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Managing Jealousy in a Polyamorous Relationship

Posted: 6-14-19 | Stephanie Sullivan

jealousy and polyamory

Stephanie M. Sullivan, MS, LLMFT

Keywords: Polyamory

When people are first introduced to the idea of polyamory, one of the first questions they ask is often about jealousy. How do people in polyamorous relationships manage jealousy? Are they ever jealous? In the vast majority of polyamorous relationships, jealousy does come up at some point. However, jealousy can be broken down to determine what your real concerns are. When you recognize what is bothering you, it is possible to manage this challenging feeling. You may even reach a point of compersion, in which you feel joy when your partner is with another partner. You may feel this because you are happy that your metamour is making your partner happy. This article will provide some tips if you are attempting to navigate jealousy within a polyamorous relationship. Therapists who work with polyamorous clients may find this article to be a helpful guide as well.

A step that is often missed or overlooked when moving away from jealousy and into compersion is the feeling of neutrality about something. If you have been jealous about something often, it may be more realistic to strive toward a feeling of neutrality before attempting to feel compersion. Feeling neutral or even a little less jealous is always a step forward! If you notice that you only feel some anxiety when your partner is on a date with someone else, rather than having a panic attack, that is still progress! Moving forward by recognizing those small steps is essential in the process of managing jealousy in polyamory.

When thinking about your own jealousy, it is important to explore where this feeling is coming from. There are three different parts of jealousy to consider. First, there are the worries and doubts that occur based on a person’s suspicions and perceived threats to the relationship. Second, there is an emotional component to these thoughts and worries. You may feel anxious, uncomfortable, angry, fearful, or insecure about yourself or your relationship. Third, you choose how to respond to your thoughts and emotions, which becomes the behavioral component of jealousy (Knobloch, Solomon, & Kruz, 2001). Your reaction could be to ignore the jealousy, to be angry, to have a conversation with your partner, or many other reactions and behaviors.

Jealousy may be triggered in a number of ways. You may witness an interaction between your partner and your metamour that triggers your jealousy. You may also feel jealousy even at the idea of what could be occurring between your partner and metamour. Regardless of how the jealousy is triggered, if you find yourself experiencing it, you may need to think about where that feeling is coming from and tune in to yourself. What thoughts are you having, what emotions are you feeling, and how are you reacting? Are you comparing yourself to someone else, feeling competitive with another person, fearing the loss of your partner, or feeling a loss of control in your relationship or in your life? Are you feeling neglected by a partner? Do you have a fear of missing out on the activities they are doing with someone else? All of these thoughts and feelings can lead to jealousy (Sheff, 2014; Winston, 2017).

Journaling is an excellent way to do some self-reflection and allows you to explore and take responsibility for your own feelings, rather than blaming outside influences. Once you have an idea of where your jealousy is coming from, you will be better equipped to discuss it with your partner and manage that jealousy! If you have trouble identifying where your jealousy is coming from or managing jealousy, it may be helpful for you to find a polyamory-affirmative therapist to help you explore these things. A good polyamory-affirmative therapist will also be able to help you identify and practice tools for managing jealousy.

Constructive communication is one tool you can use when you are feeling jealous. Constructive communication focuses on maintaining your relationship and engaging in open discussions with your partner(s). It also facilitates good feelings about yourself and your partner(s). Research studies have shown that people who use constructive communication about jealousy are more likely to be satisfied in their relationships than people who use destructive communication techniques (Guerrero, 2014). However, destructive communication techniques (such as yelling and blaming a partner) are used most often in our media, especially in popular romantic comedies (Frampton & Linvill, 2017). Therefore, this is what we are often exposed to and “taught” to use when we are feeling jealous; because we are certainly not taught how to communicate constructively in school.

So, how can you engage in more constructive communication when you are experiencing jealousy in a polyamorous relationship? Constructive communication can be achieved by engaging in positive behaviors toward yourself or your partner. Some examples of constructive communication may include getting dressed up for yourself to feel good about yourself or being extra nice to your partner and focusing on the things you appreciate in your partner, rather than your jealousy (Guerrero, 2014). Another example of constructive communication is simply telling your partner that you are feeling jealous and engaging in an open discussion with them about that jealousy and where it is coming from. It is important to approach these conversations with care and consideration for how your partner is feeling, as well. You may approach this conversation by stating something like, “I have been feeling jealous lately, and I would like to talk about where this is coming from for me.” This sentence allows you to take responsibility for your own emotions without placing blame on your partner or causing them to feel defensive.  

