Polyamory Breakup Tips: How to Support Your Partner Through a Breakup with Someone Else [Polyamory Conversation Cards #15]

I have thought more about breakups in the last one hundred and four days at the time of writing (but who’s counting?) than I ever thought either possible or desirable. I’m not even close to ready to write about the particular and brutal ways that my own heart has been torn out this year, and I’m not sure when I will be, but at least I can use this experience to bring you some hopefully-useful polyamory breakup tips.

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 can your partner(s) best support you when you’re facing challenges in your other relationships or have a broken heart?”

I’m not going to give you my best “how to get over a breakup” tips, mostly because I don’t fucking know y’all, I wouldn’t still be crying every day if I knew that. So instead, we’ll look at another unique polyamory breakup problem: how to support your partner when someone else has broken their heart.

Ask What They Need

This is always my first tip when people ask me how to support their partner through a breakup or any other traumatic life event. People are different and need different things. Some people want lots of company and distraction when they’re heartbroken. Others prefer to be given plenty of their own space to turn inwards and process. So ask your partner what they need and what will be most helpful to them.

Of course, they may not know, and you need to make room for that. But even if they don’t know now, the simple act of asking shows that you care. It shows that you will be there for them as and when they do know what they need.

With that said, read on for some general tips that I’ve found tend to work well.

Take Care of the Practical Things

For the first four or five days after my most recent breakup, I could do almost nothing but lie on the sofa and cry. Mr C&K took care of practical things around our home, picking up the slack where I couldn’t and cooking for me so that I’d at least have a chance at eating something healthy.

Taking care of practical things can be a godsend for someone who is heartbroken. In the midst of grief, even small daily tasks can feel insurmountable. So feed them, take care of household chores, pick up the kids from school or walk the dog. By taking these things off their plate, you give them time and space to do the grieving they need to do.

Distract Them

Grief and heartbreak need to be processed. However, no-one can do this 24 hours a day until they feel better. Sometimes, it’s important just to get back out into the world and think about other things.

Providing distractions can be a great way to cheer someone up, pull them out of the fog, and show them that they’re still an awesome and complete human without the person who broke their heart. Take them out if they’re up for it. Watch fun movies or TV shows with them, play a game, do a project, or just talk about something else.

Let Them Feel Their Feelings

When someone you love is hurting, it can be tempting to want to make them feel better by any means necessary. This comes from a good place, but it can end up doing more harm than good. If you’re not careful, your partner may end up feeling pressured to hide their true feelings or to “get over it” more quickly than is realistic for them.

Hold space for their feelings. Do not diminish those feelings, try to “logic” your partner out of feeling them, or tell them that they shouldn’t feel a particular way. Instead validate, empathise, and let them know that whatever they feel is okay.

Don’t Expect it to be Quick or Easy

Breakups, particularly bad and traumatic breakups, are a form of grief. This pain does not, for most of us, pass quickly or easily. It can take weeks, months, or even years for someone to completely get over the ending of a relationship.

That’s not to say they’ll be totally non-functional for all that time. Most people won’t be. I went back to work a few days after my recent breakup, because I had to.

Sometimes, they might think they’re fine. They might even be fine for hours, days, weeks at a time. Then something will remind them of the breakup and they’ll be slammed by a wave of grief again. Be there for them when this happens. Be patient, and be prepared to reassure them that this experience is normal.

Resist the Temptation to Step Into the Ex Partner’s Place

When your partner is experiencing loss, it’s natural to want to fill that void. In a polyamorous situation, remaining partners often make the mistake of trying to step into the ex partner’s place or fill their shoes (either in a self-serving way, in an attempt to comfort the grieving partner, or both.)

Resist this temptation with all your might.

Nurture and grow your own relationship with your partner, and allow it to be what it is. This may or may not include changing some aspects of it in response to the breakup, either temporarily or permanently. But do not try to be or to replace someone else. It will backfire badly on both of you if you do.

Seek Support for Yourself, If You Need It

There are two important angles to consider here.

