Exclusivity Clauses in a Non-Exclusive Relationship [Polyamory Conversation Cards #14]

So you’re totally on board with this polyamory thing. Perhaps you and your partner have just recently opened up to polyamory, perhaps you’ve decided to give solo polyamory a go, or perhaps you’ve been practicing for a long time. Regardless of your circumstances, this situation might be familiar:

Your partner does a particular thing that they usually do with you – such as a sex act, a date activity, or a romantic gesture – with another partner (or lets you know that they want to.) Bam, you’re madly jealous! That’s your thing, damnit!

Now most people, at this stage, will do one of two things. They’ll try to work through the feelings, or they’ll attempt to prevent their partner from doing that thing with that person (or perhaps with anyone else.) Today we’re talking about the latter.

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:

“Is there anything that you’d prefer to keep exclusive between you and a specific partner?”

So today we’re going to talk about exclusivity rules, or exclusivity clauses, in polyamorous relationship agreements.

What do we mean by exclusivity clauses in a polyamorous, open, or non-exclusive relationship?

First, let’s clarify what I don’t mean. This post is not about polyfidelity (also known as a closed polyamorous relationship in which a group, polycule, or romantic network of three or more people agree to keep their relationship configuration closed to the possibility of new relationships.) That’s a different dynamic entirely and not one I feel particularly qualified to comment on at the moment.

Instead, we’re talking about polyamorous relationships that allow for the people in them to date and form relationships with new people.

Polyamory is, by definition, a non-exclusive relationship. However, that doesn’t mean absolutely every aspect of the relationship is non-exclusive. An exclusivity clause, then, is an agreement in which certain aspects of a relationship are reserved for one dyad (or, more rarely, for one triad, quad, or other group relationship.)

Most often, I see exclusivity clauses in polyamorous relationships fall into one of four categories:

  • Life sharing/escalator exclusivity (e.g. “you can only live with me,” or “you can only have children with me.”)
  • Sexual exclusivity (e.g. “don’t have sex with anyone else in my favourite position” or “you’re only allowed to have unbarriered sex with me.”)
  • Romantic exclusivity (e.g. “don’t tell anyone else you love them” or “don’t call anyone else by my favourite pet name.”)
  • Activity exclusivity (e.g. “you can’t take vacations with anyone else” or “sushi is OUR thing.”

There is overlap, of course, and there may be exclusivity agreements I haven’t thought of that don’t fit into these categories. Overwhelmingly, though, these are the key patterns I have noticed.

Why do people want exclusivity around particular aspects of their relationships?

When people ask me what I think of certain aspects of their polyamorous relationship agreements, what I find myself wanting to ask most often is “why?”

Why do you have or want that agreement? Why have you made that rule? And why do you feel so strongly about that specific thing? The answers, when we ask ourselves and each other these questions and dare to be honest about our answers, can be incredibly illuminating.

So why do people want exclusivity agreements in a fundamentally non-exclusive relationship?

Most often, the reason that people want exclusivity clauses in their polyamorous relationship agreements have to do with jealousy, insecurity, and needing to feel special. These are all real, valid feelings that we all have from time to time. But is an exclusity clause the best way to address them? Maybe, sometimes. Often, probably not.

In many cases, it is better to address the root cause of the jealousy or insecurity. Living happily in any kind of non-exclusive relationship requires this of all of us at least occasionally. You might find that it’s not about the actual thing your partner wants to do at all. You might be worried about losing specialness in the relationship (more on that in a minute), about being replaced, or about your partner enjoying that activity with someone else more than they enjoy it with you.

In some cases, the desire for exclusivity clauses than come from a place other than jealousy or insecurity. For example, agreements around nesting exclusivity (“I live with this partner and we’ve agreed we don’t want to live with anyone else”) can help to create domestic safety and financial security for the partners as well as for children or other dependents.

They are sometimes also made necessary by choosing a certain style of polyamory. You can’t exactly live with multiple partners if you practice parallel polyamory, for example.

So before you go any further, get really honest with yourself and your partner(s). Why do you want exclusivity around that particular thing? What fear, emotion, unmet need, or relationship desire would that exclusivity meet?

Are exclusivity clauses ever ethically okay?

I’m going to give a cautious “yes, sometimes” to this one, with a lot of caveats.

As a general rule, I do not believe in restricting partners’ other relationships. However, I also don’t think it’s inherently wrong, toxic, or even hierarchical to carefully and with great consideration keep some things exclusive to a particular relationship.

Here’s a very quick litmus test you might want to use to determine if your exclusivity agreement is fair and reasonable or not:

  1. Is it narrow and specific, or broad and sweeping? (“Please don’t take other partners to the restaurant where you proposed to me” is different from “you can’t eat Italian food with anyone else.”) I’ll go into this in more detail below.
  2. Does the agreement place an undue hardship or limit on another relationship? (“Can this particular favourite vacation spot be a special place just for the two of us?” is unlikely to place such a hardship. “You’re not allowed to ever travel with anyone else” almost certainly does.)

In addition, consider whether exclusivity agreements are available to all your partners or just one. Ideally, you should be free to create special and unique things with all of your partners, not just a spouse, nesting partner, or “primary” (if you subscribe to hierarchy.)

Personally, I’m not necessarily opposed to creating limited and specific exclusivity clauses with partners around special and personal aspects of our relationships. But that possibility is available to anyone I’m in a relationship with, not just my nesting partner.

Exclusivity can be ethically given or negotiated, but not ethically demanded

If you and one (or more) of your partners decide to keep something exclusive between the two of you, I’m not going to tell you not to. However, it’s important that you come to these agreements mutually and from a place of equality. It is never okay to unilaterally place a rule or restriction on your partner(s) and metamour(s) without their input.

In other words, ask for what you want and need rather than making demands. You might find your partner is happy to give it to you, or you might find that you can negotiate and meet the same need in a different way.

Exclusivity might help less than you think it will

You feel bad when your partner does that thing with someone else. So you’ll simply forbid them from doing that thing with anyone else! Problem solved, right?

Well, maybe not.

This seemingly obvious and intuitive answer to this problem often helps people less than they think it will. That’s because, as we’ve already discussed, difficult feelings such as jealousy, insecurity, envy, competitiveness, and fear of inadequacy aren’t usually rational. They don’t usually stem from the things that might initially seem to be their causes. Instead, they come from much deeper places – from personal fears and demons, past trauma, mononormative societal programming, and more.

This all means that simply instituting an exclusivity clause around a specific act or activity may not help you all that much. Because that particular thing might not be pressing your emotional button any more, but the button is still there. This means that it is only a matter of time before something else pushes it. And – assuming you want to be ethically, healthily, and happily polyamorous – you cannot simply place new restrictions or exclusivity clauses every time something pushes an emotional button.

Your specialness comes from you, not acts or activities

I understand the worry that, if your partner does the same activities or sex acts or goes to the same restaurants with other partners, you will lose your specialness.

However, your specialness to your partner actually comes from you. It does not come from the things you do, and it certainly cannot be diminished or taken away by the things they might or might not do with someone else.

Think about something you love doing with your partner. Now imagine removing them from the situation and slotting someone else in instead. Does the activity feel the same with that other person? Of course it doesn’t. Because doing it with your partner is what makes it special.

Even if your partner goes to the same restaurants, does the same sex acts, and says the same loving words to both you and your metamour, the experience will be different with each of you. Because you are different people. There is something innately and beautifully empowering in realising that someone else cannot possibly be better than you at being you.

Finding special things that don’t restrict others

I understand the need and desire for a sense of specialness in a relationship. It’s a need I hold very strongly myself. That’s why I think it’s totally okay – and even desirable – to have special things in a relationship. Some of those things might be exclusive to a particular relationship, by accident or by design.

Relationships don’t need to all look the same in order to be egalitarian. In practice, it would be deeply strange to attempt to make all your relationships look the same. I might find it a bit weird, for example, if a partner started taking me to all the places that were special to them and another partner. And I’d find it exceptionally strange if Partner B began asking to do things they’d never previously shown an interest in just because I’d done those things with Partner A.

The trick is to find and carve out special things with each of your partners. In good relationships, these will naturally emerge over time. There might be a special nickname you call them or a particular place you go together. A series you save to watch together, or sex toys or kink gear you buy just for the two of you. Inside jokes, funny anecdotes, and so on. All of these form part of the identity of your relationship, and keeping them exclusive likely feels natural and normal, creating no hardship in any of your other relationships.

Keep it specific and limited

In general, I advocate keeping your “exclusive things”, if you have them, quite narrow and specific. Think more “this particular event is a thing we do together whenever we can,” not “you are forbidden to ever attend kink nights/music festivals/costume parties with anyone else.” More “baby is a nickname we call each other and won’t use with our other partners,” less “don’t tell anyone else you love them.”

The specificity of these “special things” is one of the most beautiful aspects of relationships, to me. Who cares if no-one else understands why we love that stupid TV show so much? Or if our friends don’t get why we crease up every time we hear that particular word or phrase? Or if our other partners think our mutual favourite food is gross? Those things are special because they are ours. Because we have co-created them together.

Once you start thinking about all the little things that make up the identity of a relationship, you start to realise how many unique and beautiful things you and each of your partners already has between you. Each of those things is a tile making up – if you’ll pardon a possibly trite metaphor – the wonderful and entirely unique mosaic of your connection.

Stay flexible

Relationship agreements in polyamory (and really, in any relationship but particularly a non-exclusive relationship) are living, breathing, changing things. Therefore, it is important that you stay flexible and open to change. You or your partner may feel fine about an exclusivity clause right now, but decide you want to change it later on. A new lover or metamour might have strong feelings about it that need to be taken into consideration. This is not to say that you must change it, of course, but you should be prepared to at least keep lines of negotiation open.

You might also find that, as time passes, you no longer need the exclusivity clause. Perhaps the thing that felt intolerable earlier on in your polyamory journey now feels far more comfortable, or at least acceptable. You might also choose to keep it long-term, and that’s fine too as long as you do so ethically and fairly. Hopefully, whatever you choose, you’ll naturally find all kinds of beautiful and unique wonderfulness in each of your connections.

Do you have any exclusivity clauses in your polyamorous, open, or non-exclusive relationship(s)? How do they work for you and how did you come to them?

How to Respond When Your Partner Discloses Jealousy or Insecurity [Polyamory Conversation Cards #12]

There’s a vast amount of information out there about how to deal with your own jealousy or insecurity in a polyamorous relationship (I’ve even added to it myself!) What we see much less of, though, is information on how to handle it when a partner discloses feelings of jealousy, envy, insecurity, or other difficult emotions.

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:

“How would you like your partner(s) to respond when you’re voicing a fear, insecurity or concern?”

Everyone’s answer to this will be slightly different. As always, the best way to learn about how to support your partner(s) specifically is to ask them. With that said, I have identified some common themes that usually help when someone is feeling jealousy, insecurity, envy, or similar emotions.

Be Kind

If you take nothing else away from this piece, I hope you’ll remember this. It’s difficult to express vulnerable feelings such as jealousy or insecurity to a partner and, if you meet your partner’s vulnerability with hostility, impatience or derision, they will likely never open up to you in this way again.

Try to meet them with gentleness, compassion, and grace. How would you want someone to respond to you when you were at your most raw? Do that.

Validate Their Feelings and Resist the Temptation to Downplay Them

When a partner is feeling jealous, envious, or insecure, the first instinct for many people is to try to make that feeling go away as quickly as possible. This can often look like downplaying, invalidating, or rationalising away very real emotions. Despite good intentions, this can come across as dismissive and leave a person feeling unseen, unheard, and misunderstood.

Never tell a person they “shouldn’t” be feeling a particular way, and do not try to logic them out of their emotions. Feelings are not rational, and causing someone to feel bad or guilty for their emotional response is never productive. Resist the urge to jump into “fix it” mode, too. That’s often not what a person feeling jealousy or insecurity needs, at least not right away.

Instead, listen and validate. Paraphrase your partner’s words back to them: “what I’m hearing you say is that you’re feeling…[fill in the blank].” Tell them that you understand, that you’re listening, and that their feelings are real and matter to you.

Not sure how to respond? “I’m sorry you’re feeling that way. That sounds painful. I’m here for you” is rarely a bad place to start.

Offer Verbal Reassurance

Most of us want to hear that our partners love us, value us, find us desirable, and so on. Though the “love languages” system is deeply flawed, I’ve also found it a useful starting point in talking about how we give and receive love in relationships. I’m very much a words of affirmation person, for example, so verbal reassurance matters to me a lot when I’m feeling insecure.

It’s important to understand what your partner is feeling insecure about so that you can offer them appropriate reassurance accordingly. They might need to hear that you love them, that you still find them sexy, that you’re committed to your relationship and not going anywhere, or even that you’re not upset with them for some real or imagined infraction. (Things can get a bit meta at this stage. I often find I end up needing a second layer of reassurance: that my partner isn’t mad at me for feeling insecure or asking for reassurance in the first place!)

What’s even more important, though, is that your words of reassurance are backed up by actions. It’s no use saying all the right things if your actions say something else entirely. Never say things you don’t wholeheartedly mean, and never make promises you can’t or won’t keep.

Offer Touch and Comfort, If Possible

This may not be possible if you’re long distance or not physically together. But if possible, most people find a hug, a cuddle, or some other kind of physical contact from a partner to be comforting in times of emotional pain or distress.

This isn’t universal, of course. Some people don’t like being touched when they’re processing difficult feelings. Always ask your partner first and respect their answer. “Would you like a hug?” or “I’d like to hold your hand, would that be okay?” are useful phrases.

If they’re not up for being touched, other physically comforting or grounding things – getting under a blanket, holding and sipping a warm drink, stroking a pet, playing with a fidget toy – can be helpful for some people.

Process with Them… or Just Sit with the Feelings

Some people like to process their feelings of jealousy or insecurity out loud, talking through what they are thinking and feeling and why. For others, it’s more productive to simply sit in the uncomfortable feeling until it passes through and over them. Your partner will know best which is true for them. (And it might be a bit of both, or contextual depending on other factors.)

Either way, you can support them. If they need to process out loud, you can have a conversation or just listen to them talk. If they prefer to sit with the feelings instead, you can offer to be with them in that space or give them some alone time to work it through.

Change Your Behaviour if Appropriate

There will be many circumstances where you haven’t done anything wrong and your partner is simply having an emotional reaction to something that’s well within the parameters of your relationship. In these cases, comfort, support, and time to process may be all that’s needed.

In other circumstances, though, you may find it’s actually appropriate to change your behaviour in some way.

Huge, enormous, giant caveat here: changing your behaviour should not negatively impact a third party or another relationship. Cutting off, curtailing, restricting, or backburnering another relationship is deeply cruel to the other person/people involved and never a good response to jealousy or insecurity.

So what can changing your behaviour in response to jealousy or insecurity look like in a polyamorous dynamic? Here are a few examples:

  • Setting aside intentional, quality time to spend with a partner who is feeling neglected or sidelined
  • Agreeing to put your phone away so you’re not distracted when you are spending time with your partner
  • Offering more of something your partner feels is missing in your connection (physical touch, verbal expressions of love, sweet gestures, etc.)
  • Stepping up more with regard to shared responsibilities (children, housework, etc.)
  • Limiting the amount that you share/gush about your other sweetie(s) in the presence of a partner who is feeling insecure
  • Shifting to a more parallel style of polyamory, at least temporarily
  • Being more forthcoming in sharing important information with your partner
  • Taking more time to check in emotionally with your partner before or after potentially jealousy-inducing events (e.g. dates with new people)

Offer Only Things You Are Happy to Give

I have adopted this as a personal policy in relationships and it’s served me very well: I only make offers I’m wholeheartedly happy to carry out if the person takes me up on it. To offer things you don’t actually want to give is a trap and will only lead to hurt and resentment down the line. (Low-stakes but real example: If I offer you a ride home, I’m not going to feel annoyed about having to go half an hour out of my way if you accept. I only offered the ride because I was genuinely happy to give it.)

