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I've been in quite a few relationships that were outside the box. I've been in a lesbian relationship. I've been in relationships with transpeople. I've been in "don't ask, don't tell" open relationships. I've also been in a number of polyamorous relationships, too.
From what I've seen, each relationship has certain spoken and unspoken rules. Monogamous relationships tend to be the easiest ones to work with, simply because there are fewer "what if" factors when there are only two people. Open relationships are harder, simply because you have to put more trust in your partner not to run off with others.
Then, there's polyamorous relationships. These tend to be the kind of relationships where I have to respect all party members involved. They are not easy to maintain and require all parties to follow a lot of strict rules in order for them to succeed.
Speaking as someone who has been poly (in a seven-person relationship) before, there are a lot of rules to follow in a polyamorous relationship that are seriously challenging—but absolutely necessary if you want it to be a healthy relationship. Here are some that monogamous people would never have guessed would be tough to do.
No cheating—oh wait, what is cheating, anyway?
Believe it or not, one of the hardest rules to follow in a polyamorous relationship is the "no cheating" rule. Polyamory in itself is not cheating; rather, cheating, when you're poly, tends to be a bit more difficult to define since there are multiple partners involved right from the start.
Each poly relationship has to start off with cheating being defined. Some of the ways I've heard it defined include...
- Don't have a sexual relationship or a romantic relationship without getting approval from your partner. This is the most common way cheating is defined in a poly relationship, and it makes sense. Going around someone's back is an easy way to build resentment. In certain cases, it can even put you in physical danger due to STD transmission.
- Don't pay more attention to one partner than another. This is one issue a LOT of poly relationships struggle with. It's really easy to get lopsided in a poly relationship. A safe word can help, but at times, it's not always easy to handle without a breakup.
- Don't have sex with a person without using protection. Sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy prevention are huge issues in poly relationships. This could be cheating by those standards too.
- Financial infidelity is also cheating. Money will always be an issue. If you end up lying about finances, it could hurt all your partners.
Before anything happens romantically, make sure you define cheating in your poly relationship. Otherwise, even the best tips to make a polyamorous relationship work will be null and void.
Have a serious discussion with all parties before you get involved with a new partner.
This is a must, but it's surprising how hard it can be to do when you're new to poly or open relationships. It's awkward. At times, it can make someone feel like they're getting put in a spotlight. Many people avoid doing this simply because of the cringe factor.
This discussion should include intentions, sexual practices, expectations of all parties involved, and more. If you can't have that talk maturely, you shouldn't be poly.
However, it's one of the most necessary rules to follow in an open relationship. Otherwise, things will get lost in translation or otherwise cause hurt to one or all partners.
Never, EVER pressure someone into being poly when they're not.
This is one of the most important rules to follow in a polyamorous relationship, simply because of what will happen if you break this rule. If you pressure your partner into becoming poly when it's not something they truly want, you're being abusive.
No, I'm not joking. No, I'm not exaggerating.
Being forced to basically watch someone cheat on you (because you're not consenting to this, really) is horrible. It really hurts your self-esteem. I've seen this happen with people, and honestly, they become shells of the people they once were.
If you care about your partner, don't pressure them into a poly relationship. Doing anything else will result in them getting bitter, resentful, and eventually just feeling horrible about themselves and you.
Speaking of, abuse is still abuse.
It doesn't matter how many partners you have in a relationship. If you insult your partners, physically hurt them, or otherwise abuse them, you're an abuser.
The good news about being poly, at least from what I've seen, is that poly relationships are much less prone to abuse than others. This is because poly relationships are less likely to have isolation than monogamous relationships. This means that the abused parties will often help each other leave.
Understand that there will be moments where things aren't going to be about you.
This is one of the biggest perks of being in a monogamous relationship that most monogamous people take for granted. When you have a relationship with just one other person, you can expect everything going on in the relationship to be about you.
That's not the case with poly relationships. There can and will be moments where your partner is more preoccupied by the other partner. You might find that your partner is in a foul mood because the other partner did something, or that they may have forgotten something about you.
Take a deep breath. It's never only about you in a poly relationship.
Own your mistakes, and be accountable for them.
As far as rules to follow in a polyamorous relationship go, few are as important as this one. Actually, it's one of the most important relationship rules in monogamous relationships too.
A person who can't admit fault, own their mistakes, and actually work to correct them isn't a person capable of being in a healthy relationship. Nothing you can say or do will "fix" someone who's like this, either.
In a monogamous relationship, not following this rule will quickly lead to a toxic dynamic. In polyamorous relationship, the damage that gets dealt will be magnified—and will have more victims.
Communicate openly, and respect all parties equally.
With any relationship whatsoever, communication and respect are the two keys to success. If you can't communicate and respect every member of your poly relationship, you shouldn't be in a relationship with that party at all.
At times, it's easier said than done when you're in a poly relationship. There are more people, you may have less interest in one person than another, you might have to deal with jealousy in polyamory, and of course, there may also be times when you're just not vibing as well as you usually do with said person.
With poly relationships, it can feel pretty hard to openly express yourself, especially when you feel like you're being put in a spotlight by your partners. You might even feel neglected by your other partner. Needless to say, this can be one of the hardest rules to follow in a polyamorous relationship.
Don't sabotage your partner's relationships.
There's a very common rookie mistake among poly relationship people that involves sabotaging partners' other relationships just to have a main squeeze stay with you. This breaks a lot of trust between partners and a lot of potential friendships—not to mention it's one of the biggest rules to follow in a polyamorous relationship.
I'll say it once, and I'll say it again. Doing this is WRONG. Just because you want to be "top dog" doesn't mean you have the right to hurt your partners' other relationships to get your way. Eventually, your partner(s) will get sick of you doing this and leave.
Finally, you will need to be able to stand on your own two feet.
Though many of the rules to follow in a polyamorous relationship tend to focus on how you work with other partners, the truth is that they can only do so much for you. In order to actually be able to balance multiple partners, you will have to be able to be happy alone, to stand on your own two feet, and to be good to yourself.
Sadly, we live in a world where that's easier said than done. If you manage to do it, though, make sure that you use those skills to be the best partner you can be for all the people you're loving.