Polyamory

Choosing ethical non-monogamy…

With expert information from Abby Gilfillian, Integrative Therapist and Psychosexual Counsellor, British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy

Joon and Kayleigh had been seeing each other regularly for a while. But somewhere along the way, communication and trust broke down and they found themselves with a pesky STI. They both got treatment (a dose of the antibiotic azithromycin, administered by the pharmacist) and were fine, but decided it was time to re-think the terms of their relationship, so that they could both stay healthy.

Enter, Abby Gilfillian, an Integrative Therapist and Psychosexual Counsellor certified by the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy.

“The term ‘polyamory’ was coined in 1990 by Neopagan leader Morning Glory Zell-Ravenheart, in her essay ‘A Bouquet of Lovers'”.[1]

“Not to be confused with the practice of polygamy, polyamory is a recently coined term to describe the practice of loving (romantically) more than one person at a time. While polygamy, as viewed in Western society, is typically a heterosexual practice, usually with a man having multiple wives – polyamory is not limited by gender. Polyamory is the ability or desire or practice of engaging in consensual non-monogamy; to be in a romantic and/or sexual relationship with more than one person at a time.

“Some people can find it difficult to have all their needs met by just one person, and feel that monogamy is unnecessarily restrictive. In creating a space free of these restrictions, a different kind of trust and honesty is encouraged where polyamory can provide a safe space to explore a broader range of sexual experiences, and create a sense of sexual liberation and freedom. Also, the desire to meet certain emotional and physical needs in broader, more versatile ways, can be explored without the need to be deceitful.

“For others, polyamory is a lifestyle that allows for the management of certain insecurities. For those who think of themselves as not enough, encouraging partners to engage in other relationships can help navigate this. And conversely, those who believe they are emotionally, or sexually, too much for one person to handle, can spread what they believe to be an emotional burden across multiple partners.


Responsible and ethical polyamory

Informed willingness of all parties

“Willingness of all parties involved is required for ethical polyamory. Partners who are coerced or unwittingly cajoled into polyamory are unlikely to be able to engage in the relationship fully. Power dynamics may play out in unconscious or unhealthy ways and resentment is likely to build. Each party involved in the relationship ought to be afforded the time, information and space to make the decision about their boundaries, and therefore involvement in the relationship.

Open communication and negotiation

“For poly relationships to work successfully, boundaries and rules need to be put in place – even if this is a negotiation around there being no rules. Open communication throughout the relationship allows for the development of not only self-awareness, but also trust and security. Although relationships where neither partner discusses their secondary relationships can work, this is again done with careful consideration and clear communication from the start.

“Clearly communicate emotions; feelings of jealousy without blame further allows for development of trust and provision of reassurance if and where necessary.

Playing by the rules

“Each relationship has its own set of rules created to suit the individuals involved. It’s important that these rules are carefully negotiated and understood by everyone involved. The boundaries should be based on the individuals involved in the relationships and is very dependent on the relationship structure. Boundaries should be set at the start of each new relationship, and should be clarified throughout. Open communication about any changes to the boundaries needs to be clear with all parties to ensure transparency.

“If the rules are either broken or become unfit for purpose, open and honest conversations – which can be difficult – need to be had to maintain trust in the relationship.

“Although sexual fidelity may not be required, maintaining the rules established during the relationship is key to ethical polyamory, as they are the boundaries around which trust is formed and maintained.

When doesn’t polyamory work?

“Polyamorous relationships are based on trust, a shared commitment and openness. The relationships stop being happy and healthy if one person is ‘going along’ with it for the sake of the other, rather than being actively interested in being polyamorous. It is important that the other parties are accepted as part of each other’s lives, instead of simply being tolerated.

“Jealousy typically arises from of fear of losing our romantic partner or fear of them sharing intimacies with another and is an umbrella emotion for a range of different feelings including anger, sadness, fear, etc.[2] If acknowledged, explored and discussed, understanding jealousy can actually bring partners closer. [3] However, avoiding our feelings of jealousy can add an implicit competitive nature to the relationship and cause resentment and contempt.

 Thinking of trying polyamory?

  • Consider your reasons for wanting to enter into polyamorous relationships
  • Speak to your partner(s) about your expectations and theirs
  • Consider how you would manage if, and when, feelings of jealousy occur
  • Identify ways of communicating difficult feelings
  • Consider ways in which polyamory in the long term will impact on your life (i.e., wider relationships with friends and family)”

Lastly, and most importantly, Kayleigh should have practised safe sex with all her partners, unless she could be sure 100% sure that they’d be risk free.

References

[1] Morning Glory Zell-Ravenheart, ‘A Bouquet of Lovers’, Green Egg, 1990

[2] https://ncsfreedom.org/images/stories/pdfs/KAP/2010_poly_web.pdf

[3] https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/the-polyamorists-next-door/201312/jealousy-and-compersion-multiple-partners-1

Attridge, M. (2013). Jealousy and relationship closeness: Exploring the good (reactive) and bad (suspicious) sides of romantic jealousy. SAGE open, 3(1), 2158244013476054.

N Rubel, Alicia & Bogaert, Anthony. (2014). Consensual Nonmonogamy: Psychological Well-Being and Relationship Quality Correlates. Journal of sex research. 52. 1-22. 10.1080/00224499.2014.942722.