Five Lessons From Poly Relationships That Everyone Can Benefit From

Juggling multiple relationships at different levels with many different people requires a sturdy relationship skill set that makes poly relationships the PhD of human interaction — not better than other types of relationships, but definitely more complicated. Here are five principles central to successful consensual non-monogamous partnerships that can improve basically any relationship.

1. Communication is really important.

Communication is so important. There is no room for unclear communication about desires or boundaries or anything else when being unclear could potentially affect many different people and relationships. Sex educator Charlie Glickman says:

“Something else I’ve learned from being poly is that it requires the ability to talk about and process feelings quickly and efficiently. Of course, that skill will benefit any relationship, but when there are multiple people, each with their own needs and desires, as well as their feelings about each other, there are a lot of moving parts. If I could, I’d tell my younger self that the best way to learn how to process well would be to build social networks full of people who are dedicated to open-hearted, honest communication.”

Communication is important whether you’re a non-primary partner who wants to stay that way or in a primary partnership that’s opening up for the first time or living with your partners and having bathroom sex with someone you met a few hours ago or seeking your very own lesbian throuple. It’s also important when you’re dating one other individual person. It’s just better when everyone is on the same page.

2. Consent is also really important.

One of the most important parts of poly is informed consent. Consent is the thing that separates poly relationships from cheating. In an essay in Feminist and Queer Legal Theory, Elizabeth F. Emens writes:

“Honesty forms the basis of consent. The idea of consent — that partners in a relationship or a sexual encounter make an informed decision to participate in the relationship or the encounter, including knowing its polyamorous context — pervades poly writing, both implicitly and explicitly. That all parties agree to the non-monogamy, rather than participating without their knowledge or consent, is foundational.”

Talking about your relationships or current situation or expectations happens a lot in non-monogamous situations, but can be really useful in monogamous relationships as well. In addition to the obvious importance of enthusiastic consent in sexy situations, collaboration and enthusiasm between everyone at all stages can only lead to a better experience for all.

3. Everyone has feelings and needs.

Sometimes, one of the most important things to remember is that everyone has feelings and needs, and that theirs may be different than yours.

In a discussion of non-primary partners, Shara Smith writes:

“Even when you do have a clearly defined primary relationship (or two, or more), or you have a relationship that tends to have higher priority than others (as in descriptive primary), you still have to be careful not to invalidate your lesser-priority relationships. My ‘secondary’ or satellite partners are every bit as important as my ‘primary’ or core partners. They are human beings with feelings and needs, and by agreeing to be in a romantic relationship with them, I take some responsibility for how my actions affect them. This does not mean I am responsible for their happiness. This means that I am aware of how my actions and words affect them and I can avoid intentionally causing them pain by being insensitive to their emotional needs. Our relationship may have evolved in such a manner as to include less time and attention than my other relationships, but that doesn’t mean that the person in that relationship with me is expendable, disposable, or an interchangeable commodity.”

In translation, don’t be a dick.

4. Jealousy is a dish best served deconstructed.

It’s not that people in non-monogamous relationships don’t ever get jealous; it’s that jealousy gets in the way of thinking about and addressing your actual thoughts or feelings. In The Ethical Slut, Dossie Easton and Janet Hardy write:

“Jealousy may be an expression of insecurity, fear of rejection, fear of abandonment, feeling left out, feeling not good enough, feeling inadequate, feeling awful. Your jealousy may be based in territoriality, or in competitiveness, or in some other emotion that’s clamouring to be heard under the jealous racket in your brain.”

They also note that sometimes jealousy can be envy — not that you don’t want your partner to do something with someone else, but that you do want them to do that something with you — or feelings of loss — as if it is possible to lose something when your partner has awesome sex with someone else — and continue, “The challenge comes in learning to establish within yourself a strong foundation of internal security that is not depended on sexual exclusivity or ownership of your partner.”

It’s way more fun to feel happy your partner is having great sex or new relationship energy with someone else (this is called compersion) than it is to intellectually support her but wonder the whole time whether it means your connection won’t be as strong. In monogamous relationships, you can know that your partner is having an excellent non-sexy time with people or activities you are not involved with without worrying you will become romantically redundant.

