Polyamory has been around as long as societies have existed. That’s because every romantic relationship throughout history, including monogamy, was shaped by cultural values. Monogamy may seem like the default in today’s society, but it’s overrepresented.
According to US Census reports, 1 in 5 adults say they’ve engaged in consensual non-monogamy (CNM) at some point. If you’re considering going poly or struggling with an aspect of how to proceed with polyamory, these sets of questions can help!
The Power of Asking Questions
Every relationship is unique to the people involved. So is polyamory right for you?
Context, social stigma, and shared values make this a deeply nuanced question. The good news is there’s no right answer. The best relationships are built at a personal level, they don’t have to follow traditional expectations.
The questions below focus on healthy ways to approach polyamory. They’ll help you process the awkward feelings that come with it and ease the most common fears. Hopefully, they’ll offer insights into what your most fulfilling relationship looks like, and how to form it.
We’ve grouped the four main questions with their corresponding follow-ups. Let’s dive into the one that usually shows up first.
How to proceed with Polyamory
The first time you’re presented with the idea of polyamory can be the trickiest. It’s when we know the least about it, and have the fewest tools to engage with. Worst of all, it’s when our subconscious fears around the topic are heightened.
Most people in the US are brought up to be monogamous. We learn the “scripts” of monogamous dating from the people around us and from personal experience. It’s what feels “normal”, but what works for one relationship can be harmful in another.
1. How do people deal with polyamorous relationships?
Dealing with polyamorous relationships starts with separating it from social expectations, and focusing on yourself, and your partner. You’ll learn more by assessing your personal values and making happiness the priority.
It’s okay if you don’t have all the answers yet 一 that’s only the first question! Use these follow-up questions to dig deeper.
2. What kind of relationships do I want to make space for?
Unfortunately, a monogamous society emphasizes romance over other forms of connection. A polyamorous relationship doesn’t just counter this by making space for multiple partners 一 it treats every relationship as equally worthy.
Non-hierarchical polyamory understands that all partners have equal value. Even anchor partners give each other the space to form full, meaningful relationships outside of each other.
This gives everyone the freedom to form connections that don’t upset existing dynamics.
3. What does the happiest version of me look like?
If you’re wondering which form of ethical non–monogamy works best for you, start with your happiness. It’s tempting to focus on the fears and insecurities that come with not being exclusively partnered, but you’ll need a positive framework too.
Could you see yourself living a life with more than one partner? If the insecurities aren’t a factor, does the idea still excite you? Autonomy is one of ethical non-monogamy’s founding principles.
Remember that you’re as free to define your happiness as any potential partner would be. You don’t need to rely on traditional standards.
4. What does the happiest version of my partner look like?
Going from a monogamous relationship to polyamory is one of the hardest transitions to make, but it’s possible. If you think poly might work for you, consider if it meets your partner’s needs too.
Is their version of a polyamorous future in line with yours? Can it give you both something you want deeply? Ethical non-monogamy requires consent from all parties, and that’s only possible when everyone can get what they need.
5. Are we committed to unlearning internalized monogamy?
Dealing with polyamory means assessing the habits and thoughts we form around monogamy. Learning to be okay with polyamory is a journey, and it needs you to unlearn certain patterns along the way.
Everyone involved, even when they have experience with poly, has internalized some patterns at some point. They can show up well into a poly relationship, so all partners need to commit to learning healthier patterns throughout.
Understanding your fears about Polyamory
One of the biggest fears people have is that considering entering polyamory means the end of a relationship. The worry is understandable. After all, you’re redefining a relationship, which can pull you fully out of your comfort zone. Here are questions to ask yourself whenever you feel trapped in this situation.
6. Do Poly relationships last?
The good news: polyamory, when done in a healthy way, is a sign of growth.
Poly relationships can be as short-lived as any monogamous one where partners don’t feel fulfilled. Similarly, they can last for a lifetime. All of the intimate dynamics we form change over time. Partners that grow together have to navigate that change together.
These are the most important follow-ups to ask when looking long-term.
7. What type of poly relationships are there?
Polyamory is an umbrella term for several types of romantic relationships. There’s non-hierarchical poly, triads, solo poly, polycules, relationship anarchy, and more. No one type is better than the other; it all depends on which one aligns best with what you want.
The only thing they have in common is that they’re all versions of ethical non–monogamy (ENM). The “ethical” part means that all parties consent to having more than one romantic/sexual/emotional connection.
Everything else is management and logistics
8. Does either of us feel pressure to experiment with poly?
Ethical non-monogamy only works when everyone feels equally secure, cared for, and respected. Entering into a poly relationship just to keep someone else happy only leads to frustration.
These tend to be the shortest poly relationships too. It’s okay if people have doubts about going poly, so long as no one feels pressured despite them. Everyone involved should have a personal motivation to explore polyamory.
Your reasons are where your security comes from. They’ll impact the relationships you form in the future, so make sure your motivations are internal.
8. How does poly align with our long–term vision together?
Our needs change and develop as we go through life, which affects what we want out of relationships. This isn’t limited to romance, either. Friendships and family dynamics evolve just as often.
Identifying your reasons to be in a polyamorous relationship will guide you in the short term. It’s a way to work out what type of poly aligns best with your needs now. Your long-term goals are a fixed point on the horizon to help you navigate those changes.
When partners commit to a shared vision of the future, short-term hiccups are easier to deal with.