Firstly, caring for someone else – even (or especially) someone you love immensely – can be draining. It’s important to also take care of your own needs and seek support so that you don’t burn out.

The Circle of Grief can be useful here: support in, dump out. In other words, extend support to people who are closer to the current crisis than you (in this case, that’s your partner who got their heart broken.) Vent to, complain to, and seek support from people who are further away from it than you (in this case, that’s likely other friends or family, possibly other partners, and maybe a therapist.)

If you were practicing kitchen table polyamory or were otherwise close to your now ex-metamour, you might also be experiencing your own feelings of loss and grief. I’ve lost friendships and sexual relationships with metamours when one of us broke up with our mutual partner, and that loss is real and painful. If this sounds familiar, don’t forget to tend to yourself too.

Do you have any useful polyamory breakup tips for us? Any amazing ways your partner(s) have supported you when someone else broke your heart?

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?

Nesting Relationship Agreement That Work: Six Questions to Ask Yourselves [Polyamory Conversation Cards #13]

Not everyone who is polyamorous wants a nesting relationship – one where you live together with your partner or partners. Some people prefer solo polyamory, or being their own primary partner. Others are highly introverted and prefer to live alone for this reason. Some live a nomadic lifestyle, travel a lot, or prefer to be able to change their living situation regularly.

For many of us, though, living with one or more partners is our current reality or a desired future state.

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 it important for you to share (or keep sharing) your home with one or multiple partners?”

So let’s talk about nesting relationships and the agreements that govern them. Here are six questions you and your partner(s) should be asking yourselves and each other, whether you’re thinking about moving in together, transitioning from monogamy to polyamory while in a nested relationship, or revising your agreements.

A quick reminder on terminology, as we are going to be talking about agreements, boundaries, and rules in this post.

Boundaries pertain to yourself and the things that belong to you, such as your body, mind, time, and possessions. An example of a boundary is “I will use barriers during sex to protect my sexual health.”

Agreements are made by, and followed by, both or all parties in a relationship, household, or other group. They should enhance the relationship, providing safety, stability or structure without being overly restrictive or onerous. One example is, “we will keep each other in the loop when we take on a new sexual or romantic partner.”

Rules are imposed on people from the outside and involve compelling or forbidding them to do certain things. Rules are generally seen as controlling and frowned upon by the polyamorous community. An example of a rule is “you’re not allowed to have sex without a condom with anyone but me.”

What are your individual and collective needs around shared vs. private space?

When I moved in with my nesting partner years ago, one of my requirements before agreeing to the move was that I would have my own office space. This was essential for me, but may not be for you. On the other hand, maybe you’d like your own bedroom? A shared living space where you can have your friends over for D&D night? A room where you can close the door and play video games in peace?

Negotiating your needs and wants around shared and private space is essential when you’re navigating nesting relationship agreements.

Under society’s monogamous paradigm, when a couple moves in together the assumption is usually that they will share a bedroom and bed. This works for many couples, but not others! I know many polyamorous couples or groups who live together in a setup where everyone has their own bedroom. They may bed-hop or stay over in each other’s rooms, occasionally or regularly, but everyone has a space that is ultimately their own.

If you prefer to sleep separately some or all of the time, or if you generally want to sleep together but also need your own room to retreat to, that’s something you will need to work out as you create your nesting agreements. (By the way: it’s also fine to have your own bedrooms if you’re monogamous!)

Will other partners be able to visit us at home, and under what circumstances?

Some people practice a strictly parallel form of polyamory in which metamours never meet or interact. This is a completely valid way to be polyamorous, but it can present challenges when one dyad is nesting together.

If you practice parallel polyam, one or both of you dislikes your metamour(s) for some reason, or you are just someone who dislikes hosting people in your space, this might mean that other partners cannot visit you at home.