People who feel totally secure in themselves 100% of the time probably still get jealous, whether monogamous or poly, but by recognizing that there are probably other things going on it’s much easier to manage in a way that makes everyone feel good.

5. There is more than one way to have a relationship.

A ton of modern relationships are seen as having one logical path, with all other options being anywhere from less than to completely transgressive. Solo Poly calls this default path the relationship escalator, and defines it as:

“The default set of societal expectations for the proper conduct of intimate relationships. Progressive steps with clearly visible markers and a presumed structural goal of permanently monogamous (sexually and romantically exclusive), cohabitating marriage — legally sanctioned if possible. The social standard by which most people gauge whether a developing intimate relationship is significant, ‘serious,’ good, healthy, committed or worth pursuing or continuing.”

Unsurprisingly, this model not only fails when for people having romantic relationships at different levels of intensity with multiple people, but also fails for many people having a romantic relationship with just one person. If everyone has to follow one relationship model or consider the whole situation a failure, it becomes harder to acknowledge the default expectations in place, easier to encourage remaining in non-ideal relationships and harder to value non-escalator relationships or others’ relationship choices.

Instead, thinking critically about this model — whether in non-monogamous or monogamous relationships, whether following it or not — acknowledges that there’s more than one way to have a valuable relationship, that relationships are still valuable if they end and that it’s important to treat everyone with respect.

There are so many possible types of relationships, and so many ways to conduct those relationships, that thinking about what you actually want from a given situation and how it might work for you (and communicating those needs) is incredibly important.

Feature image by Vanessa Velazquez Photography.

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Ryan Yates

Ryan Yates was the NSFW Editor (2013–2018) and Literary Editor for, with bylines in Nylon, Refinery29, The Toast, Bitch, The Daily Beast, Jezebel, and elsewhere. They live in Los Angeles and also on twitter and instagram.

Ryan has written 1142 articles for us.


  1. Nowadays most of my jealousy is of the “I just wish you’d done that activity with me!” type. I’m currently in a straight relationship with a “popular” guy who draws a lot of people to him naturally. He’s funny and spontaneous and good with large crowds. I’m sorta shy but also overly affectuous, so not everyone gets my vibe. Next to my guy I probably look like the less socially fuctionnal one, and I often end up struggling with developping meaningful friendships. Most my friends end up adding my boyfriend to their personnal lives, and asking me if he’s gonna be there soon whenever I’m at a party. Oh well!

    And as far as throuples go, yes please. Find me that precious, easy-going unicorn who just wants to have fun with two great humans and who also happens to enjoy safe and consensual sex. It’s like we’re the ice cream and she’s the sprinkles. Let’s melt our frozen dairy into a rainbow party!

    • A side note to said unicorn : my guy is really cool and smoothe. I’m funny-shy. Please act like I’m the cooler one anyways?

    • I avoid poly couples looking for a unicorn like the plague. So many double standards and hypocritical ownership over the unicorn… The way you’ve even worded your last sentence and used the word”sprinkles” and “easy-going” (as in what, she’s okay with you two being the most important and having no say in the relationship and not being able to be with anyone else except you two?) reinforces the reasons that I and so many women like myself will avoid such a dynamic.

      It’s like a unicorn is just a little toy. You two are the primary couple and the most important, but the unicorn is a little bonus toy for the primary couple. I mean no offense and I don’t mean to attack you, but you should consider what you’re saying and what you’re looking for, because part of the reason unicorns are so aptly named is because of the way couples searching for them make them even rarer (i.e. we avoid you and become even rarer). To sexually fluid or bisexual/pansexual poly women, a couple looking for a unicorn = a couple wanting a little sex toy/slave and maybe a maid combo. Ask yourself: if you found such a girl, what kind of rules would you try to enforce on her? Are they the same as the rules you place on yourself? What say does she have in anything? etc.

