Social Question

Seek's avatar

How do polyamory and/or polygamy work?

Asked by Seek (34805points) April 6th, 2010

No judgment, no offense is intended with this question, it’s just something I was pondering while driving around the other day.

Most two-party relationships are pretty straightforward – we agree that we are an exclusive couple, and intimate activities outside that system are frowned upon.

So what are the “rules” of a polyamorous or polygamous relationship? I assume it’s built around a lot of communication and mutual understanding, but… I suppose I’d just like to understand a little better.

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41 Answers

anartist's avatar

polyandry [don’t know where you got polyamory] many men one woman— don’t know of any legal versions in this country—imagine an alley cat in heat.
polygamy, many women, one man – - – the Mormons can marry this way , for now anyway, and not everywhere.

Storms's avatar

[removed for inability to read]

Seek's avatar


That is exactly the attitude I wanted to avoid with this question.

Jeruba's avatar

Polygamy involves marriage: one man and more than one woman.

Polyamory is a matter of private understanding among couples. I think they typically arrive at their own rules, but I do know there are polyamory groups that couples can join, and they may have group rules. This is second-hand information, so I’m not sure.

WestRiverrat's avatar

@anartist The Later Day Saints have not allowed polygamy since Utah became a state.

In fact polygamy is grounds for excommunication.

MarcoNJ's avatar

To be honest, Polyamory requires a great deal of understanding and willingness to work past insecurities/jealousies. It can be overwhelming at times. And yes, overwhelming to the point that you question why you even got into that mess to begin with. But, most times it’s foolish pride/ego that gets in the way of resolving misunderstandings. Once you get past that, I’d say it’s like any intimate/committed relationship….although with more personalities involved.

Storms's avatar

@Seek_Kolinahr Apologies; I misread the question as asking if it would work.

MarcoNJ's avatar

I’d like to add that rules only go but so far..and that’s during the initial ‘courting’ phase when everyone is unsure of what they’re comfortable with. After a while, you have to be able to let things flow just like your typical Monogamous relationship. You wouldn’t be too happy if your significant other imposed rule after rule on you, would you? Same thing with Polyamory, but the difference is the timing…moving at a comfortable pace for all involved so no one panics and throws up the white flag.

After all, it’s not about sex. It’s a real relationship….there’s genuine feelings involved. And it would suck getting ripped apart from your lover.

Eh, that’s my two cents I guess.

Draconess25's avatar

Me& my two girlfriends haven’t really had any problems yet. All you really need is a lot of communication, & to spend equal time with each other.

Then again, this is their first ever relationship….

wonderingwhy's avatar

I’ve always found polyamory works just fine with a whole lot of understanding, trust, and communication – pretty much like any relationship (though it does take a little more balance, or at least a little more effort to get the balance right). But all parties absolutely must let go of the fear and insecurity before you get in too deep or it will never have a chance – and that’s a lot easier said than done. After that, love pretty much does its thing.

jerv's avatar

Think of it like this; have you ever been in a position where you had more than one potential mate that you had genuine feelings for? People who are conditioned by a Eurocentric/pseudo-Judeo-Christian society like ours will lose sleep over it and regret whichever decision they make. A polyamorous person will try and schedule their time so that they can get both (assuming the other parties are likewise willing to share).

As @Jeruba says, the rules are pretty much determined by the parties involved. Of course, such an arrangement can work is if everybody understands and agrees to the rules.

@Seek_Kolinahr I think that @Storms actually raises a valid point. Some people go into such a thing thinking they know what to expect and wind up with a rude surprise. Then again, the same is true of just about anything else; a lack of forethought can bite you in the ass.

anartist's avatar

you’re talking wife-swapping——try the Zodiac club

Seek's avatar

Actually @jerv, to be completely honest I married my first love… so I have no idea how it feels to be “in love” or even attracted to multiple people at once.

I suppose it was the more intricate “rules” that I was pondering. Would it really be so simple in a polyamorous relationship to say over dinner, “So I met this adorable girl at work. I think I’ll ask her for coffee…”? It’s the pseudo-Judeo-Christian norms getting in the way, I think. ^_^

dpworkin's avatar

Frankly, I don’t really think it works, even though it may sound pretty good in the abstract. In my experience, someone always eventually feels left out, jealous or otherwise different than equal, and it’s hard enough to manage genuine intimacy with one other person let alone more than one.

That having been said, I think a couple who both want to enjoy lovemaking with a third party from time to time can probably make that work, as long as it is sincerely mutual and no one is being coerced.

Storms's avatar

@dpworkin I pondered saying something along those lines, you know.

MarcoNJ's avatar

@dpworkin It’s definitely no cake walk.

jerv's avatar

@Seek_Kolinahr Depending on the parties involved, it can be that simple. My wife and I are secure enough in our relationship that we could have such a discussion if the situation warranted. We had already established rules before we even tied the knot.
The key thing is not to hide it. Having feelings for someone else is no big deal, but keeping a secret from someone you love who trusts you is. And that is true no matter how many people are involved.

Also, it should go without saying that if any party is the jealous type, such an arrangement is definitely not for them. Unfortunately, there have been more than one occasion where somebody who didn’t think they were the jealous type finds out they really are.

