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:



1 comment:

Yannick Jacob said...

Hey Rebecca,
Reading this has been great! Some people just do things right and i believe most others have the best intentions. so it's great that you put some advice out there :)

I have a great book suggestion for you. maybe you could write about it in your blog:

My friend Nash Popovic has just published his book "Threesome" exploring polyamoric relationships. It's a fictional novel but based on the experiences of people living or having lived in poly relationships. I joined him for a poly meeting in London once and really liked people's attitudes as well as how natural it all seems. Anyway, I just finished the book a few days ago and loved it so I decided to help him get the word out. Would be great if you could spread the word. I'm sure many people in polyamoric relationships will have had similar issues come up as the characters in the book so I'm sure they can relate to it on a personal level and possibly gain a new perspective on how to tackle certain issues. Nash is a specialist on positive psychology, personal development, counselling and coaching and a respected academic with a lot of passion for exploring how people live fulfilled lives.

Thanks and all the best to you
Yannick Jacob

Here's some more info on the book: http://www.threesomebook.info/
And also, there's a book launch in West London next Tuesday (24.6.): http://www.threesomebook.info/?p=80#comment-5