How and When to Renegotiate Relationship Agreements in Polyamory [Polyamory Conversation Cards #6]

Few issues are as divisive in the polyamory community as the terms that govern our relationships. Whether we’re arguing about the difference between boundaries, rules and relationship agreements or debating the finer points of whether any specific rule/agreement is ethical, we’re nerdy about this shit.

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 to approach communication about any changes to existing agreements?”

Before we start, let’s get clear on what we mean by “relationship agreements” and how they differ from relationship rules and boundaries.

Boundaries are about yourself. They govern the things you own: your body, mind, emotions, time, space, physical possessions, and so on. They are statements of what you will and won’t allow and how you will protect yourself if they are breached. To give you an idea how this can look, two of my boundaries are “I will not remain in relationship with someone who lies to me” and “I never want to have children so I will take all reasonable steps to avoid pregnancy and I will have an abortion if I accidentally get pregnant.”

Rules are things that you impose on other people. They are generally frowned upon in adult relationships, and by the polyamorous community in particular. The implication is that the person or people bound by the rule would otherwise want to do the forbidden thing, or not do the thing that the rule compels them to do. Examples of rules might include “you must be home by 10pm every night” or “I forbid you to take your other partner to that restaurant I like.”

Agreements are made by, and followed by, both or all members of a relationship. They are usually designed to help maintain security, stability, structure, or the overall happiness and wellbeing of everyone involved. Examples of agreements might include “we won’t bring any new partners around our children until we’re reasonably sure the relationship is here to stay” or “we’ll notify each other promptly about any changes to our sexual health risk profile.”

It is agreements that we’re talking about today. Specifically, when you should renegotiate them and how to do so successfully.

Five Signs It’s Time to Renegotiate Relationship Agreements

First, let’s talk about renegotiating agreements in your relationship(s.) This isn’t something to be afraid of! It’s actually a really normal and healthy part of being in a long-term relationship. Because people and relationships aren’t fixed and static, it’s natural that you will need to renegotiate your agreements at various points during the lifespan of a relationship.

Here are five signs that indicate it’s time to come back to the table and renegotiate one (or more) of your relationship agreements.

You’re in Danger of Breaking An Agreement

It is always, always less destructive to attempt to renegotiate an agreement than to break one. A broken agreement can cause a massive breach of trust, which can take a long time to repair or – depending on its nature and severity – sometimes not be repairable at all.

I’m not (necessarily) talking about a fleeting thought here. But if you repeatedly find yourself butting up against an agreement and wanting to break it, then that agreement isn’t working for you any more. It’s time to come to the table and let your partner(s) know you need to renegotiate.

You’ve Realised An Agreement is a Rule in Disguise

By definition, an agreement must be agreed to by both or all of the people it impacts. If an agreement is benefiting only one or some parties, and others are going along with it grudgingly (to keep the peace, perhaps, or because they feel they have no choice) then there’s a high likelihood it’s actually a rule in disguise.

An agreement should not, generally, feel overly limiting or constrictive. It certainly should not seek to curtail relationships you’re not in, or to control the behaviour of people who had no hand in making it.

The Agreement is Harmful to You or Someone Else

Because people, relationships, and contexts can change, agreements that once worked well (or seemed to work well) for you might now be problematic or even harmful. Some are inherently harmful from the outset, though it may take you time to realise this. If an agreement you’ve made is harming you or someone else in some way, it’s time to renegotiate it. (The same is true, by the way, if there is clear and probable potential for harm even if it hasn’t actually happened yet.)

Here’s a common example: open phone policies. Perhaps you and your spouse or long-term partner agreed you could look through each other’s phones at any time. On the surface, this seems like a good way to build trust and security, particularly in a newly-open relationship. However, it actually feeds into a sense of mistrust in your relationship. It also violates the privacy and potentially even the consent of other partners and other people you’re communicating with.

You’re Feeling Resentful of Your Partner or The Agreement

When an agreement isn’t working for you any longer, but you haven’t raised the issue and renegotiated it, you might find yourself feeling resentment towards the agreement itself or towards the partner(s) you made it with.

Ideally, you’d renegotiate an agreement that is no longer working long before you reach the point where resentment sets in. However, if you’ve found yourself in this spot, it’s time to raise the issue and start the renegotiation process immediately. This can usually head off growing resentment and the more significant problems it causes in the long run.

The Agreement Served a Time-Limited Purpose and is No Longer Necessary

In general, I don’t think it’s a great idea to use restrictive agreements (or rules) as training wheels in a newly-open relationship. However, there are instances where certain agreements can serve a purpose for a limited amount of time but ultimately become unnecessary.

All agreements should serve a purpose. These purposes might include helping someone(s) feel secure and loved, ensuring that other responsibilities (such as household chores and childcare) are handled fairly, managing shared resources equitably, maintaining sexual health within your polycule… or something else entirely. If an agreement either no longer serves its intended purpose or that purpose becomes irrelevant for some other reason, it’s probably time to revisit the agreement and see if there’s any reason to keep it.

How to Renegotiate Polyamorous Relationship Agreements

So you’ve realised you need to renegotiate a relationship agreement. How can you actually do so effectively?

First, what not to do: don’t simply announce to your partner(s) that you will no longer be following the agreement in question. Please don’t do that! Got that? Okay, here’s what to do instead.

Raise It as Soon as It’s a Problem (But at an Appropriate Time)

You know what happens when you don’t address small problems or concerns? They turn into big problems. As soon as you start feeling that there’s a problem with one of your relationship agreements, address it ASAP.

Be mindful of the time and place for this conversation, though. Choose a moment when you’re both feeling calm and will have time to talk, free from distractions. If you do regular relationship check-ins, this is a great time to talk about your relationship agreements. If not, you can always give your partner a heads-up about the conversation you’d like to have and set aside some time for it (tell them what it’s about, both so they have time to gather their own thoughts on the subject and so that you’re not stressing them out with a contextless “we need to talk.”)

Make Sure That Everyone Impacted Gets a Voice

One of the most insidious problems that emerges when hierarchical polyamory and/or couples privilege are in play is that people end up being impacted by agreements that they had no hand in creating.

If you are considering making an agreement with one partner that may negatively impact another relationship, it’s hugely unfair to expect that other partner or metamour to just go along with it. Instead, speak to them and bring them into the negotiation process. They have a right not to have their relationship with you or your partner curtailed or harmed because of something that’s going on between the two of you.