In some circumstances, this will be totally navigable. Perhaps your non-nesting partners can host at their places. Maybe one of you travels a lot for work and the other can have their other sweeties over during those times. Perhaps you have the money to get a hotel room for regular date nights. Perhaps your other partners are long distance and you only see each other very occasionally. In other circumstances, though, it can present a major issue. These restrictions can even prevent non-nesting relationships from growing, developing, and thriving if they are not carefully managed. If this is your situation, employing creative solutions is called for.

You may decide that not being able to host other partners in a shared home is a dealbreaker for you. Conversely, you may decide that having your metamours in your living space is a dealbreaker. Both are valid choices but, if you and your nesting partner or potential nesting partner aren’t on the same page about this, it might be a sign that living together isn’t right for you.

If you do agree that it’s okay to host people at home, do you need any agreements around that? Are there any limitations, requests, or boundaries that will make it more comfortable for everyone involved? For example:

  • “Please give me a heads-up if your other partner is coming over so I’m not surprised by an unexpected guest”
  • “Please keep the noise down after 10pm as I have to get up early for work”
  • “We generally won’t have other people over on Thursdays as that’s our date night”
  • “Until our new partners have met our children, we’ll only invite them over after bedtime or when the kids are out”

Do we need any agreements or rules around use of beds, certain spaces, and so on?

I wrote about polyamory bed rules recently, and I touched on a common agreement that many nested polyamorous couples make: no other partners in our bed/bedroom. If you and your nesting partner have agreed that having other partners over at home is okay, then do you need to make any further agreements or provisions around use of beds or particular spaces? This will depend on a few factors, from emotional needs to the practicalities of available spaces.

I’ve seen all kinds of different variations on this theme – everything from “whoever has someone over gets the main bed, and the other nesting partner decamps to the guest room” to “other partners only in the guest room, never in our room.” If you each have your own rooms, this becomes somewhat simpler because each person can host in their own room and bed. If not, you will need to work out what feels most viable for everyone in your household as well as other partners.

Factors such as disability (does someone need close access to a bathroom? Can someone not manage stairs?) can also play a role in making these agreements, as can concerns relating to children, pets, sleep needs, work schedules, and so on.

Is there scope for other partners to live with us in the future? If so, under what circumstances?

This can be a difficult one, and people have strong feelings on both sides. Perhaps you feel as though all your relationships should have at least the potential for nesting down the line. On the other hand, perhaps you are perfectly happy to live with one person and never want to open up that possibility with any other partner.

Living preferences are deeply personal, so I won’t tell you that any one way is better than any other. What is important, though, is to ensure that you and your nesting partner are on a similar page. If one of you wants to keep nesting exclusive but the other wants the possibility of a big happy polyamorous family under one roof, this is a recipe for big problems down the line.

If living with other partners is potentially on the table, what circumstances would make that possible? Perhaps the relationship with the incoming partner would need to have been stable and healthy for several years. Perhaps this is only a possibility once your children have grown up and moved out. Presumably the metamours, as well as the partners, would need to have a strong and stable connection with one another.

Whatever you decide, it’s important to be honest with other partners. Don’t tell someone (or allow them to believe) that nesting is a possibility if it is not. Likewise, if you are looking for other potential future nesting partners, don’t downplay or obfuscate this desire to seem cool or “chill.” If you’re open to nesting after five years, don’t imply that it could happen in two.

It’s also important to remember that people’s wants, needs, and views can change. Perhaps you both genuinely feel that you never want to live with anyone else right now. That doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll feel the same way forever. You might, of course, but you also might not.

Talking about and accepting the possibility of changed minds – because relationships and connections can change us profoundly, and in ways we may not understand until we’re in them – can help to alleviate pain down the line. That’s not to say it will be easy if one of you changes your mind or wants to significantly overhaul your nesting agreements. But understanding that the possibility exists can reduce or eliminate a sense of betrayal if it does happen, opening up the door for more productive communication and problem solving.

What will happen to our relationship if one or both of us decides we no longer wish to be nesting partners?