When we love someone and that person is feeling pain or distress, it is natural that we want to stop that pain. However, this can sometimes lead to making offers or promises that are not genuine. This might look like “I’ll cancel my date tomorrow night” or “I’ll always be home by 10pm so you don’t have to be alone at night.”

As I’ve mentioned above, curtailing other relationships is never a wise thing to offer or do in response to jealousy or insecurity in a polyamorous dynamic. Neither is heavily restricting your own freedom or other aspects of your life. However, it’s totally possible to make changes or implement strategies to help your partner feel better without doing these things. I outlined some options for this in the last section, but you should feel entirely free to get creative with it and strategise together. As with all things in relationships, it’s deeply personal.

Ask your partner what they would like from you, with the understanding that you’re not obligated to give it if you don’t feel able to do so with a full heart. Make offers and suggestions, too, but make sure they come from a genuine place.

Check Back In Later

When a partner has expressed difficult feelings, it’s a good idea to check back in later and see how they are doing. This might mean asking them how they’re feeling a few days after the initial conversation or reaction and asking if there is anything else they need from you.

It might also mean checking in the next time an event happens that’s similar to the one that triggered the jealousy or insecurity. For example, if your partner felt jealous when you went out on a date with a new person, you might do an emotional check-in or provide some additional reassurance before the next time you go on a first date. You might also plan a way to reconnect and decompress together after the date.

How do you like your partners to respond when you express feelings like jealousy or insecurity? Have you found any amazing strategies that help you to overcome or manage it together?

How to Feel Secure Without Rules and Restrictions in a Polyamorous Relationship [Polyamory Conversation Cards #9]

When people are new to polyamory, and particularly if they come through the “opening up from a monogamous couple” route, it’s normal to feel a bunch of really difficult and challenging feelings: jealousy, insecurity, envy, and more. Most of us want to overcome these emotions as quickly as possible, and for good reason. They’re horrible to feel! But few of us actually know how to feel secure in relationships that do not have romantic or sexual exclusivity at their centre.

None of these feelings are unique to polyamorous people, of course. However, polyamory can provoke them and poke at sore spots in a unique way. In monogamy, it can be possible (though I would question if it’s healthy) to mask these feelings by implementing strict rules and restrictions in your relationship. But in polyamory, that’s often not possible… or, even if it is possible, it’s not fair or kind to either yourself or the other people involved.

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’s the most important thing your partner(s) could do to help you feel (more) secure and comfortable?”

This is a great question to ask yourself no matter where you are in your polyamorous journey. The problem is that a lot of people, when faced with this question, will immediately jump to ways that they would like their partner(s) to curtail, limit, or restrict their other relationships.

For example, someone might say “I don’t want my partner to have unbarriered sex with anyone but me,” “I don’t want my partner to take anyone else to that restaurant I like,” or “I would like them to promise never to love someone else as much as they love me.”

These types of answers are simple, seductive, and seem intuitive. The problem is that they’re almost always a bad idea. Let’s dive into why restrictive rules are problematic if you want to be polyamorous (as opposed to practicing swinging or some other form of more couple-centric non-monogamy)… and what you can do instead to build a lasting sense of security and safety in your relationships.

First, Why is Restriction a Bad Thing?

Placing limiting rules and restrictions on your partners’ other relationships is a problem for two main reasons. The first is that it’s unfair on the people involved in those relationships: your partner(s) and your metamour(s.)

Adults do not generally enjoy being told what they can and cannot do by other adults, particularly in ostensibly egalitarian dynamics like romantic relationships. Relationships tend to suffer under restrictions, particularly those imposed by outside parties. I have seen many, many relationships struggle, wither, and ultimately die due to restrictions placed upon them by an insecure spouse or “primary” partner.

It is grossly unethical, unkind and unfair to invite people into your lives as loving partners, only to then starve their relationship of the freedom and autonomy it needs to actually grow and thrive.

The second reason restrictive rules are a problem? They don’t work.

They might make you feel safer and more secure, but the safety that restriction gives you is an illusion. I’ve said it before and I will say it again: if your partner loves you and wants to sustain your relationship, they will. If they don’t, no amount of rules or limitations on their other relationships will compel them to.

Think about it: if rules actually protected people, monogamous people would never cheat. They would never leave their partners for somebody else. There wouldn’t be dozens of posts in the polyamory forums and discussion groups every week saying “help, my partner broke a rule! What do I do now?”

I’m also not even convinced these restrictions actually do help to build long-term internal security. Insecurities aren’t rational, and they will try to protect themselves unless you take the time to really decontruct and unpack and work against them. What I see most often is that one restriction helps for a while… until it doesn’t, and then the insecure person wants to institute another one. Which also works until it doesn’t. Rinse and repeat ad infinitum.

How to Feel Secure Without Restriction in Your Polyamorous Relationship: 5 Ways to Build Security

So if rules and restrictions on your partners’ other relationships have so many ethical issues and don’t even work anyway, what can we do instead?

Here are five things that I think do work. They might not all resonate with you, but hopefully some of them will. Even if you just work on one of them for now, with time they can help you to build the kind of lasting safety and internal security that allows polyamorous relationships to thrive.

Make Agreements (Not Rules)

I think it’s clear by now that I’m not a fan of restrictive rules in relationships. But this doesn’t mean I am against relationship agreements. Quite the opposite: I think agreements are a vital cornerstone of keeping relationships healthy, strong, and secure.

But what defines an agreement as opposed to a rule? In my opinion, the key cornerstones of agreements are:

  1. They are mutually arrived at and freely agreed upon by all affected parties
  2. They apply equally and do not invoke any kind of double standard
  3. They are renegotiable if any party becomes unhappy with them (or so fundamental that there would be no coming back from a breach)
  4. They do not limit, restrict, or adversely impact people who did not have a hand in making them

If you’re calling something an agreement but it doesn’t meet the above standards… sorry, it’s probably a rule or a restriction.

Your relationship agreements will be as unique as your relationship. But to get you started, here are some examples of agreements drawn from my life, my friends’ lives, and successful polyamorous relationships I’ve seen out in the wild:
  • “We will inform each other in advance if we’re intending to go on a date or hook up with someone new. If something happens unplanned or spontaneously, we will inform each other as soon as possible.”
  • “We will get sexual health screenings every 3 months and keep each other in the loop about our results and our safer sex practices.”
  • “We will tell the truth, even when it’s hard.”
  • “If one of us has sex with someone else in our shared bed, we will change the sheets.”
  • “We will give each other space when we’re on dates with other partners. Likewise, when we’re on a date with each other, we will put our phones away and focus on each other.”

…And so on.

Do Your Internal Work

This is perhaps the hardest of all the strategies on this list. I also think it’s the most important.

I do not believe that stupid saying that “it’s impossible to love someone until you love yourself” (in fact, I think it’s actively harmful.) What I do believe, though, is that a level of self-awareness and self-work are essential to building healthy relationships of any kind.

Internal work means taking your fears, insecurities, and jealousies out and examining them. It means considering where they come from and what they are telling you, then deconstructing those narratives. It means challenging yourself and finding safe containers in which to explore uncomfortable and painful feelings. Get curious, be kind to yourself, and adopt a philosophy of questioning your fears and insecurities rather than assuming that they are telling you the truth.

Doing the internal work doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It will, and should, require additional support and resources. For example, you might:
  • Read books and articles, watch videos, or listen to podcasts on subjects like healthy polyamory and overcoming insecurity
  • Work with a therapist to unpack your struggles and any traumas they stem from
  • Seek support and reassurance from your partner(s) as you process and understand your feelings
  • Talk to your friends, family members, or other trusted loved ones
  • Connect with polyamorous community, either in person and online, to share your struggles and get support
  • Engage in other healing, self-care activities such as yoga, meditation, or spiritual rituals and practices

It’s important to understand that self-work of this nature is not simple, quick, or linear. You’ll have good days and bad days, and that is normal. It’s best if you can view “working on yourself” as an ongoing, lifelong practice rather than a to-do item to tick off.

Work on Your Relationship with Your Partner

Security in a relationship doesn’t come from limiting your lover’s other connections. It comes from ensuring that your relationship with your lover is as strong, healthy, and happy as it can possibly be.

Remember: no-one else can make your partner leave you, neglect you, treat you poorly, or behave badly in your relationship. Those choices come from them. If your relationship is happy and healthy, no other relationship – no matter how wonderful – can threaten it or your place in your partner’s life.

So think about the things you need from your partner that do not relate to how they interact with others or behave in their other relationships. Figure out what you need and want, and ask for those things. Likewise, ask your partner what they need and want from you unrelated to your other relationships.

For example, you might ask for things like…
  • An evening each week where you have focused, one-to-one quality time together
  • Regular physical touch (hugs, cuddles, hand holding, hair stroking and so on as well as sex)
  • For them to plan something nice for your birthday, anniversary, or other special occasion
  • Regular verbal expressions of love, care, and affection

You’re not guaranteed to get everything you ask for, of course. People always have the right to say no to requests that are made of us. But if you ask for the things you want, you’ve got a much higher chance of getting at least some of them than if you expect your lover to read your mind.

Learn to be Reflective, Not Reactive, in the Face of Difficult Feelings

When we’re learning how to feel secure in our relationships, it’s normal to run into challenging, painful, and difficult emotions. These are a normal part of life and particularly of navigating a non-normative relationship style. As you build skills and security, though, you’ll find that they lessen in both frequency and intensity and become more manageable when they do crop up.

One of the most important skills you can learn is being reflective rather than reactive in the face of these difficult feelings. This means sitting with the feelings and asking yourself gentle questions to unpack them, rather than immediately reacting. Even just pausing to take a few breaths, count to ten, and regulate your nervous system before you respond can make a huge difference.

Examples of emotional reactivity might include yelling or shouting at your partner(s) or metamour(s), saying unkind things that you don’t mean and will later regret, crying uncontrollably, having a physical response (such as punching or throwing an object), or storming out of a room.

At its extreme end, emotional reactivity can include becoming violent or causing harm to yourself or others. If you’ve done either of these things in the wake of difficult emotions, or felt that you were at risk of doing them, you should seek out professional support urgently.

Emotional reflectiveness, on the other hand, can look like:
  • Pausing to breathe and think through your response to a situation before doing or saying anything.
  • Politely and calmly removing yourself from a space to self-regulate.
  • Using “I” statements, such as “I think…” or “I feel…”, rather than making accusations or making your feelings someone else’s responsibility.
  • Seeking out reassurance and support by asking for it clearly and kindly rather than by acting out.
  • Recognising your own limitations and honouring your needs. For example, in a polyamorous relationship you might say to your partner “I feel insecure when I see you interacting romantically with your other partner, so I’d like to pause spending time together as a group until I’ve got these feelings more under control.”
  • Recognising that a difficult feeling is not an emergency and consciously choosing to put it aside for now and address it (either alone, with a professional, or with your partner) at a later time. This is particularly useful when you are in social situations, in public, at work, and so on.

Challenge Your Underlying Assumptions

We are all raised with a certain set of beliefs and expectations. And, in the vast majority of modern societies around the world, one of those beliefs is that monogamy is the only correct way to have a loving romantic relationship.

These assumptions and beliefs, even if we do not consciously subscribe to them, can and do have a tremendous impact on our ability to feel loved and secure in relationships. This is particularly true when we are rejecting a social norm as entrenched as mononormativity.

It’s time to challenge your underlying assumptions and the societal narratives that are no longer serving you.

Each time you run into a societal norm or an ingrained assumption that you no longer actually believe, take the time to unpack it. Ask yourself what purpose it serves. Visualise yourself setting it aside and replacing it with the thing you actually believe and want to internalise.

For example, is some part of you saying that your partner can’t really love you because they also have other lovers? This story is immensely powerful in our society and deciding to be non-monogamous does not erase that programming instantly.

Remind yourself why you chose to practice non-monogamy and what you really believe about love and relationships. For example:
  • “We are capable of loving many people without it diminishing our love for any individual.”
  • “Love is not a finite resource, a competition, or a zero-sum game.”
  • “Each person my partner(s) and I love or care for bring value and joy into our lives.”
  • “I am happy when my partner is happy, even if that happiness is not coming directly from me.”
  • “When I fall for someone new it doesn’t diminish the love I have for my existing partner(s). The same is likely true for them.”

What other assumptions are you carrying? If you feel insecure because your metamour is younger, thinner, more highly educated, or richer than you, ask yourself why you believe those things matter. Your partner clearly loves and values you – they wouldn’t be with you if they didn’t! – and chances are they love you for far more important reasons than the size of your shirts or the number in your bank account.

When you challenge your underlying assumptions and make an effort not to let ingrained social norms dictate your beliefs and behaviours, you get to start building self-esteem, security, and relationships based on the values and beliefs you actually want to hold.

Security is a Journey

When people ask about how to feel secure or overcome feelings such as jealousy in a polyamorous relationship, they want a list of tips that will get them to the desired destination (“no more insecurity! All compersion, all the time!”) as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, that’s not only aggressively optimistic but probably impossible.

Experiencing insecurities and difficult feelings on occasion is a normal part of being in a relationship of any kind. Polyamory can be challenging and can force us to confront not only societal norms but also our own ingrained beliefs, fears, and traumas. That’s a big deal! Give yourself a huge break. You’re doing the work, and that’s amazing. Perfection is not realistic or required.

What is Couples’ Privilege and How Can It Impact Polyamorous Relationships? [Polyamory Conversation Cards #8]

Hardly anyone enjoys talking about privilege, and even fewer people enjoy facing and acknowledging the privileges that they benefit from. It’s deeply uncomfortable to recognise that we might be benefitting from unearned advantages, and particularly when those benefits come at the cost of harm to others.

However, if we want to create a more just and equal world, it’s vital that we are willing to look our privilege in the face and then begin to dismantle it. Today I want to talk about one of the most insidious and often overlooked aspects of inequality: couples’ privilege.

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:

“Do you prioritise any of your relationships over your other relationships and if so, in what way?”

I wrote a huge essay last year about hierarchy, priority, and power in polyamory. Executive summary: we all have different priorities in our lives and priorities can shift over time. This isn’t necessarily hierarchy. A hierarchy exists when one party has power over others, and/or when one party expects, demands, or is given priority at all times and in all situations.

Couples’ privilege is intimately linked with relationship hierarchy. But it is also a slightly separate thing and, in polyamory, manifests in specific and often harmful ways.

So what is couples’ privilege, exactly?

When we talk about “privilege” more broadly, we are talking about unearned benefits or advantages that are conferred on one group of people over others due to some aspect of their identity, background, or circumstances. White privilege, straight privilege, cisgender privilege, and male privilege are some common and pervasive examples you may be aware of.

Couples’ privilege, then, refers to the advantages and benefits conferred on those who are in (or appear to be in, or are assumed to be in) a socially-sanctioned monogamous couple.

There are layers to couples’ privilege: monogamous or mono-presenting couples who live apart have it, but nested couples have more of it and married couples have even more still. Some aspects of couples’ privilege are more readily afforded to those with children. And so on. Couples’ privilege intersects with LGBTQ+ oppression, but monogamous or mono-presenting queer couples can also have couples’ privilege.

How does couples’ privilege manifest in society as a whole?

As with other types of privilege, couples’ privilege is insidious because those who have it do not usually recognise that they have it. It becomes tremendously apparent, however, when you lack it. Before we get into any of the specific ways that couples’ privilege plays out in polyamory, let’s look at some of the ways it manifests in society as a whole.

