Why Polyamory Succeeds


I’m Alexander Cheves, a writer, author, and sex educator. My nickname is Beastly. I give adult advice on this blog — no question is off-limits. To ask me something, email AskBeastly@gmail.com or send a message via the Ask Beastly contact form.

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I am in my mid 30’s, mostly straight female. I have been married for 15 years and have 2 kids. We are in a place where we are together for the comfort of life.

He knows I date and have other relationships but is not interested in them for himself. I have been involved with an additional 2 men for about 2 years. The 3 of us have played together and everyone knows about everyone. I truly love all of them. Each of them makes me so happy and I enjoy making them happy. 

I am open with my decision to be non-monogamous/polyamorous from day 1 with anyone I may be attracted to. Lies cause pain and I do not want that. 

My love, my #1, the one I see a future with, was ok with my desire to be non-monogamous but for the first 1.5 years said he had no desire for anyone else. That has changed and it’s been an adjustment. Learning to share him and not be the one being shared is very different and has surfaced some insecurities I did not know I had and has been a huge learning curve I am trying to get through.

We have been trying to communicate as much as possible and after the first flop he is involved with a new partner and things are mellowing out. She seems a way better fit for him and for us. We are all getting together and meeting this weekend for the first time.

My partner has asked me to think about things like setting limits, my expectations for his time with each of us and other thoughts so that we can all have a good, honest and open conversation about us all to help avoid conflict or hurt feelings in the future. 

This is a new concept for me. I am more of a roll with it kind of person who has trouble setting limits. I don’t want to tell my partner no, you can’t do that, however, I think it would be good to set boundaries and might help with some of my insecurities. 

Can you give some advice on setting limits; pros and cons, types of limits, consequences for not adhering to them or any other advice on the topic of setting limits in a poly relationship? 

Howdy friend,

I have a polyamorous, non-monogamous relationship with my partner. I can’t speak for poly, non-monogamous people everywhere, but I can speak from my own experience. Polyamory only works when everyone involved is willing to sit down and talk honestly every once in a while — making it no different than any other relationship. So it’s time to stop being a “roll with it” kind of person. Talking might be uncomfortable, but your partner has the right idea. I’d schedule some time to sit down with him and discuss your relationship with him, what the other relationships in your life are, what the other relationships in his life are, what you both want these relationships to be, and so on.

My partner and I call this talk, which we do every few months, a SOTU or “State of the Union.” Elsewhere on this blog, I’ve described this as “discussing the Four Fs” (I’ve gone into more detail about this talk here and here).

My partner and I structure our relationship this way: Brent is my “primary,” what you call your “#1.” I don’t label my other partners as “secondary” or “tertiary” as I have no interest in establishing a hierarchy among my loves. Different people satisfy different things for me, as you can surely understand, and ranking them would be to measure them all by some shared trait or ability, and that can’t be done. Brent doesn’t enjoy fisting and ass play, so I get that from my people who do. Brent has fetishes that I’m not into and can’t satisfy, so he explores them with other people.

Polyamory only works when everyone involved is willing to sit down and talk honestly every once in a while — making it no different than any other relationship.

In my life, most of my people do not have labels and I avoid labels wherever I can. Brent is the only one I call “boyfriend.” I like it this way, but I understand many poly folks prefer to name their various connections. I do not. I have recently connected with a dominant Master, who calls me “boy,” so I suppose those are labels I use, but labels of “Master” and “boy” in kink are a required part of the practice. Brent has priority over all others, including Master, and all the others in my life know that.

I practice what some might call “relationship anarchy,” a version of polyamory that exists outside having clearly-defined polycules, as some polyamorous folks do. A polycule is a group of people connected via polyamorous relationships and most of them know and communicate with each other. I, on the other hand, would be hard-pressed to define where my cluster of relationships begins and ends, and most of my “special people” have not met each other. I would find it hard to present my relationships as a clear web or list, or indeed as relationships at all, at least by traditional standards. Even my primary relationship with Brent is nontraditional, as our sex with each other is minimal; most of our sex happens with others.