Denesting means transitioning a nesting relationship to one where you don’t live together, but continuing the relationship in some form. Denesting is very rare in monogamy. It’s relatively uncommon in polyamory too, but I have seen it done and I have seen it work well. Polyamory makes it more possible, because continuing a romantic and/or relationship after denesting does not preclude the possibility of either or both of you finding other nesting partners down the road.

If you’re excited about moving in together, exploring polyamory, or making some other significant change to your nesting relationship, “what happens if it doesn’t work out?” is probably the last thing you want to think about. But it is really, really important to consider and to talk about.

Does your relationship have the potential to continue in a different format if you decide to denest? Does the reason behind the denesting matter? (For example, some people might feel that they could denest relatively happily if their partner received an amazing job opportunity in a different city, but not if their partner decided they’d prefer to nest with another lover instead.)

What discussions, agreements, and boundaries might be needed if you did choose to denest? How might your relationship look if nesting was no longer a part of it?

Of course, none of this is set in stone or constitutes a binding commitment. You might think you’ll feel one way, but feel completely differently – for better or worse – in reality. But having the conversations and imagining the possibilities can save you heartache and pain down the road.

How will we share finances, chores, and other responsibilities (e.g. childcare and pets?)

This isn’t really a polyamory question, of course, but it is a vital nesting relationship question. If you’re not on at least roughly the same page about these things, it’s a sign you are not ready to live together or not compatible as nesting partners.

How will finances work? (I wrote a long essay about polyamory and money recently.) Who will be responsible for which chores and tasks? How will care for children, pets, and other dependents work? How will you navigate it if one of you is much messier than the other?

It’s been said that the vast majority of domestic issues in relationships are actually roommate issues. I think there’s a lot of truth to this idea. Before you can work out how (or if) you can live together polyamorously, you need to work out how (or if) you can live together, period.

What agreements do you have in your nesting relationship? Any pearls of wisdom to share?

Everything The L Word: Generation Q Got Wrong About Polyamory

I just finished my rewatch of The L Word: Generation Q. This follow-up from the hit series from the early-mid 2000s catches up with fan faves Bette (Jennifer Beals), Alice (Leisha Hailey), and Shane (Katherine Moennig) 10 years later as well as bringing in a host of new gay, queer and trans characters.

From here on out there will be spoilers for all three seasons of the series, so stop reading now if you want to avoid those!

It’s safe to say that, in many ways, Generation Q tries to fix some of the things that The L Word got wrong. Notably, there is significantly improved representation of Alice’s bisexuality (and bisexuality in general), much better trans representation (Shane’s apology to Max for “the way we were back then” reads to me as an apology from the producers to the entire trans community), and the addition of non-binary characters as well as butch women characters.

One thing it still manages to get horrendously wrong, though, is its representation of consensual non-monogamy and polyamory. The most notable polyamory storyline features Alice, her girlfriend of two years Nat, and Nat’s ex-wife Gigi, but I also have things to say about Shane and non-monogamy.

Back in 2018, I wrote about all the things You Me Her got wrong about polyamory (spoiler: a lot.) Let’s give The L Word: Generation Q the same treatment, shall we?

Most polyamory isn’t triads…

This is the eternal problem of polyamory in fiction: most writers seem to think that the default configuration for polyamory is a triad (or, to use a cringeworthily terrible word I wish would die already, “throuple.”) That is, three people in a relationship all together. In the vast majority of cases, this is the only representation we get.

The reality is that triads are fairly rare. Stable, healthy, functional triads are even rarer. It’s a really difficult dynamic to both find and sustain, with a very high failure rate, and is just not representative of how most people do polyamory.

The only slight saving grace here is that it’s three women rather than the “one man, two women” configuration we usually see.

…and even when it is, they don’t typically start from drunk threesomes…

I wouldn’t have had a problem with the threesome story if it had been handled differently. The show could have done something interesting with Alice, Nat and Gigi having the threesome and then having to deal with the resulting awkwardness and emotional fallout. Things happen, particularly when unresolved feelings and a lot of tequila are involved. And frankly it’s a fucking hot scene.