Not all couples will necessarily benefit from all of these examples, but all couples will likely benefit from at least some (and often many) of them.

Examples of Couples’ Privilege in Society

  • Significant financial advantages, such as tax breaks, can come from marriage
  • Housing becomes much more accessible and affordable as a couple. Splitting the rent or mortgage with a partner is so much cheaper than getting a one-bedroom alone
  • Shopping and cooking for two is much more cost-effective than for one
  • If you want to have children, access to fertility treatments, fostering, or adoption is much easier if you are part of a couple in many parts of the world
  • Travelling alone is much more expensive (and, for some people, much less safe)
  • Everything from restaurant tables to hotel rooms to holiday packages are sold with the assumption that two people will be sharing them
  • In friendship groups where most people are coupled up, those who are not are often either left out of activities or made to feel like “the third wheel”
  • Invitations to events such as parties, weddings, and work socials that include a +1 come with the assumption that that person will be your romantic partner (and you’ll be pitied if you come alone or looked at weirdly if you bring a platonic friend or family member instead)…
  • …Or single people don’t get a +1 at all
  • The normative models of romance that society shoves down our throats – particularly around holidays such as Valentine’s Day and Christmas – can make anyone who isn’t living that ideal feel less-than
  • Our society views committed, monogamous, romantic love as a default that everyone should either have or be looking for, casting single people as incomplete and people who opt for other relationship models as deviant

How does couples’ privilege manifest in polyamory?

In polyamory, the closer a couple appears to be to the societal monogamous ideal, the more couples’ privilege they will have. This means that married and/or nested couples enjoy numerous advantages that solo polyamorists and those in non-nesting relationships cannot access. In addition, those who present as “socially monogamous” and hide their other relationships often enjoy more couples’ privilege than those who are more open about their polyamory.

In polyamorous relationships, couples’ privilege can often reinforce relationship hierarchies and power structures, causing serious harm to partners outside of the privileged dyad. Let’s look at some of the ways that this can manifest.

Again, not all of these examples will be relevant to all situations. But it is likely that all polyamorous people in a marital or nesting relationship will benefit from at least some of them. Again, this is far from an exhaustive list.

Examples of Couples’ Privilege in Polyamory

  • When an existing couple opens their relationship, they assume that they get to make the rules and incoming partners must abide by them
  • If unbarried sex is only available to certain partners, the marital/nesting partner will usually have access to it by default
  • Various relationship milestones such as living together, having children, or marriage may only be available to one partner
  • Financial and legal benefits, from inheritance rights to hospital visitation, may only be available to one partner
  • Permission dynamics in which couples have to ask one another before they can date a new person, escalate a relationship, or even see an existing partner
  • Rules that restrict certain activities, date locations, and sex acts to the original couple
  • If the couple is not “out” as polyamorous, other partners may not get to meet their partner’s friends and family, post about their relationship on social media, or appear as a couple in public
  • Conflict resolution is easier if you live together
  • If a couple has problems, they may close down the relationship again or end, restrict, or “backburner” other relationships in order to focus on their dyad regardless of the pain this causes to those other partners
  • “Not in our house”/”not in our bed” rules that put a significant logistical or financial burden on external relationships
  • Veto power, whether explicit or implicit. After all, it’s easy for a married or nested couple to say “we don’t have veto power”. But if one of them ever wants to close the relationship or puts an “it’s them or me” ultimatum on the table, other partners are not on equal footing and the more priviliged partner is far more likely to win
  • Unicorn hunting, which creates relationships with unequal power dynamics in which the original couple gets to make all the decisions

How does couples’ privilege impact other partners?

The problem with privilege, ultimately, is the harm it causes to those who do not have it. In polyamory, couples’ privilege primarily negatively impacts other partners who date one or both members of a couple.

Unfortunately, some couples choose – consciously or unconsciously – to wield couples’ privilege as a weapon. These couples are usually the ones who only date together, the ones with heaps of restrictive rules, the ones with heavily permission-based dynamics, and the ones who explicitly or implicitly use the threat of a veto to keep other partners in line.

In far more cases, though, couples’ privilege causes harm not through any malicious intent but through a lack of awareness and good intentions gone awry. Most of us are extraordinarily bad at truly recognising the extent and impact of our own privilege.

Falling in love with someone who is steeped in unexamined or unaddressed couples’ privilege is its own special kind of pain. At the extreme end of things, partners outside the privileged dyad may feel as though they can never truly be safe or secure, because an external party could restrict or take away their relationship at any moment.

They may also continually feel less-than, sidelined, or ignored. Having to hide your relationship while your metamour is openly acknowledged by your partner, for example, can be acutely painful. Similarly, it can be difficult to feel like an actual player in your own relationship if a third party is making the rules or has to be asked for permission before you can see one another, have sex, do a certain activity, or progress your relationship.

How can we mitigate the harm couples’ privilege causes in our other relationships?

In our current society it is, unfortunately, pretty much impossible to entirely eliminate couples’ privilege. The entire world, or so it seems, is built to uphold, promote, and support the monogamous dyadic relationship and the nuclear family.

Even so, there are actually lots of things you can do to limit the impact and mitigate the harm it can cause if you are a beneficiary of couples’ privilege.

When it comes to how to actually reduce the impact of couples’ privilege in polyamorous relationships, I’m going to come at this from two angles: reducing insidious and unintentional couples’ privilege, and how not to use couples’ privilege as a weapon. I think these are two slightly different issues.

How not to use couples’ privilege as a weapon

It’s really easy, especially when you’re new to polyamory, to use couples’ privilege as a weapon. Almost no-one who does this actually wants to hurt other people, though! In the vast majority of cases, people do it because it helps them to feel safer, more secure, or less threatened.

And I get that. I really do. Polyamory can be frightening and can drag up all kinds of fears, insecurities, and layers of pain.

Couples’ privilege can give the illusion of security, particularly when you’re new to non-monogamy. That illusion is incredibly seductive. After all, if things get too big and too scary you can just slam the lid back on and close the relationship. Or you can just add a few more restrictions and limitations until you and your original partner feel comfortable. Right? Well, not so fast.

Those other people who are dating you or your partner? They’re human beings with feelings and needs. And they have every bit as much right to be there as you do. (Yes, even if you’ve been there longer.)

What’s more, wielding couples’ privilege as a blunt tool to help you feel more secure won’t actually work. You don’t build security, trust, and safety in a relationship by restricting your partner or using other people’s hearts as collateral damage in assuaging your own fears and insecurities.

What you can do instead

Instead of using your couples’ privilege to keep yourself safe, work on building actual security in your relationships. Ask for what you want and need from your partners (and no, “I want more than my metamours get” doesn’t count.)

Work on your self-esteem and confidence, with the help of a therapist if possible. Seek out polyamorous communities, resources, and friends who can support you on this journey. When you feel difficult feelings, learn to sit with them. Interrogate them, ask yourself what they’re telling you, and learn how to communicate non-violently with your partners about them.

In the past, I’ve wielded couples’ privilege carelessly and harmfully in an effort to keep myself safe. It not only didn’t work, it harmed my partners, my metamours, my relationships, and myself. When I realised this, two things happened:

  1. I felt deep shame for my behaviours.
  2. I had to seriously question whether I was actually capable of being polyamorous.

Somewhere deep inside, I knew the answer to that second question was “yes.” However, it took years of deep personal work (with the love and support of my partners) to do the personal growth and build the skills toolkit I needed to actually do it well. Learn from my mistakes – do that growth and build those skills before you hurt yourself, someone else, or your relationships.

Reducing the unintentional impacts of couples’ privilege

In many ways, unintentional couples’ privilege is the hardest to mitigate. A lot of this stuff is societal and systemic, and that makes it almost impossible for individuals or couples to overcome. However, mitigating it as much as possible begins with awareness. You need to understand how couples’ privilege works and the ways in which you may not be able to see it.

I don’t have any easy answers to this. As with all forms of inequality, dismantling couples’ privilege and its harmful effects is an ongoing – probably lifelong – commitment. I do have a few thoughts on things that can help, though.

Question Yourself

Now that you’re aware of couples’ privilege and how insidious it can be, you can start to more consciously view your choices through that lens. When you make a relationship decision, ask yourself “does this protect or uphold the socially-sanctioned dyad at the expense of another person or relationship?” If so, chances are couples’ privilege is in play.

Question your motivations, too. Why do you feel the need to behave in a certain way? If it’s because That’s Just The Way Things Are Done, to assuage insecurities, to follow the social norm, or to reinforce the primacy of one partner or relationship… yup. Couples’ privilege.

Be Honest and Upfront

It’s absolutely vital to state any limitations that will apply to relationships upfront to new partners. If you already have a nesting partner and don’t want to live with anyone else, for example, that’s fine – but you need to be honest about it. This means that you are not leading anyone on with the hope of something you are unable or unwilling to offer them.

For plenty of prospective partners, this will work fine! Perhaps they’re solo, already have their own nesting partner, or are just happy to have a different type of relationship with you.

If you and your existing partner have a lot of rules, a veto agreement, or a permission dynamic, new partners also absolutely need and deserve to know these things upfront. Many people – including most experienced polyamorists – will opt out if your rules and restrictions are too extensive. But, if you are going to operate in this way, at least give people the information ahead of time and allow them to make an informed choice before their hearts get involved.

Come Out When and If You Can

This is a complex one, because there are all kinds of legitimate reasons not to be out as polyamorous or non-monogamous. Child custody, housing problems, and losing relationships with loved ones are just some of the common reasons I hear about.

I’m not going to judge your reasons and I’m certainly not going to tell you that you have to come out if it feels impossible, unsafe, or if the potential cost is too high. However, being open about one relationship and closeted about others can emphasise and perpetuate aspects of couples’ privilege.

I’m out to most people in my life, but not absolutely everyone. And I am very aware that, in those circumstances where I’m not out, this confers additional couples’ privilege on my nesting relationship.

If it’s safe and possible for you to do so, being out as polyamorous – even in a limited way and to select people – can help to reduce the impact of couples’ privilege and the pain of being “hidden” for your other partners.

Listen to Your Other Partners

If you’re not sure how partners outside of your married/nesting dyad are feeling about a choice you’ve made, ask them. And if they express that things feel unfair to them or that couples’ privilege is hurting them, listen. Do not get defensive, try to shut the conversation down, or tell them that they’re imagining things.

Pay attention to all partners’ wants and needs and, wherever possible, try to meet them. Never put one partner’s wants over another’s needs (and learn to tell the difference!) When you need to make a relationship decision, consult everyone who it impacts and seek compromise that honours everyone’s needs and the importance of all relationships as best you can.

Cultivate and Maintain Individuality

One of the most damaging societal narratives around relationships is that a couple is no longer two separate people, but a single unit. I find this creepy in monogamy, and outright harmful in polyamory. If a couple cannot operate in the world as two separate people, then they cannot build and maintain healthy and stable relationships with other people.

Seriously: individuality is one of the most powerful antidotes to couples’ privilege. Decoupling (not to be confused with breaking up!) is the process of stepping away from your joint identity as “a couple” and coming instead into identities as two separate people who are in relationship because you love each other and make each other happy. In other words, breaking out of the codependency and extreme enmeshment that modern relationship norms uphold and celebrate.

The Relationship Bill of Rights states “You have the right… to have relationships with people, not with relationships.” If you and your partner cannot decouple and function as individuals, you are absolutely doomed to mistreat and harm anyone who gets into an intimate relationship with either of you. Seriously. Being in a relationship with a highly codependent relationship, even (or especially) when you’re ostensibly only actually dating one of the people in it, is hell.

The article The Most Skipped Step When Opening a Relationship is an excellent primer on decoupling (unfortunately you’ll now need a Medium account to read it, but it’s worth it.)

Accept that Any Relationship May Change or End Someday

The final thing I’m going to say in this section is probably going to be the hardest for most people to swallow. To be successfully and ethically polyamorous, you have to be at peace with the possibility that any of your relationships may someday end.

If you view one particular relationship as essential and unendable, then you’re in a defacto hierarchy. That person (and that relationship) will always receive priority over others. This sounds nebulous, but I’ve found it to be one of the most important aspects of reducing unintentional couples’ privilege.

In my experience, it’s always people who believe they absolutely cannot live without one particular partner who display the most egregious and damaging levels of couples’ privilege. That’s because what this tells me is that – however much we love each other and however serious our relationship gets – I’m ultimately disposable and they’ll throw me under the bus to protect that other relationship if things get difficult.

Addressing couples’ privilege is a lifelong process

As I’ve said, there are no fast or easy answers to this. Our society affirms and entrenches couples’ privilege at every level and in countless ways. For those of us doing relationships differently, we have to accept that addressing and mitigating couples’ privilege is likely a battle we will always be fighting. That might sound daunting – and it is! – but I promise it’s worth it. When we challenge couples’ privilege and the social norms it upholds, we get to have richer, more fulfilling, and kinder relationships that can look a huge variety of different ways.

If we want to be ethically polyamorous, I believe that we have to be willing to face couples’ privilege and challenge it. I’ve seen too many times what happens when we don’t.

15 Things I’ve Learned in 15 Years of Polyamory

Today, 13 March 2024, marks my 15th anniversary of being polyamorous. Of course, knowing how to quantify such things or where to count from isn’t always easy. Personally, I count from the first day that I was in two romantic relationships at the same time (with the full knowledge and consent of everyone involved, of course.) For me, this was the day I got together with my first girlfriend – the woman I call my firework – while still being with my then-fiancé.

I’ve changed a lot, many times over, in those intervening fifteen years. Unsurprisingly, neither of those relationships survived for the long-haul. I’ve also learned a few things, even if I still feel like I’m winging it half the time.

So just for fun, here are fifteen things I’ve learned about polyamory and non-monogamy to celebrate fifteen years in this world.

1. You’ll probably never stop feeling as though you’re making it all up as you go along

The nature of non-normative relationships is that there are few roadmaps. Sure, there are books like The Ethical Slut, Polysecure, Polywise and so on but, compared to an entire world of monogamy-centric conditioning and assumptions about how relationships work, a lot of this is relatively unchartered territory.

As you navigate a non-monogamous relationship structure, you’ll likely always feel to some extent like you’re making it up as you go. Embrace it. That journey is part of the fun.

2. Being too rigid about relationship structures is the enemy of happiness

A lot of people enter non-monogamy thinking they know exactly what they want out of their relationships. A closed triad, an open quad, one male and one female partner, a sprawling polycule made up exclusively of neurodivergent queers…

It’s fine to have an idea of what sort of thing might make you happy, but being too rigid about the relationship structures you’re seeking can prevent you from connecting with the actual humans in front of you. Instead, stay open to possibility and accept that it will probably never look exactly like the “ideal” vision you thought you had when you first decided to practice non-monogamy. You know what’s really cool though? It might end up even better.

3. More relationships means more joy, but also more heartbreak

Being polyamorous has brought me tremendous joy. It has also brought me some of the most devastating heartbreaks of my life, including one very recent one.

When you have more relationships, you can experience more of those glorious highs that being in love brings. The flip side of this is that you also have more potential for heartbreak. Unless you’re extraordinarily lucky, at some point some of your polyamorous relationships will end, and it will suck every bit as much as it does when a monogamous relationship ends.

4. You cannot open a relationship without changing it

I recently wrote an entire huge essay about this, so I won’t recap all those points again here. But many couples come to non-monogamy saying “we want to do this without it changing our relationship.” To which, in the kindest possible way, I say “good luck with that.”

To transition from monogamy to non-monogamy is to change the fundamental structure, foundation, and nature of a relationship. There is no way to make this transition and to keep your relationship the same as it was before. This isn’t something to be afraid of, though. Change can be good. Change can be beautiful.