Better yet, if this is possible and appropriate for you, sit down as a group or polycule and hash things out all together with equal weight given to everyone’s needs, feelings, and opinions.

Allow Plenty of Time for the Process

Sometimes, renegotiating agreements is incredibly simple. I’ve had agreement renegotiations that literally went “this agreement isn’t working for me”, “yeah me neither, shall we nix it?” “sure.” However, this is usually the exception rather than the rule. If you’re dealing with significant and emotive subjects, in particular, allow plenty of time for this renegotiation process.

Be ready to have a lengthy conversation, or even several. Be ready for everyone to need time to process, think things through, and come up with ideas for how to proceed. There’s a balance to be struck here, of course, and if you’ve been talking around the issue for six hours and got nowhere it might be time to park the subject and come back to it another day. But in general, do not expect major renegotiation of relationship agreements to take five minutes.

Keep It Simple

Relationship agreements should not resemble sprawling legal contracts full of clauses and exceptions, cross-referencing and footnotes. If you feel the need for this type of document in your relationship, something else might have gone wrong. Perhaps you’re dealing with unresolved trust issues, communication problems, or lingering mononormative beliefs.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t put your agreements in writing. You can, if you like! I’ve not felt the need to do this for a long time personally, but it has been helpful to me at other times in my life and I know plenty of people who find it useful.

Most agreements should be simple enough that you can distill them down to a sentence, or two at most (for example: “we’ll let each other know in advance about planned dates or hookups with new people” or “if I’m going to be out much later than originally planned, I’ll send you a text to let you know so you don’t worry.”)

Be Flexible, Creative, and Open to Input

As we’ve established, agreements should ultimately serve a purpose. So when you’re negotiating or renegotiating one, ask yourselves what purpose you want it to serve. Once you understand the underlying need or reason for an agreement, you can begin getting creative in how you craft it.

There are often more ways to achieve the same outcome than you might initially think. You might know exactly what you want your revamped agreement to say, but your partner or metamour might have an even better alternative idea you’ve never thought of.

Stay flexible, stay curious, and don’t forget that your ultimate goal is the health, happiness, and wellbeing of everyone in your relationship or network.

Have you successfully renegotiated your relationship agreements? Have any extra tips for us?

“Help, I Hate My Metamour!” When a Metamour Relationship Goes Wrong [Polyamory Conversation Cards #5]

“Help, I hate my metamour!” This subject crops up in the polyamory groups and forums I frequent multiple times a week, so I thought it was time I wrote about it.

Throughout the 15 years I’ve been polyamorous, I’ve had a mixed bag when it comes to metamours. In recent years, I’ve mostly been very lucky. My partners are smart and discerning humans with excellent taste and judgement, so the people they date tend to be pretty damn cool.

In the past, though, I’ve had metamour I disliked, metamours who disliked me, metamours who (accidentally or intentionally) triggered some of my deepest insecurities and traumas, and even a couple of abusive or excessively controlling metamours.

One of the hardest things for many people to come to terms with, when they start being polyamorous, is the fact that they cannot control who their partner chooses to date, have sex with, fall in love with, or invite into their inner circle.

In some cases, metamours click beautifully and end up becoming close friends (or, more rarely, becoming partners themselves.) It’s wonderful when this happens. Often, metamours will coexist happily and healthily without drama but not feel the need to spend a tonne of time together. This, too, can be great. But what if your partner chooses someone who isn’t at all the type of person you’d have wanted for them? What if they’re dating someone you simply cannot stand for some reason?

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:

“To what extent and in what way would you prefer to be involved with your metamours or others in your polycule?”

First, let’s get clear on our terminology. A metamour (sometimes shortened to “meta”) is the partner of your partner, with whom you do not have a romantic or sexual relationship [*]. So if I’m dating Alice and Alice is married to Bob, Bob is my metamour. If Cleo is dating both Dave and Emily, but their partners are not dating one another, then Dave and Emily are metamours. The mutual partner connecting two metamours is often referred to as a “hinge.”

[*] There are nuances and grey areas here, of course. Some people do have sex with their metamours regularly or occasionally. Me and my former meta used to do this but weren’t romantically involved, and we called ourselves “metamours with benefits.” You’ll settle on the language to describe your relationships that works best for you.

With that understood, let’s talk about hating your metamour.

Metamour Relationships Are Unique to Polyamory… Except They’re Not

People think of the metamour relationship as a unique facet of polyamory that doesn’t apply anywhere else. And this is sort of true, in that polyamory is the only context in which your romantic partner is likely to have other romantic partners that you’re aware of.

However, even in a monogamous context, your partner will have other significant relationships outside of you. Friends, family, coworkers, and so on. These relationships may include people you don’t particularly care for, or even people you really cannot abide. In this way, I think “I hate my metamour” is just a variation on “my mother-in-law is the worst” or “I can’t stand my partner’s best friend.”

The fact that your partner has a romantic and possibly sexual relationship with your metamour doesn’t actually change the fundamentals of this type of situation all that much. Remembering this may help you to realise that this situation is, in most circumstances, entirely navigable.

Why Do You Dislike Your Metamour? Getting Specific

When someone says “I hate my metamour,” the first thing I want to ask them is “why?” Because the answer to this question will inform the advice I give next. The reasoning can also be hugely telling in itself. The reason think you hate your metamour might not be the actual reason when you really dig into it. So, obviously, the first thing we’re going to do is… really dig into it.

You’ll need to be really honest with yourself here. Observe your feelings without judgement or reactivity, and see what comes up for you. What is it about your metamour that rubs you the wrong way? Where do you think those thoughts and feelings are coming from?

Sometimes, two people simply do not get along. Neither of them have done anything wrong, but they are too different and cannot find a way to gel. For all the often-true jokes about polyamorous people who date three different versions of the same person, it’s equally likely that your partners will be very different from one another… and that your metamours will be very different from you. This is really, really normal. Unfortunately, these situations can sometimes lead to personality clashes.

If you determine that the cause of your “ick, I hate my metamour” feelings are just a personality clash, that’s pretty easy to handle. In a nutshell: don’t hang out with them! We’ll talk more about how to achieve this in practice a bit later on.

In some cases, your metamour might remind you of someone else you don’t care for. Perhaps they look, sound, smell, or behave like somebody who hurt you or your partner at some point in your life? This might mean that you’re projecting past experiences onto them due to baggage or trauma. This is also surprisingly common, especially if your partner has a “type” and your new metamour reminds you of a previous, problematic meta.

