29 May 2010

Things to do to fuck up polyamory

This post is directly related to my earlier post about things to consider before entering polyamory, specifically those things which should stop you from being poly until you’ve sorted them out. This post is about how to fuck up polyamory while being actively poly. It borrows lightly (because I haven’t read it in some years) from The Ethical Slut and again is a mix of personal experience and conversations with friends and others who are poly.

Be dishonest

Dishonesty, both that of omission (not telling someone something that they should be informed of) and that of outright dishonesty destroys trust quickly in a relationship. This isn’t rocket science, but people still do it. And of course, this also doesn’t apply to the person you are in a partnership (of whatever sort) with. This applies to relationships in general, so the relationship you have with your partner’s partner/s or even your partner’s partner’s partner all require you to be honest – because oddly enough people talk. And once people start comparing notes about others (we’re a social species, its what we do), any dishonesty you have engaged in is likely to be found.

So don’t lie to people about your expectations, hopes, dreams, what you did last night, how you feel about X, how interested you are in Y, fears, insecurities or any other relevant information. In polyamory especially it will be found out, even if not immediately, and then it can cause all sorts of problems for you later on.

Some examples to support all this (names changed to protect privacy):

Giselle told George that she didn’t have any expectations of their relationship other than friends who occasionally had sex together. Giselle later told Jane that she was upset that George had told her that all he wanted to be was friends who had sex together and that she felt that George had led her on. Jane repeated this information to George who was confused and upset because Giselle had told him that everything was fine and now George doesn’t know what to do or say to Giselle.

Mark told Mary that he was interested in June and nothing more. Mary found out later that when Mark told her this that he was actually in love with June and had failed to inform her of this. Mary was upset and wonders how much else Mark has kept from her and whether or not she can trust him to be honest.

Be inconsistent

I know that polyamory is not an easy lifestyle to choose (I’ll just side-step the debate as to whether it is a choice or an inbuilt thing for now), but one of the things that made it easy for me was stability (once we take my initial insecurity out of the equation). James did not go hot and cold on the idea of polyamory which meant that I was never sure whether I was going to be poly or not.

Consistency in how you relate to people, your decisions (with the freedom to change your mind and communicating that effectively to those concerned) and communication makes it easier for people to trust you. If you act like a bit of a wild-card then people will take longer to trust you because they won’t know which way you are likely to go. People like consistency, not just in polyamory but in the wider world. If you are being, or feel you are being, inconsistent and you have reasons for this, then explain them to the people who you feel are being affected by it so that they are likely to cut you some slack.

Fail to communicate

There is reason that “Communicate, Communicate, Communicate” is the poly mantra. Relationships work well with a certain level of communication. If that communication is poor, then the relationship suffers. When you add extra people to an intimate relationship, then the need for communication increases. You have to be able to communicate your boundaries, desires, fears and wants. You need to be able to safely negotiate with existing and new relationships about how they’re going to work, how much time you have, what you are offering and be able to hear and listen to the concerns of current and potential partners.

Communication is not only about speaking, but listening, considering and providing feedback to the people you are communicating with. In polyamory you have a wider group of people to communicate with. I’ve written before about why it is important to form at least a respectful acquaintance-ship with your partner’s partners, if not become friends with them. You need to be able to talk and listen to deep emotional stuff and if this is not your thing, then polyamory isn’t going to work for you.

If you fail to communicate with your partners and your partner’s partners there is a strong chance that polyamory won’t work for you. If you don’t like talking about emotions, or don’t see the need to talk about emotions, then you’ll fuck this up. The people you are in relationships with are important, they have a right to be heard, as much as you have a right to be heard.

If you actions are impacting on the relationships your partner is attempting to have, then they have a right to negotiate with you about that and discuss that with you through to a logical conclusion (this may take a while), and during that while the potential or actual partners your partner has, have a right to know what is going on.

Communication needs to be open, flowing and current for polyamory to work well.

Play “games” with people

Linked to dishonesty and communication, playing people off against each other is a really good way to fuck up polyamory. Playing games with people sucks for the people being toyed with and it’s a form of emotional manipulation and dishonesty. I’m not going to embellish here further other than to say that whenever I notice people try to do this to me, I instantly want to hit them.

Breach boundaries

When you make an agreement with your partner/s that you will or will not do something, then it’s really important that you stick to those agreements. You’ve hopefully negotiated those agreements in good faith, and your partner/s trust you to abide by them. A perfect way to seriously harm the trust your partner/s have in you is to agree to boundaries and then completely ignore them later because it is convenient. Don’t do this, ever. If you want to be a good poly person, stick to the agreements you’ve made. If you know you can’t stick to those agreements, then don’t make them to start with and continue negotiating (even if it is the next day) with you partner/s until you find something that you both agree on and that you both feel safe with.

Break promises

It is not ok to brake agreements in the heat of the moment. Just because the person you’ve been chatting with all evening is really hot, if you agreed to go and sleep with your partner, then you organise to catch up with said hot person later and you go home and sleep with your partner.

The biggest limitation in polyamory is time, and that leads into ensuring that you spend sufficient time with your existing partner/s before picking up others - unless you have an agreement with your existing partner/s about when you can pick up new ones.

If you make promises of any sort, and you can’t later fulfil them, then you need to communicate that immediately to your partner, and they have to be cool with it. Riding over their feelings because you’ve just met this really hot person is not cool.