5. You will likely always feel at least some jealousy at least occasionally

A common misconception from monogamous people is that polyamorous people don’t get jealous. A common misconception from newly polyamorous people is that at some point they will trancend jealousy and simply… never feel it again.

Hah. I wish.

Jealousy is a normal human emotion that we are all susceptible to from time to time. You’ll likely always struggle with it at least occasionally. Instead of fearing it or placing restrictions on your relationships in an attempt to avoid it, though, it’s time to get comfortable with it. Learn to sit with difficult feelings, learn to understand what they’re telling you, and learn to communicate your way through them with your partners.

6. Compersion is lovely but it’s not essential

Compersion – that feeling of warm, fuzzy joy you get when you see your partner happy with one of their other lovers – can be absolutely wonderful. It’s one of my favourite things about polyamory. What it is not, though, is essential. Some people will never feel compersion and can still be happily polyamorous. Many people feel it sometimes but not all the time, with all partners, or in all situations.

Either way is fine. Chasing compersion is likely to just make it even harder to attain, and beating yourself up for not feeling it will make it downright impossible to find.

7. Look for community before you look for partners

When people decide to practice non-monogamy, particularly if they are opening up from an existing couple, they’re likely to ask “where can I/we meet potential partners?” And it’s a fair question, but it’s also not the first one you should be asking.

Instead of looking for partners, look for community. Join groups and forums, go to meetups, attend polyamory events and classes and workshops, and get to know other people doing this thing we call consensual non-monogamy. Finding people to date will fall into place, but you need non-monogamous friends and safe community spaces first.

8. With rare and specific exceptions, mono/poly does not work

I’ve seen a lot of people attempt a mono/poly relationship, where one person wants a monogamous relationship and the other person wants a polyamorous one. If you find that you and a partner or prospective partner have this incompatibility, the best and kindest thing you can do in 95% of cases is break up amicably.

When people attempt to make a mono/poly relationship work, most of the time one or both parties is utterly fucking miserable. Sure, you might be the exception to the rule. But in most cases, the polyamorous person will feel trapped and restricted or the monogamous person will feel sad, jealous and resentful… often both.

9. Humans are extraordinarly bad at predicting how things will make us feel

“Experience shock” is a phenomenon wherein how we think we’ll feel about something in advance does not align with how we actually feel about the thing when it happens. It’s incredibly common and so, so normal. Most of us are really bad at predicting how we will feel about something ahead of time.

Make room for experience shock as you explore non-monogamy, both your own and your partners’. Learn to say “this feels different in practice to how I thought it would in theory.” Learn to talk through difficult feelings as they come up and give yourself and your partners permission to say “I don’t actually know how I will feel about this.”

Most importantly, never ever berate yourself or a partner for having experience shock.

10. Rules and restrictions are almost always a bad way to deal with difficulties

When there’s a challenge in your relationship – particularly a spousal or nesting relationship – or one of you is feeling something difficult, is your impulse to bring in rules and restrictions on outside relationships in an attempt to solve the problem or eliminate the feeling?

I understand the temptation, but this is almost always the wrong approach for several reasons. First, your or your partner’s outside relationships are just as important as the one between the two of you. Those other partners are people with feelings and should not be collateral damage in your relationship issues.

Secondly, if your partner doesn’t want to consider your needs and treat you well, the rules won’t actually compel them to (and if they do want to, the rules are unnecessary.)

Finally, restrictive rules do not build trust and security. If anything, they stifle its growth by strategising around problems instead of actually addressing them.

11. No matter how many partners you have, you will still feel lonely sometimes

Of all the things I’ve learned about polyamory, this one might be the hardest to swallow. Loneliness is a reality of life no matter what relationship structure you practice. Some people think they can avoid loneliness through non-monogamy. After all, if I have enough partners I never have to be alone… right?

Yeah, sorry, it doesn’t work like that. Even if you have ten partners, there will be days when they’re all busy or on other dates or working or sick or otherwise not available to you. And sometimes you’ll feel lonely even if you’re surrounded by people, because that’s just how humans work.

Learning to be comfortable in your own company is a vital skill not just for polyamory, but for relationships in general. Feeling okay alone allows you to approach relationships from a place of curiosity and possibility, not one of desperation, and helps to prevent you from staying too long in relationships that are not working for you.

12. You can probably handle one fewer partners than you think you can when you’re starting out

How many serious relationships do you think you can manage, nurture, and sustain at one time? If you’re new to polyamory or have not yet tested this theory, substract one from the number you just said. That’s more likely to be your actual number.

Polysaturation is real, and oversaturation can be tremendously damaging, both for the person experiencing it and for their partners. To avoid becoming oversaturated, start one relationship at a time and give that relationship plenty of time to grow, mature, and settle into the form it wants to take before you start any others.

I have met very few polyamorous people who can successfully handle more than three serious relationships. Those people exist, but they are the exception.

13. NRE is fun, but long-term love is where the really good stuff is

New relationship energy (NRE), also known as the honeymoon period, is that giddy love-drunk feeling at the start of a new relationship where you can’t get enough of the other person. Polyamory allows you to experience NRE multiple times throughout your life without needing to lose any existing relationships.

NRE is a lot of fun. It’s also finite, kinda exhausting after a while, and can cause its own problems. Long-term love, though? That’s where the real magic is for me. When you’ve overcome challenges, had each other’s backs, and seen each other at your worst and you’re still totally in love. For me, the security and comfort and safety that comes with this kind of love – and the ability to have that with multiple people – is one of the greatest joys of polyamory.

14. Most metamour problems are actually hinge problems

Not getting along with your metamour – your partner’s partner – is a real concern for many polyamorous people. However, I’ve realised over the years that most problems with metamours are actually problems with the hinge partner (that is, the person in the middle.)

If your metamour’s behaviour is damaging your relationship with your shared partner, they have a responsibility to manage the situation. They should be setting boundaries, advocating for their relationship with you, or keeping the relationships parallel. They should not be playing you and your metamour off against each other or sacrificing your relationship to placate another person.

If you think you have a metamour problem, you probably have a hinge problem. This isn’t universally true, of course, but it is true the vast majority of the time.

15. There are no experts

Whenever I’m writing, speaking, being quoted, or teaching a class about polyamory, I am always very firm that I am not under any circumstances to be referred to as a “polyamory expert.” This is because I don’t believe there are any experts. We’re all just imperfect humans working this thing out as we go along (see #1 on this list!) Some of us are sharing the wisdom we’ve gathered, but none of us actually have it entirely figured out.

Not to mention, in the last few years we’ve seen what happens when certain voices are elevated and exalted too much and for too long in this community.

So there you have it. Fifteen things I’ve learned from fifteen years in polyamory. Whether you’ve been doing this for five minutes or for so long it puts my mere decade and a half to shame, I’d love to know the most important lessons you’ve learned about non-monogamy on your journey!

Let’s Talk About Money and Polyamory [Polyamory Conversation Cards #7]

Ahh, money. Is any subject – apart from sometimes sex – harder for people to talk about with their partners? Though I couldn’t find any reliable statistics to back this up, some experts say that arguments about money are the number one source of conflict in intimate relationships.

I hate to talk about money. It still feels so taboo, even though I know it’s important. It makes me cringe. And in polyamorous relationships, I’ve found I end up having more of these conversations because, well, there are more relationships and therefore more people to talk about money, financial limitations, and other such difficult subjects with.

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 financial resources can you freely spend on your various relationships?”

So I thought it was time to do a deep dive into a relatively under-discussed reality of polyamorous living: the financial aspect. Let’s talk about money and polyamory.

“Monogamy? In This Economy!?”

This particular phrase has become something of a running joke and the subject of numerous memes within the polyamorous community. It’s obviously tongue-in-cheek but, like so many jokes, there’s also a grain of truth to it.

Now, I don’t know of anyone who has actually chosen to become polyamorous specifically to bring in a higher household income and offset the cost of living crisis. I have, however, seen more polyamorous networks and families choosing to live together, pool their resources, share expenses, or otherwise combine finances to make everyone’s money go further.

With the right people, this can be hugely beneficial. You can potentially get a bigger place to live. Economy of scale means that things like groceries will be cheaper when you’re shopping and cooking for more people. And, of course, more people means that the loss of one income – if there’s a sudden illness, accident, or redundancy, for example – is likely to be less disastrous.

There are also challenges alongside these benefits, of course. Sharing finances requires a tremendous level of trust. You may or may not have this trust with all your partners and metamours. You’ll need to talk about money and finances regularly not just with one person, but potentially with several. And if you move in together too early out of economic necessity, this can do more harm than good to relationships and your entire polycule.

How Do Polyamorous People, Networks and Families Handle Finances?

As with almost any question that begins “how do polyamorous people…?”, there is no single answer and virtually anyone you ask will tell you something slightly different. So let’s look at a few common ways that polyamorous networks and families handle their finances.

I can’t tell you which model is the best for you and your family or polycule. It’s a personal decision and will depend on an array of factors including your relationship structure, length of relationships, levels of trust and communication between metamours, geography, and more.

Totally Separate Finances

Even in some monogamous relationships, couples maintain totally separate finances. And in certain types of polyamory, this is a pretty common way to do things. In this setup, you do not blend finances with any of your partners. Your income, accounts, debts, and financial obligations are solely your own. You may or may not even talk about money and financial matters with your partners.

It’s not possible to completely separate your finances from a partner’s if you are legal spouses. It’s also difficult if you live together, since you may have a lease agreement or mortgage in both/all names (and if not, you have a massive power disparity in favour of the person whose name is on the lease or mortgage) as well as shared bills. But if you’re solo, unmarried or non-nesting, this is a popular choice as it allows you to maintain the most financial independence and autonomy.

Blended Finances with One Partner

This is what you’ll see most commonly for polyamorous people who are married or have a nesting partner. In these situations, one dyad blends their finances to whatever extent works for them. In other relationships outside of that dyad, finances are separate.

This can make sense in some circumstances. However, it can also create difficulties. If your finances are highly entangled with one partner, for example, how do you go about paying for dates with other partners? It’s navigable but it requires careful negotiation and clarity about agreements. You’ll need to learn to talk about money openly, non-judgementally, and non-emotionally with your partners to ensure that things feel fair and equitable for everyone.

Blended Finances as a Family or Polycule

In this setup, more than two people combine their finances. This might include things like living together, sharing bills and other expenses, buying property together, and having joint bank accounts.

It’s a common misconception that you can’t have more than two names on a bank account or mortgage. In many places – including the US and UK – at least some banks will allow more than two people to share an account. In the UK, some lenders will allow up to 4 people to be named on a mortgage. And in the US, there is no legal limit but most lenders won’t allow more than 4 or 5 people. So you will need to shop around but, depending on where you live, it may be possible to get a bank account and rent or buy a property with your polyamorous family.

Of course, this requires a lot of intimacy and trust with everyone who is included in the shared financial network. It’s not something I recommend entering into quickly or lightly. And, of course, you should seek professional advice to ensure everyone is properly protected if things go south or something unexpected happens.

Partially Blended, Partially Separate Finances

Anecdotally, this is the most common arrangement I’ve seen for polyamorous people who have at least one nesting partner. In this setup, some financial assets are shared and others are kept separate. One common way to do this is to have a joint account for bills and household expenses, and then separate accounts for disposable income or “fun” money.

You can also do this with more than one partner, by the way. Want to have a shared account with your nesting partner to save for redecorating the kitchen and another account with your long distance partner to save for a trip together? Have at it.

…And Other Arrangments?

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about polyamorous people, it’s that we are a creative bunch. We can come up with nearly endless ways to structure, define, and personalise our relationships. So why not do the same with our financial arrangements? As long as everything is legal and fair, there are endless possibilities here.

Instead of doing what you think you’re “supposed” to do, ask yourself what actually works for you, your partners, and your metamours. Talk about money, talk about your wants and needs, and craft something accordingly that is entirely your own.

Let’s Talk About Money, Legal Marriage, and Polyamorous Finances

I am not any kind of expert and nothing I say in this section should be taken as legal or financial advice in any way whatsoever. You should consult a financial planner and a family lawyer in your area to advise you on how to manage your and your family’s finances.

With a few very limited exceptions, polygamy is illegal pretty much everywhere. In other words, if you want to get legally married, you can only marry one person.

There’s nothing to stop you having a committment ceremony, religiously or spiritually marrying without the legal piece, exchanging rings or other tokens of love, or calling each other husband/wife/spouse with as many partners as you want. But these things do not confer any of the legal or financial benefits of a marriage your government recognises.

The choice to marry can be a complicated one when you’re polyamorous. It can feel like you’re declaring one of your partners as “real” or “most important“. And even if you don’t see it that way… well, wider society (and the government) definitely will.

If you come into polyamory already legally married, a certain amount of unavoidable couple’s privilege is baked in. Open Relating defines couple’s privilege as: “the largely unchallenged mainstream acceptance of the inherent importance and supremacy of a dyad relationship (mostly exclusive and primarily between a woman and a man).”

I’ve known some couples take the extreme step of getting a divorce (while remaining in a romantic relationship) in order to eliminate this couple’s privilege. If you want to take this step, go in with your eyes open. By removing legal marriage, you potentially lose literally hundreds of legal and financial protections. Make sure you have an alternative plan and don’t do something this drastic as a symbolic gesture without thinking it through.

So What Else Can We Do?

Whether or not it makes sense for you to marry is a highly personal choice. If you live with and share finances with one partner, you might decide it’s the smart choice for the two of you. Conversely, you might decide you never want to marry – because you disagree with the institution, because of the hierarchy it can imply, or for another reason. If you’re solo polyamorous, a relationship anarchist, or otherwise prefer high levels of independence and autonomy, you might also make the personal decision that legally entangling your financial life with another person is off limits.

There are no right or wrong answers here. What matters is that you think it through and make fully informed choices that make sense for you and your loved ones.

In some cases, there are steps you can take to replace some of the benefits of legal marriage (or extend them to more than one partner.) Wills, life insurance policies, and medical power of attorney are just some of the options that may be available to you. Other benefits of legal marriage are, unfortunately, pretty much impossible to entirely replicate in any other way.

If you’re not married and don’t intend to be, consult a lawyer and financial planner to ensure that you, your partners, and any children or other dependents are protected in the event that something happens to one of you. If you are married or intending to marry one partner and you also want to share financial benefits and protections with another partner or partners… yeah, consult a lawyer and financial planner.

This stuff is complex. It’s also different in every country or state. I cannot stress this enough: get professional advice.

Rules and Agreements About Money in Polyamorous Relationships

If you’ve been reading my work on polyamory recently, you’ll know that I have come to dislike relationships with lots of rules. In general, I believe that adults shouldn’t be imposing rules and restrictions on one another and that all parties in a relationship should have an equal voice in the issues and agreements that impact them.

With that said, I see a lot of polyamorous people – particularly married, nested, or hierarchical “primary” couples – making strict rules around finances. This might include rules like limiting how much can be spent on other partners, setting a spending limit on dating, or requiring one partner to ask the other for permission before spending money on another relationship.

I understand the implse here. Financial struggles can be terrifying and you want to make sure the person you’ve entangled your finances with is going to meet their obligations. Here’s the thing, though: if they’re going to, you don’t need the rule. And if they’re not going to, the rule won’t protect you anyway.

My general take on this is that you should only entangle finances with someone you trust. If you need a rule to compel someone not to spend hundreds of dollars on a date when they can’t afford their portion of the mortgage, then you probably shouldn’t have a joint mortgage with that person.

So How Can I Protect Myself Financially in a Relationship?

