They’re often misunderstood and misrepresented – so how do polyamorous relationships actually work?
Like most things in life – those dazzling trainers in the shop window, or that strong morning coffee (phew for extra-large cups) – relationships don’t just come in one size.
Lots of people enjoy monogamous relationships, where they have a relationship with one other person. But some people choose to be in non-monogamous relationships.
Non-monogamy is not the same as cheating or infidelity.
Rather, with the consent of everyone involved, it refers to having numerous partners, or sexual and intimate relationships with two or more people.
This is often referred to as polyamory in pop culture, although in practice polyamory is one specific form of non-monogamy (more on that further down).
The key difference between cheating and non-monogamy is that non-monogamous relationships do not involve deceit – people are honest and open about the terms of their relationships.
There are many different types of non-monogamy. Here are some of the most common (but by no means exhaustive) definitions:
A couple consent to having sex with other people. Generally it is agreed to not develop feelings for those other people.
Polyamory is when people consent to having ‘many loves’, as the Latin name translates. It is okay to have both feelings for, and sex with, more than one person. There are two main types of polyamory: hierarchical and egalitarian.
Hierarchical polyamory is when people differentiate between their main partner and other partners – generally labelled primary/secondary relationships. The main partner of a partner can be known as a ‘metamor’.
Polyamorous people who consider each partner as an equal. There is no hierarchy or primary/secondary partner in these relationships.
Although these are some of the most commonly-used terms, non-monogamy can also involve everything in between them.
Because of this, it’s more accurate to view monogamy and non-monogamy as a colour spectrum, instead of two tick boxes. Think all the shades of green between those blue and yellow ends.
But what about those green feelings?
Lots of people ask how non-monogamous people cope with feelings of jealousy: after all, it’s a pretty natural reaction to a sexual or romantic partner being intimate with other people.
However, people who choose non-monogamous relationships encourage the opposite of jealousy: promoting feelings of pleasure from seeing a partner happy with someone else.
This may sometimes be easier said than done – but if you are struggling with jealousy it’s important that you try to honestly express your feelings rather than bottling them up.
Again, the most important thing with any non-monogamous relationship is that all parties consent to be in an open or polyamorous relationship, and that no-one exerts pressure on a sexual or romantic partner to open a relationship further than they are comfortable with.
Just like monogamy, non-monogamy can also be, in (the old) Taylor Swift’s words, “happy, free, confused and lonely at the same time”.
If you want to try having a non-monogamous relationship, It’s important for you to do you – and remember, always keep things honest and consensual, wherever you may be on the monogamy/non-monogamy spectrum!