But for an alcohol-fuelled spontaneous threesome to transition to a full-on triad in the space of, seemingly, about two days is flat-out ridiculous.

…and even when they do, they don’t typically involve two ex-wives

Look, I understand that the point of this storyline was to show that Nat and Gigi aren’t over each other and that Nat genuinely loves Alice while also genuinely loving Gigi. But the bungled triad storyline was the worst possible way to do it. Anyone with a modicum of polyamory experience would have been screaming watching this.

Poor Alice never stood a chance in this situation. Pro tip: if you’re going to try polyamory, a triad is hard mode. If you’re going to try a triad anyway, doing it with your (or your partner’s) ex is the worst possible way to go about it.

Why does Nat give Alice false hope with a promise of monogamy?

After the triad falls apart, Nat turns up at Alice’s show recording to win her back and promises that she wants to love and be with “just her.” But they’ve barely reconciled when she’s coming out as polyamorous, and has apparently been thinking she might be polyam for a long time.

So why, then, did she make a promise she knew she might not be able to keep? This just seems exceptionally and needlessly cruel to Alice.

Does Alice have to be so judgy?

Alice has been subjected to a fair amount of bigotry and prejudice on the show, not least a lot of biphobia (including from her friends.) She’s also a fan favourite, and perhaps the character I personally relate to the most. So it was really, really disappointing to see this exchange:

Nat: “Monogamy isn’t for everyone.”
Alice: “It’s for most people. Except the bad ones.”

I can accept that Alice can’t handle polyamory in her own relationship. That’s fair – like monogamy, it’s not for everyone. But it makes me really sad to see her being so harsh and judgemental about it. When Nat goes and cries in the bathroom after this exchange, my heart broke for her.

When did Nat and Alice discuss… literally anything?

In a pretty tender and emotional scene, Nat comes out as polyamorous to a horrified Alice. Next thing we know, she’s coming back from her first overnight sex date. I hate that the show totally skipped over everything that comes in between these two points – the hours of talking, negotiating, processing, discussing agreements and boundaries and more.

Obviously we couldn’t see all of this, because the show only has so much time. But one or two scenes is, surely, not too much to ask for. Instead, it gives the impression that the opening up journey is a quick hop, skip and jump from “I think I’m polyamorous” to “overnight dates.”

How the fuck has Shane never heard of ENM?

After Shane inevitably cheats on her girlfriend Tess (played by the gorgeous and fabulous Jamie Clayton of Sense8 fame) and they’re trying to work things out, Tess asks Shane if she wants to do ethical non-monogamy (ENM.) Shane, the player and womanizer extraordinaire who also lives in a huge liberal city and has been part of the LGBTQ community for decades, has apparently… never heard of this concept.

It’s even implied at one point that Shane and her ex-wife Quiara had some kind of non-monogamous relationship when Quiara says something like “you and I have never done things the conventional way.” Yet later on, Shane’s somehow never even considered this possibility. It makes absolutely no sense.

And one thing the show got right: the heartbreak of incompatibility

I hate how it got there, but I actually think having Alice and Nat break up over their incompatible views on monogamy was a good and powerful storyline. Because in those situations, where one of you wants monogamy and the other doesn’t, breaking up is often inevitable and usually the best choice (even though it utterly sucks.)

Credit where credit is due, this was a far better choice than either Alice reluctantly going along with polyamory or Nat reluctantly going along with monogamy.

But seriously, when are we going to get better polyamorous representation on TV? When are writers and producers going to start actually, you know, talking to polyamorous people?

Is there anything that The L Word: Generation Q got wrong about polyamory that I’ve missed? Anything you think it got right?

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?

5 Things You Should Disclose Upfront in Polyamorous Dating [Polyamory Conversation Cards #11]

Dating is hard. Who amongst us hasn’t spent hours swiping and swiping on dating apps or felt like we’ve wasted evenings of our lives at speed dating parties full of people we have nothing in common with? Polyamorous dating is even harder. Polyamorous people have a small dating pool to begin with, and it becomes smaller still when you factor in all the various ways that even two (or more) polyam people can be incompatible.