This is not to say, of course, that I think polyamory should be an irresponsible financial free-for-all. Quite the opposite. When we enter into relationships with other humans, those relationships come with some obligations. In some circumstances, this can include an obligation to be responsible with money and meet shared expenses. I just don’t think that placing rules and restrictions on each other is the way to achieve this interdependence and mutual sense of responsibility.

What you can and should do, instead of trying to restrict your partner(s) or place strict rules on them about how they manage their money, is make agreements about shared money and set boundaries around your own money and relationship to financial matters.

Agreements about shared money can look like:

  • “We will each put $x into the joint account when we get paid each month. This money is for bills, groceries and household expenses but not for fun or discretionary spending.”
  • “We will each contribute $x to a shared savings account and this money is not to be touched unless we both agree to do so.”
  • “Money from our shared account is not to be used for dates, gifts, or activities with other partners.”
  • “Money from our shared account can be used for dates, gifts, or activities with other partners up to a limit of $x assuming other financial obligations are taken care of. Anything above that amount must be discussed in advance.”
  • “Our individual money is our own and, as long as we each meet our financial obligations to the household each month, we have no say over how the other chooses to spend their money.”
  • “Since one of us earns much more than the other, we will split shared expenses proportionally to our income unless otherwise agreed.”
  • “We will check in about our shared finances and re-evaluate our budget every six months or more often if a significant change occurs (such as a new job, job loss, or serious illness.)”

Personal financial boundaries can look like:

  • “I prefer to keep my finances totally separate so I don’t want to have joint accounts, share a mortgage, or get legally married.”
  • “I’ve committed to paying half the rent and I will honour that but I can’t cover your portion too.”
  • “I will not live with someone who doesn’t have similar financial values and goals to me.”
  • “I can’t afford to do that expensive activity right now so, unless you’re offering to pay for both of us, can we plan a cheaper date night?”
  • “It makes me uncomfortable when you spend a lot of money on me. Please don’t buy me expensive gifts without discussing it with me first.”
  • “I am not comfortable getting into debt so I will not take out a credit card, loan, or finance agreement.”
  • “No, I cannot loan you money.”

Other Rules and Agreements That Have a Financial Impact

Sometimes, rules in polyamory can have nothing to do with money on the surface… but still have a financial impact. For example, let’s say you have a nesting partner and you’ve made a rule that says they cannot bring their other partner back to your shared home. Unless your metamour can host every single time, this means they will be paying for restaurants, hotels, and so on every time they want to spend time together. This can get very expensive very quickly.

Another common example I see is when sex toys, BDSM gear, and other items are designated as being for one relationship only. And that’s completely fair – not everyone is as blasé as me about sharing these things. But if you want to use these types of things with multiple partners, the cost of buying several of them can add up fast.

When you discuss and negotiate your relationship agreements with your partner(s), it’s also important to talk about money and how those agreements might have a financial impact on one or both of you – even an unintended one.

The Person Who Has the Money Has the Power

Unfortunately, money is power in our current society. At a certain point, people who are wealthy enough can get away with pretty much anything they want. Now, it’s unlikely that you or any of your partners are billionaires or in the “untouchably wealthy” category, of course. However, financial disparities can still cause huge problems in relationships – both polyamorous and monogamous – and in some cases can become coercive or abusive.

Several times a week, I see people in polyamorous groups and forums asking a variation of this: “my spouse/partner is hugely controlling and imposes all these rules on me, but they’re also the breadwinner so I can’t leave.”

Of course, this isn’t a uniquely polyamorous problem. Financial abuse can and does occur all too frequently in monogamy, too. In fact, financial control and limiting a partner’s access to resources is on page one of the Abusers’ Playbook.

In polyamory, though, it does manifest in some unique and specific ways. Often, the person with the money (and therefore the power) will impose a double standard on their partner. For example, “I’m allowed to have sex with other people but you’re not” or “I’m allowed to bring partners home but you’re not because I pay for our housing.” It’s very, very hard – sometimes impossible – to stand up to someone and assert your autonomy when you rely on them for the roof over your head.

Explicit or covert vetoes and ultimatums are also massively complicated by financial disparities. If you live with one partner and are financially reliant on them, are you really going to say no if they put a “leave your other partner or I’m leaving you” choice on the table? Particularly if you don’t have an obvious backup plan, such as other partners, friends or family who are willing to support you financially? Exactly.

I don’t have any easy answers to this phenomenon, of course. Abusive and controlling people will likely always exist and, for as long as we live in a capitalist society, money will likely always be one of their first and most powerful weapons.

If you’re in a relationship with a person significantly less well-off than you, particularly if you’re married or live together, it is vital that you ensure they have access to money and resources without needing to ask you for them. You must also be incredibly careful not to impose unfair rules and double standards or to hold financial security over your partner’s head to make them do what you want. In other words, you need to make it possible for them to leave if they want to.

Because a person cannot meaningfully consent to a relationship if they can’t also reasonably and safely choose to leave it.

Honestly, this is why we need better social safety nets and community support. No-one should ever be forced to stay in a relationship that’s abusive, harmful, or just doesn’t make them happy because they don’t have access to the money they need to leave.

Jealousy, Insecurity, and Resentment When People Have Very Different Financial Circumstances

I’m far from wealthy but, prior to the cost of living crisis, I considered myself pretty financially comfortable. Now it’s more of a challenge as prices have skyrocketed and salaries have not kept up, but I’m still doing okay most of the time. Relative to many, I have a tonne of financial privilege and I try to pay this forward when I can.

I’ve been polyamorous for 15 years. In that time, I’ve dated people much richer than me and I’ve dated people much poorer than me. Both have come with their own challenges, but neither were insurmountable with good communication, empathy and honesty. I find that what matters far more than having a similar level of wealth is having similar values, goals, and the ability to talk about money in an open and supportive way.

Solutions to a wealth disparity in a relationship can include finding affordable date activities, splitting expenses in a way that is equitable according to our relative incomes rather than equal, and factoring in time, energy and skills as other forms of equally-valuable relationship currency (for example “you buy the ingredients and I’ll cook for us” or “I’ll pay for your ticket if you spend the time and energy travelling to me.”)

The most challenging aspect of a wealth disparity in relationships, in my experience, is not any of these practical matters. It’s the feelings that money issues can bring up. Here are a few of the most common I’ve encountered in my own relationships or witnessed in other relationships.

“My Partner Can Date More Often (or Go On More Expensive Dates) Because They Have More Disposable Income”

Imagine you and your partner are both trying to date outside your relationship. But they have vastly more money than you do, meaning that they can date more often and do more expensive activities with their other partner(s.) This can be tough to navigate and can bring up feelings of envy, jealousy, and resentment if you don’t navigate it carefully.

If you’re the person with significantly less money:

Is your partner willing to help you out financially so you can date more? Would you feel comfortable accepting that help? The answer to both these questions might be “no”, but it’s fair to ask.

If not, it’s time to get creative with your own dating life. You might not be able to afford expensive dates, but there are plenty of equally nnice and meaningful things you can do without spending a fortune. If you don’t have another regular partner or are actively dating new people, you might also need to be more choosy about which dates you go on. Screen more thoroughly to ensure you’re spending your limited resources on the most promising potential dates, and seek out people who place little value on material wealth.

Don’t forget to ask your partner for what you want, too. Are you feeling sidelined or neglected? Do you wish they’d take you on one of those fancy dates that they’re always going on with other people? Then tell them! And if you don’t want to hear so much about their activities with other people, you get to draw that boundary, too.

If you’re the person with significantly more money:

Consider whether you’d be comfortable financially supporting your partner’s dating activities outside your relationship. Perhaps you could have a shared “dating pot” that you contribute to proportionally and can draw on for external dates. This can allow things to feel more balanced without your partner having to feel like they’re asking you for money (which can have uncomfortable “parental” implications for many people.)

If you’re not willing to help, or they won’t accept your help, that’s fair. In that case, it might be wise not to share so much information with your less-wealthy partner about the pricey things you’re doing with other people. Don’t hide things from them, of course, but they probably don’t want to hear about your $500 restaurant bill if they’re struggling to find the money to meet a potential date for a coffee.

You can also help to mitigate this issue by making sure you’re not taking your existing partner for granted. It’s easy for resentment to set in if you’re taking new dates to expensive restaurants while all you do with your spouse is sit on the couch and watch reruns on Netflix. Make sure that you’re also taking them out on nice dates, setting aside money for experiences or trips together, and giving them nice gifts if they’re comfortable with receiving them.

“My Partner Wants to Do All These Expensive Activities But I Can’t Afford It!”

People who have plenty of money can be extraordinarily oblivious about the experiences of people who have less of it. This can lead to resentment as they suggest pricey date activities and the less well-off partner has to keep saying no. Or, worse, if the less-wealthy person stretches their finances in an effort to keep up.

This is a situation where honesty is critical. Practice saying “I can’t afford to do that” and remember that there is absolutely no shame in doing so. Someone who loves you will understand. A partner who pressures you to spend money you can’t afford, or judges you for not doing so, is a bad partner for you.

If your partner offers to cover the cost for both of you, it’s okay to accept this offer. It’s also okay to say no if this makes you uncomfortable and propose an alternative, cheaper activity.

If you’re the person with more money and your partner discloses that they can’t afford something, it’s important to be sympathetic and non-judgemental. Don’t say things like “but it’s only $50!”. That $50 might be pocket change to you but it might be a week’s worth of groceries to them. Don’t pressure them to stretch their finances more than they are comfortable, and never shame them for having less money than you do.

What you can do, if you sincerely want to, is offer to cover the cost for both of you. And if you want to invite a partner or date to an expensive activity, be upfront about whether you’ll be covering the cost or not. Simply saying “do you want to check out that new restaurant on Friday? My treat!” or “would you like to see this show with me? Tickets are $35 if so” takes away so much of the guesswork and anxiety.

“My Metamour is Richer Than Me and it Makes Me Insecure”

In researching this post, I remembered this classic Polyamory Weekly episode, “Help, I’m rich and I have a big penis!” In it, the caller is concerned he makes his metamours jealous and insecure because he has money to throw around and likes to spoil his partners. And, self-involved though this might seem, he’s probably got a fair point.

If your metamour is significantly wealthier than you, this might cause some understandable feelings of envy, jealousy, insecurity, or competitiveness to come up.

What’s most important here is to remember that your partner isn’t with you for your money or for the things you can provide. They’re with you because they love you! Ask your partner for reassurance and reminders of what they love about you if you need it.

It’s also important to remember they’re probably not with your metamour for their money, either! What else does your metamour bring to the table? They’re a human being with their own wonderful qualities and also their own quirks and flaws. Try to learn more about what your partner loves about them. Chances are it’s little or nothing to do with their wealth. This will help to humanise them and make them feel like less of a threat.

Get creative and find ways to connect with your partner and have meaningful experiences together without spending a lot of money. They might enjoy those fancy dates with your metamour, but I bet they’d enjoy a picnic in the park or a night of stargazing with you just as much.

The Bottom Line on Polyamory and Money: Get Educated and Get Prepared

Financial matters are complex. This is true even if you’re in a traditional, monogamous relationship, and this complexity can increase tenfold if you’re polyamorous.

The most important things you can do are educate yourself, plan, and prepare. This means taking the time to talk about money with all your partners. It means understanding what your options are, understanding the limitations you’re under due to our current couple-centric society and legal system, and understanding what you and your partners all want and need.

It also means educating yourself and getting appropriate advice. Things like Wills, estate planning, inheritance, and medical decisionmaking can be more complex when you have more partners. It’s vital to understand what the law says in your area, what you can and can’t do, and how you can protect yourselves. Communicate, share your wishes and fears, and make decisions together with your partners, polycule, or family.

The golden rule? Think about what would happen in the worst case scenario long before you’re ever actually in it. If you died tomorrow, would your partners and loved ones have the financial protection you’d want them to have? If not, it’s time to take steps to ensure they do.

How do finances work in your romantic network or polycule? How do you talk about money with your partners? Tell me about it in the comments!

Everything I Got Wrong About Hierarchical Polyamory

I’ve been thinking about this for a very long time now, and writing this post on and off for a couple of few weeks months as new thoughts occur to me. I’ve had this blog for six and a half years now (!) and, perhaps unsurprisingly, I don’t feel the same way about some subjects as I did at the beginning of my sex writing journey. One of those subjects is hierarchical polyamory.

I’m not saying I got everything wrong, necessarily. I still stand by my original assertion that a complete lack of any kind of agreements or structure in relationships sounds incredibly stressful to me. But I was definitely coming at many aspects of the subject from a place of unaddressed trauma, deep unhealed wounds, and a hell of a lot of anger that coloured my perception. I definitely got a lot wrong.

I’m a few years older now and I’ve had a fucktonne of therapy, got to know myself a lot better, and spent countless hours deconstructing and reimagining basically everything I thought I knew about sex, relationships, love, and – yes – polyamory.

So what did I get wrong, and what do I believe now?

There’s Such a Thing as Too Much Control

When I first started out in polyamory, way back in the Dark Ages of early 2009, it seemed that virtually everyone in the polyamorous community was operating in the primary/secondary structure. Under this system, one partner (very occasionally more than one, such as in the case of “co-primaries”) is designated as “primary”, and all others are “secondary.” The primary partner typically has some level of control over their partner’s external relationships, and may be afforded certain privileges that secondaries are not. Back in the day, some even went as far as to designate some partners as “tertiary” – what we might now call a comet partnership or friend-with-benefits. I rarely see “tertiary” used any more, though the primary/secondary structure is still used by some.

My nesting partner, Mr C&K, and I stopped using the term “primary” to describe our relationship a few years ago, but not because our importance to each other had lessened. We simply found that it no longer conveyed the reality of how we wanted to operate in our polyamorous dynamic. (And he got there before I did!) Specifically, we no longer wanted to operate under a lot of rules that stressed us out, likely disenfranchised our other partners, and didn’t even achieve what they were designed to achieve. (More on this last point later…)

At one time, I believed that it was appropriate for a primary partner or spouse to set pretty much any rules and restrictions they wanted on their partner’s external relationships. That is largely because my first (and for a long time, only) exposures to polyamory were almost entirely to this type of dynamic. When proponents of non-hierarchical versions of polyamory did show up in our community media landscape, they were generally in the “fuck my partners’ needs, I do what I want” school of thought that is now sometimes called Relationship Libertarianism. Not exactly a glowing recommendation.

My long-term ex and his wife had a lot of rules, many of them subject to arbitrary changes, and a veto agreement[*]. Pretty much everyone I dated had a list of rules and limitations, ranging from “I have to love my primary the most” to “I’m only allowed to see you once a month.” And so, thinking this was how it was done and being the inexperienced newbies in our polyamorous network, my “primary” boyfriend at the time and I followed suit.

I carried this belief forward, operating on the basic assumption that a primary or spouse would – should – always get final say on any aspect of an external relationship. If they say no, it’s no. If they say yes, they can revoke that permission at any time and for any reason. I do not believe that any more. In fact, I now think that that kind of dynamic is likely to be deeply harmful to everyone involved. I also think that veto, specifically, is inherently abusive in almost all situations, whether it’s actually used or simply held over someone’s head as a potential threat.

I now believe that it is entirely possible for a partner to have too much control over their partner’s external relationships, and that this is something we must take care to avoid. It is this control that ultimately defines how hierarchical a relationship is, or if it is hierarchical at all (more on that shortly.)

[*] Veto: when someone can order their partner to end or deescalate another relationship at any time and expect that they will comply. Veto is usually a clumsy tool used to access a sense of security and safety – “if this all gets too much I have a kill-switch.” It is also generally considered extremely cruel, deeply unethical, and highly unlikely to achieve the desired effect of managing jealousy and building security.

