Tips on Polyamory

Christina here…

I’m about halfway through my blogathon! I feel like I’m talking to myself though.. So I’m going to talk to someone for real.

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A few days ago, a reader asked if she could ask me some questions about open relationships. I said yes, and she sent me this email. I respond inline:

First, thanks for doing this! I’ll be sure to send some money your way for the SSA b/c I support the organization, and I enjoy your blog!

So, a little back story to help clarify my questions about open relationships:

I have been with my boyfriend, who we’ll call ‘Brad’, for almost 4 years. About a year ago, I found out he had been cheating and we broke up over it for a little while, but ultimately I like to view that whole catastrophy as a catalyst for positive change. It helped me become more independant, I decided to go back to school, we both went to counselling and got anti-depressants which have helped improve our lives in many ways inside and outside the relationship. We decided to get back together as a strictly closed relationship, and things have been going really well for the last year.

Sounds good so far! I’m sorry to hear that your catalyst for positive change was your partner breaking your relationship rules, but it’s awesome that you guys worked past it, turned it into a catalyst, and are back together.

In February, we had a long discussion and decided to try an open arrangement. Clearly, he wanted sex with other people, and I was interested as well. We have read “The Ethical Slut” and we follow blogs like WWJTD, Greta Christina, The Pervocracy and Savage Love, so while we’re new to the non-monogamy thing, we’re relatively well informed about it. We set some ground rules, the most important ones being: weekends are us time, we will inform each other of our plans before they happen, we will inform any outside partners of our arrangement, and we must use condoms. We purposefully decided not to grant veto powers over each other’s choice in partners or require “permission” from each other, although we do still take each other’s feelings and desires into consideration.

Those sound like good rules. I think our “veto power” in my own primary relationship with Christopher is mostly just symbolic anyway: I don’t think he would ever date someone I wanted to veto, and though I dated someone he did want to veto, he made it a point to not veto.

It has been working well for the most part. Not a whole lot has happened- Brad’s been on a few dates, and I have enjoyed some casual flirting. Within the last month or so, I got involved with a man I hope will become a recurring partner. At first, Brad was really encouraging and accepting, but as things have become more intimate with my outside partner, Brad has become increasingly jealous. I try my best to be completely honest with both men, and reassure Brad that he is still most important to me, and he has been open and communicative about his feelings as well. I enjoy the attention from and the sex with my outside partner, but Brad’s waaay more important than all that and I would pick him if I had to chose (although I hope I never have to).

This happened to me too.  Chris started dating Ashley, and I got jealous when their dating became less casual and more committed. Originally I wanted more of a “Husband plus friends with benefits” kind of arrangement. When the two of them got more serious, I felt pretty deep pangs of jealousy. I no longer have that issue, and I’ll explain how below.

Also, it might be useful to add that Brad and I currenty live about an hour apart, but spend most weekends together. My outside partner lives 2 hours away from me in the other direction, so our relationship is mostly through texting and Facebook, although we have met up on occassion.

Ah, the complexities of long-distance relationships. I did that once, before I was emotionally mature to really do it well.

So, with all that being said, here are my questions:

Do you have any “ground rules” that have worked well in your relationships that maybe we haven’t considered? I think we have a good arrangement, but it’s hard to anticipate what might come up since we are un-experienced sluts.

My husband and I like the ground rule of, “We get one date night a week to ourselves” though to be honest, it doesn’t exactly happen. There are only so many dates you can go on with your husband, who you live with and have been with for 4 years, before the dates themselves become kind of stale. I mean come on.. dinner and a movie, really? In a way, my husband and I like to do different things a lot of the time. It’s kind of a problem, and one we mostly work out, but not always. I don’t know if the hour distance between each other will impact your ability to do that…

Since you live an hour away, have you tried ambient skyping? That’s when you hang out on Skype together, even if you’re both milling about your own business. You could also “sleep together” by staying on Skype all night. Maybe you could have a rule about being able to ambient skype to sleep on all the nights you’re at home.