      • I’m sorry you had bad experiences with a (many?) couple(s).

        But first things first, nice to meet you! How’s your day?

        I have not experienced a trio relationship ever. This specific article is about making it easier, and making it work, for people who are curious about it. I’m curious about it, and so happen to date a man, and otherwise like women. I’m not an expert. I’m just human. I read your input. I don’t think it applies to myself. I don’t treat people like toys or objects. I don’t think that all people who have threeways, casually or seriously, treat people like objects. I think a straight couple can deal with the situation in a polite manner, the same way a gay couple could.

        I used the workd “sprinkles” both in a reference to Big Bang Theory, and also because I’m not a native English speaker and I didn’t know “sprinkles” had a negative connotation in the context where we speak of threesomes. This, I will apologise for.

        Still, thank you for sharing. I will try to learn something out of it.

      • This just occured to me from what you wrote, so I googled it… It IS a thing in English to call a bi / sexually fluid woman who has sex with a couple a “unicorn”!!! Let me explain : I use the word unicorn a lot, especially in French, usually to refer to myself as a sexually fluid woman. I will tell people I’m a special unicorn when questionned on my sexuality. I also collect plastic ponies and love to use the word “unicorn” to refer to most anything I deem fantastic / special. My cat is my baby unicorn.

        I used the word “unicorn” here in the exact same way, and it is a total coincidence that the term is already used in that way. I meant I was looking for a special person, who is a bit like me : sexually fluid or bi, or whatever prefered label. A unicorn, like me!

        I know this isn’t obvious to most people who are used to surf the web in English, but please before you assume anything about other humans who use the web, make sure they did mean things the way you read them :)

        I never meat to use the term “unicorn” in the way you thought I did!

        • I love the parsing out of miscommunication here via the different cultural and personal connotations of ‘unicorn’!

          Veronica, the scenarios you’re referring to are definitely frustrating, dehumanizing, and not uncommon. I can totally see what you took from Michelle’s comment, and I respect that you said something to challenge that line of thinking.

          This could have blown up into an unnecessary argument, but instead Michelle spotted the miscommunication and, ugh, this comment thread is just so beautiful. <3

          (Okay, I'll go squee about linguistics and communication elsewhere now…)

      • Thank you for saying this – as a queer woman who sometimes dates men and is involved in OKCupid, the wall of unicorn-seekers can get exhausting. (And, of course, the percentage of male partners I’ve had who ask me if I’m going to eventually set up a threesome with them and some random lady – or worse, someone I’ve dated before – is a hundred. A hundred percent.)

        I think sometimes for those of us who run in queer-bookstore-potluck kind of circles, it’s easy to say that we want unconventional things from relationships and hard to say that we want on the damn elevator. It’s easy to say that we want to negotiate our relationships freely based on what works for both people (and I do!) and hard to admit that someday I want to live in the same house and adopt the same dog as someone who I’m in love with. I understand the counterpressure to fall into the two-brides-on-the-wedding-cake heteronormative mold, I do, and I’m not saying the two pressures are equal, but sometimes the pressure we put on ourselves to Do Relationships Correctly regardless of what we actually want looks like the relationship elevator, but sometimes it looks like a Dossie Easton book. If that makes sense.

      • Well, for whatever it’s worth, I spent two years in a relationship that fit this pattern (me & my partner already in a longstanding relationship, plus a friend who became our third), and our “unicorn” was pretty much the one who dictated the terms. She wanted to see other people and we did not, so we adapted for her. We asked her to move in with us; she declined. And so on. She also quite enjoyed that there was a term out there for people in her situation, and we all thought of it as a metaphor for how rare it is for three people to all fit together so well.

        Maybe the difference is that we didn’t go LOOKING for a “unicorn;” we learned after the fact that there was a word for it. I can certainly see how the idea of a unicorn could be idealized and hypersexualized – I just didn’t realize that was inherent in the term.

