory
  • Find joy in your partner(s) happiness, including their time with another person
  • Practice safe sex 


Communication in Polyamorous Relationships

Communication is vital to the success of any relationship, but this is especially true when navigating multiple relationships. 
The Importance of Open and Honest Communication
The key to navigating multiple relationships successfully is proactive communication with each partner. Boundaries need to be set on time, needs, and expectations. Desires, fears, doubts, and changes need to be honestly explored. Communication is essential to building intimacy, trust, and to explore the experiences you want to share. 

Dealing with Jealousy in Polyamorous Relationships
Jealousy is an emotion that can feel overwhelming. It’s an emotion that we are not as socially equipped to navigate as well as our other emotions. Learning how to navigate jealousy in polyamorous relationships is essential to their thriving. You must be willing to be open with your partners and willing to take full responsibility for what you are feeling.

 Engage in self-reflection to get to the source of your feelings of jealousy. Use the feeling as an opportunity to learn more about your doubts and insecurities both internally and externally. You can then use this newly gained self-knowledge to deepen your relationship with yourself and your partners. 


The Benefits and Challenges of Polyamory

The practice of polyamory brings with it unique opportunities and challenges. Here are a few: 

Benefits of Polyamory
Polyamory has surprising benefits you might not expect. Your relational skills can improve rapidly as you build relationships with different people, personalities and self. You get to build an extensive, supportive community based on honesty and open communication.  There is an opportunity for an abundance of love, intimacy, and romance. 

Challenges of Polyamory
Challenges come with every relationship structure. Some challenges of polyamory include the need for good time management skills, an increased chance of experiencing jealousy, navigating the needs of various partners, and an emphasis on extra emotional labor required for authentic, effective communication. 


What is polyamory? Polyamory, like any relationship structure, is a journey. Polyamory gives you so much to explore. It’s not for everyone, but if you’re curious about exploring polyamory, this guide is only the beginning. As with any, the more time, attention, and care you put into cultivating your relationships the more fulfilling they will be.