Of course, it’s possible you dislike your metamour for a really valid reason. You might have seen serious red flags in their behaviour or heard damning things about them in the community. Perhaps you don’t like the way they treat your mutual partner (or their other partners, or someone else in their life.) This gets more tricky to navigate and we’ll get into it in more detail below.

It’s also possible that your issue with your metamour is actually about something that’s going on within you. This is what we’ll talk about in the next section.

Is It About Them, or About You?

Sometimes, even with the best of intentions, metamours can inadvertently trigger insecurities, traumas, deep-seated fears, or other complicated and painful feelings. This is actually pretty normal and doesn’t necessarily mean anyone has done anything wrong. Realising that’s what is going on can even be pretty empowering. After all, if the issue is about your stuff, you have the power to work on and fix it.

Seeing your partner fall in love or lust or both with a new person can be challenging. This might be particularly true if you’re new to polyamory, if your relationship with your partner is having problems, or if you have particular traumas or insecurities that are getting triggered by the new relationship for some reason.

If you determine that your dislike of your metamour is more to do with your own stuff than with them, then you have several options. But before you do anything, take a breath. Don’t panic. You’re not broken or bad at polyamory or any of the things you’re probably telling yourself right now.

So what can you do next?

First, you can take a break from the metamour in question. We’re going to talk more about parallel polyamory a bit later on, but just know that it’s okay to minimise or pause social interactions with your metamour – even temporarily – if you need the space to get a handle on your difficult emotional response to them.

If you do this in a time-limited way with the intention of re-establishing contact and building some sort of positive relationship later, it can actually be hugely beneficial in the long run. There are also instances where staying parallel permanently (or at least indefinitely) is the right choice. You can decide what’s best for you with the help of your support network.

Alternatively, you can decide to consciously give your metamour a chance and try to build a positive relationship with them. We’ll look at how to do this more in the next section.

This is also the time to shore up your relationship with your mutual partner and ask for what you need. Do you need some reassurance, more quality time, a dedicated date night? You might have identified unhealthy patterns, unmet needs, or problematic behaviours from one or both of you that are being highlighted by the new relationship and need your partner to work on resolving these issues with you. Perhaps you just need them to hold space for you to talk through your feelings and difficulties in a non-judgemental, loving environment.

Finally, this is the time to work on yourself. Examine the things that the new relationship has triggered within you, and call upon your coping and healing strategies. If you’re not already, this is a great time to get yourself into therapy. Journal, find and consume relevant resources (Polysecure and Polywise, both by Jessica Fern, are two I highly recommend.) Reach out to your extended support network. Aim to build your self-esteem, confidence, and inner sense of security.

Can You Give Them a Chance?

The answer to this might be “no”, but I invite you to consider the possibility that you’re being overly harsh in your judgement of your metamour. Would you conceivably feel differently if you gave them a real chance? This is often a particularly beneficial option if you’ve determined that your issues with your metamour stem from your own trauma, baggage, or internal “stuff.”

Many people find that humanising their metamour by getting to know them is challenging initially but hugely beneficial in the long run. You’ll see that they’re neither a monster nor the embodiment of perfection. They’re just a person with their own quirks, flaws, wonderful qualities, and personality traits.

I’m going to write a whole piece on meeting your metamours successfully soon. In the meantime, though, here are some quick tips that might help you.

Timing is crucial here. I do not recommend meeting or instituting hangouts when you’re deep in the “I hate my metamour” rage-spiral. This will backfire spectacularly. Take the time to calm your nervous system, do some of your own internal work, and get to the place where you can genuinely meet them with an open mind and a generous spirit.

Whether you meet by yourselves or with your mutual partner is something you’ll have to negotiate. There are pros and cons to each approach. If your mutual partner will be in attendance, negotiate what levels of PDA you’re all comfortable with seeing and engaging in. Meet in a neutral space such as a bar, restaurant, or coffee shop rather than at someone’s house. It can also be helpful to bookend your time together with a built-in limit (e.g. “I’ve got two hours because I need to pick the kids up at 4.”)

Try to go in without too many expectations. The goal isn’t to become best friends. Remember that you’re just two humans who happen to love the same person. You’re both doing your best and, hopefully, want a good outcome for everyone involved. After that, just be yourself! Be polite and friendly, look for common ground, and treat them like you would any new person you’re trying to get to know.

This all assumes, of course, that your metamour is up for meeting you or hanging out. It’s never okay to force a meeting if one party really doesn’t want it or isn’t ready. But if things go well, you might very well find that this leap of faith does great things for your metamour relationship.

If they go badly, or if you really can’t bring yourself to give this metamour a chance? It’s time to consider going parallel.

Parallel Polyamory is Valid

Like many polyamorous people, I love kitchen table polyamory – the close, family-style structure where the various partners and metamours in a network are totally comfortable in each other’s presence and may even actively choose to hang out.

There are tonnes of potential benefits to kitchen table polyamory (KTP.) Your metamours can become dear friends and members of your chosen family. There’s more support for everyone when things are hard. There are more people to celebrate with when good things happen. If children are involved, there are more adults to love and care for those kids. There’s the potential for group outings, polycule trips and adventures, and even group sex if you’re all into that. However, practicing KTP is a personal preference and it won’t work for everyone.

Parallel polyamory is where you know about your metamours, but don’t spend time with them or have any involvement with them beyond essential information. Like parallel lines, the relationships do not meet or intersect. Despite having a bad reputation in some parts of the community, parallel polyamory is an equally valid choice. And in situations of dislike or animosity between metamours, it’s often the best one.

Some people even prefer parallel polyamory right from the beginning! It doesn’t have to come out of metamours disliking each other. Some just prefer to keep things very separate for all kinds of reasons.

Parallel polyamory can look a few different ways. The common thread, though, is that the metamours have little or no direct interaction. They may also prefer not to hear much or any information about the other person, or to have their own information shared. There’s also Garden Party Polyamory, a middle ground where metamours can be polite and friendly to one another in occasional social situations, but otherwise have little interaction and do not hang out independently of their mutual partner.

It’s possible to shift between structures over time as necessary or dictated by circumstances, too. You don’t have to pick one and stick to it forever! Like so many things in polyamory, it’s an ongoing journey and may require renegotiation over time.

