Polyamory Will Change Your Relationship: Navigating Change Well [Polyamory Conversation Cards #3]

“How can we do this without it changing our relationship?”

This is one of the most common questions people ask when they’re new to polyamory or consensual non-monogamy and exploring it from the place of a pre-existing relationship. On the surface, it’s a reasonable question. You love each other. You love the relationship you have, and you view polyamory as a way to add to your happiness together and separately, not detract from it. So how can you transition to polyamory without changing your existing relationship?

You can’t.

If there’s one thing I want new polyamorists to understand – right alongside “unicorn hunting is bad” and “jealousy is normal, what matters is how you handle it” – it’s this: polyamory. is. going. to. change. your. relationship.

There is simply no way around this fact. If you are not prepared for change, you are not ready to be non-monogamous.

In case you missed it, this post is part of a series inspired by Odder Being’s Polyamory Conversation Cards. Once a week or as often as I can, I’ll pull a card at random and write a piece of content based on it. There will likely be some essays, advice pieces, personal experiences, rants, and more! You can read the whole series at the dedicated tag. And if you want to support my work and get occasional bonus content, head on over to my Patreon.

This week’s card asks:

“What practices in your relationship help you feel safe when navigating change in your relationship dynamic?”

Okay, so let’s talk navigating the changes that will inevitably come when you’re exploring polyamory and non-monogamy for the first time… or when you’re significantly changing another aspect of your non-monogamous relationship in some way.

Why Polyamory Will Change Your Relationship

All relationships are constantly changing and evolving. Whether you’ve been with your partner for a year, a decade, or just celebrated your 50th wedding anniversary, chances are you do not have the same relationship now that you had on day one.

When you make big changes in your life, your relationship changes along with them. Perhaps, in the time you’ve been together, you and your partner have got married, had a baby, bought property, moved to a new city or country, changed jobs, or suffered bereavements? Any and all of those things, and so many others, can change a relationship.

Moving from monogamy to non-monogamy is, whichever way you slice it, a huge change. You are fundamentally altering the structure, the style, the modus operandi of your relationship. Even if you both want it desperately, this transition is likely to be challenging and sometimes difficult.

Polyamory brings new people into your lives in close, intimate ways. You cannot know in advance how those new people, those new relationships, will influence and change you as individuals and together as a couple. All the significant relationships in my life have changed me, and chances are yours have changed you too. This doesn’t just apply to your own romantic relationships either, by the way. I’ve had metamours and metamour relationships that have profoundly changed me in all sorts of ways.

Polyamory might mean exploring feelings, interests, and desires you’ve previously buried or didn’t even know you had. It might change practical life things such as your schedule and how you manage your finances. It involves personal work and relationship work. It’s going to change things.

The good news is that…

Change Does Not Have to Be Bad

The first step in navigating change successfully is understanding that change does not have to be a bad thing.

Let’s revisit those other big life changes we touched on above. So many things have likely shaped and changed your relationship in the time you’ve been together. But would you consider any of those changes “bad?” They might have been challenging. You might have had to work hard together to navigate them. But did you ultimately come out of them with a healthier, better relationship? Chances are that, often, you did.

The changes that polyamory will bring about don’t have to be bad, either. In fact, they can be profoundly joyful, healing, and life-enhancing.

Good Changes That Polyamory Can Bring

Perhaps, despite what I’ve said above, you’re now descending into a panic spiral about the impending change to your existing relationship that I’ve just told you is inevitable. Okay, slow down. Take a breath. Here are 20 positive ways that polyamory can change your relationship.