You seem to have a very clear boundary line drawn in your mind around who you are with and who your partner is with, and you all seem happy to meet and know each other. This cluster — you, him, your people, and his — are your polycule. So we do polyamory a bit differently. That’s great! Polyamory succeeds because it’s endlessly customizable to whatever you want and need. The only things it requires are clarity, honesty, communication, and shared understanding — the same things that all successful relationships need.

If your feelings are not enough to make him respect a boundary, he’s not someone to keep.

The only person I have a SOTU talk with regularly is my primary, Brent. Within that talk, we don’t really lay out expectations of our time with each other. Mostly we just check in, make sure nothing needs to be addressed, and share where we are in our lives and identities with absolute honesty. If you and your partner sit down and agree that you are each other’s primaries, the expectations of time together become automatically clear: he should be the one you’re spending (and want to spend) most time with, maybe even live with. I don’t like the idea of repercussions for breaking certain rules in any relationship. The biggest “repercussion” I practice is the agreement Brent and I have made that we are each other’s primaries, and if that changes — if he meets someone he has a better, stronger connection with, or if I do — we’ll break up. We’re not interested in being anything other than primaries to each other.

We do practice some limits but very few. I have a history with meth, so Brent can’t do meth. There is very little he can do with someone else to inspire my jealousy, but when those rare things come, I make time to talk to him about them, and that is the advice I give everyone. Talk about your jealousies when they appear and don’t wait — don’t keep them in. Don’t feel embarrassed for feeling jealous, as everyone gets jealous sometimes. You likely don’t know right now what limits you want to establish with him, what things he might want to do with someone else that are beyond your comfort zone, and you likely won’t discover these things until they happen and make you feel insecure and uncomfortable. Those feelings will be your signal that this is something you must talk to him about ASAP and decide together if a limit should be established. Again, I would establish no “repercussions” for breaking these limits beyond simply saying that your feelings would be hurt and your trust shaken, which is just the truth. If your feelings are not enough to make him respect a boundary, he’s not someone to keep.

The little agreements (a better word than “rules”) that manage your polyamorous relationships will not work for everyone else, nor should they. Everyone has to discover their own way to do this. Though some books can help. I recommend Polysecure: Attachment, Trauma and Consensual Nonmonogamy by Jessica Fern, Nora Samaran, and Eve Rickert and, obviously, The Ethical Slut: A Practical Guide to Polyamory, Open Relationships, and Other Freedoms in Sex and Love, by Janet Hardy and Dossie Easton.

I can think of no greater act of love than helping someone explore and delight in all versions of themselves.

My partner had a Daddy — a father-like figure who helped him and guided him through life and kink — years before I came into the picture. I can’t compete with his Daddy and don’t need to. I don’t share their history — they will always have a special bond I’m not privy to. Brent and I have sat down a few times and talked about our setup. I am his primary, but I encourage his other relationships, and I know and understand how much he needs his Daddy and everyone else he loves. As my primary, he has agreed to the same terms. He won’t tell me I can’t have other connections, but I value his thoughts and opinions above all others’. If he didn’t like someone I was interested in, I would probably let that connection wither. He has never raised an objection in the past, and since such an objection would be such a rare event, I know it would not be without good reasons.

Try to enjoy the experience of seeing your primary find what he needs with others. Encourage it, even. Getting his needs met will allow him to love you more honestly and relieve pressure. No one can please all of someone else. He has parts to him that he can only show them. You’re dating a complex sexual creature — that’s what humans are. No one can see the whole of someone else, as everyone contains many facets, many lanes of desire. The fact that you see as much of him as you do and love what you see makes you lucky. You satisfy some substantial part of him, but he has sides that you can’t satisfy, so you should encourage him to meet those who do. I can think of no greater act of love than helping someone explore and delight in all versions of themselves.

That is what you’re doing, and finding someone to love who allows such freedom and authenticity is rare in this world. I’m sure he knows how lucky he is to have you, and you sound like a great partner. Just ritualize good, regular communication sessions and be forthcoming about your discomforts and jealousies/insecurities as they come, and you’ll be fine.

Love, Beastly

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