        • Thanks for sharing! Your two cents are worth something, absolutely. It’s obvious that relationships like what you had are bound to differ greatly from a couple/throuple to another. Including a “third” in a primary relationship has the potential to be fun for both the couple and the third, and I can also see how it might turn into a nightmare, which is not the point at all. :P

          How I usually go about this stuff, is that I casually make it known who I am, what interests me and otherwise I go about my day like anyone else. If someone seems to take a liking to me, I will try to meet them, get to know them, hangout and stuff. I’m usually mostly looking for new friends anyhow, so no matter the outcome, I enjoy it when I get to meet new people. And as for my guy, he just doesn’t approach women with these ideas in mind ever, and he never ever came up to me to “suggest” someone either.

          So far things have been pretty “not gonna happen” for an array of reasons, I’ve mostly run into girls who liked me for who I am, and as a friend. I find that some girls who self-identify as straight (or bi, or no-label) might like to spend a few nights dancing with me, and sometimes kiss me, but that’s about it, and I’m fine/happy with it.

          And whenever I meet girls that are more serious than just a kiss, it usually ends up not working, because life (i.e. they meet a partner of their own, or they just get busy with life.)

          I’m not stressing myself over this, and like you said, going “looking” isn’t something we do at all. I’m of the mentality that people find you more than you find them.

          Your experience sounds like it was a positive one overall, unless I’m mistaken and things went bitter in the end (hopefully not!), but either way it’s nice to read that some “unicorns” out there are looking to be in such situations / are 100% comfy with it.


    • I can’t directly reply to Tango’s comment so there I hope you read this girl! I agree that this thread (all of it) disserves some love and free candy. :) Yay communication, Autostraddle magic!

      I will admit that I can see how girls like me (in a straight relationship + not opposed to the idea of experimenting with women, within my couple or outside of it) can rub some other queer girls the wrong way. I’ve been exposed to all sorts of comments in the past about this, trust me, and I usually try to be inventive in my way to explain things, making sure I don’t come off as one of THOSE dreaded bi girls. I feel like I have to be sorry these girls even exist? And that I must do everything in my power to prove I’m not one?

      However, as time goes, I find that I’ve apologised a lot for wanting the things I want, and that I constantly have to keep apologising. I sometimes feel like my personnal wants are, at best, viewed as a potential public danger. I understand it’s not anyone’s specific fault, but rather a social issue.

      I also often feel as if the general idea is that “no intelligent, self-respecting woman EVER would want what it is I (we) have to offer”. It feels like I am (we are) a scam and that only naive girls get caught? I feel this is offensive to women at large. The truth is that we’ve had offers, and I’ve declined them, because I felt at the time that things weren’t lined up properly. It was personnal. The women who approached us, however, were great, brilliant people, and I could never have taken advantage of them in any given context, because they were very aware/awake people. I don’t like the idea that women can’t choose to be the “unicorn”, and that they always fall “prey” to it.

      I know that other sexually fluid girls have lacked sensitivity and humanity before me, but that’s not typical to bi girls as much as it is typical to humans. Sex can be beautiful, and it can hurt, no matter who you are. Straight, gai, bi, in an exclusive or poly relationship, you name it, people have had their feelings hurt.

      This specific article that Carolyn gives us today is about poly relationships and how to make them healthy, which is awesome. The article even acknowledges that there can be a primary couple within a poly relationship, so I decided to voice that I’d love to have this. There was nothing more malignant behind my post.

      I hope I managed to better explain myself :)

      • I’m SO glad you typed up that comment. You articulated that far better than I would have. I was actually going to reply to Veronica’s comment about how those scenarios are totally valid and occur, but some people do enjoy ‘being the unicorn’ essentially and it’s mostly about respecting personal preferences surrounding wants & needs & whatnot,

        but than I got caught up in the linguistics aspect of your comments and lost my train of thought. Haha.

  2. Awesome article! The “relationship elevator” is a good description of something that really frustrates me about how a lot of people approach relationships.

  3. In college, I facilitated a social/support group for queer women in the university. I frequently had members come to me with their relationship issues/troubles. I’d say close to 90% of my advice was along the lines of, “Have you talked to [insert name] about this?” to which they’d reply something like, “I don’t know how..” and I’d try not to smirk through, “Just communicate about this with them the way you just brought it up to me.”

