I love working with polyamorous relationships. With poly relationships, it is very likely the partners have explicitly discussed their relational agreements. Within the poly subculture, discussing feelings, fears, expectations, hopes, etc., and then forming relational agreements based on the preferences of those involved is the norm, not the exception. As a therapist, this is a dream come true! Of course, it is also a dream come true when a monogamous couple has discussed and made explicit agreements–it just isn’t as common.
Consider all the assumptions people might make about what’s normal and expectable in relationships:
- Having coffee with an ex is normal/staying in touch with exes is never acceptable
- Flirting is fun/flirting is cheating
- Having close friends outside the relationship is healthy/close friends are threatening to the relationship
- Porn is fine/porn is inherently damaging
These are all relational boundaries that, when left ambiguous, create mischief further down the road. When there is no discussion, there is also no agreement. Most often this ends with either luck (we happen to agree with our partners), or deception (we’re too scared to discuss it yet want it and do it anyway).
Having sex outside the relationship is culturally understood to be infidelity, so if a person wants to do it, and does not want to lie or deceive, they must choose to openly discuss it with their partner. Call me crazy, but I just love working with people who are having that discussion. Actual communication about something most people lie about? I’m all in.
Not that this is always easy. Opening the discussion is just the first step. Good negotiation is tough. It calls for bravery, groundedness, a strong sense of self, the ability to regulate one’s emotions and stay curious even when having a lot of uncomfortable feelings…striving for empathy, accessing your best self under pressure…this is why I’m a relationship therapist! This process deserves support, and is entirely honorable.
The reward is a relationship in which partners are truly able to know one another. They don’t have to hide, and they are able to honor and accept their differences. Whether they decide to have an open relationship or be monogamous, I love that they started from a place of believing so strongly in honesty that they risked their relationship for it.
This is what monogamous couples can learn from polyamorous ones: a relationship is as unique as the people in it. There is no rule book except the agreements you make together, which must be discussed, negotiated, and renewed. Learn what your partner envisions for the relationship, what they hope for and what they want to avoid. Be prepared to disagree, and understand that differences of opinion are not disasters, but opportunities to learn more about each other.