What Can Polyamory Teach Us About Relationships?

As we’ve discussed before on this blog, there is a lot we can learn from folks who are different from us. Even when we think we don’t have much in common, there are lessons we can draw from many types of experiences, lifestyles, and communities. Today, we’re talking about what we can learn from polyamorous people, even if we’re not poly ourselves!

For folks who aren’t familiar, a person who is polyamorous is someone who desires consensual and ethical non-monogamy. Ethical non-monogamy is when someone is a member of multiple sexual and/or romantic relationships at the same time with the consent of everyone involved, and is not to be confused with infidelity. Ethical monogamy includes agreements and negotiations that allow for multiple sexual and/or romantic connections and relationships. Polyamorous folks are often referred to as “poly” or “polyam” in sex positive spaces.

Just like with monogamy, polyamory isn’t for everyone, but it is often misunderstood or misrepresented in media. There are many different ways to structure poly relationships, and there is no one “right” way to be polyamorous. So, even though we might not all practice polyamory, there is still a lot we can learn about love, desire, and relationships from polyamorous people.

It’s okay to be attracted to other people

One big lesson we can all learn from poly people is that being attracted to someone else doesn’t have to be a threat to your relationship. We’re all human, and we’re allowed to be (and are going to be) attracted to more than one person at a time. Love and attraction are not finite resources. Your feelings for someone else do not cancel out the feelings you have for your partner, and vice versa. Many of us experience attraction to more than one person at a time (even if it’s just fleeting!), but the difference is that poly people acknowledge that it’s important to experience and talk about these feelings instead of burying them under shame and guilt. Also, poly people have space to engage with consciously thinking about and deciding whether to engage in that attraction in an open and honest way, where monogamous people may not feel they have that space.  

Communication with a capital C

A huge part of poly relationships is communication. This is a topic we return to frequently because it really is the foundation of relationships! Poly folks communicate constantly. Not only is there the logistical side of coordinating schedules and making time for all partners, but there is the emotional side of communication as well. When feelings of jealousy, abandonment, or fear come up, communication is a large part of working through those feelings

These emotions are not just reserved for poly people, either. They are present for most of us at some point or another, but often they go undiscussed. Poly folks understand that the way to work through these feelings and keep the relationship healthy and satisfying for all parties is to recognize the feelings, soothe themselves, and talk about the tough feelings coming up. Even when it’s hard. Even when you feel like you can’t do it. It’s important to get those feelings out on the table so everyone is on the same page. It takes practice, but, for many, it feels worth it.

Other people can fulfill your needs, and that’s okay

It’s a lot of pressure to be everything to someone. Poly folks understand the strength of a support network, whether it is through romantic partners, sexual partners, friends, or family. Think about it this way: you probably have different friends who fulfill a variety of needs for you. You may have a friend you go to bars with, a friend you talk about books with, and a friend you go to the gym with. You probably don’t have just one friend who meets all of your needs all the time, and that’s okay! The same idea is true for poly folks, except some of those relationships can include multiple romantic and sexual relationships. Different relationships can fulfill different needs for you without taking away from each other.

It is up to you to define your relationship

It’s nobody’s business what goes on in your relationship except for the people in the relationship. Polyamory can be confusing to some people because there are so many ways to approach it (hierarchical vs. nonhierarchical, is one example). One of the biggest takeaways from polyamory that anyone can benefit from is that you get to set up your relationship in any way you want to - there are no rules, except for the rules and boundaries that you co-create. Relationships take time and effort, no matter what type of relationship structure you choose, so you may as well explore what works for you and your partner(s).

Remember, these aren’t ideas you can implement overnight. They take practice, commitment, and communication. Poly people aren’t born knowing everything there is to know about polyamory, because polyamory is an experience that varies from person to person. Even if you are content in a monogamous relationship, we can still learn from poly folks.

Blog authors all hold positions at the Gender & Sexuality Therapy Center (G&STC). For more information about our therapists and services please contact us.