Another way to communicate when you are experiencing jealousy is a technique put forth by Dedeker Winston (2017). She calls it the “Pay it Forward” technique. This is a type of constructive communication that facilitates positive feelings in yourself, rather than jealousy. Winston recommends sending texts of gratitude to friends, family, or other partners to tell them what you love and appreciate about them. Using this technique may help you feel more thankful for all of the good that you have in your life, rather than remaining stuck in cycles of jealous thoughts.

It is important for your partner(s) to remain open to hearing about your feelings of jealousy, and to respond to your requests, if they are reasonable for your relationship. For example, if you are feeling jealous that your partner took their other partner to a new restaurant that you want to try, it is perfectly reasonable to ask your partner to take you the following weekend. In addition, if your partner is experiencing New Relationship Energy (NRE) and spending a lot of time with a new partner, causing you to feel neglected, it is not unreasonable to let them know, and to request more quality time with your partner. However, if you are feeling jealous and make a request that limits your partner’s time with a new partner to once a month, that may be seen as unreasonable and unfair to the other relationship.

Beyond addressing things directly with the partner with whom you are feeling jealous, you may reach out to a friend or another partner so that you are involved in your own life or with other people, rather than focusing only on what your partner is doing (Sheff, 2014; Veaux & Rickert, 2014; Winston, 2017). This will help to reduce the intrusive thoughts you are having about what your partner is doing, and will help you create a more positive emotional state. Mindfulness techniques work well for this too, so that you are engaged in your own present moment, rather than anguishing about your partner’s activities and whereabouts.

How you react when you are feeling jealousy is important to consider when you are exploring the possibility of a polyamorous relationship. Do you yell at your partner, act rude, argue, or forbid them from seeing the person that triggers jealousy for you? Do you engage in violence, and hit, shove, or threaten to harm your partner or the person you are jealous of? Or, do you try to also make your partner feel jealous? If any of the above are true for you, you may be engaging in destructive communication patterns (Guerrero, 2014). Not only is this destructive to your relationship, but it is also harmful to your partner, as many of these behaviors are abusive. If you find yourself engaging in violence or threats of violence toward your partner, it is important that you seek help from a mental health clinician or take a break from your current relationship, as you may not be ready to be in a relationship. If you are in a relationship with someone who is engaging in these behaviors against you, it may be time to seek support from a mental health clinician, family and friends, or the National Domestic Violence Hotline (1-800-799-7233). Seeking support to maintain your own emotional and physical safety is crucial when leaving an abusive relationship.

In a polyamorous relationship, it is important to remember that placing restrictions on your partner generally does not help you to work through jealousy. Unless these restrictions are temporary, while you actively work to figure out what is triggering your jealousy and how to manage it, the restrictions may end up only leading to even more distrust and higher levels of jealousy. Controlling your partner or the things that trigger your jealousy will generally not be helpful in a polyamorous relationship. Placing these restrictions on your partner long-term may only facilitate mistrust, as you are then caught up in thoughts about whether your partner is following the rules or lying to you about what they are doing. Likewise, snooping through your partner’s belongings, phone, or email will also not be helpful to control jealousy or to facilitate more trust within your relationship (Veaux & Rickert, 2014; Winston, 2017).

The above behaviors are also invasive and abusive. Jealousy is not an excuse for abusive or controlling behaviors. Trust is important in any romantic relationship, and may predict relationship satisfaction (Campbell, Simpson, Boldry, & Rubin, 2010; Wieselquist, 2009). Therefore, it is important to ensure that you can trust your partner and to respect your partner’s autonomy, privacy, and boundaries, both before opening up a relationship or before entering into a relationship with a new partner. Sometimes, this may mean healing old wounds before getting into a relationship with a new partner, if you feel that you will not have the ability to trust anyone. Especially in this case, you may want to seek support from a polyamory-affirmative mental health clinician, so as not to carry baggage from an old (or current) relationship into a new one.

