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.

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