Ethical Non-monogamy: Can sharing lovers work for you?by Don Lacey on Sep. 03, 2012, under Arizona Families, Art & Culture, Ethics, Nature, Question of the Day!, Reason, Sanity, That's Life!
“She is susceptible, he is impossible. They have their cross to share. Three of a perfect pair”
-king Crimson, Three of a perfect Pair
Jenny and Greg are in a couple that has been together for a long time and have recently become engaged. Rebecca and Alex are in a couple that has been married for several years. The members of both couples are within the same age range of about five years and they now reside under the same roof. All four have known each other for years and quite close friends. So close, in fact, that Jenny is both romantically and sexually involved with Greg and Alex as is Rebecca. Everyone involved has full knowledge of this and all have agreed to this arrangement. Apparently, it suits their needs well. Together this gang of four forms what is known as a quad in polyamorous circles.
Polyamory is the form of ethical non-monogamy in which people are in ongoing substantive relationships with two or partners at a time. This is can be contrasted with swinging or partner swapping which is a form of consensual non-monogamy based on short-lived sporadic sexual encounters. Polyamorous individuals like the ones described above are into more long-term, ongoing, intimate relationships with multiple partners.
It has been brought to my attention that the label Polyamory has a problem. It comes from the Greek for “many” and the Latin for “love” meaning “many loves”. While there is nothing wrong with the concepts of multiple lovers, one should not mix Greek and Latin roots. It has been suggested that Multiamory or Polyphila would be more linguistically consistent not that I picture either of these being catching on.
Jenny, Greg, Rebecca, and Alex see their relationship as similar to those of any monogamous couple except for the multiple partners. It is a consensual love triangle or square, of sorts. While, their group is committed to each other there was a phase where the members of their group were open to dating other people. As such, they have strict rules. For example, group members may see other people, but any new-comer has to show paperwork proving they have been tested and cleared for STD’s.
Other non-monogamous people have different sorts of arrangements and have different strategies for coping with the challenges of their lifestyle. In addition to quads, there are triads, pentads, hexads, and countless forms of networks, group marriages, and tribes. Some individuals have primary relationships with one individual and have rules to keep other relationships secondary. I knew a few married couples where the wife was bisexual and the husband agreed that she could have relationships with women but not other men. I have seen the reverse of this as well.
For many people, non-monogamous relationships are a sensible alternative to compulsory monogamy though it is clearly not for everyone. I am in a monogamous relationship and have no desire to direct my romantic attention away from my partner. It simply would not work for me. I have seen non-monogamy work in practice and have seen it fail as well. People who have difficulty making monogamous relationships work will have even more difficulty trying to balance the needs of multiple partners. Do not think adding additional people can help a failing relationship; it will likely make things worse! You’re dealing with human emotions. Our decisions can have huge unintended consequences. Violations of trust in relationships with multiple partners can end up hurting a lot of people!
Communication is a key to any good relationship as is the ability to deal with jealousy. For people with multiple partners, challenges associated with these can likely be stretched to their limits. There may be the difficulties of raising children in a non-monogamous setting. On the other hand, I have been told that being able to get past jealousy and possessiveness can be greatly rewarding and having multiple trusted adults around can be great resource for kids. I have also been told that developing the level of trust needed to make a polyamorist relationship work is very liberating. Of course, violations of trust can and do happen in polyamorous and open relationships and can be quite painful.
Whatever works for you! If you can make polyamory or some other form of non-monogamy work and such a thing appeals to you, then by all means go for it! If you are interested in only having one partner or not having any long term partners that is also fine. I am all for free exchanges of ideas and free love but remember to treat everyone with care and respect, and never hurt or trivialize the feelings of others.