There is no one way to make a relationship succeed. Similarly, there is no one correct format for a romantic relationship. Over the past few centuries in the Judeo-Christian West, the norm has been the heteronormative relationship. Basically, this is a marriage between one man and one woman. This model is often held as the blueprint for a modern, moral, effective relationship. Even same-sex marriages, only recently legalized, generally stick to a monogamous model. However, alternative relationship types have made their case as being equivalent, rather than better or worse. Polyamorous relationships are perhaps the most popular example.
More and more people are becoming open to relationships that are not limited to two people, that follow a different set of rules, and that are not proscribed by a societal definition. The psychological world is becoming more attuned to the needs of people in polyamorous relationships and those who identify themselves as polyamorous may wish to see a therapist who specializes in polyamory.
What are Polyamorous Relationships?
Polyamory is an umbrella term for consensual non-monogamous relationships. Polyamorous relationships do not follow the rules or expectations of monogamy.
Polyamory refers to the practice of engaging in multiple sexual relationships with the consent of all the people involved. There is no specific definition of how a polyamorous relationship should look. To give you an idea, it generally involves a rejection of monogamy, a capacity for loving more than one person, and an extraordinary ability to overcome jealousy.
Polyamory vs Monogamy
There are some fundamental differences between polyamory and monogamy.
In a monogamous relationship, extramarital sex is prohibited. In fact, a monogamous partner may even see emotional investment in another person as infidelity. Members of polyamorous relationships, on the other hand, are at the least open to sex with other people and multiple relationships are totally acceptable. Some polyamorous relationships simply allow for it, while others go as far as to encourage it.
Furthermore, a monogamous relationship is by definition between two people only. In strong contrast to this, polyamorous relationships are generally made up of three or more people.
Polyamorous Relationships: What It’s Not
There are many misconceptions about polyamorous relationships. This is in part due to the fact that the term is only loosely defined. It is an umbrella term, rather than a specific description of any one type of relationship.
People often confuse the following types of relationships with polyamory.
Polygamy vs Polyamory
Polygamy describes a relationship in which one member has multiple spouses. Polygamous relationships, in general, are between one man and multiple wives. Polygamy tends to have a more religious basis. It follows the example that was set by many Old Testament prophets such as Abraham, David and Solomon. In Judeo-Christian law, a man is allowed to have multiple wives, while a woman can only be married to one man.
In the United States, polygamy is generally only practiced by members of the Mormon faith. Although common law marriage to more than one person is illegal.
Polyamory, on the other hand, refers to relationships between two or more people of any gender. It is not defined by marriage and commonly has nothing to do with religion. While polygamists tend to have hierarchies concerning the man and his various wives, members of polyamorous relationships are all viewed as equals.
Polyamorous relationships are not the same as open relationships. Even though, technically, open relationships can fall under the umbrella term of polyamory.
Open relationships refer to relationships between two people, who stipulate that sex with people outside the relationship is permitted (with certain boundaries in place). Open relationships are actually quite similar to monogamous relationships. While sex with other people is allowed, emotional intimacy is often limited to the couple.
Polyamory mainly refers to an openness towards redefining the traditional relationship. Open relationships, on the other hand, are more like variations of the traditional monogamous relationship.
Human Capacity for Love
At the heart of polyamory is the idea that humans have a capacity for love that need not be limited to one person. The concept of a soulmate is rejected. On the contrary, as part of the polyamorous lifestyle; one person can have feelings of passion, romance, and sexual love towards multiple people at the same time.
The idea that love has to be limited to one romantic relationship is seen as outdated and having more to do with jealousy than actual connection. In a polyamorous relationship, members can love other people, without their partner(s) feeling threatened.
The Healthy Habits of Polyamorous Relationships
Many monogamous couples resonate with the ideas espoused by polyamory, even if they are not willing to engage in anything but a monogamous relationship in their own life For this reason, healthy habits that come through in polyamorous relationships can be useful for monogamous people as well.
Defining the Relationship
People in polyamorous relationships cannot assume the rules of their courtship in the way that monogamous couples can. They, therefore, have to actively engage in defining the relationship. These people communicate openly about what they need from each other, what they want from the relationship, and what they will and will not accept.
This habit is healthy for any type of relationship. No-one can know what another person needs from them without discussing it first. Many relationship troubles come from one or more partners in a relationship not getting what they need when they have never explored or expressed what that may be. Defining the relationship helps to get things off to a good start, with two or more people who know how to support each other.