Considering Your Partner’s Feelings and Needs is Not Control

With that said, it’s important to draw a clear distinction between considering your partner’s (or partners’) feelings and needs in the decisions you make, and allowing them to control your actions. Nothing we do exists in a vacuum, and part of loving people is considering them in the things we do and the ways that we operate in the world. This is one of the reasons I believe that relationship agreements and personal/interpersonal boundaries are so important: they allow us to show up consistently for one another and balance independence/autonomy with interdependence/mutual care in all of our relationships and as members of a polycule, network, or community.

This line isn’t always easy to draw, though. What seems like arbitrary control can actually be a good-faith attempt to get a need met, and what seems like an effort to care for a partner emotionally can actually be the result of control.

Let’s take a hypothetical example: your partner has a dramatic emotional meltdown every time you go out on a date. Eventually, you cancel all your dates and break up with your other partner(s) because this behaviour is just too stressful to deal with.

In this hypothetical example, control is taking on the slightly more subtle form of emotional manipulation. But it’s still control, even if it doesn’t look like slamming down a veto and saying “I forbid you to go on dates.” It’s very possible – even probable – that the person having the emotional meltdowns is doing so due to some unmet need, deep fear or insecurity, trauma, or some combination thereof. They deserve to have these needs and feelings addressed and cared for, and in a healthy non-monogamous relationship it is actually very possible to achieve that without them needing or being permitted to control their partner’s other relationships.

What might caring for your partner’s feelings look like in this situation, without allowing yourself to be manipulated or your other relationship(s) to be controlled? It might look like some of the following[**]:

  • Providing verbal affection and reassurance to your partner before/after a date
  • At a separate time, talking and processing with your partner to help them get to the bottom of their difficult feelings and work through them
  • Consistently telling your partner the truth (it can be tempting to falsely downplay other connections to make an insecure partner feel better. Don’t. This will bite you later when they realise you’ve been hiding the truth from them.)
  • Sticking to any relationship agreements the two of you have made
  • Planning a nice date or some one-to-one quality time with your partner to ensure they feel loved and special
  • Giving your partner plenty of affection, positive reinforcement, and focused time consistently and regularly. Ironically, this can be particularly important for nested couples (i.e. don’t rely on “we live together so you see me all the time” to carry your relationship in lieu of quality time together.)
  • Going to therapy with your partner to work through the worries and insecurities that are coming up for them
  • If you live and/or coparent together, making sure that your partner also has free time away from the home, children, and other responsibilities to do the things that matter to them (whether that’s going on their own dates, seeing their friends, doing hobbies, or just playing video games)

Considering how your actions impact your partner and caring for them emotionally isn’t a sign of being controlled. It’s a sign of being a good partner. Knowing the difference isn’t always easy, and the former can slip in via the backdoor of the latter. But with good communication, love, compassion, emotional intelligence, and strong personal boundaries on both sides, you can take care of each other without controlling each other.

[**] All of this is assuming that you and your partner have both consented to a polyamorous/non-monogamous relationship. Poly-under-duress is a whole different thing and not something you should either tolerate or do to another person.

If Control is Necessary to Get Your Needs Met, Something Has Gone Wrong

It’s fair to say that a few years ago, I was desperate for any semblance of a sense of control I could get my hands on. After years with my abuser, I’d felt so utterly out of control for so long that I just needed predictability and stability more than anything. So, because that was the model I’d seen and emulated for so long, I thought the way to get those things was to place a lot of rules and restrictions on external relationships outside of my nesting partnership.

The problem is that polyamory does not work like that. Neither does security. I still value stability and security in relationships highly, but those things come from having partners who value your relationship and honour their commitments to you, not partners who will capitulate to any arbitrary restrictions you set.

Security comes from knowing and feeling deeply that your partners love and value you. It does not come from partners who will agree not to have sex with anyone else in the Reverse Pile Driver position[***] because that’s our position, damnit! And it certainly doesn’t come from being able to unilaterally force your partner to break up with someone else they love.

I never did the veto thing personally, but I’ve known a lot of people who do and have. It never leaves anything but pain and destruction in its wake. In fact, the most common outcome I’ve seen when a veto is slammed down is that the primary couple breaks up over it – maybe immediately, or maybe after months or years of the simmering resentment it causes.

Looking back with the knowledge and (relative) wisdom I have now, I think one of the reasons I was formerly so (relatively) uncritically in favour of hierarchical dynamics is that I’d fallen into a really unhealthy pattern of believing that strict rules were the only way I could get my needs met. Because that’s what I’d witnessed again and again.

After coming out of an abusive relationship, and other dynamics that don’t rise to the level of abuse but were certainly neglectful and unkind, I had absolutely no idea how to go about getting my needs met in a relationship. Talking to those partners hadn’t worked. Begging them to please listen to me and give a damn about my feelings hadn’t worked. Eventually becoming unbalanced and hysterical and “crazy” because I felt so profoundly unheard and gaslit hadn’t worked. And no, trying to set rules hadn’t worked either. Nothing would have worked, because those partners did not love me and want to treat me well.

It has taken years of self-work, and of building a secure base in a safe and stable relationship, to truly internalise these two important messages that I now take forward into all my relationships:

  1. My feelings and needs in any given relationship, and my partner’s needs and feelings, are equally important and deserve to be equally heard and honoured
  2. If a partner loves me, they will make a good faith effort to meet my needs in a relationship as long as doing so doesn’t harm them or anyone else. If they don’t love or care about me, no amount of rules and restrictions can compel them to do so.

Ultimately, you cannot compel your partner to treat you well with giant lists of “thou shalt not”s. A partner who wants to love you and honour your relationship will do so. A partner who doesn’t will find a way to loophole their way around any rules you set down or agreements you make, anyway… if they don’t just flagrantly break them.

Next time you think about making a restrictive rule, ask yourself what purpose it is intended to serve. If it’s intended to address an unmet need or eliminate an insecurity, ask yourself if there aren’t better ways to get those things.

There’s a reason I now have a print on my office wall that reads I am the one thing in life I can control.

[***] Actually a thing, though I am not convinced it is physically possible.

Legislating Your Way Around Difficult Feelings Doesn’t Work

Another common reason people give for having exhaustive lists of rules is “because I’d feel too jealous [sad/scared/lonely/insert difficult emotion here] if my partner did that thing.”

And I get it, I really do. None of us want to feel those types of feelings! They suck! Jealousy, in particular, can feel like the absolute worst. It’s visceral, physical, painful, often overwhelming in its intensity. But here’s the thing: you can’t actually legislate yourself (or your partners) out of feeling things you don’t want to feel. It’s also healthy, normal, and human to feel difficult feelings sometimes. Yes, including that j-word that so many polyamorous folks are so terrified of.

If you’re using the most strict and stringent form of hierarchy to avoid difficult feelings, I’d also challenge you to consider this: are you in fact outsourcing the experience of difficult feelings to someone else?

What do I mean by that? For example, let’s say you have made a rule that says your partner cannot say “I love you” to anyone else, because that privilege is reserved for you alone. In creating a sense of security for yourself by keeping expressions of love exclusive to you, you have potentially created a situation in which your partner feels forced to repress their emotions and your metamour(s) feel unloved and undervalued because the person they’re dating cannot express love to them. All so that you don’t have to confront the insecurity behind the fear behind the rule. Is that fair? I don’t think it is.

It’s also not fair to you, by the way! Tremendous personal growth can come from confronting and deconstructing difficult feelings. And trying to legislate them away, then police the keeping of those rules, will actually just stress you out and drive you mad. Forbidding someone from expressing something also doesn’t stop them from feeling it, but that’s a whole other conversation.

I’m not saying that you can never object to something in a partner’s other relationship, of course. If you see a legitimate issue in how your partner is being treated or if you are being directly negatively impacted, you should raise it. That saying about not setting yourself on fire to keep someone else warm applies here. But I am saying that outsourcing feeling bad (“Your other partner must feel unloved so that I can feel secure”) is deeply unfair. In other words, don’t set your partners or metamours on fire to keep yourself warm.

Priority and Hierarchy Are Not Synonymous

The more I think about it, the more I realise that this is probably the crux of the issue. I think this is one of the key things that our community most often misunderstands and mixes up when it comes to this issue. It’s likely the reason we have been having the same “hierarchy: good or bad?” circular debate in the community for at least a decade. It’s also the reason I think that’s the wrong question to be asking.

When I used to say that I needed hierarchy, what I actually meant was that I needed to be secure in the fact that I was (and would remain) a priority to my partner.

When people advocate for an anti-hierarchy stance, it can sound like (and occasionally even is) another way of saying “you have to treat any new partner exactly the same as your spouse right out of the gate.” Which is, objectively, utterly ridiculous. In my experience, very few people actually believe this is a reasonable, sensible, or even possible thing to attempt. But relationships looking different from one another – based on their longevity, level of seriousness or entanglement, all kinds of factors from geographical distance to childrearing, and just what the people in them want – isn’t hierarchy. (We’ll delve into this in more depth in the next section.)

When we don’t deconstruct and understand the difference between priority and hierarchy, a non-hierarchical approach can also sound like “placing a high priority on your existing relationship(s) is bad.” There is, unfortunately, a vocal subsection of the polyamory community that has successfully pushed this narrative to the point that people believe taking their existing partners into consideration when making decisions is Bad, Actually. I do not believe this. I think this is ridiculous. Relationships need to be given a consistent level of priority in order to survive and thrive.

But hierarchy isn’t about priority. We all have different priorities in our lives. If you have children, they are likely your number one priority much of the time. People with jobs or businesses sometimes have to prioritise our work over everything else, because if we don’t keep our employers and clients happy, we get fired or don’t get paid. There are times when our number one priority might be a sick family member, a friend going through a crisis, a pet, a university programme, our own physical or mental health, a time-sensitive project, or any of a vast array of other things. But prioritising any of those things at a given time would never lead us to say “I am in a hierarchical relationship with [this aspect of my life.]”

It is also generally assumed that priorities are not necessarily entirely fixed. They shift and change according to circumstances. If I’m working on a deadline, that project is my priority until it’s submitted. If I’m on a date with a partner, that partner is my priority for that pocket of time. And if there’s an emergency, dealing with that is likely to supersede doing fun things in the immediate aftermath. None of these things imply hierarchy. They just imply… being a person who is able to manage different pulls on my time and energy along with my own and others’ wants and needs.

What I’m trying to get to here is that hierarchy is not, ultimately, about priority. Hierarchy is about power.

In what I now define as a hierarchical relationship, one partner has a level of control and influence that is not afforded to others outside of that designated “core couple.” An example might be “I need permission from my husband to have a date with my boyfriend, but not the other way around.” It might also imply a situation in which the wants of one person always come before the needs of another, such as “my date with my wife comes before my boyfriend’s medical emergency because my wife is my primary.”

It’s appropriate to give a high level of priority in your life to a person or people with whom you have built a long-term relationship, and to the agreements and commitments you have within those relationships. It’s appropriate not to move your brand new sweetie into your house, not to give your new metamour co-parenting rights to your children, and to make sure the mortgage is paid before splashing out on extravagent dates. Exercising fair and proportionate prioritisation in your life is not the same as automatically disempowering or placing unilateral limitations on anyone else you or your partner dates. In other words, it’s not hierarchy.

Want an example of what this looks like in practice?

“My spouse and I have a standing date night every Thursday, so I’m not usually available on that day, though I can occasionally move things around for really special occasions or emergencies.” = Priority, not hierarchy

“My spouse says I’m only allowed to see you once a week and it has to be while they’re at work.” = Hierarchy

“My nesting partner just got laid off and money for rent is tight, so unfortunately I can’t afford to go on a date to that fancy restaurant right now.” = Priority, not hierarchy

“My nesting partner has a rule that I can’t go to that restaurant with anyone else because sushi is our thing.” = Hierarchy

If I’m dating someone, I want to be treated as a priority to them. Not necessarily the top priority, and certainly not all of the time, but a priority nontheless. And they, of course, will also be a significant priority to me. But if no-one has power over anyone else? That is, by definition, not a hierarchy. And I do not want to be in relationships or polycules where anyone holds or wields power over anyone else.

Different Types of Relationships Aren’t Hierarchy, Either

Another thing that drives me mad about the hierarchy discourse is the assumption that to remove hierarchy is to have all relationships look the same. This is – as we touched upon above – impossible, unrealistic, undesirable to almsot everyone, and would be absolutely maddening to even attempt in practice.

All relationships look different. Even if I were dating identical twin siblings[****], had started dating them both at exactly the same time, and did all the same activities with each of them, the relationships would still be different. Because they are different people.

People want different things out of relationships. Not every relationship is well-suited to nesting, sharing finances, or raising children together, just as every relationship isn’t well-suited to being a casual “we’ll see each other and have sex once in a blue moon” situation. And the same is also true of every single possible place on the vast spectrum in between these two extremes. Connections, dynamics, and desires will be different with every person you are in relationship with. Not only is this normal, it is – in my opinion – one of the most beautiful things about polyamory.

It is my firm belief that one of the biggest sources of misery I see in polyamory is caused by people trying to force relationships into structures they’re not suited to. And this applies both ways: trying to force naturally-casual relationships to be serious, and trying to force naturally-intense relationships to be casual. It’s easy to fall into this trap if you think that removing hierarchy means that your relationships all have to operate in the same way.

I think most of us accept the concept that we have different types of relationships with our friends and family members. For example, you might have the friend you go on wild nights out with, the sibling you binge-watch Netflix with, the friend you tell all your deepest darkest secrets to, and the cousin who rocks up in town once a year at Christmas and whom you don’t talk to much in between. Why, then, is it such a stretch to believe that we also have many different types of relationships with our partners and lovers?

My relationship with one partner isn’t more or less valuable because we do or don’t share a mortgage, have children together, or make joint decisions about what colour to paint the bathroom. It’s just different. Because ultimately, the value of my relationships comes not from the external trappings, but from the people involved and the unique and beautiful ways in which we connect, share time and space and energy, and show up for each other with love.

[****] Which I obviously never would, but you’d be amazed at how often “is it weird to be metamours with your sibling?” comes up as a question in the polyamory groups. I’m making an executive ruling on this: you do you but yes, it’s weird.

“But What If Both Your Partners Were Dying at the Same Time?”

I saw a post in a polyamory group recently that I haven’t been able to stop thinking about, and it was one of the catalysts for revisiting and finally finishing this piece. Paraphrased slightly from memory, it said this: “I love my boyfriend and husband absolutely equally and we don’t have a hierarchy but, if they were both on their deathbeds at the same time, I would be with my husband absolutely no question.”

When monogamous people ask me which of my partners I love the most, they get frustrated when I reject the premise of the question. I don’t believe in talking about who I love “more”. I don’t know how I would even begin to quantify that! They then try to come up with elaborate hypotheticals to “trick” me into answering the original question. If I allow this conversation to go on long enough, it will usually wind up in roughly the same place as the post I referenced above: “If they were both/all dying at the same time, who would you be with?”

Setting aside, for a second, the sheer unlikeliness of this scenario ever occuring in reality. The assumption is that, when all comes down to brass tacks, we want to be placed above and before everyone else in our partners’ lives. And I feel like this is a sad misunderstanding of what polyamory can be when it works at its best.

If an emergency were happening for both me and my metamour at the same time, I would hope that our shared partner would make an effort to support and be there for both of us in whatever ways were possible and made sense. And, partially because we’re polyamorous, we have a big extended support network who can also step in and offer love and care to whoever is going through a crisis.

I don’t want a polycule that’s a competitive power struggle for limited resources. I want a polycule that’s a committed to the health and happiness of all its members. My metamours aren’t my competition for the one and only spot of “Top Dog”. They are my teammates in the quest of making the amazing person we both love happy.

