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4 Things to Know about Polyamory Before Talking to Your Clients

Posted: 7-3-24 | The Affirmative Couch

A group of people embracing outside representing polyamorous relationships

Polyamory and Ethical non-monogamy (ENM) are both terms to describe relationships that form outside of traditional monogamous relationship patterns. Many poly individuals experience psychological distress due to any number of factors. Examples can  include marginalization, pressures to keep relationships secret, and pathologization in medical contexts. There are many myths about polyamory that it’s important to dispel.  Many stereotypes that might be true for some are not universal truths of polyamory—polyamorous people aren’t a monolith!

Here are a few things affirmative therapists should know about polyamory to be better prepared to work with poly clients.

There are lots of ways to be poly

Yes, this seems obvious, but it’s also important. Many wild assumptions can be based on  one other poly person they know or the time it was brought up in a TV show. Even members of the polyamorous community may find themselves assuming that other people make similar decisions. It is especially vital to manage biases and assumptions in order to create an affirmative and welcoming clinical environment. Some people may be “solo poly,” and choose to have no or few long-term, committed relationships. Other people may have one committed relationship and date more casually. Some poly relationships involve multiple people in a relationship together.

Poly relationships aren’t (necessarily) all about sex

Many people in poly relationships have experienced a lot of social stigma. This may be due to hypersexualization, and the assumption that they “can’t” be faithful to just one partner. If you’re most familiar with media representations of polyamory, it might surprise you to learn that there are acespec people (people on the asexual spectrum) who are also poly. Poly relationships can form in a variety of ways, and assuming that these relationships are based on a high or abnormal libido is a good sign of mononormative thinking.

Non-monogamous relationships can be healthy!

Individuals in therapy may often speak to their therapist about relationship issues. The pathologization of polyamory means that in many cases, therapists will focus on polyamory as the source of all relationship problems. The easiest thing here is to ask yourself a question: if this person were monogamous, would you assume their problem could be solved by being poly? Chances are good that the answer is no! In some cases, of course, a poly relationship may be related to the core issue: for example, someone entering into a poly relationship because their partner is poly–and in some cases, someone might determine that they don’t want to be in a poly relationship. However, the tacit assumption that poly relationships lead to relationship problems can be damaging to your client, as well as to the therapeutic relationship.

Polyamorous culture is unique

While poly relationships have not been widely known in the Western world, that is because of social taboos rather than because they didn’t exist. Poly relationships have flourished, and thanks to the internet, a thriving culture has begun to emerge. As with many marginalized cultural groups, poly culture has its own lexicon to describe common aspects of poly life. If a client is speaking to you about their poly relationship and they use a term that is unfamiliar, don’t hesitate to ask them to explain!

As poly relationships gain more social acceptance, you may find more clients who are discussing their poly relationships or considering a poly relationship. As an affirmative therapist, you can develop the tools you need to support your clients on these topics. The Affirmative Couch can help!

Learn More from Our Courses

Text: Mono-Poly Relationships in Therapy Presented by Stephanie M. Sullivan, MS, LMFT 2 CE course is below two heads, one that has multiple people in it, and one that has one person in it representing polyamorous and monogamous identities. Text: Psychodynamic Therapy and Polyamory presented by Ryan G. Witherspoon, PhD, 3 CE course under the animated image of three clients on a sofa working out a conflict with a therapist seated to the left of them.

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