One day, after my husband went off for the weekend with Ashley to celebrate their one year anniversary, Chris came back with a ring Ashley had given him. She wanted him to wear it all the time. I didn’t. We had a freakout. Chris and I met up for a Skeptical Society meeting a few days later and Ashley was there, and Chris wasn’t wearing her ring. Ashley freaked out and was hurt. She felt like I was rejecting her. I felt like the wearing of rings was pushing too far into my own “territory” and violated a rule we hadn’t even thought about.

Over time I got over it – partially because Ashley and I grew to see each other as “girlfriend” and I think taking time to get used to the idea made me not care as much – now, he could wear it all the time if he wanted, along with our wedding bands.

The point being is that you should have a plan for unexpected things that will come up. A plan something like, “if something comes up and I have even the slightest idea that my partner might maybe be bothered by it, discuss!”

Honestly, we don’t have a lot of rules. Here they are, in no real order:

1. You shalt not spawn with your non-primary partner.

2. You shalt not live with anyone other than your primary partner: our house is ours, their house is theirs.

3. You shalt inform your primary partner in advance of any escapades you plan to have without them.

4. You shalt inform your primary partner of any other partners.

5. You shalt not keep secrets from your primary partner.

6. You shalt tell your primary partner (preferably in fun detail, with demonstrations) of any escapades you have with other partners.

7. You shalt practice all sex safely, sanely and consentually.

8. You shalt allow your primary partner to have veto power over your other partners.

9. You shalt strive to spend more time with your primary partner than with your secondary partners.

10. Any of these rules are amenable given proper discussion and agreement except #7.

Heh – I’ve never actually written these down before! Thanks!

Any advice for me on how to help reassure Brad? I want to be supportive and try to communicate openly and honestly, as well as spend lots of time with him, but am willing to do more!

Sometimes, no amount of reassurance will help. It sucks, I know. Sometimes you just can’t turn the emotion dial down or off in your brain, no matter how hard you try. Having said that though: You could let him know that you’re willing to be monogamous if he says he wants monogamy (if you are willing, of course). I always felt jealous when Chris had Ashley as his regular partner but I wasn’t seeing anyone regularly – I know that seems kind of shallow and maybe even a little petty, but I’d find myself upstairs in my room on the computer by myself while he was on a date and just feel lonely and wish he were with me instead. Chris helped easy my jealousy by talking to me right after a date, snuggling me, and telling sincerely how much he missed me.

Any advice for the jealous partner? He says that logically he likes our arrangement, but he’s struggling on an emotional level.

Brad! There isn’t anything “wrong” with feeling the way you do. but if that’s not how you want to feel, then there are things you can do to help:

Really sit down and analyze the what’s and why’s of your jealousy. Do you find certain situations set off your emotions, like when your partner is on a date night or when you know she’s texting him or when you see their interactions on Facebook, or when you feel lonely or tired? If you can figure out in what situations you feel the worst, you can change that situation.

Time can heal a lot of jealousy feelings. you might find that you’re really worked up over something, and a few weeks later that something is no big deal. That happens to me a lot. So I’d also suggest just being patient with yourself.

If I were in your situation, I would feel like I didn’t get enough time with my partner – she’s an hour away, so I would probable feel like I didn’t get to spend enough time with her. If she’s off spending time with someone else, I might feel like that time spent with someone else could be spent with me.  So I’d maybe encourage her to spend time with other partners only when you’re otherwise unavailable or unable to see her.

And, anything else you’d like to share that you think we should know, or any resources you could point us towards, we’d love to hear it!

Man, you’ve pretty much got the resources covered. the only other thing I would suggest is  TheBeautifulKind.

Feel free to post any/all/some of that on the blog. “Brad” has consented to sharing our business as long as we use fake names, so please refer to me as “Janet”.

If anyone else has some sexy questions they want me to answer, go donate to the SSA and then ask!

This is post 15/24 by Christina for the SSA blogathon in support of the Secular Student Alliance! Go donate to them!

Learn more about Christina and follow her @ziztur.


Thanks again! I look forward to the epic amount of blogging that SSA week will bring!

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  • rachelpridgen

    Thank you for blogging about this. I’m fresh out of 34 years as a fundamentalist evangelical Christian, so these topics are all new and endlessly fascinating to me.

  • Vicki

    Something from my own experience (and related to what my friend Darkhawk has said): jealousy is an emotion, not a decision. (The rest of this is addressed mostly to Janet, though of course might be relevant to other people, and/or not useful for her.)

