A type of ethical non-monogamy, polyamory involves having romantic relationships with multiple people.
Polyamorous relationships are becoming increasingly common. And yet, many people falsely believe that polyamory never works, or that polyamorous relationships are “doomed” from the start.
In truth, it’s a relationship style that works for many people. As with all relationships, communication and respect is key to making it work.
Polyamory works for some people, while others prefer monogamy. Neither is necessarily superior to the other.
Polyamorous relationships — like monogamous relationships — can be healthy and fulfilling, depending on the circumstances and behaviors of the people in them.
What is polyamory?
Polyamory is a form of ethical non-monogamy that involves committed relationships between two or more people — typically romantic relationships.
Essentially, being in a polyamorous relationship means that you and your partner have the option of dating other people.
Polyamory is not the same as polygamy. Polygamy involves being married to more than one person at a time. Polyamory doesn’t necessarily involve marriage.
Polyamorous relationships also are not necessarily sexual in nature, although they can be.
How do polyamorous relationships work?
Generally, polyamorous relationships involve having the option to date two or more people at the same time.
Polyamory can look different to different people. There are many “structures” and boundaries you can employ. Each polyamorous person can set their own boundaries based on what they’re comfortable with.
Some of the most common polyamory structures are:
- Polyfidelity. This is where the partners in a group agree not to have sexual or romantic relationships with people who are not in the group.
- Triad. This involves three people who are all dating one another, also called a throuple.
- Quad. Similar to a triad, a quad is a relationship involving four people who are all dating one another.
- Vee (or “V”). This is where one person is dating two different people, but those two people are not dating one another.
Many polyamorous people don’t have a structured setup. They simply have multiple romantic relationships, going with the flow as they meet new people.
Polyamorous relationships can be hierarchical or non-hierarchical.
In polyamory, a “hierarchy” means one relationship is prioritized above others. For instance, you might be married and consider that your “primary relationship,” while your other relationships are seen as secondary.
There’s a lot of controversial discourse over whether hierarchical relationships are fair or not. One 2021 research study found that people in non-hierarchical polyamorous relationships are about as satisfied as those in hierarchical polyamorous relationships.
Polyamorous structures often change over time as people’s feelings, relationships, and personal circumstances change. This is why communication is something often emphasized in polyamorous groups.
Talking about your needs, boundaries, and feelings is one step toward maintaining healthy and happy relationships.
Does infidelity happen in a polyamorous relationship?
As with all relationships, polyamorous relationships have boundaries. If you overstep those boundaries, your partner might consider it cheating, or breaking your relationship agreement.
What does infidelity look like in polyamorous relationships? That depends on the nature of the relationship.
For example, let’s say you and your partner agree not to go on dates with other people without telling one another beforehand. However, your partner starts dating someone without your knowledge. That could be considered a violation of your relationship agreement and a form of infidelity.
As another example, let’s say you’re in a polycule (that is, a group of polyamorous people) and you practice polyfidelity (which means you agree not to have romantic or sexual relationships with people outside the group). But then you start sleeping with someone outside the group. That could be considered an act of infidelity by others in your polycule.
As with all relationships, honesty and communication are key. Overstepping or disregarding boundaries can do some serious damage to your relationship.
Are polyamorous relationships healthy?
Polyamorous relationships can be healthy. Contrary to popular belief, they aren’t all “doomed” — and it’s very possible to have polyamorous relationships that are fulfilling and happy.
As with monogamous relationships, polyamorous relationships can be healthy or unhealthy — happy or unhappy — depending on the behaviors and actions of the people who engage in them.
Many people in polyamorous relationships are satisfied and happy. A 2018 study looked at people in monogamous relationships and people in non-monogamous relationships. The study found no difference in relationship satisfaction between the two groups.
Polyamory and mental health
It does not matter if you’re entering a polyamorous or monogamous relationship, the important thing is to consider your mental health when committing to someone.
Many people find polyamorous relationships to be more enjoyable and easier to manage than monogamous relationships.
However, polyamory can pose some challenges, too. For example:
- Time constraints. Having multiple relationships can be difficult because each relationship requires time. A “time squeeze” can be quite stressful.
- Energy constraints. Similarly, each relationship requires energy — emotional, mental, and physical. This can be a challenge, especially if you have difficulties with energy in general.
- Jealousy. Some polyamorous people don’t experience jealousy, while others do. Being jealous isn’t inherently bad, but you’ll want to learn to express and manage it healthily.
Lastly, discrimination can impact your mental health. Many polyamorous people experience difficulty with the stigma attached to non-monogamy.
Facing a lack of acceptance from your friends, family, and community can be stressful. Research has indicated that many non-monogamous people internalize negative messages about non-monogamy, which can affect their relationships and sense of identity.
Ultimately, it’s up to you to determine whether polyamory is right for you.
Polyamory is not necessarily superior to monogamy — it works for some people and it doesn’t work for others. As we’re all unique individuals with unique needs, there’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to relationships.
What do you need to know before entering a polyamorous relationship?
Before you get into a polyamorous relationship, it’s a good idea to take time educating yourself on polyamory and non-monogamy.
While most people are generally familiar with monogamous relationships, it’s quite difficult to find a blueprint for polyamory.
This means that many of the challenges that are unique to polyamory — such as navigating time management or dealing with jealousy when meeting the partner of your partner — can be even more difficult to deal with. Many may feel alone or at a loss when it comes to dealing with these challenges.
There are a lot of terminologies involved in polyamory, too. Words like “metamour” or “compersion” help people describe relationships and experiences that are unique to non-monogamy. This terminology might seem unnecessary, but it’s extremely useful for communicating with your partners.
So, before you get into polyamory, it’s important to do a little research.
Consider starting with books, listening to podcasts, and viewing forums related to non-monogamy. Learning the terms and discussing polyamory is another great way to prepare yourself.
Lastly, whether you’re currently in a polyamorous relationship or not, you might benefit from connecting with polyamorous communities (online or offline). Making friends with like-minded people is a great way to learn more about polyamory and find support.