Many people may also try to keep score in their relationships, thinking that as long as their partner is spending more time or money on them than on anyone else, they will not feel jealous of their partner’s other partners. However, keeping score like this will often lead to even more distress, as it is simply another way of controlling what your partner is doing. It does not allow your partner the opportunity to show that they are actively making an effort to see you if you are telling them that they have to see you a certain amount. This strategy may actually end up having the opposite effect that you want to achieve, because your partner may begin to feel resentful or controlled about how much time they must spend with you. When you stop keeping score, you can be sure that your partner is reaching out simply because they want to see you and prioritize you in their life.

Once you feel you have identified where your jealousy is coming from, your needs are being met, and you are actively managing jealous feelings, you may be able to start feeling compersion. Compersion can be facilitated through the understanding that your partner is not there only for your own gratification. You may need to change your perspective on what you can reasonably expect from a partner, and recognize that you want them to be happy just as much as you want yourself to be happy. You can ask yourself what brings your partner joy, and if you want them to experience that joy. If you do not want them experiencing that joy, it may be helpful to ask yourself why you do not want this. Compersion can occur through the knowledge that you do want your partner to be genuinely happy, whether that happiness is caused by you or someone else (Hypatia, 2018).

No matter what stage your relationship is in, it is natural to feel jealousy! If you have a difficult time managing jealousy, or feel that your partner is being unfair to you, it may be beneficial to seek either individual therapy or relationship therapy from a polyamory-affirmative therapist. This therapist should be equipped to help you with these struggles and help you and your partner(s) navigate your relationship agreements, communication, jealousy, and much more. Check out Finding a Polyamory-Affirmative Therapist for more info!

References

Campbell, L., Simpson, J. A., Boldry, J. G., & Rubin, H. (2010). Trust, variability in relationship evaluations, and relationship processes. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 99(1), 14-31. doi:10.1037/a0019714

Frampton, J. R., & Linvill, D. L. (2017). Green on the screen: Types of jealousy and communicative responses to jealousy in romantic comedies. Southern Communication Journal, 85(5), 298-311. doi:10.1080/1041794X.2017.1347701

Guerrero, L. K. (2014). Jealousy and relational satisfaction: Actor effects, partner effects, and the mediating role of destructive communicative responses to jealousy. Western Journal of Communication, 78(5), 586-611. doi:10.1080/10570314.2014.935468

Hypatia. (2018). Compersion: Polyamory beyond jealousy. Middletown, DE: Author.

Knobloch, L. K., Solomon, D. H., & Cruz, M. G. (2001). The role of relationship development and attachment in the experience of romantic jealousy. Personal Relationships, 8, 205-224. doi:10.1111/j.1475-6811.2001.tb00036.x

Sheff, E. (2014). The polyamorists next door: Inside multiple-partner relationships and families. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

Veaux, F., & Rickert, E. (2014). More than two: A practical guide to polyamory. Portland, OR: Thorntree Press.

Wieselquist, J. (2009). Interpersonal forgiveness, trust, and the investment model of commitment. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 26(4), 531-548. doi:10.1177/0265407509347931

Winston, D. (2017). The smart girl’s guide to polyamory: Everything you need to know about open relationships, non-monogamy, and alternative love. New York, NY: Skyhorse Publishing.

 

About The Author

Stephanie Sullivan

Stephanie M. Sullivan is a Limited Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist at A Compass Within Personal Consulting in Rochester, MI. She specializes in anxiety, self-care, sexuality, polyamorous relationships, and other forms of consensual non-monogamy. Stephanie often utilizes collaborative, solution-focused theories to help empower her clients in their life’s pursuits.

http://acompasswithin.com/

Finding a Polyamory-Affirmative Therapist

Posted: 2-1-19 | Stephanie Sullivan

By Stephanie M. Sullivan, MS, LLMFT

Many people, across all walks of life, occasionally need therapeutic services. Due to the stigma surrounding mental health, it can be difficult for anyone to contact a mental health therapist. However, if you are polyamorous or curious about exploring polyamory, you may struggle even more with reaching out to a new therapist or opening up to your current therapist about your relationship style, as many therapists lack knowledge and may have judgmental views of consensual non-monogamy (Schechinger, Sakaluk, & Moors, 2018). You may want to explore mental health services as an individual, to work through some aspect of your relationship, or you may want to pursue therapy with a partner, a metamour, or more than one person in your polycule. If you are currently monogamous and thinking about opening up your relationship, you may want to seek both individual and couple therapy in order to explore the relationship options available to you both alone and with your partner.