There are plenty of ways you can fuck up polyamory for yourself and for those you care about. I’ve met plenty of people who’ve had their fingers burnt by people who approached polyamory entirely the wrong way. Of course, as always you are a free agent to do what you will, just remember that more people watch when you're poly, because the ripples spread a lot further.

Some more resources are at:



16 May 2010

When you shouldn't be poly

I've written a bit about polyamory, but there are times, in my opinion, when you shouldn't jump into polyamory without sitting down and figuring a few things out. Polyamory is not a simple lifestyle, there is a lot to communicate with people, a lot of negotiation to do with new and existing partners, a lot of self development, decisions to make about who you do and don't tell about your lifestyle (given the societal pressure to be monogamous), feelings of jealousy, insecurity and envy to negotiate when your partner/s find new partners, and consideration of what your own boundaries are and how you will deal with them in new relationships.

Polyamory certainly isn't simple, no matter how much people like me make it appear so. I can only make polyamory appear simple because I have spent a lot of time (approximately 2 years) negotiating, communicating, trust building, learning about myself and others, finding security, learning to let go and stop attempting to control, and learning what I want from my relationships. These were not easy lessons, some were filled with months of angst and tears... the overall journey was worth it though and I and my important relationships survived it.

This post then, is more focused on stories I've heard directly from people who have struggled with polyamory, who have been surprised at how hard poly actually is. No one will be mentioned and everything is generalised because I've heard these stories more than once before. It is not a case of X said this and then Y said that... but more X and Y and Z have all said the same thing.

Taking your existing relationship for granted
This is a tricky one to actually spot, but it is very important that you consider this before you change your relationship agreements, even if your partner is fully supportive of the relationship changing. Basically, taking someone (or something) for granted means, "to expect someone or something to be always available to serve in some way without thanks or recognition; to value someone or something too lightly" (thanks to the Free Dictionary). We all take things for granted, in the Western world, our access to electricity, clean water, etc. Taking people for granted (such as parents and siblings) isn't so good - because everyone deserves thanks and recognition for being a part of your life. This holds true for existing relationships too. It is very easy to fall into taking a long-term partner for granted. They're always there, they understand you and put up with your foibles.

Taking your existing relationship for granted when you change the structure of it tends to be a path to a whole lot of angst and misery. I've blogged before about falling in love with an idea of a person versus the reality of them, and that is far easier, I suspect, in monogamy than polyamory. This also makes it easier to take someone for granted, because they're there. They don't change, you think you know them and everything fits together.

The person who is being taken for granted is far more likely to be resentful of this behaviour and want things to change. I have watched this cause quite a few problems in relationships over the years. It has often come as a surprise as well to the person taking the other for granted that their partner is resentful of this behaviour. This type of behaviour and polyamory is incompatible becausewhen you are juggling multiple relationships, taking one for granted and devoting all your energy to the other is more likely to fatally fracture the former relationship as the person being taken for granted resents this behaviour. It become very evident to the person being taken for granted that they are when they compare their relationship with the other.

So, before you decide to launch into polyamory, think about whether or not you are taking those in your life already for granted, and if so, how you are going to change this before you try and be poly.

Trust issues
Polyamory is about trust as much as it is about other things. If you have issues trusting your partner or trusting others, then I'd strongly suggest working on those trust issues before you enter polyamory. A lack of trust often leads to an attempt to control, whether it be controlling a situation or controlling someone else.

This is not to be confused with boundary setting for safety, but if you don't trust that your partner will keep those boundaries due to your own issues or because they have broken trust before, then you seriously need to work together or alone on those trust issues. If you don't, then polyamory will be more likely a world of pain than the joy it can be.

Trust is essential to successfully being polyamory, and knowing who to trust, when to trust and what boundaries need to be set is something that makes polyamory so much easier.

If you do not enjoy spending time talking to people about important issues and cannot sit through difficult but important conversations, then polyamory may not be for you. Polyamory is about communication, communication with existing and new relationships about boundaries, emotions, safety, history and fun things. It is vital that you are able to sit down and listen to your partner and hear what they are saying, even if it is painful to you personally.

I have watched so many poly people struggle with effective communication with their partners. Where they wanted to be able to talk but were afraid that they wouldn't be heard by their partner or where they didn't want to hear what their partners were saying because they didn't know how to respond.

Communication, especially in the early days of polyamory is fraught because there is a lot to talk about, but those who are most successful at polyamory take their time to work through difficult issues, listen and speak as required.

Successful communication feeds directly into successful negotiation between partners about boundaries, what poly means to each and how polyamory will be navigated between each. It also feeds directly into having your needs met by your partners and being able to state what those needs are.

Being willing to communicate also helps with easing into relationships with your partner's partners. Being able to communicate successfully with your partner's partners means that you can build a relationship with them and help support each other and your mutual partner. It also helps you realise that they are just as human as you are.

If you don't like deep and meaningfuls... then it may be that polyamory is not for you.

If you are not comfortable with other people's honesty or being honest yourself regarding your past sexual history, your feelings, past issues or anything that may impact on your relationships with others, then I would suggest again that polyamory is not for you, or not for you until you have sorted the issues out that make you uncomfortable with honesty.

Because without honesty, polyamory falls apart. It may be easy to keep dishonesty straight with one person, but when you start adding more people to the mix, it gets harder and harder. This also applies to people who don't like sharing information about themselves with others - a form of dishonesty.

A lack of honesty also makes it hard for others to help you when you may need it, and attempting to control information about yourself to those who you are in a relationship with, also smacks of a lack of trust and a need to control.