Personally, as I’ve said, parallel polyamory isn’t my preference. But if there was ever a time when I had two partners who couldn’t get along with one another, or a metamour I really couldn’t stand (or vice versa,) I would accept it as the healthiest option for everyone in that situation. It’s not a lesser form of polyamory. It’s just different.

“I Hate My Metamour, But Our Partner Wants Us All to Live Together!”

I hear this (and its less extreme cousin, “I hate my metamour but my partner is desperate for us all to hang out”) so, so, so often.

It’s far too common for hinge partners to try to force closeness between metamours who don’t get along. This might look like trying to arrange group hangouts or social interactions despite the metamours’ wishes. At its most extreme, it can look like trying to force metamours to date (see: unicorn hunting), have sex, or live together.

If you’re one of the metamours in this situation: stand firm with your boundaries. You do not have to hang out with anyone you don’t want to hang out with. You certainly don’t have to date, have sex with, or live with anyone you don’t want to.

The fact that your partner wants it – even really, really wants it – is ultimately irrelevant here. You can hear and sympathise with their desires, of course. But you cannot and must not compromise your boundaries and needs for the sake of their desired structure. Doing so will just breed resentment and mistrust, ultimately destroying your relationships. At its most extreme, you may end up feeling coerced, violated, or abused.

If your partner continues to push for more of a relationship between you and your metamour than you want, and will not respect your boundaries when you state them clearly, then it might be time to consider leaving the relationship.

If you’re the hinge in this situation and trying to force a dynamic between your partners: stop it! I can’t overstate how damaging this is. Firstly, people tend to hate being coerced into things they don’t want. Secondly, let’s say they give in and do what you want. How do you think this is going to go? Does a social hangout with two people who don’t like each other sound fun to you? Does living with two people who don’t like each other sound fun!? Exactly.

I understand you have a dream for how you want your ideal polyamorous life to look. However, you’re dealing with actual people with actual personalities and feelings. When you try to force your partners to be friends, date, become lovers, or live together against their wills… chances are you’ll lose both or all of them.

If you want to be with these people, you’ll need to accept that (for now at least, possibly forever) they love you but care for each other much less. If anything other than kitchen table polyamory or nesting with all your partners is a dealbreaker for you, that might mean you need to end these relationships and find others that better meet your desires.

Friendship Isn’t Necessary, But Mutual Respect Probably Is

If you take nothing else away from this post, I hope you’ll take this: you don’t have to like your metamour! It’s perfectly fine to feel indifferent towards them. It’s also okay to actively dislike them, though I hope you’ll first follow the steps I’ve outlined to examine where that dislike is coming from and if it is truly warranted.

How you frame things, both in your mind and externally, really matters here. In the vast majority of circumstances, hanging on to intense dislike, disrespect, or contempt for another person isn’t going to do you or your relationships any good. Can you reframe “I hate my metamour” to “my metamour and I are very different people who don’t really get along, but our goal is to coexist peacefully because we both love our mutual partner”?

In the end, mutual respect for your metamour(s) – even if you are not friends or dislike one another – is both possible and desirable in most circumstances. Here’s what that can look like in practice:

  • Accepting and fully internalising that they have just as much right to their place in your mutual partner’s life as you do.
  • Giving your partner space to have their relationship with your metamour. For example, not trying to infringe on their dates or spoil their time together.
  • Articulating and maintaining clear personal boundaries around things that you control: your time, your space, your energy, and your possessions.
  • Hearing and respecting your metamour’s boundaries around the things that they control, even if those boundaries are different from your own.
  • Respecting your metamours’ privacy and consent. This includes things like not expecting intimate details about their activities with your hinge partner, unless they enthusiastically consent to such sharing. It also means not trying to find or use personal information about them that they may not wish you to have.
  • Ensuring that agreements you make with your hinge partner do not negatively impact your metamour or their relationship.
  • Retaining a reasonable level of flexibility around things like scheduling and the use of shared spaces.
  • Not trying to convince your partner to leave your metamour, change their relationship, or view them the way that you do.
  • Not badmouthing your metamour (either to your partner or to others.)
  • Resisting the temptation to compete or frame your metamour as an adversary.
  • Wherever you can, assuming good will. Your metamour probably isn’t trying to piss you off, trigger your insecurities, or replace you.

Sometimes Metamours Really Are Terrible

In the vast majority of circumstances, your metamour probably isn’t actually a bad person. They might be perfectly lovely but simply not one of your people. They might have their heart in the right place but still exhibit some behaviours that rub you the wrong way. In these situations, mutual respect, a little courtesy and goodwill, good communication from your mutual partner, and minimising unnecessary interactions will probably be all you need to keep things harmonious within your polycule.

But what if you’re right? What if your metamour actually is kind of terrible? Perhaps they hold horrible, oppressive views or regularly do unethical things. At the worst end of the spectrum, perhaps they’re abusing someone – your mutual partner, another partner or partners, or even a child.

I’m not going to sugarcoat it: this situation fucking sucks. It’s also probably largely out of your control. You cannot force your partner to leave someone, even for their own good. There are times when going parallel will sufficiently mitigate the issue. There are also times when it won’t. Firm boundaries, strengthening your relationship with your mutual partner, and calling on the rest of your support network can all help, too. Sometimes, though, even all of this won’t be enough.

Sadly, problematic metamours can sometimes lead to the end of a relationship. I once ended a relationship because my metamour was so controlling – and my partner was so willing to capitulate to all their demands – that we couldn’t actually have a relationship. Leaving devastated me, but ultimately staying would have been worse.

What About Abuse?

This article is about what to do when you dislike your metamour. But what if you suspect (or know) that your metamour is abusing your mutual partner?

I’m going to write a whole article soon about handling abuse within your polycule. That subject deserves thousands of words of its own and there isn’t space to delve deeply into it here.

I just wanted to acknowledge that this can happen, and that it’s heartbreaking and painful on a whole other level when it does. The reason I’m not going into it in this piece is that I want to give it the attention and space it deserves, taking the time and doing the background research to make sure I get it right.

In the meantime, Eve Rickert has compiled this incredible list of resources on abuse in polyamorous relationships.

Do You Have a Metamour Relationship Problem, or Do You Have a Hinge Partner Problem?

In polyamorous spaces, you’ll often see people say things like “metamour problems are really partner problems.” This isn’t always true, but it’s often true.