  1. It gives you opportunities to be vulnerable, share your feelings, hold space for one another, and support each other authentically
  2. Exploring dating, relationships and sex with new people will introduce you to new facets of yourselves which you can then bring home to each other
  3. Polyamory demands personal reflection, self-work, and internal growth which inevitably strengthens relationships
  4. You might get to see your partner through someone else’s eyes as they date new people, introducing you to new parts of them to love
  5. Experiencing new relationship energy (NRE) elsewhere can often spill over, causing an injection of romantic and/or sexual energy into your existing relationship
  6. You’ll have more people to support you through difficult times
  7. One or both of you might learn about new kinks, sex acts, or ways of being intimate that you can enjoy together as well as with your new partners
  8. Spending time apart in order to date separately can be scary, but absence really does make the heart grow fonder and you’ll enjoy your time together even more for it
  9. The scheduling demands of polyamory will require you to schedule quality time and date nights with each other as well as with your new partners
  10. If you have children, polyamory can potentially introduce new loving, supportive adults into those kids’ lives
  11. You’ll build security as you see that, even with the freedom to date or have sex with whomever they please, your partner still loves you and keeps coming back to you
  12. If you’re practicing kitchen table or garden party polyamory, your new metamours might become treasured friends or family members
  13. If one or both of you has hobbies, interests, or kinks that the other doesn’t share, you can get those wants and needs met elsewhere
  14. Seeing your partner happy and in love with someone else can bring about compersion, a hugely positive emotion in which you take joy in their joy
  15. You’ll both grow your relationship skills, communication skills, and emotional intelligence
  16. Polyamory can expose cracks in your relationship, which may sound scary but actually gives you a golden opportunity to face them, fix them, and enjoy a stronger relationship in the long run
  17. Polyamory can help you to break unhealthy unconscious patterns such as codependency
  18. You’ll face, tackle, and ultimately overcome deeply ingrained fears and insecurities within yourself, leading you to become a happier and healthier person
  19. You’ll enjoy more freedom, independence, and individuality without sacrificing the safety and comfort of your long-term relationship
  20. Hopefully, you’ll both be happier for having made the transition, which can only do good things for your relationship

Of course, not all of these will be true for every couple opening up. But if you and your partner approach this journey with communication and compassion, I bet at least a few of them will be true for you!

Navigating Change Positively in a Newly Polyamorous Relationship

Okay, so you’re ready and prepared for the possibility (certainty) of change as you transition to polyamory. But how do you actually navigate it well? Though I’m approaching this topic primarily through the lens of a transition from monogamy to polyamory/non-monogamy, these tips are also useful when you’re navigating any other significant change within your relationship.

Those changes could include a renegotiation of your relationship agreements, nesting (moving in together) or denesting (going from living together to living separately), a new partner, a break-up, or even a fundamental change of relationship style or structure. I found many of these strategies helpful when shifting my nesting relationship with Mr C&K from a hierarchical structure to a non-hierarchical one.

Reaffirm Your Love and Commitment Regularly

Fear of loss is one of the reasons that change is scary. When things start changing, even if it’s change you want, you might fear losing your partner or aspects of your relationship that you value. When you’re transitioning from monogamy to non-monogamy or navigating change in any area of your relationship, it can help to reaffirm your love for and commitment to one another regularly.

Learning each other’s love languages will help you tremendously here. There’s no point trying to show your partner you love them by doing the dishes when they’d rather you told them in words, or buying them a gift when what they’re really craving is quality time together.

If in doubt, start by saying to your partner something like “I love you and I am committed to the future and health of our relationship. How can I help you to feel loved and secure as we go through this transition together?”

Talk About Everything

A golden rule to live by: if you’re not sure whether you need to communicate about something, then you definitely do.

When you’re first transitioning to polyamory or navigating change in your polyamorous relationship, it’s hard to over-communicate. If something feels important to you, even if you can’t quite articulate why at first, you need to talk about it. If something bothers you, even if you feel it “shouldn’t,” you guessed it. You need to talk about it.

In the early stages in particular, but honestly throughout the duration of a polyamorous relationship, you and your partner should be talking about everything. This can take the form of scheduled, formalised check-ins (Multiamory’s RADAR is a good framework,) informal as-and-when conversations, or a mix of both, depending on your communication styles and individual needs.

Understand Your Own Values, Boundaries, Needs, Deal-Breakers, and Bottom Lines

I caution against setting lots of rules in polyamorous relationships. Some people think that polyamorous relationship rules are useful training wheels when you’re new to non-monogamy, but I tend to disagree with that, too. Having lots of rules offers an illusion of safety, but at the price of disempowering everyone involved and often treating incoming new partners pretty badly.

