By: Jean Samick
Polyamory, or Non-Monogamy as it’s also widely referred to, is the “participation in multiple and simultaneous loving or sexual relationships,” that are not exclusive with other intimate relationships. This is done with the knowledge and consent of everyone involved. Done properly, it can enhance a relationship in a variety of different ways, and done improperly it can be detrimental to even the strongest of relationships.
A polyamorous friend of mine (who prefers to remain anonymous) offered some insight into open relationships and how people can go about them in a healthy, consensual and responsible way. “It’s kind of a choose-your-own-adventure style relationship,” Ms. Polyamory tells me, “You can define your relationship in terms of how open you want it to be. That can range from having hook-ups once a month, it can be as structured as that, or it can be that you have simultaneous partners. I think for a lot of people, they have their primary partner, their husband or wife, then maybe a girlfriend or a boyfriend. The key thing throughout all these different versions of non-monogamy is that it’s all consensual.”
It’s important to note the difference between polyamory and adultery. In any healthy relationship, whether it is casual or exclusive, the parties involved are all aware and consenting on their status. Polyamory or non-monogamy is when everyone involved is consensual to the fact that they are not in a physically or emotionally exclusive relationship, and infidelity is when only one side is consensual, while the other is unaware.
If a couple decides to explore non-monogamy, Ms. Polyamory recommends a solid foundation of communication that takes place beforehand in order to maintain that trust. Non-monogamy should be an enhancement to a relationship, and not fixing a problem. There’s a certain amount of honesty and transparency that comes with any healthy relationship, and especially in the case of non-monogamous relationships that can frequently test bonds. Some may fear that their partner may fall in love with someone else outside the relationship, but Ms. Polyamory has a soothing response for that. “When we are falling in love with someone we fall in love with the individual pieces that make them up; their kindness, their ambitions, values, hobbies, past experiences, etc. We do not fall in love with them because they are monogamous to us. That is simply a framework people choose to express their love. So for some people a framework which includes seeing a person grow through other relationships as well is just as appealing.”
If a person is looking to broach the concept of an open relationship with their partner, Ms. Polyamory recommends taking steps to find your boundaries and set them immediately. Make everything a discussion, and lay out your fears immediately because jealously and insecurity can happen. By making everything a discussion with your partner, there is no “gatekeeper’ in the relationship setting the rules. “If there are things you know you’re not OK with, just make that a rule right away and deal with it later.” She suggests not using language that threatens the relationship that exists, and not to blame the other person if something upsets them. Saying something is OK and then discovering it isn’t is no one’s fault. Don’t blame them, but talk about the problem and be proactive about feelings.
Broaching the topic with friends and family, especially if you are in a long term relationship, can be difficult to navigate. “I had a lot of doubts about what’s OK to share and what’s not OK to share.” Ms. Polyamory says, “Talk to your partner about this as well. “Who are we going to share this with?’ or “How do we talk about it?’ Look for support, don’t be afraid to reach out.” She quotes Dan Savage “Your parents deserve not to know everything.” In regards to my question about her family, to which she pointed out if they saw her or her partner out with someone else, “If that happened, I wouldn’t want them to misunderstand our agreement.”
With this framework in mind, decide if pursuing a non-monogamous relationship is right for you. There is no right or wrong way to love, just different options. If you feel like trying non-monogamy, seek out support from the poly community that can help you explore the different facets of the lifestyle. There are Canadian Advocacy pages for Polyamory as well as local chapters and international branches.
You can also find Poly events listed on Wicked Wanda’s Calendar.