You’ve realized you’re capable of loving more than one person. You’ve got a like-minded partner excited to open your relationship to additional loves. You are ready to set off on the adventure that is polyamory. Congratulations. You’ve come a long way toward living a life that is authentic to you and filled with joy.
But you’re not quite there yet.
Going from Just The Two Of Us to You/Me/Them can be exhilarating. It can also be challenging. Any big change, even a good one, has the potential for missed signals and hurt feelings. So let’s talk about some of the ways you can minimize difficulties when getting started with polyamory, and even use them as a springboard toward unprecedented intimacy with your partner. Because the process of opening up to new connections is full of opportunities to get closer to the person you already love. As long as you take care of each other along the way.
Not sure if polyamory is right for you? Read our Beginner’s Guide to Open Relationships.
1. Before Trying Polyamory, Make Sure Your Relationship Rocks
If you have serious relationship problems, bringing in a new person will further strain your connection. At the same time, it will likely doom your new relationship’s chances of success.
Polyamorous relationships are like ecosystems. Everything is interconnected. If your long-term partner is freaking out about your new partner, it will make it hard for you to enjoy your new flame. Then your new flame will likely pick up on this and may feel rejected by you or guilty about seeing you or resentful of your first partner. Don’t bring someone you like into a broken relationship.
Whether it’s couples counseling, a romantic getaway, or a series of love letters, find a way to strengthen your original connection before trying polyamory and opening it to others.
2. Create A Polyamory Starter Plan
Before either of you goes forth and flirts, you need an outline for how your new relationship style will be structured. I call it a Polyamory Starter Plan because your needs and boundaries will change with experience and your plan will need to evolve to accommodate those changes. Here’s a starting checklist of some basic questions to ask each other before you pass go.
Your Polyamory Starter Plan Checklist
Part 1: The Sex Stuff
- Are you each comfortable with your partner having sex with other people?
- If so, what safe sex practices do you expect?
- Are any types of sex off limits?
- Are there aspects of yourself you hope to explore with new people that you haven’t explored with your current partner? Anything you haven’t yet revealed about yourself? For example, if you’re secretly interested in kink, they might be, too. On the other hand, if you’re interested in same sex connections, they probably don’t want to discover that about you by being introduced to your new same sex sweetie.
- How do you each feel about sleepovers? Out of town trips?
Part 2: The Emotional Stuff
- Are there any potential partners who are off limits, i.e. mutual friends?
- Are there any places or activities you’d prefer to reserve for the two of you?
- How much do you want to know about your partner’s dates? (Some people like a lot of detail. Some prefer none.)
- Do either of you have the ability to veto the other’s relationship? If so, on what grounds? Is there a time limit within which veto power must be exercised? Remember that additional relationships involve other human beings and the possibility of feelings. As a result, ending them can be very painful. Consider carefully how and if you want to grant/hold veto power.
- How much time and/or money are you comfortable putting toward additional relationships? How much space are you willing to make in your life for new partners? If one of you is imagining a monthly date night for each of you, while the other is looking for a third person to move into your shared home, this probably won’t go well.
Part 3: The Adjacent People
- If you have children, will they meet your other partners? Will they be told that you’re dating other people?
- How “out” will you be? Do you foresee bringing new partners to your family holiday gatherings? What about office parties?
The Polyamory Checklist is Just the Beginning
There aren’t any right or wrong answers to these questions and the list can’t cover every possible scenario, There will be situations neither of you can foresee. This checklist covers the most common things which can cause unexpected conflict when getting started with polyamory. It’s best to make sure you’re both on the same page about them before you have that first date.
3. When You Find A New Partner
- Enjoy the novelty of dating while in a relationship.
- Get to know your new person.
- Take it slow and enjoy the ride.
- Remember that you’re dating a person, not a fantasy. Let them be themselves.
- Let your connection develop naturally. Don’t force it.
- Expect your first outside relationship to be a great romance. It might be. But it will probably be a learning experience.
- Rush into any big declarations. You have time.
- Immediately start seeing them five nights a week.
- Get frustrated if a new crush is wary of getting involved with a poly rookie. Be patient. You won’t be a rookie forever.
- Neglect your primary partner.
4. Be Clear
Be upfront and unapologetic about your situation when dating. Don’t hold back the information that you’re already in a relationship or that you’re polyamorous. You may be understandably concerned about scaring off potential partners, but your dates have the right to consider your relationship status when deciding whether or not they’re into you. Neglecting to tell them that you’re poly is manipulative and disrespectful. Bring it up on the first date at the very latest.
It’s true that some people will decline to date you if you’re poly. That’s their right. But if someone is new to the idea of polyamory and you’re hoping they’ll be willing to give it a shot with you, withholding critical info is not the way to inspire trust. Speak freely about your life while dating and socializing. Refer to your partner any time they naturally come up in conversation.