What Do I Still Believe About Hierarchical Polyamory?

Phew, that got long, didn’t it? So after all this, after all the things I no longer believe about hierarchical polyamory, what do I believe now?

I think when we talk about hierarchical polyamory, we have to be very clear what we are talking about. Do I think it is ever okay for someone who is outside of a relationship – including another partner or metamour – to have as much or more control over it than the people within it? No, I do not.

However, I don’t think that means we have to default to absolutely structureless, boundary-free chaos, either. It’s perfectly possible to build relationships and polyamorous networks with structures and agreements that work to meet everyone’s needs without disempowering or disenfranchising any members.

I also think that what some people might term “rules” can be perfectly fine and even healthy, up to a point (I’ve written more about this on a couple of occasions!) However, I also think that anything we could consider a sensible and ethical rule is probably more accurately called a relationship agreement since it should be flexible, adaptable to circumstances, renegotiable if necessary, and open to the input of everyone it affects.

As such, we all have a responsibility to behave with compassion, integrity, and to try to live up to our ethical standards. We also have to accept that we are all human, we make mistakes, and we deserve grace to learn, grow, and become the best possible versions of ourselves.

These days, if someone I’m interested in[*****] says that they have a hierarchical relationship, I’m going to be asking more questions rather than assuming I know what they mean. Does “my wife is my primary” mean that your wife is tremendously important to you, will always be a major priority in your life and that you’re not leaving her for anyone, or does it mean that your wife will be able to control how/if we can have sex or get the final say on whether we can even be in a relationship? Because those two things are wildly different. The first one is fine, even positive. Someone who has a track record of maintaining, nurturing, and honouring a long-term relationship is a huge green flag for dating! (Though I might gently encourage you to reconsider the hierarchical language in this case, as many experienced poly people will be put off by it.) The second is an instant dealbreaker.

So conclusions, if there are any to be drawn from all this? Fundamentally, I now believe two things:

  1. That the actions we take in polyamory impact not only ourselves but usually our partners, often our metamours, and sometimes our wider polycule or network. We all have a responsibility to be kind and thoughtful, to honour our agreements and commitments, to tell the truth, and to give each other space to make mistakes even as we’re doing our best.
  2. That nobody should be controlling a relationship that they are not in.

[*****] Extremely hypothetically, given that I’m very polysaturated with two partners and occasional casual encounters right now!

So Where Does This Leave Us?

This post is five thousand words long and comprises months of thinking and on-and-off writing, and I’m still not entirely sure how to wrap it up properly.

I guess all that remains to say is that I’m glad my thinking on this subject has evolved. It’s actually left me in a much happier and healthier place, better able to have positive relationships with my partners and metamours. It’s also improved my relationship with myself, started to heal some of my trust-based trauma, and allowed me to show up more fully and authentically for the people I love.

And for any incorrect and harmful ideas that appeared in my previous writings on this topic, I’m truly sorry.

My thanks go to Mr C&K for proofreading a draft of this post and offering his insights before publishing!

Five Tools I Use to Deal with Jealousy

Something I feel very strongly about non-monogamy, and relationships in general, is that jealousy is normal. It’s a human emotion and something that the overwhelming majority of us will feel from time to time. It is not the devil. And with a little knowledge, practice, and self-compassion, it’s actually not that hard to deal with jealousy without allowing it to run roughshod over your emotions and relationships.

When people claim to be immune to jealousy, I suspect that they are either suppressing their feelings to an unhealthy degree or that they simply have not encountered a jealousy-inducing situation yet. You can no more be immune to jealousy than you can be immune to happiness, sadness, grief, anger, or any of the rest of the vast array of feelings that make up the human experience.

So when I say that I’m polyamorous and people ask “but don’t you get jealous?”, my answer is “sure, sometimes.” That tends to throw people off, as they seemingly expected me to say “nope, never!” The key to a healthy polyamorous relationship, though, isn’t to never feel jealousy. It’s to deal with jealousy (again: a normal human emotion) in constructive rather than destructive ways.

To that end, here are five tools I use to help me deal with jealousy on those occasions that it does arise. If any of them resonate with you, as always, take what works and leave what doesn’t.

Fake It ‘Til I Make It

Sometimes, I like to ask myself “what would the best possible version of Amy do in this situation?” Then I simply do that thing! It might feel a little forced at first, but it usually ends up feeling natural quicker than you might expect.

What would the best version of you do? Perhaps they would be super kind and welcoming to their new metamour, even if they were feeling a little threatened by them deep down. Or perhaps they’d tell their partner they were happy for them after an amazing date, even if they were also feeling really wobbly about it. The point isn’t to lie or to hide your emotions, it’s just to lead with your best foot forward.

This strategy won’t be right for everyone. Some people will end up feeling angry, resentful, or even gaslit if they take this route (this is especially true if their jealousy is actually trying to tell them something important – see the next section for more on that.) But if you’re in the place where you know rationally that things are actually safe and okay, and you’re just waiting for your heart (and nervous system) to catch up to your head, this trick works surprisingly well.

Put simply, sometimes I deal with jealousy by simply choosing to act in the way a not-jealous person would act in that moment.

Ask What It’s Telling Me

Jealousy is a complex emotion, and often a composite one. This means it is made up of numerous other different emotions. However, I have learned that when I feel jealous, there’s usually a fear at the root of it. This means that one of the best ways to deal with jealousy is to identify that fear and face it head-on.

Am I afraid my partner likes this other person more than me? If they did, what would that mean for our relationship? Do I see any actual evidence that that’s what is happening? Or perhaps I am afraid that this person is “better” than me in some way (smarter, prettier, kinkier, whatever.) Again, what would it mean if this was true? Even if it was, I’m not in competition with my metamour… so what’s awesome and loveable about me?

Cunning Minx from Polyamory Weekly uses a version of this that she calls the “and then what?” exercise (learn more about it in this episode). It’s all about exposing what lies at the heart of those probably-irrational fears.

Occasionally, your jealousy will have something productive to tell you. It might indicate, for example, that you don’t feel like you’re getting enough of your partner’s attention or that you’d like more one-to-one special time with them. By taking a step back from the immediacy of the emotion, I can assess whether or not it’s telling me anything useful. If it is, I can address that issue by communicating with my partner, finding other ways to meet the need, or – if necessary – remove myself from the upsetting situation. If it’s not, it makes it easier to put the bad feeling to bed.

Talk About It (If Necessary)

The polyamory community preaches “communication, communication, communication”, and this is good advice in so far as it goes. However, something immensely valuable I’ve learned in the years I’ve been doing this is that not every single fleeting emotion needs to be communicated about.

Sometimes, in service of feeling like I had to communicate every feeling no matter how small, I’ve ended up having an hour long conversation with my partner over a tiny emotion that lasted no more than a minute. Nowadays that feels like an enormous waste of everyone’s time and energy. If I feel jealous for ten seconds or ten minutes or even an hour or two, I’m unlikely to communicate it to my partner unless I’ve determined that the feeling is trying to tell me something important (see above section).

However, if the jealousy lasts longer, is more intense or pressing, or is communicating something important, then talking to the partner(s) in question about it is the next step. This doesn’t always need to happen immediately, and often shouldn’t. I’m not going to pull my partner away from a nice date to discuss it, for example. It also doesn’t necessarily need to be a long discussion. Sometimes just a disclosure, a request for reassurance, and a hug is all that’s needed.

When communicating jealousy, it is best to speak as calmly as possible, approach the subject without blame, be vulnerable, and ask clearly for the support you need.

Many times, I’ve used sentences like “I just wanted to let you know that I felt a little jealous when I saw you kissing X yesterday. Obviously you didn’t do anything wrong but I’d love it if you could reassure me that your feelings for me haven’t changed.”

Practice Self-Care

After many years of doing this, I’ve gained a pretty good handle on what helps me in the moment when I’m feeling jealous. Fortunately, many of the things that help are things I’m able to give to myself without anyone else’s input.

I tend to save particularly loving or affectionate messages from my partners so that if I’m feeling low and they’re not around to offer reassurance, I can give it to myself by rereading some of the things they’ve said about me. Getting some love from elsewhere, such as by calling a friend or another partner, can also help to soothe the part of my brain that’s telling me I’m not loveable or not good enough.

Other things that can help include something that takes me out of my head and grounds me in my body, (masturbation is particularly helpful for me but sometimes exercise and yoga also work), warmth and cosiness (a bath, snuggling under a blanket, cuddling my cat), distraction (reading a book, watching TV, playing a game, doing a task), doing something creative, or just taking a goddamn nap.

Release the feelings

I very rarely feel intense jealousy these days. In the past, though, I’ve felt it powerfully enough for it to be overwhelming. In these instances, some kind of physical and/or emotional release can help to let the feelings out and, ultimately, lessen them or at least make them feel more manageable.

Of course, it’s important to choose a safe outlet or target. Yelling at your partner is not an acceptable emotional release for your jealousy! Some strategies I’ve either tried or heard others recommend include screaming into a pillow, venting to a consenting friend, doing some kind of intense physical pursuit such as running, dancing or weightlifting, hitting a pillow or punching bag, drawing or writing how you feel (which you can then share, keep, or tear up as you choose), laughing, playing loud music and singing along… whatever helps you to feel more relaxed, less tense, and to let out some of what you’re feeling is a great option.

You might find afterwards that you no longer have the difficult feelings any more… or that if you do, you feel more centered and ready to deal with them in a productive way.

How do you deal with jealousy and other hard feelings in relationships? Have any top tips to share?

So You Want to Find a Unicorn?

Spend ten seconds on any polyamory forum or Facebook group, and this question will come up. “We’ve decided to be polyamorous! He’s straight and I’m bi. How can we find a unicorn to join our relationship?” (The hapless couple might also refer to the unicorn as “a third” or, even worse, “a female.”)

The community, particularly people who have been doing this for a long time, have little patience for this phenomenon. Commenters may be fairly harsh towards the couple in question. And I get it! I too roll my eyes every time I see yet another iteration of this.

However, yelling at and berating people doesn’t help to educate them. It just turns them off and pushes them away. And it’s not as though any of us learned how to have healthy polyamorous relationships during sex ed. (Hell, most of us didn’t even learn anything useful about how to have healthy monogamous relationships!)

So I thought I’d address this issue in depth here. What is this “unicorn hunting” thing all about, why is it problematic, and what options do you have instead?

What is Unicorn Hunting, Anyway?

A “unicorn”, in polyamory[1], is a woman[2] who is willing to join a pre-existing couple to form a triad[1] relationship. It is usually understood that the relationship will be closed (i.e. no additional partners outside the triad) and that the unicorn will be expected to conform to an array of rules that the couple determined ahead of time with no input from her.

The reason this phenomenon is called “unicorn hunting” is that it’s typically so hard to find this person that she might as well be a mythological creature.

___

[1] In swinging, the term is sometimes used more broadly to refer to single women who are willing to play sexually with couples. That’s not what we’re talking about here.

[2] There is some debate in the community over whether there is any such thing as a male unicorn. Some believe there is, others believe that unicorn hunting is a strictly gendered phenomenon. I have seen a male unicorn be referred to as a “Pegasus” or a “Dragon”, but these terms don’t seem to have caught on very widely. In this post, I will sometimes use “she/her” pronouns to refer to unicorns as that is by far the most common iteration of this trope. However, the advice here applies no matter the genders of the couple or the incoming partner.

[3] Three-person romantic relationship, also sometimes called a “throuple.”

Who Am I Talking To Here?

First, let’s establish who I am not talking to in this post.

Did you have two partners, who then met and also happened to fall for each other? Or maybe you were one of two partners to a hinge person, then you also fell for your metamour. Perhaps you and your partner made a friend or started a casual sexual relationship with a lovely someone, and romantic feelings developed between all three of you. Or possibly you’re currently partnered and just open to the idea of a triad or another group relationship, if the right person comes along.

If any of these situations, or something like them, match yours then I am not talking to you. Your situation (or hypothetical situation) is what I’d call an organically formed triad. There’s nothing whatsoever wrong with those!

If, however, you’re a couple who has recently (or not so recently) opened up your relationship and decided that what you really want is to find a unicorn – a bisexual woman to form a closed triad with you both, I’m talking to you. I’m going to be as kind as I can, but I’m also going to say some things you might not want to hear. I gently challenge you to make it to the end of the post with an open mind and consider whether you think I make any good points.

The purpose of this post is to educate and encourage you to think more critically about this dynamic. It is not to berate you, scold you, or push you away from the polyamorous community.

Why Do You Want This Specific Dynamic?

I have often asked couples trying to find a unicorn why they are looking for this set-up in particular. I have rarely received satisfactory answers. So before you go any further, if you’re trying to find a unicorn, please ask yourselves this question and really interrogate it. Why can’t you date separately, if polyamory is what you want? Why don’t you try swinging instead if casual sexual experiences together are your priority? What is it specifically about a closed, three-way relationship with a bisexual woman that appeals to you so much?

“It’s just what we want!” isn’t an answer, by the way.

Let’s address some of the common answers I see to this question, and my responses to them.

  • “My wife is bisexual and wants to try being with a woman.” Okay, this desire can be addressed either by swinging/casual sex or by her dating women separately.
  • “My husband says other women only, no men.” This is called a One Penis Policy (OPP) and has so many issues that I’m going to write another entire post about it. In the meantime, read this.
  • “If my partner is dating someone else separately, what am I getting out of it!?” I mean… seeing your partner happy? Supporting their joy, pleasure, and exploration? The opportunity to also date people separately yourself? Viewing non-monogamy simply through the lens of “what’s in it for me?” is unlikely to lead to happiness and can lead to seeing your partner’s other relationships as comodities for your consumption.
  • “I’d be too jealous if my partner were dating someone separately/my partner would be too jealous if I dated separately.” Oh my sweet summer child. Virtually every polyamory newbie ever has made this mistake, including me back in the day! Dating together is not a cure for jealousy, which can (and likely will) absolutely crop up in a triad or other group relationship. Also, jealousy is a normal human emotion to be felt, processed, communicated about, dealt with, or just sat with until it passes. It’s not the enemy.
  • “I don’t feel safe dating without my partner/my partner doesn’t feel safe dating without me.” You may need to do some work on regaining independence, which is absolutely possible from within a relationship. It is healthy to be able to do some things separately! There are also healthy ways to keep yourself physically, emotionally, and sexually safe while dating, but doing everything together at all times isn’t one of them.

Whatever your reasons for unicorn hunting, you are likely to find that there are better and healthier ways of addressing those needs and desires.

So What’s the Big Problem with Unicorn Hunting Anyway?

“That’s all well and good, Amy,” you might be saying, “but we’re determined to find a unicorn and we’re willing to wait if necessary! What’s wrong with what we want? Isn’t this community supposed to be open minded!?”

I hear you. It’s not nice to be told that what you’re looking for is a problem. However, the reason experienced polyamorous people are wary of unicorn hunting is that we’re all too aware of all the ways it can go wrong. Many of us have learned from very bitter personal experience, on one side or the other of this equation.

So let’s look at a few specific things that are problematic about unicorn hunting.

Unicorn Hunting Dehumanises Bi Women

Bisexual women are already aggressively and often non-consensually sexualised by society. I can’t even count the number of times I’ve mentioned being bi and someone has either said “that’s hot!” or asked if I’ll have a threesome with them and their partner.

Unicorn hunting reduces bi women to a highly sexualised monolith. The reality is that we fall all over the sexuality spectrum. Some of us are very sexual, some of us are demisexual, some of us are asexual. Some of us are into threesomes, group sex, and group dating, while others are not. And yes, plenty of us are actually monogamous!