When I’m trying to date, I prefer to filter out unsuitable matches quickly. After all, no matter how hot someone is, if we’re wildly incompatible there’s no point in trying to take things further. Part of this process is knowing what you need to disclose (and ask) early on in dating a new person.

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 do new partners need to know upfront about what’s (im)possible given your existing relationships?”

Here are five things I think you really need to disclose upfront in polyamorous dating.

1. That you’re polyamorous (and what relationships you’re currently in, if any)

No shit, right?

Well, a surprising number of polyamorous people seem to be completely cool with the idea of not disclosing that they’re polyamorous until they are one, three, or even more dates into a connection with a new person. This is absolutely, utterly, unequivocally not cool.

I believe that, as a general rule, polyamorous people should only date other polyamorous people. While there are occasional (very occasional) examples of mono/poly relationships that work, these are few and far between and most people who attempt this type of dynamic end up completely miserable. However, if you’re going to insist on trying to date monogamous people, at the very least you need to disclose your polyamorous status upfront. It’s not okay to bait-and-switch someone.

Put it in your dating profile. When you connect with someone, make sure they’ve actually read and understood that you’re polyamorous. And be ready to talk about what polyamory means to you, how you practice it, and any relationships you’re currently in

2. What style of polyamory you practice

People do polyamory in lots of different ways, and not all of them are compatible. If you practice relationship anarchy, hierarchical polyamorous people won’t be a good fit for you. If you’re in a closely knit kitchen table polycule and hate not being able to have all your partners in one room, someone who prefers a strictly parallel style is unlikely to be a good match.

There’s nuance here, of course, and you should be ready to talk with a potential match about the particulars of your situation. But you should at least have a one-line elevator speech that sums up your polyamorous style and philosophy.

For example, I might say “I have a nesting partner and practice non-hierarchical polyamory. I prefer kitchen-table or garden-party polyamory but I’m also open to parallel if that’s what people need.”

3. Any rules or restrictions that will apply to your relationship

I’ve written recently about why I don’t think restrictive rules are a good idea in polyamory. But lots of people still have them and, if this is you, you really need to disclose them as quickly as possible.

If your new partner won’t be allowed to (for example) engage in certain sex acts, express or receive expressions of love with you, spend the night with you, or ever spend holidays and special occasions with you, they deserve to know these things upfront.

Someone can’t meaningfully consent to a relationship if it comes with a host of limits and restrictions they weren’t aware of.

4. Veto arrangements (including screening, tacit, or indirect vetos)

A veto arrangement is where one partner – usually a spouse, nesting partner, or “primary” – has the power to unilaterally demand their partner end an outside relationship. I’ve written about the problems with veto multiple times and I now believe it is an inherently abusive thing. However, again, some couples still insist on it. If this is you, you must disclose it upfront to potential partners.

This includes other forms of veto power beyond the explicit, by the way.

Does your partner have a “screening veto” (i.e. can they veto a relationship when it’s in its fledgling stages but not once it’s established?) People you’re dating deserve to know that they have to pass an external party’s test before they can be in a relationship with you.

What would you do if a particular partner suddenly issued you with a “leave them or I’m leaving you” ultimatum? If the answer is anything other than “break up with the person who issued the ultimatum” then… that person has tacit veto power. Your other partners and potential partners should know this. They should know that, even if you don’t call it veto power, they are ultimately disposable in service of your relationship with someone else.

5. What type of relationship you’re looking for

Are you looking for a nesting partner? Someone to marry and/or have children with? A serious but non-nesting/non-escalator relationship? A one night stand, casual fuck-buddy, or friend with benefits?

One of the great things about polyamory is that we can feel out relationships as they evolve and allow them to be what they are. However, most of us also have at least some idea of what we’re looking for and what we’re absolutely not looking for.

