Welcome to my virtual therapy room! I am Dr Lori Beth Bisbey and this is Sex Spoken Here. Remember that this Vlog deals with adult themes so if you don’t have privacy you might wish to put on your headphones.
Polyamory and non-monogamy have become incredibly trendy in the last few years. One of the main reasons people give for being non-monogamous is how hard it is for one person to meet all of your needs.
People who are monogamous and have strong friendship networks as well know this as well. They look to their friendship networks and their families to meet needs that their partners do not meet. However, the myth that your partner should be your everything still persists. Many people end up in relationship therapy or ending their relationships because their partner does not meet all their needs.
The idea that I am responsible for my own needs is one that is only just really gaining popularity. It is hard to take responsibility for your own needs. It requires the ability to first to distinguish between needs and wants. Then it requires the ability to acknowledge your needs and accept them. Finally it requires the person to take responsibility for getting their needs met – with the understanding that prioritising can become very difficult when trying to balance needs.
In non-monogamous relationships, multiple partners, friends and families meet needs. Having more people who are committed to you available to help meet your needs is a big bonus.
And it adds lots of complication as there are more people whose needs must be met and balanced, juggled and prioritised.
How do you know if non-monogamous relationships are for you?
Do you love emotionally intimate relationships? Do you find yourself falling in love with more than one person at a time?
If so, then polyamory might well be a good fit for you.
Have you had difficulty remaining faithful in monogamous relationships?This can be an indication that non-monogamous relationships would be a better choice for you.
However, this depends on why you had difficulty remaining faithful. Affairs are possible in polyamorous relationships. Whenever someone is dishonest and secretive about other relationships it is a problem. If you break the rules of your non-monogamous relationship, that is an affair. If your difficulty in remaining faithful is because you fall in love often or feel you have more love to share, then non-monogamy may well work. If it is because you find it hard to commit or you tend to be impulsive or you find honest communication difficult, then it is not going to work any better than non-monogamy and in fact may even be worse for you.
Do you like to share your life with more than one person?
If so, non-monogamous relationships may well be ideal.
Are you an expert communicator (or willing to learn), happy to negotiate to get your needs met?
Good communication is essential to all relationships. Great communication is vital to polyamorous relationships. All non-monogamous relationships take far more communication than monogamous relationships. This probably seems obvious – more people = more communication. Metacommunication is necessary as well. As I have said previously, metacommunication is when we talk about how we communicate and what we communicate, how often we communicate. It creates the structure around the rest of our communication, the rules for communication.
Are you possessive?
If so, polyamory may be problematic for you. Possessiveness makes polyamory very hard. Some people still manage to be polyamorous and possessive. These people tend to form closed group relationships or engage in authority transfer based relationships where they are the owners and the others they are in relationship with are the property. If you don’t gravitate towards that type of relationship dynamic and you cannot find a closed group, then possessiveness with simply get in your way.
Are you good at dealing with your own feelings?
All of us get jealous but can you get past your jealousy without requiring your partner to change their behaviour? If you cannot, then polyamory may well be hard for you. Learning to manage jealousy is a skill. If you are willing to examine your own feelings and learn how to deal with them, then you will be able to create polyamorous relationships that will work. If you rely on others to change in order to feel better, you will benefit from some help changing this. Relying on others to change gives them control over how you feel. This is never ideal. Learning to soothe yourself, to manage negative feelings and process them until they are neutral or even positive are fantastic skills that will serve you well in all of your relationships.
Do you have a high sex drive?
If you have a high sex drive, non-monogamous relationships may really fit you well. It is one way to make sure that your sexual needs get met. Differences in levels of desire is a common issue that people in monogamous relationships come to therapy with. These differences can place a large strain on relationships, leaving the person with the high drive always feeling deprived and the person with the low drive always feeling pressured. Non-monogamy allows for these needs to be spread across relationships, taking the pressure off. Of course, this doesn’t always work fully. It isn’t magic. There are times where no one matches up well. You want something and none of your partners is able or willing to provide it. But you have more chance of regularly having your needs met when there are more possible ways to meet them.
