puzzle pieces

Relationship Fluidity: Making Relationships Work When You and Your Partner(s) Have Different Relationship Styles

I was raised in a non-monogamous household.  Not in the communal, slightly hippy, open and honest sense, but more in the chronic-cheating, lies, and betrayal sense.  Not the best example of non-monogamy, but non-monogamy nonetheless.  As a kid, I was made aware of what was going on in my parent’s relationship, even if I didn’t want to know.  I am still grateful for the over-communication and I think that’s a lot of what led me to NOT place my parent’s relationship-drama-blame on myself.  Which is great, because there are tons of other things I need to discuss with my therapist, other than my childhood.

Throughout my teen dating life I was definitely non-monogamous.  I dated multiple people at once, and I skipped from significant other to significant other without much thought.  In my barely legal years and early twenties I did some serious serial monogamous dating.  Every relationship was closed, serious, and had “long term potential”.  I spent most of these years wanting to have multiple relationships at once, but at the time, I didn’t know how to voice that or if that was even possible.  That’s when I embarked on polyamory.  I started out dating polyamourously mostly by accident.  I had met someone while living in San Francisco who, very early on, made it clear that not only were they not interested in monogamy, but that they also had other partners with whom they were involved with.  We dated until the romance eventually fizzled out, but I continued to have more open and poly relationships.  Over the next two years I usually had more than one significant other at a time.  I devoured many books about non-monogamy like The Ethical Slut and Sex at Dawn and sought out non-monogamy podcasts, blogs, and meet-ups.  If there was one thing that rang clear throughout all of the different types of readings I had done, it was that you should try to only date other open or non-monogamous people.  I had done well with that and didn’t see it really being a problem since I usually put my openness out there early on in a dating relationship, which weeded out folks who were only interested in monogamy.

I was attending a dance party with my boyfriend and sort of-girlfriend at the time and was introduced to one of my sort of-girlfriend’s acquaintances (whom I will refer to as monogamous-acquaintance from now on).  Monogamous-acquaintance went on to court me, which is the best way I can describe it, for the next few months.  I refused to go out on any dates because of one reason:  they were monogamous, and I was not.  Eventually, I gave in.

I broke one of the rules (I know there are no rules, but this was kind of a big no-no), and probably the biggest rule of polyamory.  Then, to put some icing on the cake, I fell in love.

Although there were many check-ins, boundary discussions, and processing sessions throughout my “courtship” with monogamous-acquaintance, my boyfriend decided to break things off (sort of-girlfriend and I had already gone our separate ways).

So for the first time in years, I was only dating one person, and they were monogamous.

Currently, we are still together, still happy, and still in love.  A lot of my poly friends ask how a relationship works with one monogamous person and one non-monogamous person.  And although we have yet to hit a lot of major bumps in the road, I’d say we’re very well prepared.  If you find yourself in a relationship with someone that has a different relationship preference or style from your own, I’ve compiled some (perhaps obvious) ways to make things a little easier.

Don’t put each other’s relationship preference or style down

When folks have tried one relationship style and found that it doesn’t work for them, I think it’s easy to dismiss that style altogether.  I find this a lot more in the poly community because we are all sort of socialized to be monogamous, so almost everyone has tried monogamy at least once.  Just because monogamy didn’t work for you before, or doesn’t work for you now, doesn’t mean it won’t ever work for you.  People change, circumstances change, and preferences change.   Keep yourself open to new experiences.  Same goes for monogamous folks, be  open.

Learn before making assumptions

My current partner assumed that dating someone that was polyamorous was like dating someone with zero boundaries.  They assumed that I would just sleep with whomever, whenever I wanted to, without even bothering to mention it to them before or after.  In my case, that is 100% not true.  We had very long talks about what it means to be non-monogamous, boundary setting, and consent.  This also works both ways.  They explained to me what monogamy meant to them, their boundaries, and how they typically dealt with jealousy.

Define your relationship, re-define it often

Monogamous person +Poly person= ?  It’s hard to define a relationship when two people have different relationship styles, but for some folks, it’s eases the stress.  My partner and I define our relationship and then redefine it when we feel that we need to. We also have come up with more neutral terms so we’re equally comfortable with them.  A lot of our relationship has been “open”.  My partner went through a rough patch at their job, and due to that stress, we decided to make our relationship “exclusive”.  Each of these terms was discussed, defined, and then agreed upon.

Don’t try and change each other and don’t recruit

If someone identifies as monogamous, respect that.  I think it’s unfair to assume that they just don’t know any better, just need to “try” polyamory, or are somehow unenlightened.  It works the same with monogamous folks.  Don’t assume that polyamory is just a phase or that it’s someone’s relationship preference because they’re afraid of commitment.

Talk about things BEFORE they happen

Don’t wait until you already have a date scheduled to discuss boundaries around dating other people.  I know that it’s almost impossible to know how you’ll react or feel about a situation before it’s even happened, but it’s helpful to give yourself, and your partner, a ball-park idea.  Have this discussion often, and be open to new answers, responses, and feelings.

Common theme?  Talk.  Make lists, write letters, have check-in coffee dates.  The magical relationship-fairy has really limited business hours, and sadly, probably doesn’t offer a sliding-scale fee.  To make something work, you have to do just that, MAKE it work.   Good luck!