Alternately, you may be interested in receiving mental health services for a reason unrelated to your relationship structure. Whether you are experiencing depression, anxiety, work-related stress, processing trauma, or working on something else, you may know that your polyamorous relationship structure is not the cause of your distress but is still an important part of who you are. You don’t want a therapist who will automatically blame your relationship structure for your anxiety; you want someone who can differentiate between a healthy relationship and an unhealthy relationship (regardless of the style of that relationship) and focus on the actual causes of the anxiety you are experiencing.

For these reasons, it may be important to you to find a polyamory-friendly or polyamory-affirmative therapist. When we say a therapist is “polyamory-friendly,” this means that they are open-minded and accepting, but may not have much knowledge or experience in working with the polyamorous community. When a therapist is polyamory-affirmative, they have extra knowledge or training about polyamory, and may have gone out of their way to gain this experience. A polyamory-affirmative therapist will also be outwardly supportive of your relationship style, able to acknowledge how societal expectations and oppression may affect you, and be able to help you deconstruct these societal narratives.

Finding a therapist who is a good fit can be a challenging process for many people, but it can be especially challenging within the non-monogamous community. Many people within the community have often had difficulty with finding an accepting and knowledgeable therapist in their area (Anapol, 2010; Schechinger, Sakalk, & Moors, 2018). Some people have reported that their therapists told them their polyamorous relationship was problematic, the cause of their depression, or meant that they had an insecure attachment style (Anapol, 2010; McCoy, Stinson, Ross, & Hjelmstad, 2015). If your therapist is not aware of, comfortable with, and sensitive to your relationship style, it can be very difficult to achieve your goals in therapy, and may actually lead to more distress for you as the client (Graham, 2014; Williams & Prior, 2015).

To those who are polyamorous, it may be unsurprising to hear that relatively few therapists have heard of polyamory, and even fewer therapists have actually worked with polyamorous clients (Weitzman, 2006). It can be extremely frustrating when you go to therapy and have to spend the session educating your therapist about polyamory. Of course, every relationship is different and unique, so you will have to spend some time telling your therapist about your individual situation and what is bringing you to therapy. But you shouldn’t have to use your session time to educate your therapist on polyamory in general, or defend your relationship style to them. While therapists are slowly becoming more informed about polyamory, they are still far behind in becoming knowledgeable and competent in working with the community (Johnson, 2013).

However, this does not mean that finding an understanding and supportive therapist is a lost cause! There are many ways to find a therapist who will be accepting of your relationship, and it is important to check all of these avenues to find the person that will be the best fit for you.

First, try online searches and directories for polyamory-friendly professionals. Some of these resources include:

  1. The Polyamory-Friendly Professionals Directory: https://www.polyfriendly.org
  2. The Kink Aware Professionals Directory (KAP): https://www.ncsfreedom.org
  3. The Open List: Openingup.net/open-list
  4. The Polyamory Loving More Member Professionals List: https://www.lovingmorenonprofit.org
  5. The “Meet our Experts” section of The Affirmative Couch: https://affirmativecouch.com

It is important to understand that these resources do not have a process to verify the credentials of the professionals that are listed on their sites. However, most (if not all) of these professionals have had to seek out a listing on the site, which took some time and effort. Therefore, these directories are likely to have therapists who are at least polyamory-friendly, even if they are not entirely knowledgeable and competent in working with the community.

Another source to find therapists are more general directories, such as Psychology Today or Good Therapy. You can search these directories based on your location and read the profiles of various mental health therapists. These directories do verify the licensure status and credentials of the therapists listed on their websites, but you may have to read through more profiles to find someone who is supportive of your relationship style. There is no guarantee that the therapists listed here will be polyamory-friendly or affirmative, but it is possible to find someone who has listed polyamory as one of their specialties within their profiles.

