By now you’ve no doubt heard about the rise in open marriages in the U.S. Yes, these are relationships in which two people are in love and are largely inseparable—only they happen to be in bed with other people. (And yes, everyone’s cool with it.) But the open marriage isn’t only form of non-traditional, multi-partner coupling gaining steam right now. There’s also polyamory.
What’s polyamory, you ask? Well, that’s an excellent question. Today, the term has been twisted to serve as a blanket description for any sexual or romantic relationship that steps outside the traditional bounds of monogamy—though that only begins to define what it means to be truly “polyamorous.” So we’re here to set the record straight by proffering 11 truths about polyamorous relationships that you likely didn’t know. And for more coverage of non-traditional relationships, learn the 15 ways you can actually make an open marriage work.
“Couples in open relationships tend to have openness in sexual contact with outside partners, but they don’t want their partner falling in love with someone else or having a separate relationship,” says Meredith Shirey, MS, LMFT, the practice director of New York–based Manhattan Relationship Counseling and Psychotherapy.
With open relationships, there’s a “primary partner,” who receives the lion’s share of love and attention; everyone else is ancillary. An ideal polyamorous relationship involves multiple people loving everyone equally. And for more information about open relationships, check out the 15 reasons you actually want an open relationship.
In short, polyamory is the ability and the romantic freedom to be in love with more than one person at a time, physically and emotionally. That may sound like polygamy, but it’s not. “Polygamy is a person having separate relationships—but then there’s a lot of intertwining,” explains Shirey. (Think of the HBO show Big Love, in which there was one husband with three wives in three separate houses that were all connected.) Polyamory is a person having separate relationships—and keeping things, you know, separate. But if you don’t want extra things at all, learn how smart men stop an affair before it begins.
According to Morgaine* from Conscious Polyamory, a blog about polyamorous relationships, one of that largest misconceptions is “That it’s a free for all and people have sex all the time. Being in a poly relationship doesn’t lead to more sex.” No, it’s about love, not sex. Hence the name. Also, you can take her word for it: She’s in one. To add more sex to your life, though, learn the 25 ways to transform yourself into a sex god overnight.
“It’s about the relationship, it’s about commitment, it’s about love,” says Morgaine. “We can give kinship to more than one partner,” says Morgaine. If it were purely about physical sex, the easiest solution would be an open relationship or just the single life. And if spending time as a single person is something you’ve thought about, be sure you know the 15 surefire signs you should definitely be single.
Shirey has found that polyamorous people are more likely to break up with their partners. She’s found that, when the going gets rough, people in committed, monogamous relationships are more likely to seek help or find a way to make things work. “But with the polyamorous person, it’s, like, ‘Well, I fell out of love with him. I’m still in love with, X, Y, Z person,’ “ says Shirey. “It’s easier to walk away.” But on that note, sometimes walking away from a relationship is the best option.
“Polyamorous people are much more deliberate about using protection and getting checked regularly,” explains Morgaine. Plus, the unbridled openness and honesty that exists so naturally in polyamorous relationships makes those, “Hey, listen…” conversations far less awkward. And for sprucing your own conversations up, learn the 13 sexiest things you can say to a woman.
“I don’t want to say anything gender stereotyping, but in my experience, it’s typically men who identify as poly,” says Shirey. In her work, over the years, she hasn’t encountered a single woman who desires a polyamorous relationship. There’s no concrete evidence, but theories from the evolutionary psychology community may explain it: “Because women can only reproduce once per month, they are more discriminating [in choosing] their partners,” explains Shirey. “Whereas men, from the evolutionary standpoint, are able to reproduce much more, and as such, are more inclined to pursue relationships.” As it so happens, this is one of the 10 reasons men are more likely to cheat than women.
“My current partner is married to his wife of 25 years,” explains Morgaine. “When she had a lover, she was very accepting of my relationship with him. But, once she and her lover broke up, she became intensely jealous of our relationship, wanted us to break up. At this point, [my partner and I] already had a yearlong relationship. So we’ve been working very hard to deal with her feelings.” When it comes to being cognizant of your partner’s feelings, learn the 13 times it’s a-okay to withhold a secret.
To Morgaine, polyamory is intimately entwined with spirituality. “In all the major religions, the essential theme is love,” she says. “The purest form of love is not about possession—it’s about freedom and generosity and openness and honesty and intimacy. Polyamory does all of those things.” To work on your honesty game outside of a spiritual context, however, learn how smart men apologize to women.
To Morgaine, polyamory is “an evolution in human relationships.” Think about it: From a biological standpoint, “You [had] your woman, your family, your tribe. Now that we live in a global society—now that we’re all connected—we don’t see people from other cultures as necessarily ‘other.’ Polyamory is saying, ‘Let’s extend the sphere of love beyond my partner,’ ” she says.
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