Since my husband and I decided to open our marriage, I’ve been paying extra close attention to the progression of relationships of our non-monogamous friends. I have witnessed a few poly families grow stronger, but, unfortunately, a large majority has fallen apart. I hate losing people from my life, so figuring out the magic ingredients of relationship viability is extremely important to me.
I’ve noticed a few indicators of relationship success. These are applicable to any kind of relationship, monogamous or not:
Feeling safe to openly communicate about anything
Willingness to listen and put in effort to see the other person’s point of view
Enjoying spending time together
Being interested in your partner(s)
Having mutual respect and desire to help each other’s lives become better
Lately, I’ve been rethinking my own relationships. What does my ideal polycule look and feel like? Who is in it? What kind of relationships do I want with each of my partners? And, most importantly, what would it take for multiple relationships to survive? In my circle, non-monogamous relationships that have succeeded have a few things in common. In fact, I have started noticing a pattern:
All of my happily non-monogamous friends that are still together started out as monogamous couples. They were exclusive for a few years, and only after a while decided to open up. Why does this make sense? Because in the early stages of a relationship a lot is happening — you might be changing your living situation, getting to know each other’s families, learning each others’ triggers and how to work through them, and so on. If you add dealing with emotions that come up when you introduce new partners, it may be fatal for the relationship. Of course, like with any rule I’m sure there are exceptions, but I don’t personally know anyone who didn’t go through a monogamous stage.
Couples that stay together prioritize their relationship, whether they eventually adopt any form of non-monogamy or not. They are committed to each other and to making their relationship last. This might mean making choices in favor of the couple over pursuing new partners if the circumstances are too complicated.
People in these relationships are honest with each other and with themselves. They don’t suppress negative feelings and don’t hide anything out of fear of making each other uncomfortable. They address challenges head on, they are open to whatever is going on with them and with their partners.
These couples(+) appreciate each other and treat each other with a lot of respect. They know their love languages and teach each other about ways that make them feel most loved and show appreciation for one another.
Many of these people have also shared some things with me that made me realize they’ve done a lot of work on accepting and loving themselves. For some it was through working with a therapist, for others experimenting with psychedelics in college, for the rest, by getting a mindfulness and meditation routine going. Openness to self-reflection, willingness to look at your own shadows, and unconditional self-acceptance all seem to be a prerequisite to loving and accepting anyone else. How can you love anybody, if you don’t know how to love yourself first and don’t know what it feels like? If you don’t have empathy and kindness inside of you towards the one person that will be with you from birth to death — how can you possibly be kind towards anyone else?
Being stuck at home during shelter in place has significantly impacted my life and made me reevaluate what was important. I have prioritized working on my most important relationship — the one I have with myself. As a result, all of my other relationships have evolved and changed as well, including those with my partners, friends, kids, and parents.
I have learned to appreciate honesty and authenticity, even when it made me or others uncomfortable. Not being completely truthful in a relationship makes it unsustainable. At some point it becomes too difficult to continue pretending and giving up my own needs for the sake of making the other person happy.
Having to shelter in place, deprived of my usual ways to de-stress, I had to find new methods for finding joy and fulfillment. I started to respect, love, and accept myself at a whole new level. I got more clarity around what was really important for me, learned about my boundaries, and shared that newly found knowledge with the closest people in my life.
I have been in a non-monogamous relationship for a relatively short time, only a few years. I by no means consider myself an expert in polyamory. All I’m doing is trying to figure out what works for me and sharing my experience along the way. There is no right way to live, it’s rather all about finding a way that makes me happy. Fortunately, there are people that share my views and want to live in a similar way.