If you’re asking someone out and they don’t know that you’re polyamorous, fill them when you ask. For example:
“I like you and I’d like to see more of you. But you should know that I’m in a relationship and my partner and I both date other people. If you’d be open to that, I’d like to see you this weekend.”
You may get a no. You may get a yes. You may get a lot of questions. Whatever happens, you’ll feel better about it if you’re forthcoming.
5. Integrate Your Relationships
If one of you has a new sweetie, it’s best if the other meets them. Having a face to go with the name can ward off paranoid fantasies of the other lover being ridiculously perfect. It also aids communication, which is the motor oil of polyamory.
It’s always possible that you and your metamour (that’s polyspeak for your partner’s other partner) may end up being good friends. In fact, that’s one of the advantages of polyamorous relationships: having a wider circle of support. If one of you becomes sick, suffers a loss, or needs a ride to the airport, metamours may be able to offer practical or emotional support. In an all hands on deck scenario, this is a good thing.
Not everyone in your life has to be besties. If you’re lucky enough to have multiple partners who are great friends with each other, you’ve hit the relationship jackpot. But it’s enough if everyone gets along. You can encourage civility by being transparent and consistent with all your partners. Don’t cancel plans casually, don’t sneak around, and don’t keep big secrets. Be open about your feelings and intentions. And always be kind.
6. There Will Be Feelings
No matter how much you want this or how careful you are, you will have feelings you weren’t expecting. Jealousy is a word which can encompass many experiences such as:
- Worry that you’re less desirable than another partner.
- Envy that someone else gets more time with your love.
- Pain that they ate at a favorite restaurant of yours.
- Anger that your love tried sushi with their other partner after refusing for years to try it with you.
- Resentment at being left out.
- Fear of being abandoned.
None of these feelings are bad or mean you shouldn’t be polyamorous. These are all valid human reactions to insecurities that most of us have. But while monogamy tends to mask our self-doubts, polyamory tends to emphasize them.
If You’re Feeling Jealousy
If your partner is giddy about someone else, it might bother you. Even if you agreed to this. Even if you’re also giddy about someone else. Jealousy isn’t logical and poly people are not immune to it. The best way to deal with it is to accept it, examine it, and discuss it. Rather than beat yourself up over it or avoid it, just view your jealousy as information from your subconscious about your unmet needs.
If you’re feeling lonely because your partner saw The Newbie three times last week, you probably need more couple time. If you’re feeling anxious because your metamour is younger than you, your partner needs to know that you need reassurance. If your love is doing things with someone else that you want them to do with you, you owe it to everyone involved to say so. Unspoken needs can’t be met.
It takes a lot of courage to stay vulnerable when we feel threatened, rather than close off or shut down or lash out. But sharing your fears and asking for what you need to feel secure can create greater intimacy than you ever thought possible.
If Your Partner Is Feeling Jealousy
If your partner is the one struggling with feelings, your job is to listen, validate, and respond – not explain, discount, or argue. As we’ve established, jealousy isn’t logical. A logical defense of your actions won’t reassure your partner and may make them feel they are unimportant to you. This isn’t a courtroom. Don’t focus on defending yourself. Focus on being present in your relationship.
Hear your partner out. Acknowledge their feelings. Ask how you can help them feel more secure. This shows you care about them, which is the main thing they need. We’ll cover this further in the next section.
7. Reconnect and Reassure. Repeat As Necessary.
Treat your original relationship with the same care as any new one. Do not expect it to maintain itself.
- Make a list of things you love about your partner and mention them often, particularly when fanning a new flame.
- Remember aspects of your unique shared history and bring them up, especially when you’re both in the company of other people. When your love hears you recount a sweet story about what made you fall for them, it can make them feel butterflies.
- Consider the things which make them irreplaceable to you. Speak of these anytime your love feels threatened by someone new. But avoid exclusively practical things. It may mean everything to you that they know how you like your socks folded, but that’s not necessarily the best way to reinforce security. Think about moments when they’ve been there for you: funerals, sicknesses, disappointments.
- Talk about the things that bind you to each other, because shared sexual escapades or unique mutual interests make your connection distinct from all others. Whether it’s a love of wine tasting, vintage monster movies, or French Bulldogs, celebrate your relationship quirks.
This list is just a beginning. You may spend a lifetime learning how to successfully love your particular partner, while simultaneously loving others. In doing so, you will discover new things about yourself and them. The benefits of polyamory are manifold. You may expand your world through multiple and varied connections. You may be free to love each of your partners for exactly who they are. You may have the enormous privilege of giving and receiving love in an infinite loop.
If you’ve successfully opened your own relationship, tell us, did we miss anything? Please comment to share your advice on becoming polyamorous.
Not sure if polyamory is right for you? Read our Beginner’s Guide to Open Relationships.