    I know communication isn’t the solution to every problem, but I did receive oodles of positive follow-ups. There’s so much bullshit, empty rhetorical sludge to drudge through (which is propagated and perpetuated by the MSM) that many of the people I talked to never thought to be as transparent/open with their partners as they were with me–someone who they saw as a type of ~authority figure~. It makes me terribly sad actually..

    • As someone who often has a hard time wording my feelings (I always end up doing it in the wrong context too!), I think we don’t nearly enough get told to talk about things. We have thousands of ways to escape things. We search for answers on the web, we overanalyse stuff, we ask for advice to people outside of the issue… really, I’ve never regreted a good talk with a partner or a good friend.

      Thanks for the daily reminder!

      • I agree, we really don’t “get told to talk about things” enough. There’s not a lot of modern representation of healthy & helpful communication.

        If fact, most of the ~primetime~ television shows I try to watch these days just have me grinding my teeth the entire time, because the majority of the drama is driven by poor communication (or an entire lack of). Like, the only conflicts I see on tv anymore are scenarios that could have been worked out with a 15 minute conversation. -___- (which I chalk up to cruddy writing amongst other influences)

  4. Honestly it’s the contrast between #1 and #4 that has me burned out on the poly dynamic lately.

    “Free and open communication about your feelings is really important!”
    “Okay, my feeling is that I’m jealous”
    ::record scratch::

    I’ve yet to have this go in a way that doesn’t basically involve one partner trying to talk the other out of having unenlightened feelings. And I don’t know of any more effective coffin-nail for a healthy relationship besides trying to talk someone out of their feelings. I would like to hear from people that this works for, because most of my experience in real life is in the “trainwreck” category.

    • I hear you! It’s really easy to fall into that or even if nobody’s trying to talk you out of your feelings, to want to talk yourself out of your feelings, etc. on and on forever.

      I’m in a poly relationship and I’ve pretty much banned myself from reading anything poly-related on the internet for this reason (I made an exception for this because Autostraddle and I’m not sure if I regret it or not).

      The thing is, poly people on the internet want to explain to me how my fears are irrational! And jealousy isn’t really jealousy! You can analyze it and become a better person! And 90% of the time, it just makes me feel like they’re trying to make me talk myself into not needing things, and poly becomes this weird exercise in making your emotions submit to willpower and intellect so you can do without stuff.

      But the other thing is, my girlfriend, the 100% poly-identified true believer in all of this, doesn’t do that. (Okay, I’ve had to tell her certain… catchphrases piss me off and I suspect she tries not to say them despite #1). She makes me feel loved and important and cared for and like my feelings matter. Which is why she’s my girlfriend in the first place. And she’s very understanding about it when I’ve read a self-righteous poly blog again and need to yell at her about my boundaries for a half hour.

      So…yeah. I guess it’s kind of a mess. But it’s mostly a happy mess, for us. Maybe in a year I’ll say trainwreck, time will show but I’m willing to find out.

      • Yeah, I think a lot of the “your jealous feelings in a poly relationship are irrational; you should think this way instead” is mostly a backlash against anti-poly rhetoric. It’s purely reactive and not empathetic to lived experiences.

    • Well, just like anger is a secondary emotion so is jealously, which Carolyn expanded on with the quote from The Ethical Slut. When communicating about feelings, it’s necessary to parse out where the jealousy is stemming from. Jealousy is a reaction to another feeling, and that ~other feeling~ is what needs to be articulated and addressed.

      • Interesting – I’ve actually been reading about the classification of primary and secondary emotions in the research this week for another project, and even the classifications themselves are pretty controversial (for instance, “anger” is a primary emotion in some schemas, and a secondary emotion in others). Certainly in monogamous relationships, too, it’s important to figure out where jealousy is coming from, and what to do about it, but yeah, I feel like there’s a lot of jealousy-shaming in the poly literature, and in people who are pretty fresh to the transition from the literature to the RL experience.