Do you find people of multiple genders attractive and do you feel upset in monogamous relationships because of what you have to give up? Non-monogamous relationship styles can take away that fear of missing out (FOMO) feeling because you have the freedom to have multiple relationships with people of all genders.
Polyamorous relationships are often not couple focused. There are many relationships where there is a single in multiple relationships or a triad in a relationship with each other or a quad in a relationship with each other. If communal living appeals to you, then polyamory may well be a great fit.
If you are thinking about opening up a monogamous relationship, you need to consider some additional questions:
What type of non-monogamous relationship are you considering?
Are you looking to become a sexually open relationship but not to have any other emotional commitments?
If you are looking to be polyamorous (have full romantic relationships (sexual and emotional) with others):
Are you going to be hierarchical and have your relationship be the primary relationship?
If so, what rules will you have for your secondary relationships?
Some rules could include:
No living together.
Primary relationships take precedence for most major holidays.
Social media posting for primary and secondary relationships.
Children will not be raised outside of the primary relationship.
Finances will be mingled with primary relationship only.
If you are going to become a secondary in a polyamorous relationship, consider how you will feel knowing that you won’t be living with this partner no matter how serious things become or that you won’t be spending Christmas and New Years with this partner or that if you have a crisis, your partner may not be available to you.
Some people suggest that someone who is entering an already existing relationship create a set of rules. I prefer to suggest that all parties discuss expectations and responsibilities. As part of this, I also suggest negotiating how these get changed over time. The couple needs to be clear about their expectations from the beginning. For example, if a third (fourth, fifth) person will never live with the couple or will never become a full time relationship, that needs to be clear at the beginning.
Would you consider living with two partners?
If so, would you want each person to have their own space?
These are things to consider before formally opening up a relationship.
The more areas and issues you talk through, in my experience the better the outcome.
All relationships require some on going work. Be prepared to spend a lot of time at the beginning designing the structure of the relationships and also to spend on going time to keep thigns going well and to modify things as life throws changes at you.
Listening skills are essential and being present is the first step in listening well.
If you are someone who needs everything to have a place and to put everything in it’s place, you may find polyamory difficult. Relationships are extremely individual and much as you might like to fit a relationship into a particular box (casual sex partner, person I will have children with etc), often it is impossible. If you are willing to allow relationships to define themselves, to take shape over time, you will have a much easier time and are likely to have longer lasting, more robust relationships.
Non-monogamous relationships won’t solve existing relationship problems. Before opening up a relationship, take emotional inventory and consider your reasons for doing so. Be rigorous as you do this and you are less likely to have a hidden agenda that is unlikely to to be met.
If you are someone who needs things to be equal and looks to make sure that they get what other people get in life, you are likely to find non-monogamy difficult. Counting is the death knell in polyamory. Equal is 50%. Fair is something different. Equal is a mathematical concept. Fair is subjective and open to interpretation. ‘They got a holiday with you so I need a holiday with you’ doesn’t work well in polyamorous relationships. Negotiations should be about your own relationship, not in comparison to another relationship.
If you are looking at joining an existing relationship, have a look at the relationship you are looking to join. Is it in good shape? Are they happy? Do they have effective ways to manage upset, conflict, disagreements? If they don’t, take stock before you enter into relationship with them or even enter into relationship with one of them.
To figure out if non-monogamous relationships are for you:
Know your needs
Understand the things that cause you to feel insecure
Check out your communication skills
Understand your desire to share with more than one person (or not)
Look at how much sex drive you have
Is FOMO something for you?
Is adventure and variety something for you?
Thanks for joining me this week for Sex Spoken Here with Dr Lori Beth Bisbey.
Write to me with suggestions for the show, questions you want answered at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow me on twitter and instagram @drbisbey.
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I look forward to seeing you next week