Once you have a few names of therapists in your area, check out their listings on other sites or their own website. One way to determine their level of knowledge is to look at how they are marketing themselves. On these directories and other sites, do they simply say they are “open to working with polyamorous clients”? Or do they say something like, “I am familiar with hierarchical polyamory, non-hierarchical polyamory, solo polyamory, and relationship anarchy”? The second therapist in this example may be more polyamory-affirmative, more knowledgeable, or have more experience in working with polyamorous clients than the first one, as they are familiar with the expansive terminology within the non-monogamy umbrella. If the therapist has a blog or professional social media pages, it may be helpful to look at the types of articles they are writing about or sharing, as well.

If you cannot find polyamory-friendly professionals in your area, try looking at other parts of the state you live in to find a therapist who provides online services. You may be able to find a therapist who is willing to book online video chat sessions with you in order to give you the care you deserve. Or, if you have the time, funds, and ability to travel farther than you normally would, it may be worth it to drive a longer distance to see a polyamory-friendly therapist in person in order to gain access to a therapist who will understand your relationship.

If you are still struggling to find a therapist who is accepting and knowledgeable about polyamory, you may want to look at LGBTQ-Affirmative therapists, even if you identify as heterosexual. These professionals may be more open to non-traditional relationship styles and may already work with some non-monogamous clients, although they may not advertise it or consider themselves knowledgeable. This may be an option as well if you are seeking more individualized care that is not explicitly focused on navigating a polyamorous relationship.

Although polyamory-affirmative therapists are difficult to find, they do exist! It will be very beneficial to find a therapist who is right for you and understands your relationship. If you don’t want to spend hours educating your therapist about your relationship style, try using the above resources to find a professional who better suits your needs.

References

Anapol, D. (2010). Polyamory in the twenty-first century: Love and intimacy with multiple partners. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.

Graham, N. (2014). Polyamory: A call for increased mental health professional awareness. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 43, 1031-1034. doi:10.1007/s10508-014-0321-3

Johnson, A. L. (2013). Counseling the polyamorous client: Implications for competent practice. VISTAS Online, 50, 1-10.

McCoy, M. A., Stinson, M. A., Ross, D. B., & Hjelmstad, L. R. (2015). Who’s in our clients’ bed? A case illustration of sex therapy with a polyamorous couple. Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, 41(2), 134-144. doi:10.1080/0092623X.2013.864366

Schechinger, H. Sakaluk, J., & Moors, A. (2018). Harmful and helpful therapy practices with consensually non-monogamous clients: Toward an inclusive framework. Journal of Consulting & Clinical Psychology, 879-891. doi:10.1037/ccp0000349

Williams, D. J., & Prior, E. E. (2015). Contemporary polyamory: A call for awareness and sensitivity in social work. Social Work, 60(3), 268-270. doi:10.1093/sw/swv012

About The Author

Stephanie Sullivan

Stephanie M. Sullivan is a Limited Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist at A Compass Within Personal Consulting in Rochester, MI. She specializes in anxiety, self-care, sexuality, polyamorous relationships, and other forms of consensual non-monogamy. Stephanie often utilizes collaborative, solution-focused theories to help empower her clients in their life’s pursuits.

http://acompasswithin.com/

Types of Consensual Non-Monogamy

Posted: 1-23-19 | Stephanie Sullivan

By Stephanie M. Sullivan, MS, LLMFT

Consensual non-monogamy is a relationship style in which all individuals within the relationship agree to not being monogamous, and all individuals involved in the relationship are aware that it is not a monogamous relationship. Consensual non-monogamy makes up about 4-5% of the population in the United States (Moors, Conley, Edelstein, & Chopkin, 2015). This means that approximately thirteen million to sixteen million people are involved in consensual non-monogamous relationships. This number includes people who are in swinging relationships, polyamorous relationships, or other forms of open relationships.

Consensual non-monogamy is a vast umbrella term, encompassing many kinds of relationships. Within these kinds of relationships (such as swinging, polyamorous, and monogamish relationships), there are an infinite number of ways to navigate the relationship in an ethical manner. There is no “one right way” to be in a consensual non-monogamous relationship (other than the fact that all people involved in the relationship should be knowledgeable about the relationship structure and agree to this structure willingly). Therefore, it is important to remember that this article is in no way intended to be an exhaustive list of non-monogamy; it is merely meant to be a brief introduction to some of these topics.

