What Does It Mean to Be Polyamorous?

A polyamorous relationship of three

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There’s a multitude of different platonic, romantic, and sexual relationships that could exist between people. Although monogamy is considered the most common type of relationship, that isn’t the case for everyone. Some believe one relationship can meet their romantic, emotional, and sexual needs. Others who like to maintain multiple romantic and sexual relationships with different partners may identify as polyamorous.

Polyamory is the practice of participating in several romantic and sexual relationships with more than one partner at the same time, with the informed consent between all the partners involved. As long as everyone consents to the relationship terms, polyamory can be just as healthy as monogamy. 

What Polyamory Looks Like

The term polyamory wasn’t coined until the 1990s but has recently risen in popularity. A recent census of adults revealed that one out of six people desire to be in a polyamorous relationship. Although you can’t be legally married to more than one person in the U.S. adults. However, polyamorous couples may form bonds in other ways to show their devotion to one another. 

Polyamory falls under the consensual non-monogamy (CNM) or ethical non-monogamy (ENM) spectrum. CNM is an umbrella term for relationships where all partners give each other consent to having sexual and romantic relationships with multiple people. With CNM, the agreement may vary with each relationship. For example, some partners may allow sexual relationships but not romantic ones. In addition, there may be another agreement where relationships involving three or more partners may be sexually and romantically exclusive.

Types of Polyamorous Relationships

There are nine types of polyamorous relationships. Every kind of polyamorous relationship has a unique structure with different relationship agreements. Polyamorous is one of the more diverse types of relationships, which allows individuals to engage in relationships that fit their romantic and sexual interests.  

Here are the nine types of polyamorous relationships: 

  • Triad: Also known as a throuple, a triad is a relationship between three people. In this polyamorous relationship, all three partners may or may not be sexually involved.
  • Quad: A quad is a polyamorous relationship involving four partners. Each individual may be part of a relationship with one or more people in the quad.
  • Vee: A vee involves three individuals with one partner at the bottom or hinge of the vee. The remaining two partners are the arms of the vee. These two partners have closer relationships with the partner at the hinge than each other.
  • Solo Polyamory: A person who has several partners but keeps their independence is solo polyamorous. With this type of polyamory, people choose not to live with their partners, have separate finances, and don’t have a primary relationship.
  • Polycule: A polycule is a network of individuals in non-monogamous romantic or sexual relationships.
  • Hierarchal Poly: Hierarchal poly involves a ranking system of romantic and sexual relationships. The person ranked at the top is the person’s primary partner. In addition, a person’s new partners become secondaries in their hierarchy.
  • Anchor Partner: Anchor partners are the people who provide emotional support in polyamorous relationships. These individuals can be romantically or sexually involved or just cohabitate with polyamorous people.
  • Kitchen Table Poly: Kitchen table poly is a situation where members of a polyamorous network are comfortable and connected. They don’t mind participating in gatherings where other partners are present. People within the kitchen-table polyamory develop a family-like relationship and enjoy spending time with each other.
  • Relationship Anarchy: Relationship anarchist relationships remove labels in relationships, desiring freedom and flexibility in their personal relationships. These relationships reject the rules and expectations of traditional relationships.

How to Have a Healthy Polyamorous Relationship

Although polyamory doesn’t follow the same standards as monogamous relationships, all parties involved should aim to develop healthy relationships with one another. Polyamory involves multiple romantic and sexual relationships, so every partner must understand what they’re partaking in. With any relationship, knowing how to communicate and setting boundaries can limit problems between partners. 

If you decide to practice polyamory, here’s how to lead healthy relationships with your partner(s). 

Communicate Openly With Each Other

Communication is vital in any relationship, especially when practicing polyamory. While one of the main ideas of polyamory is open communication and honesty between partners, jealousy can emerge if one person feels they’re not getting enough attention from their partner(s). In addition, a person may become jealous if their primary partner considers removing or adding someone to the relationship.

With this in mind, it’s crucial to have the ability to openly discuss your feelings with your partner and understand the terms of your relationship agreement or rules. Understand what types of relationships you and your partner(s) consent to and what each other needs and expectations are. Effective communication can sustain long-term commitment between partners in primary polyamorous relationships.

Set Boundaries

In polyamory, boundaries are the rules you create for yourself. It’s ultimately up to you to determine how you want to be treated in a relationship and how you’ll take care of yourself. These boundaries may relate to your sexual health, new partners, or self-care.

A few examples of boundaries polyamorous people may set are:

  • Getting tested for STIs every couple of months and sharing results with all partners.
  • Setting up how much time you spend with each partner.
  • Allocating “me time” to spend with friends, family, or yourself.
  • Meeting with your partner’s primary partner (or metamour) before going further into the relationship.
  • Deciding whether you’ll discuss sensitive topics (e.g., a death in the family, your mental health, financial troubles) with your partners.

You might not initially know what triggers you, but once you realize it, let your partner(s) know, so there’s open communication between you. 

How to Support People in Polyamorous Relationships

Even if polyamorous isn’t for you, there are multiple ways to support others that choose this lifestyle. Although more people are practicing polyamory, many misconceptions still surround this relationship. The negative assumptions around polyamory can ultimately harm those in the community.

If you know someone in a polyamorous relationship, here’s how you can support them:

  • Ask for consent: Make sure you get their permission before asking about their identity. For example, you can say, “Is it okay to ask you questions about your polyamory experiences?” If they consent, you can continue the conversation about polyamory. 
  • Listen: Sometimes, people just need someone to listen. They may want you to be someone they can vent to and share the happy moments surrounding their lifestyle. As they talk, show nonverbal cues like nodding your head and making eye contact. Also, ask questions and use encouraging words during the conversation. 
  • Have an open mind: Avoid being judgmental about polyamory. Even if you disagree with polyamory, try to have an open mindset. Ask questions when you don’t understand something, and show genuine interest when they’re talking about their experiences. 
  • Educate yourself about polyamory: Although you may want to get all the details about polyamory from them, you should also research this lifestyle. By educating yourself about polyamory, you can be an advocate for this community.
  • Don’t out them: It’s not your responsibility to reveal their identity to others. It’s up to them when and who they choose to share their polyamorous identity with. Whatever they decide, be their support system.

A Quick Review

Polyamory is the practice of participating in several romantic and sexual relationships with more than one partner at the same time. Polyamory falls under the umbrella term consensual nonmonogamy (CNM), which includes other types of relationships like swinging and casual sex. Nine types of polyamorous relationships involve different relationship structures and agreements between partners. To have a healthy polyamorous relationship, ensure an open line of communication and set boundaries. If you know someone who is polyamorous, be as supportive as possible.

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12 Sources
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