Instead, focus on understanding your own values, boundaries, needs, deal-breakers, and bottom lines. These will serve as your guiding lights in how you act within all your relationships.

Values are the things that are most important to you, the core principles on which you want to operate. Think about what’s most important to you in life and relationships, and come up with 3-5 words that encapsulate those values.

Boundaries are about yourself – what you will and won’t do or allow when it comes to the things that belong to you. Your body, mind, space, possessions, and so on. For example, “I will only have unbarriered sex with people who test regularly and take reasonable safer sex precautions.”

Needs are the things you require to feel happy, safe, secure, and loved in a relationship. For example, “I need my partner to show that they love me and value our relationship by spending quality, one-to-one time with me regularly.”

Deal-breakers and bottom lines are things you absolutely will not tolerate and that would cause you to leave a relationship. For example, “I will not be in relationship with someone who lies to me.” Ensure that the things you specify here are genuine deal-breakers, and not rules or attempts at control in disguise.

Focus on Adding, Not Taking Away

In a certain light, when you transition to from monogamy to polyamory, you are losing something. Specifically, you’re losing exclusivity and the (illusion of) security that it brings. However, you’re also adding so many wonderful things (refer back to the list above.) The same is true for many kinds of changes.

So, as much as possible, focus on what you can add to your relationship. How can this change make it better? For example, when you become non-monogamous, you might lose spending every night at home together. This makes sense because you’ll both be going out on dates and spending time with other partners. But can you make your time together a greater quality of time? Can you add in a dedicated regular date night to nurture your connection? In this way, you turn a perceived loss into a net gain for the health and happiness of your relationship.

Get Real About Your Feelings (But Don’t Let Them Rule You)

Navigating change of any kind, particularly a big change like transitioning to polyamory, can bring about intense feelings. You and your partner will need to get really real and vulnerable with each other to weather changes together successfully. Talk about your feelings, including the ones that make you feel scared or small or ashamed. Make space for the things that come up for you both, even those irrational and painful and trauma-based feelings.

There’s a difference, though, between honouring your feelings and letting them rule you. Emotions can offer tremendously valuable information (for example, Paige at Poly.land says that jealousy is a “check-engine light.”) They’re not always very specific, though, and the things they tell you won’t always be accurate.

Learning how to sit with your feelings, talk about them, and unpick them to ascertain what is real, what is your fear talking, and what (if anything) you need to do about them is one of the greatest non-monogamy skills – and relationship skills in general – that you will ever learn.

Get Some Outside Help

There’s abolutely no shame in getting a little additional help as you go through big relationship changes. In fact, I advocate enormously for this approach!

This can look a few different ways. If it’s within your budget, I hugely recommend seeking out a polyamory-friendly relationship therapist. They are trained to help you improve your communication, strengthen your relationship, and navigate all sorts of challenges together.

You can also seek out community and resources. All of us were new to polyamory once. Most of us remember exactly what it was like and how scary it can be. Some of the resources available to you that you might want to make use of include:

Trust Yourself and Your Partner

You are wiser than you know, and you know yourself better than anyone. Part of navigating change is learning to trust yourself and your partner. Trust that you can get through this transition, even the hard parts. Trust in your collective relationship and communication skills enough to know that you can face challenges and come out stronger.

Trusting your partner can be hard when you’re going through big changes such as a transition to polyamory. But it is so, so important. Remember that they love you and they’re with you because they choose to be. Look out for all the ways that they show you their love and commitment.

Trusting yourself, though, can be even harder than trusting someone else. When you’re transitioning to polyamory or navigating change within your relationship and finding it difficult, you might doubt your own abilities. You might even doubt your own mind, your own feelings, and your own perceptions. Self-trust will get you through and keep you focused on your eventual goal of a happy, healthy polyamorous relationship.

Navigating change is one of the biggest challenges to success in a newly polyamorous relationship. It’s not easy, but it can be done. I believe in you and I hope you can believe in yourself, too.

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