Different types of consensual non-monogamy have different kinds of relationship rules. When attempting to navigate a non-monogamous relationship ethically, it is important for everyone involved in the relationship to have a mutual understanding and agree to the terms of the relationship. There are many types of consensual non-monogamous relationships, and each individual relationship will vary on their agreements, structure, and openness. Consensual non-monogamy is not cheating, and should not be confused with affairs or infidelity. However, if a relationship agreement between two people is broken, this may be a form of cheating within the relationship. Breaking an agreement can be a huge breach of trust within the consensual non-monogamous relationship, just as much as an affair would be a breach of trust in a monogamous relationship.

Swinging is a form of consensual non-monogamy in which both singles and couples in a committed relationship can explore sexual activities with others recreationally or socially. Couples that swing generally have agreements that they have an open relationship sexually, but do not have an open relationship emotionally or romantically. Swingers will often attend social events at swingers’ clubs, conventions, or swinging resorts, and may pursue sexual relationships with others while their partners are present (Matsick, Conley, Ziegler, Moors, & Rubin, 2014). They may also attend private parties for swingers, often taking place in someone’s personal residence, or may go on a date with another couple before engaging in sexual activities.

Monogamish is a term originally coined by Dan Savage. This describes couples who are committed to each other and are generally monogamous, but will allow for certain sexual exceptions to monogamy. For example, if one partner travels often for work, the couple may have an agreement that one-night stands can occur if the partners are at least 100 miles apart. Another couple may have an agreement that they are allowed to make out with friends at parties. Yet another couple may describe themselves as monogamish because they are allowed to flirt with and attempt to seduce strangers occasionally.

Polyamory is a relationship style centered on the belief that it is possible to love more than one person. The word polyamory comes from the combination of the Greek word for “many” and the Latin word for “love.” Literally translated, polyamory means “many loves” or “more than one love” (Anapol, 2010; Klesse 2006). Polyamorous relationships often involve having more than one romantic relationship simultaneously, with full knowledge and consent of all the partners involved. Polyamory also differs from polygamy, which is a religious-based form of non-monogamy. Elisabeth Sheff (2014) estimates that there are somewhere between 1.2 to 9.8 million polyamorous people living in the United States. In the past, the terms “polyamory” or “polyamorous” would be shortened to “poly.” However, this term is beginning to fall away, as individuals who identify as Polynesian also tend to utilize the term Poly. Therefore, the polyamorous community is beginning to transition into using “polyam” or “polya” for short.

Polyamorous individuals can also be swingers, and swingers can also be polyamorous; one type of relationship style does not negate another. Relationship styles can also alter over time; perhaps a previously monogamous couple begins swinging, and then one partner realizes they have romantic feelings for someone and would like to explore polyamory. Every relationship will navigate these changes differently, and people may or may not stay together through these relationship changes.

It is important to note that a person’s relationship style is not an indication of their gender or sexual orientation. People of any gender or sexual orientation can be involved in consensual non-monogamous relationships for a multitude of reasons. Some bisexual individuals may engage in consensual non-monogamy in order to have simultaneous relationships with partners of different genders, while other authors have noted that, as heterosexual women, they favor polyamory due to their perception of inherent patriarchal beliefs behind monogamy (Moss, 2012; Jackson & Scott, 2004). Other individuals may engage in polyamory for different reasons. For example, someone on the asexual spectrum may choose to be polyamorous in order to have multiple loving relationships without the pressure of fulfilling their partners’ sexual needs. Therefore, it is important to remember that people of all gender identities and sexual orientations may engage in any form of consensual non-monogamy.

References

Anapol, D. (2010). Polyamory in the twenty-first century: Love and intimacy with multiple partners. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.