Take, for example, the controlling metamour I mentioned above. Ultimately, the problem was that my partner chose to follow all the arbitrary rules and restrictions they laid down. My partner had a choice there, and they could have refused. They weren’t powerless. They could have advocated for me and for our relationship. The fact that they didn’t is actually what ended things between us.

Obviously, this doesn’t apply to situations of abuse. In those situations, your partner may really be powerless in a very real way. But if your metamour is behaving unreasonably but not abusively, it is your partner’s job to manage the situation and ensure your metamour’s behaviour doesn’t spill over onto you and your relationship too much.

It’s almost impossible, in anything but the strictest form of parallel polyamory (and probably even then), to keep relationships from impacting each other entirely. After all, if I’ve had a fight with one of my partners and am then due to go on a date with another partner, that is likely to impact my mood and energy levels even if my partners have absolutely no interaction with one another.

The choices you make in one relationship can, and often do, affect your other relationships. This isn’t necessarily a bad or problematic thing in itself. It does, however, require intentionality and care to manage it well. That’s particularly true if the metamours do not get along.

In some cases, your partner’s choice of partners or behaviour in other relationships might directly impact how you view them. Let’s imagine, for a second, one of your partners knowingly brings home someone with extreme and violently right-wing politics. This problem isn’t going to be solved by going parallel. This problem is deeper, in that it says something pretty fundamental – and pretty damning – about your partner and their values.

One of the most important skills in polyamory is partner selection. This extends to being able to trust your partners’ judgement in their partner selection. Unfortunately, when “I hate my metamour” turns into “I hate that my partner chose this person and what that choice says about them”, there might be little you can do but leave the relationship.

Last Words

Wow, even for me this has turned into a mammoth essay! Like so many relationship-related subjects, it’s nuanced and highly contextual. To sum up, though, my 10 key points are as follows:

  • You do not have to be friends with your metamour, like them, or even ever meet them if you don’t want to.
  • If you’re deep in the “I hate my metamour” space, start by asking yourself why and really interrogating it.
  • Examine what your feelings about your metamour are telling you about what’s going on within you.
  • Give them a real and fair chance if you can.
  • It’s fine to be parallel polyamorous.
  • You never have to interact with your metamour in a way that violates your boundaries or consent, and your partner should never pressure you to.
  • Mutual respect, even in the face of indifference or dislike, will go a long way.
  • Metamour issues are often, but not always, really hinge partner issues. Hinge partners have a lot of responsibility here.
  • Relationships can and do impact one another, which is one of the reasons good partner selection is so vital.
  • It’s okay to end a relationship over unresolvable metamour issues, especially if your mutual partner isn’t respecting your boundaries or advocating for you appropriately.

Have you ever found yourself saying “I hate my metamour”? How did you handle it? Any horrors, cautionary tales, or success stories to share?

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

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

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

You can’t.

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

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

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

This week’s card asks:

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

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

Why Polyamory Will Change Your Relationship

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

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

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

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

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

The good news is that…

Change Does Not Have to Be Bad

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

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

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

Good Changes That Polyamory Can Bring

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

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

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

Navigating Change Positively in a Newly Polyamorous Relationship

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

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

Reaffirm Your Love and Commitment Regularly

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

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

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

Talk About Everything

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Focus on Adding, Not Taking Away

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

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

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

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

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

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

Get Some Outside Help

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

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

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

Trust Yourself and Your Partner

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

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

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

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

Sapphic, Lesbian and WLW Erasure in Polyamory, Kink, and Other Alternative Sexuality Communities

Today’s post topic was chosen by my supporters over on Patreon. Join today to vote on the direction of future blog content and get other fun perks too!

Those of us who are active in alternative relationship and sexuality communities such as polyamory, consensual non-monogamy, and kink like to believe that we’re operating in a utopia. We so want to think that our little bubble is apart and separate from the rest of the world, unaffected by society’s ills. It’s a seductive narrative, but it is a lie. Today I want to talk about one of the most pervasive and insidious issues I experience as a sapphic, non-monogamous, kinky femme in these communities.

A quick note on terminology: I can’t write about this topic without acknowledging the ways in which the the anti-transgender hate movement has co-opted the concept of “lesbian erasure.” Anti-trans activists often erroniously claim that to accept trans women as women is to erase or undermine lesbian identities and that cis lesbians routinely experience pressure to transition to male. I absolutely and unequivocally reject these ideas. Trans women are women. Trans sapphics are our sisters and are just as much a part of the community as their cis counterparts.

With that said, I want to talk about the systemic erasure and devaluing of sapphic, lesbian, and women-loving-women (WLW) identities and relationships within polyamory, consensual non-monogamy, kink, and other adjacent communities.

Who Counts as a Couple?

Let’s start with the obvious: many non-monogamous spaces, particularly those geared around casual sex and swinging, are simply not set up in a way that allows for any configuration of people that isn’t “one man and one woman in a relationship” or “a single cisgender person.” The most obvious example of this is gendered pricing. This has tonnes of its own problems anyway and completely falls apart when you account for anyone who isn’t straight, cis, and in a relationship that appears monogamous from the outside.

Many lifestyle events, clubs, and parties would class my girlfriend and I as two single women if we attended together. (Whereas, of course, if I attended with a male partner they’d class us as a couple.) Two women could be literally married to each other, and this would still be the case. Because in the eyes of those spaces, a “couple” is a man and a woman.

“But you’ll get in cheaper if they count you as two single women!”. Yeah, this isn’t the gotcha you think it is in this situation. I’d much, much rather pay the same rate as any other couple rather than have my relationship minimised, othered, and erased on account of our genders.

It’s often more insidious than these fairly blatant forms of discrimination, too. When people talk about “couples” in non-monogamous spaces, they will often casually refer to “the man” and “the lady” (or, worse, “girl”) as if that is the only configuration for a couple to take. If I refer to a partner without gendering them, most people will assume I am talking about a man. I really don’t believe this is malicious in 99% of cases. At worst, I think it is privilege-blind and clueless. But that doesn’t make it any more right or any less hurtful.

The Aggressive Gendering of Kink

I love the BDSM community in so many ways. I’ve been finding my home, my place, and my people within it for the best part of 15 years. But the longer I stick around, the more I see that the kink community still has a fairly pervasive gender-norms problem that we still need to address.

