I am asked this question more than almost any other question about polyamory. My short answer – yes, it is possible. However, to make a poly/mono relationship work takes partners who are secure in themselves and their choices, secure in the relationship, good communicators and willing to work.
Often people who are monogamous don’t understand why a person would want to be polyamorous and this can lead to feeling that a polyamorous partner is looking to replace them or that if they just work hard enough, the person will become monogamous. If the relationship started as a monogamous one and one partner has changed, it is often very hard for the one who has remained monogamous to manage that shift.
It is the poly person who will find themselves with the responsibility to help the monogamous person feel as safe and secure in the relationship as possible. Good communication, the ability to set boundaries and stellar negotiation skills are essential.
Both parties will need to understand the other person’s world view. If they are truly committed to each other, they must spend time and work at understanding as fully as possible. Relationships where each person’s goals and expectations are different are difficult relationships. In order to make them work, both people will have to put in lots of effort.
Essentials for a Poly/Mono relationships to work:
The poly partner is clear about what her version of poly entails.
Not all polyamory is the same. Some relationships are hierarchical – there is a central relationship that takes precedence and other relationships come after in the list of priorities. Other polyamorous relationships are egalitarian so priorities are juggled regularly. Some polyamorous relationships involve only casual relationships outside of the original relationship. If you want the type of polyamory where all of your partners and their other partners are friends you need to be clear with your monogamous partner that this is your expectation. To be friends with other partners requires a very high level of security as a person and also security in the relationship. It is often easier to feel less threatened if you don’t see and talk to another person who is sexually involved with your partner if you are by nature monogamous.
The monogamous partner understands that his partner is not seeking other relationships because something is missing in their relationship.
Often the monogamous person feels that his partner would not be looking elsewhere if he was better at x, y or z or if he changed his body shape, hair or something else. This has nothing to do with why the partner is polyamorous. Understanding this leads to feeling personally more secure. If you believe that your partner finds you lacking and that is why she is looking for another partner, your self-esteem will dip and you will find it hard to feel secure in the relationship.
The couple create rules and boundaries for their relationship and for the other relationships that the polyamorous person enters into.
Lots of monogamous heterosexual couples do not create rules and boundaries for their relationships. They leave most things completely unspoken and have lots of expectations based on their upbringings, previous relationships and societal influences. This often leads to problems in relationships and difficulty working through issues that arise. Relationships can work for many years before expectations and a lack of clear boundaries become a problem. In poly/mono relationships issues arise quickly if these areas are not clearly discussed, negotiated and spelled out. I see this as the blueprint for the relationship because blueprints are detailed plans with lots of boundaries, measurements, and rules. Plans can be changed as a building is being constructed. Modifications are agreed upon because something won’t work in practice or because someone changes his mind. The changes are discussed and agreed and added to the blueprint.
Areas that form part of a good blueprint:
Will the relationship be prioritised? Are there special days or events that need to be spent together? Will you spend the night with other partners?
Are you living together or are you planning on living together? Can you bring other partners to spend the night in the home you share together if you share a home together? If you don’t live together, will the poly partner possibly live with one of her other partners? Is the plan to get married or form a civil partnership?
If you already have children together, how will you manage other partners? Will the children meet them or spend time with them? If you don’t have children, do either of you want them? If one of you does and the other doesn’t how will that be managed in the relationship? If the poly person is the one who wants children will she have them with another partner?
Sexual limits and boundaries
Are there activities you reserve only to the two of you? What will you do in relation to safe sex? Will there be fluid bonding between the two of you and with no one else? How often will you get tested for STD’s?
Will you talk with each other about the other partners in detail? Does the mono person want to hear details? Does the poly person feel comfortable sharing details? How much information will be shared with other partners?
Public acknowledgement of the relationship:
Will other partners be public? What about social media? What explanation will you give people like family and friends?
Will the mono partner have the right to say no to a potential partner who feels threatening to him? Are there limits on who can be chosen based on marital status, age or perceived complications?
Desires, wishes, dreams:
Draw a picture of how you wish the relationships will look in 3 months, 6 months, 1 year and 5 years. Look at this plan for non-workable parts, issues that might arise, areas of potential problems and try to find solutions or alter the plans.
There is a lot to consider when creating this blueprint. If you aren’t great at communicating about difficult complex issues, I suggest having a number of sessions with a sex and intimacy coach. A coach can help you both find the language and build the negotiating and communication skills and this will give you a better chance of creating a relationship that works for both of you and any partners who come along in the future.
Coaching can also help you gain strategies to manage any intense emotions that arises. Many people have only a small set of emotional management strategies and this can be limiting. You can expand your repertoire and with practice become an expert at managing emotions and stress.
Poly/mono relationships can be rich and fulfilling as long as you are able to put in the work and you treat each other and the relationship with the respect and care it deserves.