Unfortunately, a lot of people lie about or obfuscate what they’re looking for on early dates. They pretend to be open to a serious relationship because they think it’ll make them look bad if they say they just want casual sex. Conversely, they might think it makes them look uncool and not “chill” to admit they want something serious, so they downplay it. This kind of thing just makes it harder to connect with people who want the same thing as you.

If you’re truly open to any kind of structure and just want to explore connections and see how things go? You can say that. But don’t say it if it’s not true. You’ll just waste your own time and theirs.

What do you always tell potential dates upfront in your polyamorous dating life? What do you wish dates would tell you?

8 Polyamory Time Management Tips Beyond Google Calendar [Polyamory Conversation Cards #10]

Love is infinite, so the cliché goes. Love is infinite but time and energy are not, so the polyamorous version of the cliché goes. In polyamory, time management and scheduling are amongst the biggest sources of conflict that can damage relationships and polycules.

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 is your preferred way of scheduling dates/tine with your partner(s)?”

Luckily, scheduling and polyamory time management challenges are much easier to mitigate and overcome than (for example) jealousy, metamours who don’t get along, or major disagreements about money. With some forward planning and some simple strategies, you can limit scheduling conflicts and make your time management relatively painless.

Here are eight of my tips for how to do it.

Get a Shareable Calendar

Okay, I know I said “beyond Google Calendar”, but we really do need to start with this. Polyamorous people and Google Calendar is one of those things that’s a stereotype because it’s sort of true. Most of us have busy lives, and more romantic relationships means more people’s needs and schedules to juggle. It can get overwhelming fast.

You absolutely need some sort of calendar that you can share with the relevant people (which probably includes your partners but may also include your metamours, children, other family members, close friends, or work colleagues, depending on your circumstances.)

If you and your partners all live together and are the old-fashioned sorts, this could be a literal physical calendar or a whiteboard on the fridge. Most of us, though, will need a digital solution. Google Calendar is probably still the most popular, but there are dozens if not hundreds of calendar-sharing and family scheduling apps. Try some out and find which ones work for you and your polycule.

You don’t need to share your calendar with everyone in your polycule unless you want to, but many polyamorous people find it useful to do so. At the very least, having your calendar on an app on your phone means you can pull it out and see your schedule at a glance whenever you’re trying to make plans with one of your sweeties.

If you and any of your partners have shared responsibilities such as caring for children, pets, and other dependants, you might want to consider a separate calendar just to coordinate how those responsibilities will be managed and divided up.

Aim for Equity, Not Equality

Equality is giving everyone the same things. Equity is ensuring everyone has what they need to thrive, which will be different for everyone. Keep this difference in mind when you’re scheduling time with your partners. Not every partner will want the same amount of time with you, and not every relationship will need the same amount of time to thrive.

A casual or primarily sexual comet relationship, for example, may operate best with one date night every few months when you happen to be in the same place. A committed and intense romantic relationship, on the other hand, may need much more time together in order to remain happy and healthy.

Talk to your partners about their time wants and needs in your relationship, and share your own. Be honest about what you want and what you can offer. And remember that each relationship will look different, and this is fine and normal.

If you and a partner are in wildly different places (they want to see you once a month but you want to sleep over three times a week, for example,) you may find that you’re not compatible as partners or need to renegotiate some aspects of your relationship. This isn’t a failure. It’s important information that can help you to communicate more honestly and build healthier, happier relationships.

Balance Routine with Space for Spontaneity

I remember once hearing a polyamorous person joke that the maximum number of partners any one individual should have is 27 (“because even in the shortest month of the year, you’ve still got one day to yourself!”)

This was obviously said for comic effect, but I think it speaks to a very real tendency some polyamorous people have: we overcommit to plans, overschedule ourselves, and end up with a diary that’s so packed there is no space for self-care, rest, or spontaneity.

For some polyamorous people, having an established routine with their partner(s) is one of the ways they feel loved and secure. For example, maybe every Thursday night is your standing date night. This doesn’t work for everyone (it doesn’t work for me – my schedule is too inherently unpredictable and changeable due to several factors) but it works beautifully for others. You might find it works well in one of your relationships and not in another, and that’s fine.