What bisexual women are not, though, is sex toys designed to spice up the bedrooms of bored couples. The idealisation of the MFF closed triad directly stems from the male gaze, the hyper-sexualisation of bi women, and the trope that sapphic love and sex exists for male consumption.

I’m a highly sexual person. I love sex, and I love folks of multiple genders. I also love group sex, threesomes, moresomes, and all that goodness when they’re in the context of a trusted dynamic with people I like. What I DON’T love is the assumption that I am available to couples in general, or the feeling that my being bisexual and having a vagina are the only reasons someone is approaching me. I’m a person, not your “two hot bi babes” fantasy.

A Person Cannot “Join” an Existing Relationship

A triad isn’t a single relationship. A triad is actually four relationships: three dyads (A+B, A+C, B+C) and the relationship between all three people. Seven relationships, if you count the relationship each person has with themself. (Which you probably should, because self-care and a stable relationship with yourself are even more important in non-monogamy.)

So an additional person cannot meaningfully “join” an existing relationship. If you’re in a relationship or married, you and your partner/spouse have a dyadic relationship that you’ve been building for however many years. That relationship will continue, though it will undoubtedly be changed, when you date other people either together or separately.

In the context of a triad, you will each be creating a new dyadic relationship with your new partner. You’ll also be contending with shifts and changes in your dyadic relationship with one another. And, of course, you’ll be creating a brand new relationship between all three of you. See how that’s much harder than just fitting someone into a vaguely person-shaped box labelled “insert bi gal here”?

Viewing the incoming partner as an “addition” to your relationship will not lead anywhere good for any of you. Treating them as an add-on can leave incoming partners feeling like little more than accessories or human sex toys. Which leads me on to…

You Can’t Expect Someone to Feel Exactly the Same Way About Two People

All the successful triad relationships I know have a few things in common, and this is one of them: they allowed, and continue to allow, the individual relationships within the triad to develop, fluctuate, change, and grow at their own natural pace. People don’t fall in love with two people at the same rate, in the same way, at the same time. Human emotions simply don’t work like that. To be in a triad, you have to be comfortable with the fact that each dyadic relationship within it will look different.

Another question I see a lot in polyamorous forums is a variation of this: “Help! We formed a triad but now it seems like our girlfriend is connecting with my wife more than me!”

In an ethical, organically formed triad, this difference in connection needs to be okay. You might have challenging feelings about it, of course. That’s normal. You may need to seek reassurance and extra affection from one or both of your partners. You may even need to renegotiate some aspects of your relationship. In a unicorn situation, this disparity in levels of connection – which is incredibly normal – can be enough to get the newer partner ejected from the relationship.

In addition, an ethical triad allows for the possibility that one (or more) of the dyadic relationships may have conflict, deescalate, or even end… without any expectations that other dyadic connections need to end as a result. If you have a rule that says your partner must date you in order to date your spouse, this leaves them a spectacularly shitty choice if they just don’t feel that way about you or if your relationship is no longer working: fake a connection to you that they do not feel, or lose their relationship with your spouse, i.e. someone they love.

Do you see how unfair that is? Do you also see how it lays the groundwork for coercion, abuse, or even sexual violence? I don’t know about you, but I would be horrified if I realised someone was having sex with me that they didn’t want, just because they thought it was the price of admission to get access to my partner.

Unicorn Hunting Centres the Couple

Unicorn hunting typically centres the original couple, even without intending to, by putting their desires and needs front and centre. Often, they’ve made the rules before a third party has even entered the picture, giving her no say in their creation. This means that the unicorn is seen as an add-on to the couple’s relationship, rather than an equal partner.

The couple often expect – even tacitly – the new partner to prioritise their needs and wants above her own. They also tend to expect that, in the event of conflict, their relationship will be the one prioritised. This is often the case even when the couple pays lip service to their new partner being “totally equal.”

The result? Once again, the newer partner ends up feeling like an accessory rather than a human being.

Think about some of the ways you’d like your relationship to look if you did successfully find a unicorn, or the rules you’d want her to follow. Will you permit her to have dates, sex, and so on with one of you without the other present? If not, will you also be refraining from any one-to-one intimacy with each other? (The answer to this is often “no” and “no”. That is, by definition, not an equal set-up.) If things go swimmingly, will you want your unicorn to move into your home? Would you ever consider moving into hers, or buying a new place all together? Will you introduce her to your family and friends, bring her home for the holidays, or tell your work colleagues about her?

When you start checking your assumptions about how your dream triad relationship will go, you might find that there’s a lot of inequality baked in. That’s because unicorn hunting is almost always couple-centric. Relationships that spring from unicorn hunting involve three people, but tend to only benefit two of them.

Most Polyamorous People Don’t Want Closed Relationships

There are exceptions, of course. Polyfidelity is a thing and can be valid! But the vast majority of polyamorous people are polyamorous, at least in part, because it enables them to be open to new connections of all kinds that may come into their lives.

If you’re seeking a closed relationship with your hypothetical unicorn, I invite you to consider why that is. Most answers will fall into one of two categories.

“I/we would be too jealous if our girlfriend was with anyone else.” Again, jealousy is a real feeling and it can be overwhelming. However, if you want to be non-monogamous, you can’t simply avoid it by setting up rules and restrictions for your partners. At least not if you want happy and healthy relationships.

If you’re not ready to confront and handle jealousy when it arises, you’re not ready to be non-monogamous. It won’t always be easy. Sometimes it’ll utterly suck. But it is necessary if you want to live this life. It is spectacularly unfair to ask a polyamorous person to cut off their chances to enjoy other connections just because you are trying to avoid a difficult feeling.

“I am/we are worried about STIs.” I’m not going to tell you that you shouldn’t worry about sexual health. If you’re non-monogamous, it’s absolutely something with which you need to concern yourself. However, having a closed relationship is not the only way to protect your sexual health. Everyone in your polycule and wider sexual/romantic network should be getting regular STI tests, communicating openly about their barrier usage or lack thereof so that you can all make informed choices, and incorporating risk-aware practices.

Often, when I hear “we want a closed relationship because we don’t want STIs”, what’s at the root of it is actually just good old-fashioned slut-shaming. Did you know that consensually non-monogamous people actually have lower STI rates than supposedly-monogamous people who cheat (which is a huge percentage)? They are also more likely to use barriers and to practice regular testing. (Source: Dr Justin Lehmiller in The Journal of Sexual Medicine.)

Ultimately, you have to be okay with some risk of contracting an STI if you are going to be non-monogamous… or if you’re going to have sex at all. No prevention mechanism is bombproof. People lie, people cheat, and people make mistakes in the heat of the moment. You can mitigate the risk but you cannot entirely eliminate it.

If you want a closed relationship, stay monogamous or date other people for whom polyfidelity is their ideal choice. Don’t try to push people who would prefer an open dynamic into a closed one. Polyamory isn’t just monogamy with an additional person.

It’s Just Statistically Unlikely

Back in the days of Livejournal, Emanix wrote this article outlining some of the numbers involved in unicorn hunting. Not being a numbers person, I have no idea how mathematically sound this is, but the message is clear. Unicorn hunting is damn hard, with seeking couples outnumbering interested bi women by 100 to 1[4]. There’s a reason couples sometimes pop up complaining that they’ve been looking for a year, five years, ten years, and still haven’t found their “one.”

Remember: we call these people unicorns because it is so hard to find one that they might as well not exist!

[4] I pulled this number out of the air. I have no idea what the actual figures are but suffice to say that if you’re a couple trying to find a unicorn, the odds are hugely stacked against you from the beginning.

You’re Probably Not the Exception

“We’re not like that!” you might be saying. “We’ll be different! We’ll treat our unicorn like a queen!”

I hate to break it to you, but you’re probably not the exception. This is because the inequalities, objectification, and mistreatment that make unicorn hunting so problematic are baked into the very structure.

The assumptions, beliefs, and practices that underpin trying to find a unicorn come from a place that causes harm. The only way to unicorn hunt ethically is not to do it.

So What Can You Do Instead?

If you’ve got this far and you’re still with me, great! So you want to be non-monogamous and you want to be ethical about it. Amazing! So what now?

Luckily, there are loads of ways you can enjoy consensual non-monogamy without unicorn hunting. Here are just a few for you to consider.

If your priority is enjoying sexual variety and you want to do this together, try swinging. This enables you to enjoy different bodies, different kinks, and fun experiences together with other people who want the same. Many swingers do form friendships with their playmates, and sometimes these connections can turn romantic. Be clear about what you want and can offer upfront, look for others whose desires match, and you’ll minimise the chances of hurting someone.

If you want to build more romantic connections with other people, try dating separately. It might be more emotionally challenging, but it’s also tremendously rewarding. You’ll have far more luck finding dates, particularly with experienced and skilled polyamorous people. When you free yourselves and your prospective partners from restrictive expectations, you’ll allow things to flourish naturally. You’ll also most likely treat other people, each other, and yourselves better.

It’s also important to make sure you’re not using “dating separately” as a way to find a unicorn without seeming to be looking for one. Presenting yourself as available for solo dating, only to spring your partner on your unsuspecting date with a view to getting them together too, is not ethical.

Like the idea of both these relationship styles? Yes, you can be both polyamorous and a swinger! Plenty of people do both, or a mix of the two. There’s not even always a strict delineation. Polyam people can have casual sex, and swingers can have deep and romantic attachments. Non-monogamy is a spectrum and a world of options to choose from, not a set of rigid boxes into which you have to cram yourselves.

There’s even the possibility that you can have a triad relationship without falling prey to these pitfalls and hurting someone in the process. Plenty of people do. “No unicorn hunting” isn’t the same thing as “no triads.” But it won’t happen for you by going out with a laundry list of criteria and looking for a bi woman together. If it happens, it’ll happen organically while you are out there doing your non-monogamous thing.

And if it doesn’t happen? There are numerous other wonderful, fulfilling, and healthy ways to enjoy this thing we call non-monogamy.

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All the Things “You, Me, Her” Got Wrong About Polyamory

SPOILER ALERT! This post will contain spoilers for You, Me, Her seasons 1-3, so if you care and haven’t watched yet, click off this post now.

Regular readers might remember that I briefly flirted with a ridiculous quest to recap every episode of this stupid show, which fizzled out somewhere in the middle of Season 1 because I ran out of time, energy and fucks to give?

In case you haven’t seen it, You, Me, Her is an American comedy-drama series following suburban married couple Jack (Greg Poehler) and Emma (Rachel Blanchard) as they enter into a polyamorous triad relationship with 25-year-old college student and escort, Izzy (Priscilla Faia).

Instead of reviewing this mess one episode at a time, I thought I’d bring you all the things I think it got wrong about polyamory – so far – in one easy post.

1. Izzy would never date these two idiots.

Izzy is a beautiful, 25-year-old college student who is escorting her way through university for the money. When Jack hires her for a date and then Emma later (having found out) does the same thing, she inexplicably decides she’s super duper into both of them for some fucking reason. That would never happen.

Any sex worker in Izzy’s place would do her job, take the damn money, and leave this pair to work out their shit in suburban hell by themselves.

2. It’s PORTLAND, not the Bible Belt.

This show is set in Portland, Oregon – a city famous for being super-duper liberal and where I know for a fact there’s a huge polyamorous community. Sure, there are some conservative people there (they’re everywhere, sadly) but the idea that being out as non-monogamous – or even bisexual – in fucking Portland would totally destroy Emma’s life is patently unrealistic. If they wanted that narrative to work, they should have set it in rural Alabama or something.

3. Being bisexual is apparently a worse crime than cheating.

There’s a scene in their therapist’s office where Jack shames the hell out of Emma for telling her bisexual origin story and having slept with women before they met. Seemingly forgetting he cheated on her with an escort about, ooh, a week before.

(Also, Emma later declares that her bisexuality “wasn’t a thing,” despite having had entire relationships with four – FOUR – women! That is definitely “a thing”.)

4. Partners are not commodities that you have to share out equally.

Jack and Emma agree that they each get “two nights with her… I mean you” per week. They then have a debate about who “gets” Izzy first. This is gross beyond belief. She’s a human being, not a pie to be shared out in equal slices. Ugh.

5. Dating someone new isn’t how you inject sexual spark back into your ailing marriage.

Jack and Emma’s idea is that they’ll each go on dates with Izzy, then come back fired up and ready to ravish the hell out of each other. That’s not how polyamory works. That’s not even how feelings or sex drives work! And it’s, once again, objectifying as all hell. They’re basically using Izzy as a human sex toy.

Also, Jack gets mad when Emma comes back from a date and isn’t up for fucking him right there and then. Your partner doesn’t owe you sex just because they just went on a date with someone else!

6. Jealousy IS inevitable. That doesn’t mean courting it is good for your relationship.

Jealousy is normal and fine, as long as you deal with it in a healthy way. Trying to make your partner jealous deliberately in order to… what, make them want you more? is a REALLY bad idea. And half the time it seems to be these idiots’ entire game. Jack and Emma use Izzy to make each other jealous. Izzy uses Andy (who is a kind of dick but seems really into her) to make Jack and Emma jealous.

7. Treating someone like crap then chasing them through an airport isn’t romantic!

Jack and Emma treat Izzy like total crap for the entire show. One romantic gesture (chasing her through an airport to “bring her home”) isn’t going to make up for that or for doing any of the actual hard, complicated, difficult work of making a relationship between three people work.

8. Polyamory isn’t just for rich white people!

Jack and Emma are the classic middle-aged, upper-middle-class, professional married pair I’d expect to see at a swingers’ club. Nothing wrong with that, except that the polyamorous community is actually hugely diverse. Trust me, we’re all bored as hell of seeing every representation of polyamory reduced down to “rich white people who don’t enjoy sex with their spouses any more”.

9. Even in polyamory you can’t expect someone to fall for two people in the same way, at the same rate, at the same time.

And that’s EXACTLY what Jack and Emma expect of Izzy. At one point, it becomes apparent that Izzy’s connection with Emma is growing stronger while her connection with Jack is developing at a slower pace, and Jack throws a hissy fit to the point of fucking off and abandoning both his partners for several days. This is exactly the kind of expectation inexperienced unicorn hunters put on new partners, and it’s grossly unfair.

10. Sex doesn’t solve your problems. Communication does.

Whenever these three have a problem, they just fuck and it all goes away… until next time. Sex is great but it’s not how you fix your problems. Only actual, honest, open and respectful communication can do that.

11. You don’t have to live with all your partners!

Jack, Emma and Izzy move in together almost the moment they’ve decided to give a triad relationship a go. Not only is this the mother of all bad ideas, it’s just… not realistic. Just as most monogamous people wouldn’t give a new date the keys to their house before things were pretty stable and established, neither do polyamorous people.

And regardless of relationship set-up, the “three people sharing a double bed every night” trope is… sweet but unrealistic. Trust me. I can only manage it even in my Super King bed for a night or two, max. You can still be polyamorous if you don’t want to live with all your partners, now or ever.

12. Extremely conservative, homophobic parents don’t come around in three seconds flat.

Emma’s parents go from hyper-conservative, openly-homophobic bigots who only care about her having babies, to being totally chill with the accidental dropping of the polyamory bomb in… yeah, less than five minutes of screen time? (Which equates to about an hour in plot-time).

People can come around, of course. People question their assumptions when they are directly confronted with them by someone they love. But it usually takes more time than this. Sometimes much more.

13. And finally… NOT ALL POLYAMORY IS A FUCKING CLOSED MFF TRIAD.

Are we all sick of this very specific picture being painted yet? Good, me too. Let’s move on to something more representative and less relentlessly cishet-male-gazey. Please.

So what’s next? This show has been renewed for seasons 4 and 5. I hate this about myself, but I already know I’ll watch them all. Maybe I’ll even live-tweet them.

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