Absent very explicit context to the contrary, people will still broadly assume that men are Dominant, that women are submissive, and that kinky and D/s relationships will look broadly heteronormative. And sure, Femdom exists. But all my Dominant women friends have countless stories of men treating them as little more than fetish dispensers, expecting them to service those men’s needs and follow precise directions while pretending to be in charge and without regard for their own needs and desires.

There is very, very little representation of kinky sapphic relationships of any description in our media, our online spaces, our educational materials, or our event leadership demographics. Why is that? Because it sure as hell isn’t “because kinky sapphics don’t exist.”

I suspect it’s for a few reasons. First, a lack of imagination that assumes all kinky relationships must play out a sexy version of 1950s gender roles. Second, because cisheterosexism still means that – even in alternative spaces – men are more likely to hold positions of leadership and influence. And third, because certain parts of the community can be pretty damn unwelcoming and unsafe for queer people and especially for queer women.

More than once, when I’ve played with other women in public kink spaces, we’ve been interrupted by men either trying to give unsolicited advice or trying to insert themselves into our scene. On one memorable occasion, I was topping for an impact play scene with a friend (who, in her words, was “having a perfectly lovely time”). Out of nowhere, a man I’d never met came over and tried to physically grab my flogger out of my hands.

Because I was a woman, I was assumed to be incompetent. Because we were two women playing together, we were assumed to need a man. Our happy little play bubble was totally ruined by some random dude’s ego and entitlement.

This isn’t an isolated incident, either. Virtually every queer woman I know who plays in mixed kink spaces with other women has a similar story. Is there any wonder we’ve started making more and more of our own spaces?

To be fair, this does seem to be slowly getting better. But there’s some way still to go.

“But You Still Like Men, Right?”

When I mention my girlfriend to people who know I’m non-monogamous (or can reasonably make that assumption, such as at a lifestyle party or social), one of the first I’ve been asked on numerous occasions is whether or not I also date or fuck men.

My friend Violet calls this the “are you heteronormative enough for my comfort zone?” question. Which… no. No I am not. #toogayforyourcomfortzone.

My usual response to this, until now, has been to say yes but emphasise that it’s fairly rare for me to fancy a man enough to want to do anything about it. In the future, though, I think I might change my response. “Why do you ask?” or “well I’m not sleeping with you if that’s what you’re really asking” are currently strong contenders.

I want people who ask me this question to ask themselves why it’s the first place their mind goes on learning that I’m sapphic. After all, if a woman mentions a boyfriend or husband, almost no-one is going to ask her “but you still date women too, right?” Ultimately, what they’re asking is whether I am still sexually available to men – a thing that patriarchy both demands of women and villifies us for.

There’s a strong connection between all of this and the commodification of sapphic sexuality in service of the male gaze.

Sapphic, Lesbian and WLW Sexuality for the Male Gaze

People often believe that there is no sapphic, lesbian and WLW erasure issue in these communities because there are so many bisexual, pansexual and queer women in them. Unfortunately, I don’t think it’s quite that simple. In reality, my experience – and the experience of many sapphic friends I’ve spoken to about this – is often not so much one of acceptance but of fetishisation, followed by devaluing when we refuse to conform to a safe, male-gazey idea of what our sexuality should be.

I’m reminded of the man at a polyamorous speed dating event about a year ago who aggressively quizzed me about what my former metamour-with-benefits and I got up to in the bedroom, and was then clearly bored and put out when I refused to engage. In the 16 years or so I’ve been out, I really thought we’d moved past men asking sapphics “but what do y’all do in bed anyway!?”. Apparently we have not.

I’m also reminded of the man who hit on me and my girlfriend in a gay bar on Pride weekend. Because apparently what two sapphics in love desperately needed in that moment was his dick. I have literally dozens of other examples like this that I can pull out with very little thought.

Expectations of Performativity

In sexualised spaces, people continually expect queer and bi+ women to perform their sexuality in a way that appeals to the male gaze. Two different male exes of mine became extremely upset or angry when my girlfriends were either not their physical type or not willing to sleep with them. This made me feel like my sexuality, my relationships, were only valid as long as they provided benefits to men. Which, of course, is a classic way that society devalues and commodifies WLW relationships.

One of these partners literally asked me what was “even the point” of me being queer if I didn’t perform it in a way that fulfilled his lesbian porn fantasy. Other male partners and male metamours over the years have tried to demand titillating details, photos, or even the right to “watch.” I’ve been hit on by so many men who want me to play with their wives. This is inevitably not because she wants a sapphic experience, but because he wants her to perform one for him.

Patriarchal entitlement to women’s bodies persists, even when we are tell you we are far more interested in each other than we are in you.

Unicorn hunting is another extremely common variation on this theme. In those dynamics, the original male/female couple will often pull a bait-and-switch tactic in which they use the woman to lure other queer women in, then spring the boyfriend or husband on the unsuspecting “unicorn” as a package deal. I hope I don’t have to tell you how grossly unethical this is. That’s why I now run from prospective female dates at the first signs that they’re going to expect me to be sexually available to their male partners.

And that brings us to…

Are Women Less Threatening, or Are You Just Homophobic?

This particular trope is so common within non-monogamy that it’s now a cliché. A cisgender man and woman open up their relationship. The man then tells his partner he’ll allow her to date other women, but no men. (In practice, what this means is “no-one else with a penis“, which is also transphobic.) The reason? Women are just less threatening. They don’t make him feel emasculated or threatened in the way that a man (or penis-haver) would.

The subtext? His wife could never leave him for another woman. She could never like having sex with another woman more than she does with him. She could never gain more fulfillment from a sapphic relationship than from a straight one. A man could steal her away, but a woman couldn’t. So his place in her life is safe. Right?

This comes from a place of believing that relationships between women are less real, less valid, and less important than hetero-appearing relationships. In other words it’s straight up, common-or-garden, fucking boring homophobia.

These men, by the way, are often the same men who expect their wives’ sapphic relationships to offer them something in terms of sexual access or live-action lesbian porn on tap then get very upset if they don’t.

But of course, lesbian, sapphic and WLW relationships are just as deep, meaningful, and sexually satisfying as hetero ones. Hell, for many of us they’re often more so. If you believe your wife can’t possibly glean as much happiness or fulfillment from a relationship with a woman, you might be in for a very rude awakening. If you see another man as a threat but not a woman, all this tells me is that you believe men are inherently superior and hetero relationships are inherently more desirable or important.

The fact that this practice and way of thinking is so common tells me, in itself, that there’s still a lot of homophobia towards lesbian, sapphic and queer women within non-monogamy.