Whether you like to have standing dates or not, you likely have at least some routines you stick to. Work, childcare, and hobbies are just some things that can dictate people’s schedules. Make sure that you don’t schedule your time so tightly that you’re left with no downtime, though. It’s important to have time to yourself, time to do nothing in particular, and the opportunity to make or say “yes” to spontaneous plans if you want to.

Make Scheduling Chats a Part of Your Relationship

When I was with one of my exes, we’d have a 10-15 minute “scheduling chat” every so often (in practice, it tended to be every 3-4 weeks) where we’d look ahead a few weeks and put time in the diary to see each other and generally talk about what plans we had coming up. This worked well and I recommend it.

Scheduling doesn’t need to be onerous, stressful, or tremendously time-consuming. Just make a habit of sitting down with your calendars and mapping out your plans every so often. This might be as often as every week in the case of some nesting couples – particularly if you have children – or as infrequently as every few months if you’re comet or long-distance partners. If you have a very intertwined polycule or polyamorous family, you might want to do this all together.

Do Things All Together If You Can (But Don’t Mistake Group Time for Date Time)

If you practice kitchen table polyamory or another structure where metamours get along and enjoy spending time together, then doing things all together (or in smaller breakout groups from the entire polycule) can not only be fun, but allow everyone to get more time overall with their partners.

However, do not make the classic newbie polyamory time management error of turning every date into a group hang. Relationships all require one-on-one time to thrive. If you keep inviting all your partners over at the same time, you might be surprised to hear them all saying “when do I get to spend quality time with you?” after a while.

Group time and date time can both be valuable, but they are not the same thing and they are not interchangeable. And by the way, this applies even if you’re in a group romantic relationship such as a triad or quad.

Don’t Mistake Incidental Time for Quality Time

Ironically, many polyamory time management conflicts arise not in long-distance or comet relationships but in marriages and nesting partnerships. If you live with your partner, chances are you spend a lot of incidental time together – passing in the kitchen when you go to make a cup of coffee, doing household chores together, or sitting in the living room together in the evening while you both scroll on your phones or read your books.

None of this is the same as quality time. Mistaking it as such can easily lead to your nesting partner feeling ignored, abandoned, and resentful – especially if you are spending all sorts of quality date time with your other partners.

This incidental time can be great for a relationship. However, it’s important to build in quality time, too. Don’t forget to make date nights with your nesting partner or spouse and to set aside time to focus exclusively on being with each other and enjoying one another’s company.

Get Comfortable with the Fact That There Will Be Conflicts

Even in the monogamous world, there are going to be scheduling conflicts sometimes. For example, what happens when your partner has an important work event and wants you to be their +1 on the same night as your sister is having her birthday party? Scheduling conflicts are a fact of life and polyamory is no different.

Don’t make it a goal to avoid all scheduling conflicts. This is probably impossible. Instead, do what you can to minimise them (see the preceding tips!) and be prepared to roll with them when they do arise. Assuming good faith, giving each other grace when scheduling mistakes happen, and being prepared to get creative with solutions will all help you to navigate scheduling conflicts with minimal stress, pain, and drama.

Which brings me to the final tip…

Be Flexible

Flexibility is perhaps one of the most important and most underrated attributes that successful polyamorous people display. When there are multiple people in your romantic network, things are sometimes going to change. There are going to be emergencies, crises, and unforeseen circumstances popping up at least occasionally.

Flexibility allows you to roll with these changes and still feel safe, secure, and happy in your relationships. This includes flexibility in the way you deal with scheduling and time management.

Flexibility is not the same thing as being a doormat or always putting others first, by the way. You should be able to safely assume that when people make plans with you, they will keep them absent an emergency. When you give flexibility, you should expect to receive it in return, too. So if you’re happy to move your regular date night so your partner can attend your metamour’s birthday celebration, you should be able to expect that the same courtesy would be given to you if a similar conflict arose.

What are your favourite polyamory time-management hacks? Share them in the comments!

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!