        • As far as the language surrounding emotional classification, I know some people say “anger is a secondary emotion” meaning another emotion came first and anger came second, and other people say “anger is a primary emotion” meaning you experience anger first but there’s always a follow up/foundational feeling in connection with the anger; both meaning relatively the same thing: there is [almost] always some knowledge to be gained by analyzing whatever triggered/inspired the anger.

    • “Such interesting. Much valuable. Very information.” to all of the above, really.

      I’m myself curious of these same points (again I have not found myself in open relationships so it’s all coming from an uneducated point of view.)

      What would you say is a good reaction you’d like to get if/when you talk about your feelings being hurt / being jealous?
      I’m taking a wild guess that quality time spent with the primary partner (assuming there is one) helps?

      I can totally see how a “your feelings are invalid because as a human you are capable of so much more than negative feelings” kinda speech can make things worse.

      • Personally, I already know my jealousy probably has little to do with reality, so I want the same thing I’d want if I’d had a nightmare: empathy and comfort. Reassurance is nice, too. Even if I’m rationally aware that my sweetie isn’t going to dump me for some new hot piece of ass, it’s still nice to hear, “I can’t imagine ever dumping you for some new hot piece of ass.”

    • Oh sweet lord yes.

      Personally, if I tell my partner I’m feeling jealous, I either a) just want empathy and comfort, or b) have a concrete request attached to it. I feel like B is super important because the usual script goes like this:

      “You seem upset. What’s up?”
      “I feel jealous of you and Jane.”
      “Oh, no! What should I do?”
      “Never see Jane ever again and repent for making me feel these icky, icky feelings, you bitch.”

      So I think a lot of us have been trained to react to “I’m feeling jealous” with panic. We’re used to jealousy being the beginning of drama and potentially the end of happy. The task therefore becomes MAKE THE JEALOUSY GO AWAY.

      If you want to get a non-record-scratch response, I think it helps to make it clear that you’re not about to throw a fit or issue an ultimatum. You may be able to have a meta-conversation about it, pointing out that they seem to be trying to make the jealousy go away because they’re scared of the jealousy.

      Some people, of course, will be condescending jerks and try to show you how unenlightened your jealousy is. Don’t fuck those people.

      • This is a really helpful perspective to read, for me as a person in a strictly monogamous relationship who gets super defensive when confronted with jealousy (mostly because I have experienced the type of controlling, possessive jealousy in past relationships that commonly goes along with emotional abuse or worse). It’s very difficult for me to step away from my instinctive fuck-you-for-not-trusting-me reaction and see the situation as a request for comfort and reassurance, but the comparison with having a nightmare is one I’ll try to keep in mind.

    • Hey purps.

      Man, I feel those feels. I’ve been ready so many times to throw in the towel with my poly primary partner, who happens to be a fucking genius with compersion and wants me to have all of the relationships and sex all of the time, and is utterly fine with it.

      Instead of passing the “let’s make your jealousy feel better” torch between you and your boo, it’s just me, smoldering, while they attempt to make me feel safer in our primary relationship. I typically end up sobbing and they end up caving on plans/good feelings towards someone new because I couldn’t hack it. Not fair for my partner at all, but I’m happy to say things have gotten much better.

      So far, in my few years of embracing non-monogamy (not necessarily polyamory), I’ve learned that it’s really easy for me to fuck/have relationships with other people and trust/believe that my primary relationship won’t suffer: that I still love, value, cherish, etc my primary despite having NRE and being absolutely bananas over someone new.

      I’ve also learned that as cool as I am about me with others, it’s really fucking hard to watch my primary feel NRE and be bananas over someone new and not feel like a truck is running over my heart every time it happens.

      I think it comes down to trust. Really strong bonds of trust. REAL trust. Not the “yeah of course I trust you…..” and then inside your brain is like “DO I REALLY?!” No. Not that shit. This is the stuff of “I respect the fuck out of you as a human being and trust you to do good by me, and when you fuck up, to own it. And I’ll do the same for you, boo.”