So What Can We Do About It?

I try to make these blog posts something more than just rants. So if we accept that sapphic, lesbian and WLW erasure are huge problems in these communities, what can we do about it?

Here are a few of my ideas for how we, as a community, can start combatting this issue within our spaces:

  • Stop all gendered pricing for events, now. If you want to limit numbers of single men, fine. You can sell only a certain number of tickets or vet them carefully or both. But pricing according to gender, and defining “couple” as meaning a man and a woman, is homophobic, cissexist, and exclusionary.
  • Vote with your feet and your wallet. Attend events that are inclusive and avoid those that are not.
  • Stop asking queer women whether we also sleep with men. Some of us do, some of us don’t. Either way, it is solidly none of your goddamn business unless we’re going to sleep with you. And unless we make it very clear, you should probably assume we’re not.
  • Stop asking queer women for details of our sex lives. This includes asking if you can “watch,” asking for pictures or details, or treating us as lesbian porn fantasies.
  • If you’re a man with a queer female partner, ensure that you are giving your wife or partner’s sapphic relationships equal weight to your own.
  • Do not assume that hetero-presenting relationships or marriages are “primary,” more important, or take precedent over queer ones in non-monogamous networks.
  • Push back against unicorn hunting and one penis policies wherever you see them. Let people know that they are fetishising, homophobic, transphobic, and all-round gross.
  • Use non-gendered terms when talking about kink roles such as Top, bottom, Dominant, submissive, and so on. Do not assume that all Dominants are men, that all submissives are women, or that all kinky relationships are heteronormative.
  • Uplift and support queer women as educators, speakers, organisers, and community leaders.

Of course, fixing this kind of stuff takes more than just a few steps. Sapphic, lesbian and WLW erasure is deeply ingrained and pervasive. Undoing it will require a massive cultural shift both within our little subcultures and in wider society. It won’t happen overnight, of course. But I do believe we can get there.

In Healthy Polyamory, No Veto Power Does Not Mean No Say [Polyamory Conversation Cards #1]

I recently received my set of Polyamory Conversation Cards, created by Odder Being, a project that I backed on Kickstarter months ago. With 49 questions across 7 different categories, these cards are designed to get you thinking, help you to discover your needs and boundaries, and spark open and constructive conversations with your partners. They are non-gendered and make no assumptions about relationship configuration.

I decided to use them as prompts for blog posts for this year. I’ll pull a card at random, one at a time until I’ve got through the entire deck, and use them to inspire a piece of content here. Some of them might be practical advice pieces. Others may be essays, personal pieces, or even rants. We’ll see! (And I am not putting a hard and fast timeframe on this because I don’t need that kind of pressure in my life. I’m going to aim for roughly one a week or getting through the whole deck in approximately a year, but we’ll see.)

Today’s card asks:

“To what extent are you okay with your partner(s) having influence over your romantic and/or sexual connections with others?”

This has made me think about the subject of veto power in polyamory. This controversial practice refers to giving one partner the power to unilaterally demand that you end an outside relationship at any time, and reasonably expect that you will comply. Most often, the person wielding veto power will be a spouse, “primary” partner, or nesting partner.

I am absolutely, unequivocally against veto power. I believe it’s abusive in almost all circumstances. Personal experience also tells me that, even if it is never actually used, the mere threat of a veto from one partner prevents emotional safety from ever truly existing in any other relationships. After all, how can you ever possibly feel safe if your metamour could yank your relationship away at any moment?

Just a few other reasons I’m against veto power include:

  • It reinforces relationship hierarchies and couple’s privilege.
  • It is a poor way of building safety and security, and simply outsources risk and pain onto others rather than actually confronting and working through difficult feelings.
  • Its intended impact is rarely its actual impact. In fact, in most cases, using (or even threatening) a veto will cause such resentment that it will irrevocably damage or end the relationship of the person who issued it.
  • It treats human beings with feelings as disposable toys.
  • It places the veto-giving partner into an authoritarian or parental role, rather than the role of an equal partner, and removes autonomy from their partner(s) and metamour(s).
  • In extreme cases, it can lead to sexual coercion or sexual violence (e.g. “if your partner won’t have a threesome with us, I’m vetoing them.”)

In healthy relationships, we do influence each other

It’s a myth, and a deeply toxic one, that healthy polyamorous relationships involve total autonomy without any cross-relationship or inter-relationship influence. Autonomy and self-determination are important, but they should not come at the expense of treating the people we love well. Moreover, they don’t have to.

If you take away nothing else from this post, please at least internalise this. It is entirely possible (and not even that difficult!) to both have autonomy and to practice kindness, consideration, and care for your partners and their feelings.

As humans, we are social creatures and we are influenced and changed by those around us, and particularly those close to us, in all sorts of ways. This is normal. This is healthy.

I am influenced by my partners and my close friends all the time, and mostly in very positive ways. They inspire me with their bravery and brilliance, they make me want to be the best version of myself, they challenge me when I am wrong, and they offer unique and valuable insights into all aspects of my life. In positive relationships (both romantic and otherwise,) we learn from each other. We are often changed by each other, and by our relationships, in profound and beautiful ways.

Loving people means caring for their feelings

Another toxic myth in the polyamory community is the idea that “your feelings are your problem.”

This started from a good place: that we all have a reasonable responsibility for our own emotional wellbeing and that we should not weaponise our feelings to control our partners. However, in its current guise, it has morphed into something deeply damaging. It has led to people thinking that there is something wrong with them if they have anything but positive feelings about anything their partner does. It has led to people utterly disregarding their partners’ valid needs and emotions to the point of cruelty or even abuse.

Because loving people and being in intimate relationship with them does include caring for their feelings. Emotions do not typically spring, fully formed, from nowhere. They are often reactive, though what they are in response to and how that response manifests can be changeable, unpredictable, at times hard to identify, and not necessarily an obvious straight line.

If you are in an intimate relationship with someone of any kind, you do have a degree of responsibility to care for their feelings. This doesn’t mean doing whatever they want, allowing them to dictate all the terms of the relationship, or allowing them to control or limit your other significant relationships. It does mean creating emotional safety, receiving their feelings – especially difficult or vulnerable ones – with love, and working with them to meet their needs. There might be times where it means not doing something you would have otherwise liked to do.