Klesse, C. (2006). Polyamory and its ‘others’: Contesting the terms of non-monogamy. Sexualities, 9(5), 565-583. doi:10.1177/1363460706069986

Matsick, J. L., Conley, T. D., Ziegler, A., Moors, A. C., & Rubin, J. D. (2014). Love and sex: Polyamorous relationships are perceived more favourably than swinging and open relationships. Psychology & Sexuality, 5(4), 339-348. doi:10.1080/19419899.2013.832934

Moors, A. C., Conley, T. D., Edelstein, R. S., & Chopkin, W. J. (2015). Attached to monogamy? Avoidance predicts willingness to engage (but not actual engagement) in consensual non-monogamy. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 32, 222-240. doi:10.1177/0265407514529065

Moss, A. R. (2012). Alternative families, alternative lives: Married women doing bisexuality. Journal of GLBT Family Studies, 8, 405-427. doi:10.1080/1550428X.2012.729946

Jackson, S. & Scott, S. (2004). The personal is still political: Heterosexuality, feminism and monogamy. Feminism & Psychology, 14(1), 151-157. doi:10.1177/0959-353504040317

Sheff, E. (2014). The polyamorists next door: Inside multiple-partner relationships and families. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

About The Author

Stephanie Sullivan

Stephanie M. Sullivan is a Limited Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist at A Compass Within Personal Consulting in Rochester, MI. She specializes in anxiety, self-care, sexuality, polyamorous relationships, and other forms of consensual non-monogamy. Stephanie often utilizes collaborative, solution-focused theories to help empower her clients in their life’s pursuits.

http://acompasswithin.com/

Polyamorous Relationship Structures

Posted: 1-23-19 | Stephanie Sullivan

By Stephanie M. Sullivan, MS, LLMFT

Polyamory is the combination of the Greek word for “many” and the Latin word for “love.” Combined, polyamory means “many loves” or “more than one love” (Anapol, 2010; Klesse 2006). To be more specific, polyamory is a relationship style centered on the belief that it is possible to love more than one person. Polyamorous relationships often involve having more than one romantic relationship simultaneously, with full knowledge and consent of all the partners involved. Polyamory is not cheating, and should not be confused with affairs or infidelity. It also differs from polygamy, which is a religious-based form of non-monogamy. It is estimated that there are somewhere between 1.2 to 9.8 million polyamorous people living in the United States (Sheff, 2014).

Every polyamorous relationship has different structures, as there are often more than two people involved in a romantic relationship. However, there are some basic labels to categorize the different kinds of relationships that polyamorous people form.

Vee: A vee relationship is made up of three partners and gets its name from the letter “V,” in which one person acts as the “hinge” or “pivot” partner dating two people. The other two people are not romantically or sexually involved with each other. These two people are known as “metamours” to one another (metamours are two people who are dating the same person, but are not actively dating each other). Metamours in a vee relationship may not know one another, may be vague acquaintances, or may be very good friends. In some cases, metamours may even live with one another, with or without their partner.

Triad: A triad is also made up of three partners, but is a relationship in which all three partners are romantically and/or sexually involved with each other. Triads may be formed when an existing couple opens their relationship and finds a third partner who is interested in them both, and whom they are both also interested in. They may also be formed when two metamours in a vee relationship begin to date, changing the form of the relationship from a vee to a triad. A triad may also form when three very close friends begin dating each other at the same time.

Quad: A quad is made up of four partners who are intimately connected in some way, whether romantically or sexually. A quad can be formed in a multitude of ways, such as a triad adding another partner. However, quads are often formed when two swinging couples connect and begin dating, forming the quad.

While these labels are descriptive of some of the kinds of relationships that can form, this list is by no means exhaustive. Every person’s relationship landscape will look different. Someone who is part of a vee relationship may also be part of a different, separate triad. They may also simply be dating one other person, or no one at all. The people involved in these relationship structures may be referred to as an individual’s polycule, which is a term used to discuss collectively all of the people who are in a relationship with one or more members of a polyamorous group. This term was created by combining the words “polyamory” and “molecule.”

There are also added layers to the way people in polyamorous relationships experience their relationships. A popular notion in the polyamorous community is “You can have unlimited love, but you do not have unlimited time.” Therefore, each individual has to make a choice about how they prioritize their time and emotional energy, and how to define the importance of each relationship.