10. What if my feelings change?
It’s not uncommon for people to try polyamory, enjoy it fully, and then decide it’s not for them after a point. There’s nothing wrong with wondering about future doubts. That said, this is a question couples should ask of each other so they know what to do if it happens.
Make sure you check in on each other at regular points. The best times to discuss any changes are: before going poly, when a partner meets someone new, and if a new relationship affects the current dynamic.
Jealousy in Poly Relationships
Jealousy is one of those awkward feelings we named above. It’s probably the most common one polyamorous people deal with, and not just at the start. Jealousy is often an internal reaction triggered by an external stressor.
It’s particularly confusing because it can come about even when no one has done any wrong. The intimacy of being with someone means being more open to positive and negative factors.
11. How do I deal with jealousy in a Poly Relationship?
Jealousy is as normal as the insecurities we carry. How partners deal with jealousy determines the impact it can have. On what to manage it, Dr. John Gottman offers sound advice:
“I believe that every person has areas of enduring vulnerability. For a marriage to succeed, these vulnerabilities need to be understood and honored.”
We can apply that to all romantic relationships, not just marriage. The goal should always be to create an environment where partners can be vulnerable. Without a space to express negative feelings, we bottle them up until they escalate.
Here’s how to self-assess when dealing with jealousy in a poly relationship.
12. What scares me the most?
Knowing your triggers is the first step to managing them. When you feel jealousy bubbling up, take a step back and name the fear behind it. We often avoid doing this out of guilt or shame that our feelings are unjustified, but that’s why we start with the internal.
A partner’s action or words can spark jealousy even when we know they shouldn’t. Naming the fear will help you express it to them without assigning blame. This gives your partner a chance to reassure you, and gives them the insights to guide future discussions.
13. What is my partner experiencing?
Dating in a polyamorous relationship is often when jealousy rears its head. If your partner comes to you about seeing someone new, it’s perfectly normal to feel weird, awkward, and, yes, fearful. When this happens, it helps to have ways of getting out of your own head so you can assess things clearly.
Empathy is a good way to reconnect with your partner when jealousy threatens to pull you apart. Consider what dating someone new means to them. Does it change how they see you in their eyes?
Consider what the discussion would look like if the roles were reversed. Would you love your partner any less? How would you assure them if they were experiencing jealousy?
14. Which discussions help us assure one another?
All romantic relationships need open and honest communication between partners. That said, poly comes with a few conversations you might not need to have in a monogamous relationship. For example, how do you bring up the topic of developing feelings for someone new?
Start with some ground rules around communication. These aren’t rules set in stone; they’re guidelines about how to present information in a healthy way.
15. Which boundaries help us protect everyone involved?
That said, not all information is good information. There are things that aren’t very helpful to know, but this should never mean keeping secrets. Boundaries are about protecting the autonomy, integrity, and comfort of everyone involved.
For example, you may want to know a little about your partner’s new crush. A basic description can help you conceptualize them as a person, and not a canvas to project onto. But you want to avoid details that make you uncomfortable or disregard the privacy of a separate relationship.
These boundaries aren’t always in the same place. Partners need to define and maintain them together to keep conversations productive and respectful.
In your partner’s shoes
Finally, what do you do when your partner brings up the idea of polyamory? Even if you’re open to it, you may still question why they’re bringing it up. This is often when couples wonder if something is “broken” or start doubting the relationship.
16. Is my Partner normal for wanting to be in a poly relationship?
It’s perfectly normal for a partner to bring up polyamory, even when they’re perfectly happy with monogamy. It doesn’t spell doom. When the conversation comes up, though, there are still a few things you’ll need to assess. It all boils down to proper communication and considering you and your partner’s different viewpoints.
17. Are we equally invested in the outcome?
If you have no interest in polyamory, that’s usually a good sign to not jump in. However, if you’re both interested in at least talking about it, then it can work. You may be interested in polyamory for separate reasons, but the key is to be equally invested in the idea.
18. Is it growth or dissatisfaction?
It’s normal for monogamous couples to look at polyamory years into the relationship. There are healthy reasons to do it, and problematic ones to consider too.
Your partner may feel like your love is secure enough to bring it up. They may want to know how you feel about it without necessarily committing to it. As you grow as a couple, you’ll find these conversations aren’t as strange as they may feel initially.
One reason to avoid polyamory is if your partner is treating it as a solution to a problem. Having unfulfilled needs and being dissatisfied are two different things. Our needs evolve over time. Dissatisfaction isn’t something you can fix by introducing other people, because it’s tied to the existing dynamic.
19. What aspect of polyamory excites me most?
When your partner brings up polyamory, it helps to ask them what they would like to get out of it. Some partners are more sexually–motivated, others may want to form deep emotional connections in other areas of their lives.
You can value different aspects of polyamory while accommodating each other’s desires. This question is about making sure that there’s something positive in it for both of you.
20. What does my partner’s track record say?
Our experiences in previous relationships can affect how we process things in existing dynamics. Dishonesty, cheating, and mistreatment from old partners can create hesitation around a topic like polyamory.
At the end of the day, your current partner’s behavior is your best guide when they bring it up. Actions throughout a relationship carry more weight than momentary discussions.
A partner who’s treated you well up until this point is one you can trust to be honest about their feelings. They’re more likely to approach polyamory in a healthy way and maintain their commitment in all relationship types.
Experimenting with polyamory won’t change their personality, but that’s a good thing. If they have a history of mistreatment, you know that opening up the relationship won’t change that. But with a good track record, you can take comfort and security from actions that back up their words. If you find yourself struggling with this, it’s best to let our experts guide you further.