Case study: temporary frustration for the long-term good

I have, on a small handful of occasions, chosen not to pursue a casual hookup at that time because one of my serious partners was in a bad place emotionally and did not have the bandwidth to process or handle it.

If this was happening all the time we’d need to have a conversation. But once in a while? That strikes me as a normal part of being a loving and considerate partner to somebody in a serious relationship.

Some polyamorous people would balk at this, saying that my partner was being controlling or exerting undue influence. The key, though, is that the choice was ultimately mine. Nobody issued a veto or forbade me to do anything. I made an assessment and made a choice to act in the way I did – a choice that, ultimately, was more than worth the temporary frustration for the long-term benefit to my partner’s wellbeing and our relationship overall.

Important clarification: I view a situation like the one above as fundamentally different from curtailing another significant and serious relationship, which is not something I would ever do. That’s because, in the context of a serious relationship, all my partners have certain rights and certain things they can expect from me. Those things include not having another partner or relationship interfere with ours in a negative way.

There’s a huge difference between influence and control

Where I think this question gets really interesting is when we pick apart the difference between influence and control. At first glance they can seem similar, with the difference more semantic than substantial, but I actually think they’re enormously different things.

One crucial difference is that influence in a relationship is bidirectional, whereas control flows only one way. I consider my partners’ needs and feelings in my decisions, and I feel confident that they will consider mine in a similar way. A veto, by definition, does not consider the needs and feelings of either of the people whose relationship is being vetoed. It is designed to serve only the person issuing the veto. (And even then, it usually fails. Again: issuing a veto against one of your partner’s other relationships is likely to seriously damage your relationship with that partner, if it doesn’t end it entirely.)

Another difference is that, in the case of influence, we each ultimately still have the power and the space to make our own decisions. When control is being utilised, we do not. Influence can allow for negotiation, make room for compromise, and seek to come to solutions that serve the good of everyone affected by the situation. Control does none of those things.

Case studies: expressing a need vs. making a demand

Here’s an example. I might say to one of my partners, “I feel as though I’m not getting enough time with you lately, and that makes me feel sad and neglected.” This would lead to a conversation, and might result in some aspect of their behaviour changing. They might take more proactive steps to arrange time with me, move things around in their schedule so that we can see each other, or change how we spend time together so it’s a higher quality of shared time.

What I do NOT have the right to do is to say “you’re not spending enough time with me, so I demand that you break up with your other partner (or curtail/downgrade your relationship with them) to make more time for me.”

To give another example, let’s say I feel particularly insecure about a new metamour for some reason. I can say to my partner, “I’m feeling really insecure about your relationship with X, so I’d prefer it if you could share fewer details with me/hold space for me to talk things out/hold off on introducing me to them until I’ve worked through these feelings.” I cannot say, “they make me insecure so you can’t see them any more.”

That’s the difference between having a say (influence) and having a veto (control.)

What if one of your partners is concerned about a prospective partner, date, or hook-up, or vice-versa?

This is usually the first question that comes up when I say I don’t believe in veto. “But Amy, what if one of your partners wants to date someone really, truly terrible? Or what if you want to make a horrible dating choice, and your partners have no recourse to stop you?”

It’s a fair question but, I think, takes the wrong approach. It assumes that polyamorous people are all just waiting to make terrible dating choices, get involved with the worst kinds of humans, or casually disregard our own values, and that strict rules or the threat of a veto are the only things keeping us in line. The reality, in my experience, is quite the opposite. In fact, all the successful polyamorous people I know operate with the highest levels of integrity and seek to make good choices in partner selection and in the ways that their relationships are conducted.

The key here is to trust your partners’ judgement and intentions, both in the ways they manage their own dating lives and in any opinions they may express about yours.

Do I worry about one of my partners bringing home my abuser, a neo-Nazi, or (to use a less extreme and more common example) a monogamous person who has expressed a desire to cowperson them away from the rest of the polycule? No, because I trust their judgement. I know them well enough to know they wouldn’t do something like that, so it never occurs to me to worry about it.

With that said, we all have blind spots. We’re all capable of overlooking glaring red flags, falling for someone with bad intentions, or just making stupid decisions in the heat of lust. This is where that influence thing comes in again. Influence allows your partners to share their concerns with you and have their voices heard (and vice versa) without demanding that you choose one specific course of action.

That’s why you should talk to your partner about if it you have any legitimate concerns about someone they’re interested in. It’s also why you should listen if they bring up similar concerns about a prospective partner to you.

If your partner finds faults, concerns, or “red flags” in everyone you want to date, chances are there’s something deeper going on. They might be feeling jealous or insecure, or simply be having a hard time with trusting you to make good decisions for yourself. These are all common issues within polyamory, particularly – but not exclusively – when you’re newer to it.

If either of my partners raised a concern about someone I was interested in, though, I’d listen. This does not necessarily mean I’d always choose not to pursue the person in question. My eventual decision would depend on the circumstances and on a whole array of factors. But I would listen to my partner(s), I would hear their concerns, and I would give those concerns serious consideration. If I choose not to pursue the new connection as a result, that’s not veto power. That’s me making an informed decision based on all the information to which I have access.

My partners are smart and emotionally intelligent people who love me, know me very well, and have sound judgement. If they tell me they have a concern, I know that they legitimately do and are not simply trying to control or limit me.

The bottom line: what I will and won’t accept with regards to veto power, influence, and control

This card asks, “To what extent are you okay with your partner(s) having influence over your romantic and/or sexual connections with others?”

Ultimately, my answer is that I’m fine with them having a reasonable level of influence. I actually think that’s a good and healthy thing. What I won’t tolerate is anyone seeking to have control over my other connections, and I would be unlikely to stay long in a relationship with someone who wanted that control. Likewise, I want to have influence with my partners but I do not want to have control.

My answer to this question also depends, to a fairly significant extent, on what type of relationship we are talking about. My serious partners are always going to be far, far more important to me than one-off or casual hook-ups. This naturally means that they get a much higher level of priority and enjoy a greater degree of influence in the decisions I make and the ways I choose to operate.

What I won’t do, however, is accept veto power or be in a relationship with someone who has given that power to any of their other partners.

No-one gets to decide the reality, outcome, or direction of any of my relationships except me and the other person in it. I will never give anyone veto power or permission-granting/permission-refusing power over any aspect of other connections. But I will always take my partners’ needs and feelings into consideration and strive to make sure they feel loved, heard, and prioritised. Because no veto power does not mean no say.