      I trust my partner to talk to me. I trust my partner to abide by our relationship protocols (which we have legit written up in a Google doc, by the way). I trust my partner to ensure my needs are met as well as the needs of their partners.

      I trust myself to respect my primary relationship protocol and trust myself to talk about shit with my partner, but I also have to trust myself that I know how to accept my emotions (I feel jealous, can I have a hug?) and then process that shit and not let it rule over me.

      Yes, open communication is awesome, but instead of wallowing in the jealous feelings, I state to myself or my partner how I’m feeling, and then here’s the part where it really gets hard — I have to work on not letting those emotions control my mood or my day. I know what I need to get out of that place (self-care activities or calling up one of my external partners for a drink or a lay), but that might be different for you. When I first started that strategy, it felt foreign, and I would have rather wallowed in my jealousy because it was easier than taking care of it myself, but with practice I think I’ve gotten a lot better, and I’m totally fucking proud of myself for that.

      • This is freaking amazing. (Yes, I know this thread happened over a year ago, but.) I’ve been in a technically “open” relationship for almost a year, but only now are we starting to actually explore relationships with other people. So much of what you said has been happening in my head (but luckily also with all the same rationalities and good feelings/trust that you talked about).

        Thanks for articulating it so well :)

  5. Thank you for this awesome article!
    My partner and I are in a realationship that has blossomed into a non-monogamous one over time. It’s great to have the dynamics broken down and put in perspective in this manner. Also, many of the resources out there, for poly and non-monogamous relationships, come from a heteronormative perspective that we cannot relate to.

    • I agree with you.
      I find that most of the material is centered on men, and how they can successfully convince their girlfriends to agree to threeways / open relationships.

      A lot also caters to gay men, who from what I can gather are the most opened to poly relationships. But maybe I am wrong?

  6. How exciting – a quote from Liz Emens in an article about polyamory on Autostraddle! Her work is fascinating (though I may be biased, as one of her former research assistants).

    Anyway, yes to this whole article. I ended up in a polyamorous relationship sort of by accident, but we definitely worked through all of these steps in the process.

  7. The communication and jealousy one is interesting. My best friend and I are super close, and he’s been with his boyfriend (who I also love to pieces) for 4 years, longer than he’s been friends with me. As this year has gone on, the two of them have become more and more insular and honestly – I just don’t like being around them when they’re together. I barely get to spend any time with them anymore. I hate being like hey spend less time with the love of your life or stop acting like I’m intruding every time I’m like hey lets go to the movies together. But its just kind of shit because your friends should be important even if your SO is more important and I just get…nothing from either of them. I feel like I’m not entitled to be jealous, but I still feel jealous. I dunno, rant over.

    • I think this illustrates nicely the flip side of the argument that “it’s no different than having friends, you have more than one friend” – yes, and friendship actually comes with a lot of jealousy and competition for people’s time and specialness and all of that, too. It’s just less socially acceptable to talk about it.

      • Yeah like I really think its unfair how people devalue friendships. Its like once you get out of secondary school friends are like a fun extra curricular activity but nothing you have to put genuine time and effort into. Also toxic friendships that may be emotionally abusive – people are like oh just don’t be friends with them or you shouldn’t be so upset, but they’d never say that about a romantic relationship.

        • “Also toxic friendships that may be emotionally abusive – people are like oh just don’t be friends with them or you shouldn’t be so upset.”

          Please phone me, we could talk all night lol.

          I actually get hurt a lot more easily in my friendships that in my relationships, so good to know I ain’t alone. It’s weird because not many people understand. I give a lot of importance to my friendships, maybe too much!

  8. Can I add two? From the Polyamory School of Hard Experience?

    1. Look up the engineering design concept of “graceful failure” or “fault-tolerant design”. Brainstorm ways to apply it to relationships. In my romantic lifetime I will probably screw up again and again, and the measure of the relationship and the people in it is what happens when big things go wrong. I can’t live my life hoping they never will.