Hierarchical Polyamory: Individuals who practice hierarchical polyamory place more importance on one relationship above other relationships (Easton & Hardy, 2009). The partner that this person shares finances with, lives with, or co-parents with will likely be considered the primary partner. This person may be prioritized above other relationships in regards to time commitments, vacations and holidays, going to family functions, and other important events as well. Other partners may be considered secondary or tertiary. Secondary or tertiary partners may not be taken into account when big decisions are being made, and if the individual is not “out” as polyamorous, could even be kept hidden from friends and family.

Non-Hierarchical Polyamory: In non-hierarchical polyamory, individuals within the relationship do not prioritize one relationship above all others. This does not necessarily mean that time is split equally between two or more partners, nor does it mean that all the partners live together. It does mean that every partner is considered when making big decisions. It may also mean that each partner has the ability to go on vacations with the individual. Within non-hierarchical polyamory, there is generally a belief that one partner does not hold importance over another, and each relationship is important in its own way.

Solo Polyamory (also referred to as “sopo”): A solo polyamorist is someone who does not have any desire to be considered part of a “coupled” relationship. In solo polyamory, an individual may not live with or share finances with anyone else, and does not have the desire to work toward those things. Some solo polyamorists may live with different partners throughout the year and prefer a nomadic lifestyle. They often consider their partners when making big decisions, but do not allow their partners to dictate their choices. For some people, solo polyamory is an option to pursue for a limited time, perhaps while raising their children or when an individual is focused on their career and has no desire to build a home with another person. For others, solo polyamory is a lifelong pursuit, and often consider themselves their own primary relationship (Winston, 2017). This can allow the solo polyamorist to make decisions based on what makes themselves and their relationships strong and happy. Although solo polyamorists usually do not live with their partner(s), this does not mean that they do not have one or more deeply committed and intimate relationships.

Relationship Anarchy: A person who practices relationship anarchy may differ a bit from other polyamorists, but they still often fall within the spectrum of polyamory. Relationship anarchy is a relatively new term to refer to individuals who believe that all interpersonal relationships are equally important (Winston, 2017). A relationship anarchist might have multiple romantic relationships simultaneously, but may also avoid making special distinctions between relationships that are romantic, sexual, platonic, or familial. They often avoid putting relationships into categories or having expectations in their relationships. Instead, they allow their relationships to take any form and have any level of commitment that the participants decide to have. For example, a relationship anarchist may choose to buy a house with their best friend, rather than their romantic partner of ten years.

Again, this list is not exhaustive by any means. Every individual navigating a polyamorous relationship will structure their relationships differently, and may identify with certain aspects of these polyamorous structures but not with others. This list is merely intended as an introduction to understanding how many polyamorous relationships form and develop. Any of these relationship structures can be done in a healthy way or in an unhealthy way; it is up to the participants to ensure they are practicing the different forms of polyamory ethically.

In any relationship, whether it is monogamous or a consensual non-monogamous relationship, there is the possibility that someone with get their feelings hurt, experience jealousy, and experience arguments and disagreements. Therefore, it is imperative for an individual in any relationship to consider the needs of each of their partners, their boundaries, and their expectations for the relationship. It is also important to consider your own needs, boundaries, and expectations within relationships, and to learn to communicate these things safely and considerately. Educating yourself about the polyamorous community, ethical and non-ethical relationships, and healthy communication techniques can all help you navigate happy and healthy relationships with your partners.

References

Anapol, D. (2010). Polyamory in the 21st century: Love and intimacy with multiple partners. Lanham, MD:
Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.

Easton, D., & Hardy, J. W. (2009). The ethical slut: A practical guide to polyamory, open relationship, &
other adventures (2nd ed.).
Berkley, CA: Celestial Arts.

Sheff, E. (2014). The polyamorists next door: Inside multiple-partner relationships and families. Lanham,
MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

Winston, D. (2017). The smart girl’s guide to polyamory: Everything you need to know about open relationships, non-monogamy, and alternative love. New York, NY: Skyhorse Publishing.

About The Author

Stephanie Sullivan

Stephanie M. Sullivan is a Limited Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist at A Compass Within Personal Consulting in Rochester, MI. She specializes in anxiety, self-care, sexuality, polyamorous relationships, and other forms of consensual non-monogamy. Stephanie often utilizes collaborative, solution-focused theories to help empower her clients in their life’s pursuits.

http://acompasswithin.com/