Open Realtionships: working with the unintentional polyamorist
Sometimes a person who truly feels wired for monogamy winds up with a partner who just doesn’t operate that way. The person who tries polyamory but doesn’t feel wired for it usually spends a lot of energy figuring out how to be polyamorous and may or may not take to it. For the person who truly experiences polyamory as an orientation, no matter how much they value or even prioritize one relationship, multiple relationships are rewarding enough to be worth the time and effort. They don’t experience it as a conflict or diminishment of one relationship to have others. They perceive there to be enough love and attention to go around.
One way to think about this difference is that most people have a variety of friends, each of whom they share different aspects of themselves with: some share hobbies, some history, some an emotional or intellectual connection. Most people wouldn’t expect any one friend to be their only one, though some will be closer or easier than others. Some people prefer to have a wider circle of friends, some a few close ones. Yet there’s often an expectation that a spouse or primary partner fulfill the majority of the other person’s friendship and relationship slots. If both parties want that focus and are satisfied wth it, theres no problem. Then the biggest risk is that one person is no longer available, the other, having invested so much, feels truly bereft without them.
Having the more polyamorous partner drift away can leave the more monogamous partner feeling bereft. For most people, regardless of orientation, the early stages of a new relationship are heady. Intense feelings of excitement and attraction aren’t easy contained. This phenomenon, called New Relationship Energy, will run course, but while it’s happening, the more monogamous partner is likely to feel left out, as more than likely they are being left out. Think about anytime you became very interested in something new and intriguing, be it a relationship, book, hobby, job. You likely spent a lot of time thinking and talking about it, looking forward to it, being happiest when you were involved with it. People around you were probably happy for you also feeling sad to be less important to you. The pull of new relationship energy can be obsessive enough to push out other interests. This is usually where the other person’s hurt feelings come form. Think about how easy it is for feel slighted when you are excluded from a friend activity you usually get invited to a nd suddenly you’re not.
Sometimes, though, the person who’s drifting fails to realize how much loss the other person is experiencing. No one responds enthusiastically to being in a one-down position, especially when it’s not recognized as such. That is why early and ongoing negotiation are so important. Trouble can also start when the boundaries aren’t made clear, shifting too fast without re-negotiation. A classic example is a new relationship that seemed like it wouldn’t intrude on the existing one, but starts to. Maybe the new partner wants more time or energy than first expected. Maybe feelings change: the attachment become stronger than anyone expected. It happens. Everyone involved can feel it.
Many polygamous people are able to divide their attention between more than one partner. For them, having more than one partner takes the pressure off one person to share everything with them. The person who isn’t interested in particularly hobby or practice isn’t forced to share it. But what if the more monogamous partner wants to share more? What if they are just more togetherness oriented, more inclined to focus on one person?
Knowing what a relationship is based on and the unique kind of energy that 's particular only to it, then feeding that energy is much more useful than a set of restrictive rules about what can’t be done. If you put enough of the right attention into one relationship in, you don’t have to take away from another. Most relationships are based on some combination of friendship, companionship, sexual chemistry, respect, affection, admiration, fun, common interests, shared goals, mutual support. People stay in a relationship to the extent that get as much or more out than they are put in. When that balance tilts, there’s likely to to be trouble. Better to think about what advantages can be brought to bear early on than struggle to repair damage after it’s been done.
The wise polyamorous partner learns to listens without defensiveness. They will find ways to invest in their relationship to avoid hurt feelings and wasted time processing events that needed more time, care and negotiation up front. They find what can be done to manage the imbalance and create a mutual exchange that feels fair, remembering that people enter into and stay in relationships that feel fair and mutual. Fairness is a reasonable thing for anyone in a relationship to expect.
It does’t have to, and probably can’t be an exact exchange, but it should feel equivalent. The person a accepting the bargain must feel it was worth the price they paid. Maybe the more togetherness-oriented person wants more family time, more time to see other friends, so they don’t feel lonely. Maybe they need to be relieved of some chores. What’s important is that they gain something they value enough to compensate for their loss. That fairness is what fuels success. The person who wants less sex, but more of something else something else can request that their need for something else be met, just a the person who wants more sex but isn’t getting it in one relationship can, with the consent of all involved, get it elsewhere.
The more careful listening, the more you convey that you understand and and value other person’s point of view the more likely you are to succeed. Then, no one is a relationship that requires them to cut off part of who they are.