Making Room for Individuality
A common relationship-killer is the need people feel to subsume, or be subsumed by, each other. In other words, two halves are said to become a whole and their lives end up meaning little on their own. This leaves no space for individual meaning and individual pursuits.
Polyamorous relationships, on the other hand, celebrate individuality. There is ample room for two or more complete people, rather than two “half people.” Without the possessiveness or jealousy that is commonly seen in monogamous relationships, outside interests do not threaten the relationship. Members of polyamorous relationships can feel more fulfillment in their personal lives and careers, knowing that they do not need to dilute them for anyone else.
Polyamorous relationships, in which each individual has multiple partners, require a lot more scheduling than traditional relationships. People need to work out when to see each other, enjoy a romantic evening, have sex, have big conversations, and so on.
This can seem exhausting to monogamous individuals. However, relationship scheduling can actually be very healthy. It prevents relationships from hitting a plateau. Letting things go unsaid, forgetting about maintaining the relationship, and endlessly postponing growth.
All relationships can benefit from scheduled dates, scheduled time to sit down and talk, scheduled sexual exploration, and so on. This does not mean everything should be scheduled or that spontaneity is bad. However, when we don’t consciously make time for growth, good intentions tend to become forgotten.
Discussing the State of the Relationship
When polyamorous people define the relationship, they are not setting rules that need to be kept for the rest of their lives. Rather, they are noting their needs and wants at that moment in time, and defining the best possible relationship to meet those needs and wants. When things change, so should the definition of the relationship.
Because there are no hard and fast rules, polyamorous people need to discuss the state of the relationship. Without doing so, life becomes confusing and unmanageable. Whereas monogamous relationships can more easily revert to the status quo when something happens, polyamorous relationships need active engagement.
People in all types of relationships should be open to discussing the state of their relationship on a regular basis.
Feelings of jealousy have destroyed too many relationships to count over the course of human existence. When one partner is suspicious of another and becomes jealous of their interests, friends, or family; their possessiveness can cause rifts in the relationship. Jealous people push each other away by trying to hold on too tightly. Resentment builds and partners start to feel stifled.
People who practice polyamory have to be ready to challenge their jealousy and to try and overcome it. They have to recognize from the get-go that a partner does not belong to them. They can love the person and be loved by the person without exclusivity.
Whether you agree with polyamorous relationship structures or not, everyone can benefit from this approach to jealousy.
When Polyamory Goes Wrong
Polyamory is far from perfect. It is more of a framework than a blueprint for a relationship and people can, therefore, come to a relationship with conflicting ideas of how to be together. If they do not communicate these ideas properly at the beginning, cracks may begin to show later on.
No one is completely immune to jealousy, and some will not manage it as well as others do. Also, some people are naturally better at communicating than others. It is a learned skill for many people, including those who identify themselves as polyamorous.
How to Find a Therapist
Relationship therapy can benefit people in polyamorous relationships greatly. Ideally, they should seek support from a therapist familiar with seeing non-monogamous people. Therapists with no experience in exploring the topic of polyamory may not know how to counsel people in polyamorous relationships. They will most likely have studied the inner workings of monogamous relationships and how people in those types of relationships respond to life. While they can definitely learn about polyamory, you may feel more at home with someone who already has the experience. It will also save you from feeling like you have to educate your therapist about polyamory.
What Should I be Looking for in an LMHP?
Any licensed mental health professional (LMHP) who you see should be fully certified by the relevant boards. They should have thousands of hours of experience practicing therapy and have a good reputation among fellow professionals and their clients.
Questions to Ask a Potential Therapist
Ask a potential therapist if they have experience working with polyamorous people and relationships. Feel free to discuss how they feel about the subject. Try to get to know them in order to make sure whether they’re the right fit for you.
Find a Therapist Now!
You can find therapists who specialize in all areas of psychology, including polyamorous relationships, on ThriveTalk. ThriveTalk works hard to match you up with the best in online therapy so you do not have to be in close proximity to a therapist in order to see them. Also, you can choose the perfect therapist, rather than settling for whoever happens to be the most convenient to see.
The psychological world is still working on understanding polyamorous relationships. While monogamy has been the main focus of psychological thinking until now, there is much to be discovered about non-monogamous relationships and their benefits. Finding a therapist who has experience with polyamorous relationships is ideal if you are looking to work on yourself and your relationship.