    2. Just because I -can- do something doesn’t mean I -should-. I have found that exactly when I need to be thinking about this advice is exactly the time my brain convinces me I don’t have to. So I need to think it. Stop. Go back. Think it again. If I’m dismissing it out of hand or making excuses, that serves as it’s own handy warning sign.

  9. So glad to be seeing some poly representation on AS! Kudos Carolyn! I’m going to be directing people to this article whenever they ask me about my relationship structure/sitch.

  10. tw: rape

    #2 makes me really uncomfortable because there’s this very strong tendency to act as though people who are involved in poly, BDSM, queer etc otherwise non-mainstream relationships are incapable of rape, sexual abuse or domestic violence. We’re constantly told that these groups of people have this kind of inherent respect for consent. But the insistence that violence is impossible in poly relationships or that people involved in poly relationships could never violate consent creates a lot of hostility and distrust towards survivors.

    • This is a good thing to emphasize, because poly relationships can often become very insulated (especially when all parties aren’t “out” about being in the relationship), which I think can present an even greater danger if two or more persons work to “convince” another to do something. I was in this situation once and it was difficult to get out of the mindset of “well I’m only one out of three…” and even harder to reach out to the friends my partners told me “wouldn’t understand us.” Thankfully, I got dumped. The experience left me one part understanding of poly relationships, because I do know what it’s like to love more than one partner, and one part extremely wary, because more people in a relationship means more everything, good and bad.

  11. am I the only one thinking this is good advice and all but MY GIRLFRIEND IS MINEEE!!!!!!!!*CLIMBS ON GIRLFRIEND LIKE GODZILLA ON THE EMPIRE SATE BUILDING*

  12. I don’t see any “benefits” what I see is basic relationship dynamics. Could someone elaborate on the actual benefits of poly?

    • Well, the benefits of poly relationships are that they work well for polyamorously-inclined people. I don’t think this article is trying to argue that they have more inherent benefits than monogamous relationships. It’s obviously a personal preference.

      And I agree that the ideas discussed boil down to basic relationship dynamics, but I think the point is that the more complicated nature of poly relationships forces people to address them more openly than can often happen in monogamous pairings (i.e. it’s harder to sweep things under the rug when there are more people involved).

      • There’s so much representation of monogamous relationships that lots of aspects of those relationships go unmarked or unspoken about. The lack of representation for poly relationships forces these “lessons” to be recognized and articulated, even if they are foundational for all intimate relationships.

        The “lessons” are to be benefited from, not poly relationships.

    • The only “benefit” is that it’s what you want to do. It’s no better or worse than monogamy. Just different.

  13. I wish more of the queer community was a judgment-free zone where people could be *either* poly or monogamous and both choices would be fine.

    I wish there was more of a “live and let live” attitude rather than all of this peer pressure coming from different social circles.

    And no, polyamory is not “superior,” “more evolved,” or any of that. It is not better – just different.

    • ↑THIS!

      I am happy that AS is providing a space for poly relationships and I know that society shuns them, that they are treated like second class relationships, etc. However, I also often find that within certain circles, monogamy is put down, considered “unnatural,” “boring,” etc. What works for some may not work for others. I have all of these wonderful things in my monogamous relationship and these five things are cornerstones for and can be found in any healthy relationship.

      • I know that I’m very late to this discussion, but thank you both! I know a poly human who places herself as ‘enlightened,’ and all monogamy as ‘ideological.’ Anybody who disagrees with her is either an oppressor of sexual freedom, or sexually oppressed. It’s starting to cross a line.

  14. A awesome article. I help run the tri-state poly discussion meeting in NYC. WE “joke” about the fact that the first three rules of a poly relationship (or any relationship) is communication, communication, communication, in other words you can never have enough communication. We also bring up the point of “there is more than one way to have a relationship” by tell people that there are about the same number of ways of doing poly as there are people doing poly. A good number of years ago we had about 30+ people at the meeting and we tried to come up with a definition for love and we could not do it. To many different ways and all were correct. (ala 3 polys and 4 opinions).

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