One of the things I have noticed over the past number of years is how often a simple relationship mistake can bring drama with a capital D that lasts for ages.
Often these mistakes fall into a few obvious categories.
1 It’s easier to ask for forgiveness than it is to get permission.
This quote originally came from Rear Admiral Grace Murray Hopper who was a US naval officer and an early computer programmer. She said this in an interview with Chips Ahoy when she asked the magazine why they didn’t just go ahead and print and they said they were trying to get permission.
The problem with asking for forgiveness instead of getting permission in a relationship (especially in non-monogamous relationships) is that when you make the conscious choice to do this, you are admitting that you are doing something behind your partner’s back. In essence you are lying because omitting is also lying. Dishonesty is the number one cause of relationship breakdown.
By avoiding talking with your partner about something you know they are likely to find difficult, you also assume your partner’s feelings, thoughts and reactions. You make it impossible for them to grow because you are not having the difficult conversation with them.
You also avoid having to hear someone say ‘no’ and then abide by that ‘no’ because you have agreed to do so. In non-monogamous relationships this is particularly damaging. Most people in non-monogamous relationships have agreements about how other relationships are started and conducted, what types of sex are permissible and what types of relationships are permissible. If you ignore these agreements, you are essentially saying that they are not important and therefore you diminish the importance of your commitment and your relationship.
Jeffrey and Cindy are married and identify as polyamorous. The one rule they have about choosing other partners is that they need to talk with each other before sleeping with someone else and that in some circumstances, the other partner can say ‘No, I don’t want you to sleep with that person.’. Margaret kept pursuing Jeffrey over a period of two years. Margaret’s son and Jeffrey and Cindy’s son were great friends and in the same class at school. Jeffrey finally decided he wanted to sleep with Margaret but he knew that Cindy would say no. Cindy would not like that Margaret was someone at the school and was the mother of one of their son’s friends. She would be concerned that if there were relationship problems between Jeffrey and Margaret, everyone at school would hear about it and also that their son’s friendship would be disrupted. Jeffrey decides not to ask Cindy and starts a relationship with Margaret that goes on for 6 months. Cindy found out because everyone at school knew and there was a large scene between Jeffrey and Margaret. Cindy ended her marriage as a result of this messy affair in part because of the drama it brought to her son’s life and to her life.
2 Pressure to try ‘new’ things.
People who are non-monogamous often feel a need to try anything. There can be considerable social pressure to try the newest activity, relationship style or type of relationship rules out there. Pressure can be applied before an idea is thought through and discussed. For example, in some circles, women are expected to try sexual activity with other women. People are sometimes pressured to be friends with each other’s metamours (the partners of your partner).
3 Believing that opening up your relationship and becoming non-monogamous will resolve all relationship issues
It is trendy to be non-monogamous. It doesn’t suit everyone. Non-monogamy requires LOTS of good communication. I have seen many couples whose relationships have become sexually stagnant or who have been having difficulty with desire latch on to the idea that opening their relationship up will solve all their relationship issues. If you already cannot communicate well with each other and don’t have the communication skills to resolve your existing relationship problems, opening up your relationship will only make things more complex. Before deciding to open up, why not work with a coach or take a class to improve your communication skills including negotiation and conflict management?
The idea that opening up will solve things is like the idea that moving will solve issues that you are having. It never words because where ever you go, there you are. You take the issues with you. And with opening up your relationship, you take your relationship issues with you and also bring them into new relationships thus creating lots of drama in many cases.
4 Misunderstanding what making all relationships equal means.
Non-hierarchical polyamory is also trendy now. People get extremely upset when someone talks about having primary relationships and will shame people who don’t agree that all their relationships should be non-hierarchical. Leaving aside people who are in authority transfer based relationships which by their nature are hierarchical, there are a number of issues with trying to make all relationships ‘equal’. Equal is identical in mathematical value, of the same quantity or number. Seeing all relationships as of equal importance or all people as of equal value is acceptable (though often problematic. After all, my one night stand is not of equal importance as my marriage, nor is it of equal value). Better yet is looking at all people as being of equal value. In reality, a relationship in which I am financially supporting someone is not equal to one in which I see someone once a year. I have responsibilities in the first relationship that I do not have in the second relationship. Which usually means that I need to give more time to the first relationship. Many people just the ‘equality’ of a relationship with how much time is spent together. Once making relationships equal becomes the focus, counting becomes a focus as well. Counting leads to disaster.
What do I mean by counting? Counting is when you compare relationships and look at how much time, how many holidays, how many photos posted on Facebook and then make assumptions about the value of the relationships based on the numbers you come up with. Arly gets angry with Marco regularly because they post more pictures of themselves with Annie than they do of themselves with Arly. To Arly, this means that Marco values their relationship with Annie more than they value their relationship with Arly. In fact, Annie takes the photos and Marco simply shares them. To Marco, this means nothing. They love Annie and they love Arly. Arly also insists that Marco spend the same number of days with him that they spend with Annie. Arly says that if Marco doesn’t agree to this, Marco is being hierarchical. It isn’t practical for them to spend the same number of days with each one as Arly lives 1000 km away and Annie lives in the same house. Quality over quantity is a maxim that needs to be adopted often in non-monogamous relationships styles. Scheduling time is one of the most difficult things to manage as time is finite and we all have many demands on our time beyond our relationships.
5 This is the ‘right’ way to be polyamorous.
The ‘right’ way changes depending on the trends. As I said earlier, non-hierarchical polyamory is trendy now so hierarchical relationships are seen as ‘wrong’. Except that some polyamorous people are in authority transfer based relationships and these are hierarchical and as a result, the way they do polyamory is usually hierarchical because the dominant in that hierarchical relationship holds the agency and decides what other relationships the submissive will be allowed to be in, what the submissive can do in those relationships and how much time the submissive can give to those relationships. Of course YMMV. In some cases, the submissive may have agency to carve out time for a specific other relationship and this may be kept sacrosanct. There are no right ways only the right way for you. Figuring out what is right for you takes looking at all the possibilities, examining what feels right for you in any given situation and final discussing possibilities with partners and negotiating until parameters are agreed upon and clear.
6 We shouldn’t have to work on our relationships ongoing.
Once we have negotiated and agreed a contract of sorts or a set of rules, that should be OK going forward. Polyamory should be fun and spending time working on relationships is not fun.
All relationships require work. Work doesn’t have to be arduous. Work could just be a good conversation. Work could be time spent each week checking in with a partner as to how they are feeling and making sure there are no issues that are brewing. Relationships require attention no matter what type of relationship they are. Relationships are more fun when there aren’t any unexamined issues around casting negative shadows over the enjoyable bits.
Are you in a non-monogamous relationship? Are you creating one? If you would like help creating a workable structure, sign up for a free 30 minute discovery session here and why not work through my online course here?