    Try to figure out what’s bothering you, and then what (if anything) you want to do, or ask your partner(s) to do, about it. (This connects to what Christina posted.) For example, are there specific acts that bother you or Brad, either when they happen or to think about? If so, are those things you want yourself but aren’t getting? Or are they things that you are getting, but which it matters to you to have unique? That’s not significant for me, but a friend of mine finds it important that there be things her partner does only with her. In their case, they have come up with specific small things, which satisfies her and doesn’t leave her partner feeling overly constrained.

    If Brad at one time finds that he’s unhappy that you’re spending half an hour on the phone with another partner, and at another that he’s fine with you doing something that “should” make him jealous, neither of those reactions is false. Maybe his ideas of what should be special is different from yours, or maybe he was less confident the first time, for some reason.

    Oh, and a hint for the long-distance thing: it can be anchoring to do mundane things together, so you’ll be more familiar with each others’ day-to-day lives. Go grocery shopping together, or make the occasional trip to the post office or library or hardware store. Don’t make it a point to do all those things during the week because it seems like a waste of your precious time together to spend any of it picking up ant traps. You’re aiming for the long term here: this relationship is a major part of your life, not a thing set aside from it.

  • researchtobedone

    I’ve written a bit about this stuff before, and decided, in light of this post, to put that writing somewhere I can actually link to it. A couple of the things I think might be helpful. The first is to remember that if your partner chooses decent partners, they’re more likely to be your allies than your enemies.

    The second was sort of touched on already:

    Chris helped easy my jealousy by talking to me right after a date, snuggling me, and telling sincerely how much he missed me.

    I find it can be helpful to model this kind of thing after the idea of aftercare in BDSM.

    Hope those are helpful.

  • Anon

    This was actually a great read! I’ve been really curious how you handle your open marriage as a couple, as my husband and I toyed with the idea over a year ago, but shut it down quickly.

    In our case, it was because I think I’m too insecure to handle the thought of him alone with another woman while I’m not there, no matter how much I try to rationalize or reassure myself I know I’m most important in his life. Even though when I’m calm I understand and can say without a doubt I’m the most important person in his life, there was an ever present seed of doubt while we were attempting an open relationship of “What if she ends up being a better partner than me?” or “What if one day he finds a partner he desires more than me?” And if so, and I lost him as a result, the loss would be my own fault for allowing the opening of the floodgates, if you will. So yes, while I realize the reasons are really out of fear and my own selfishness, I couldn’t come to any agreement on how to handle it, so I just asked for the arrangement to end – which we did, very amicably.

    Oddly enough, he’s still encouraging when I mention fancing an encounter with X person whom I know, often with the phrase “Dude, if you have a chance with X, go for it! I’m not going to stop you. Just tell me all about it.” And yet I know he genuinely means it when he says such things. It’s encouraging, humbling (that he trusts the integrity of our relationship so much), but also makes me very sad that I don’t share the same level of trust. Not because I don’t trust him to honour his end of the arrangement, but because I don’t trust myself to be comparable to the other women in the world, and that it would be easy, natural, and understandable for him to find someone better than me, fall in love with them, and then suddenly lose everything.

    • Alasdair

      Hey, Anon: don’t beat yourself up over your feelings about your husband. It cannot be stressed enough that polyamory is *not for everyone*, and if you aren’t comfortable with the idea of your husband being with other women, *that does not make you a bad person*. That’s absolutely fine and normal. Some people are simply inclined towards polyamorous relationships and others (myself among them) towards monogamous ones, and if you want your relationships to be monogamous there is nothing to be ashamed of about that.

      Sorry if this was a little blunt, but some people seem to have the idea that polyamory is somehow morally superior to monogamy and if they’re not doing it there’s something wrong with them. They shouldn’t: neither monogamy nor polyamory is any better than the other. All that matters is that everyone is comfortable with their own arrangements.

  • Alex

    Since you offered to answer questions… what do you think is the best way to let people you’re interested in dating know that you’re poly? I’m new to the poly thing and I’m struggling a bit to decide how best to do this.

    • Christina

      Shall make blog post. Ready set go.