Cathy and Thomas Keen have been together for nine years and non-monogamous for seven. For over a year the London-based couple were both in an open relationship with their friend, Nicole Everett. In Mating In Captivity: Sex, Lies and Domestic Bliss , psychotherapist Esther Perel points out that all relationships rely on trust and violations of that trust amount to a betrayal, just as they do in monogamous relationships.
Marceille Bisset, 26, was crushed when she found out her long-distance polyamorous partner had secret girlfriends. What hurt was not that he was seeing other people, but the dishonesty. But in non-monogamy, you can have your cake and eat it too—so why are you sneaking cake in the middle of the night?
So he did it anyway behind my back for six months. Rules vary from relationship to relationship. Some polyamorous people may agree not to date anyone of a specific gender. Others may permit certain sexual activities, but not others. Many people—including my husband and I—seek approval before engaging with a new partner. But rules can also change. Prague-based couple Tereza and Josef Sekovovi were in a monogamous relationship for ten years, before becoming polyamorous two years ago.
In the beginning they agreed not to sleep with anyone else without prior approval. The key is communication. It would feel totally like a betrayal. Debriefing after seeing a new partner can be just as important a part of ethical non-monogamy as establishing boundaries beforehand.
For Cathy and Thomas, 33, time spent reconnecting with each other after seeing someone new is crucial. Safe sex is also a common theme. One study from the University of Michigan, which collected data on several hundred individuals via an online questionnaire, found that people who cheat in monogamous relationships are less likely to practice safe sex than consensually non-monogamous people.
All the non-monogamous people I spoke to were vocal about the importance of using condoms. This is another tactic that works for any relationship, monogamous or polyamorous. However, polyamorous relationships can be more complex than monogamous relationships, if for no other reason that there are more people involved, and polyamorous relationships benefit greatly when the people in them seek to be as flexible as possible, particularly with regard to solving problems.
Flexibility and creativity can sometimes go a long way toward solving these problems. For example, if a person has two lovers, each of whom wants to sleep with him five nights a week, it may be that the most flexible solution involves sleeping with both of them for three nights out of the week.
A willingness to be flexible in the manner in which a problem is solved is an asset in any relationship. And even issues that may seem at first glance to be directly related to polyamory—jealousy, for instance—might still exist even in a monogamous relationship. Love is a funny thing. Sometimes, your partner may love someone you yourself would not really choose to associate with. Be conscious of that fact. Like all relationships, it will do better if you pay attention to it, acknowledge it, and are conscious of it.
Sometimes, people may assume that anyone who is interested in a sexual relationship with their partner is also interested in a sexual relationship with them, or that a prospective partner must be equally interested in everyone involved in an existing relationship. Your actions do and always will have consequences, even if they were not what you intended; your life is shaped by the decisions you make and the things you do. I have met many people who seem to feel disempowered in their lives.
This feeling of victimization saves them from having to take responsibility for their actions; but the downside is that it dramatically curtails their ability to take control of their own lives. It can also mean that they use what power they do have carelessly. Taking responsibility for the consequences—even the unintended consequences—of your actions is sometimes unpleasant.
Considering the effects of your decisions on the people around you is sometimes a lot of work. The upside to doing this work, though, is it empowers you, and lets you shape your life the way you want while still being compassionate and responsible to the people around you. If you believe that you are better, more enlightened, or more wise because of your preferred relationship model, you may end up behaving carelessly.
None of this is necessarily true. The second path leads to insecurity, resentment, and feelings of inadequacy. Neither will tearing yourself down. It can sometimes be tempting to speak for the other people in your relationship, or to make assumptions on their behalf.
Sometimes, this happens out of simple miscalculation. No matter the reason, any time you find yourself speaking for, or making assumptions on behalf of, somebody else…look out. People who are single are sometimes seen as being less valid as human beings than people who are married, and so on.
If you look to your relationship to tell you who you are, or to define your worth, then your sense of self will always be tied up in the form of your relationship. You have power over your life. Your worth depends on you, not on your partner and not on your relationship. You have an identity that exists independent of your relationship, and your relationship does not describe your value.
These ideas empower you to seek happiness on your terms, but more important than that, they give you resiliency that can help you over the inevitable rough patches that any relationship is likely to face. Value and worth that come from within you rather than from things outside yourself, such as your partner or your relationship, can never be taken away from you. There is a difference between a person who wants to be in a relationship and a person who needs to be in that relationship.
If your sense of value comes from yourself, it frees you from dependence on the people around you. A relationship should serve the needs of all the people in it—including you. That road leads to codependency. If your lover cares about you, then sacrificing your happiness will have an effect on your lover. Know thyself. This is perhaps the most important single thing you can do in any relationship. Knowing what you want and need in order to be happy is an excellent first step in being happy.
Forget the romantic myth that your only concern should be for the happiness of your partner; every person in a relationship deserves to be happy, including you. You can more easily be happy if you understand what you need and where your limits are, and you can more easily build a healthy relationship if you are happy.
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