That said, any relationship can fall apart for any number of reasons, so it really doesn’t matter how many people are involved.

@dpworkin Some people can manage that. Then again, some people can understand String Theory.

Seek's avatar

@anartist Swinging and wife-swapping =/= polyamory

anartist's avatar

Seek_Kolinahr so I figured out from above

and no @Simplicity I mixed up

simplicity's avatar

I just don’t understand jealousy at all. Not in any sort of traditional sense anyway. I love my partner and I absolutely 100% want the best for her yet, at the same time, don’t want to lose her. Although if I’m given the choice between losing her and restricting her life… I will choose to lose her.

Those are my rules.

@anartist did you reply to me before I even posted :)

jerv's avatar

@simplicity I don’t understand people like Glen Beck at all. The simple truth is that different people have different thoughts and feelings about some issues.

simplicity's avatar

@jerv Im not saying everyone should feel like me. I know first hand that they don’t. I certainly don’t judge anyone for that (although, in my experience, people that feel the opposite way to me are often quick to judge me… eeek sorry for the generalisation, I’m not talking about your average jelly here!).

In fact, sometimes I think my life would be much, much easier if I didn’t feel the way I do!

@anartist shame you didn’t see the funny side of that :(

JeanPaulSartre's avatar

I think this one of those things you either get or you don’t. You either get past jealousy, or you don’t; you either choose to be honest with yourself/partner or you don’t. Sometimes it works best when it’s actually happening, so I think if you haven’t been involved in this kind of thing, or aren’t currently involved in this kind of thing, then you really can’t get it 100%.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

There is no one way to be polyamorous and as you say it doesn’t equal swinging or wife swapping (though those practices can be a part of any relationship) – when Alex and I started I was also starting with another person and for about half a year we were in a polyamorous arrangement – it took a lot of talking through (new for all of us) and laying down certain simple principles – I split my time equally (tried hard to anyway) between them and often we’d be together with my best friend (we called this ‘the commune’) – it worked out for us…I don’t think it’s always about keeping things equal either..sometimes you can have a primary partner (which is what Alex is to me from this point forward…I don’t think I’ll ever be with anyone in a manner that I am with him) and then other relations are secondary or tertiary…it’s about expressing that and anyone interested in a relationship with me gets to hear that upfront.

dpworkin's avatar

I think my attitude is due to my age. When I was younger my sexual relationships were more fluid, and it seemed to work out OK. I just can’t imagine doing it now.

Jeruba's avatar

My polyamorous friend has told me a number of stories. She and her husband were pretty enthusiastic to start with; they’re both adventuresome types and found the idea exciting. An arrangement like that can seem to work out for a while and even be a lot of fun and add a big spark to the primary relationship

But their experience and that of others they knew in their group changed over time. After about a year and a half they’d done quite a bit of damage to their relationship and had to work hard to mend it.

One big factor was that she actually got more dates than her husband did (and she told me about another couple where it was just the opposite). Invariably the less-sought-after partner begins to feel unhappy and resentful. My friend ended up having to break off with someone she’d grown very attached to, and her husband was not of much comfort to her as she went through the pain of a breakup while still married to him.

I listened to all her stories, sensed her excitement, and sympathized with her heartache. I was never tempted, myself. I just couldn’t imagine happy outcomes.

YARNLADY's avatar

In most of the well publicized cases of Polygamy where it seems to work, there is a huge reliance on the women being very subservient and the men being complete dictators. In some other countries, it seems to work by social rules that each wife will have her own place and be held as equal to each other wife.

In the partner sharing groups I used to live, people were not married to each other, but simply all very good friends with benefits, so to speak, and the pairings were mutual, and changing.

Keysha's avatar

As the monogamous lady of a polyamorous bisexual male, I can tell you how it works for us. If he wishes to be with someone new, he asks ALL that he loves (currently me and a long-term male love) if we mind. We usually give him permission, but sometimes wish to meet them first (either IRL or online). If we say ‘no’, we discuss our reasoning with him. He will not have sex outside the relationships he has, without unanimous approval and permission. If he can convince us to say yes (he generally does not push overly hard if we have valid reasons) then we agree and he enters a relationship with them, as well. This goes for any in this relationship that are polyamorous (I am the only one not).

He does not do ‘one night stands’. If he starts a relationship with someone new, it is a relationship. He is planning on being with them long-term, as he is with us.

Once in the relationship, we know that he does not prefer one over the other. He loves us all equally. We give him different things. I am good friends with his male love. When his male love visits (Aris lives with me, his male love lives in Ohio), I step into the background and let them be together. Don’t get me wrong, it is not always ‘them and me’, often it is ‘us’ outside of the bedroom. But they get the bedroom, I often sleep in the recliner (do that anyway, sometimes). Now that we live with my sister, he goes to visit in Ohio, instead. To avoid issues with gossip, I go as well, and am quite at home with it. I spend the time, if not sleeping, then on the computer, listening to music, and cooking and baking (stocking the freezer). When they are not in the bedroom, we are three people that are very close, having a good time together.

There are times when Aris feels a need to be with one of us, outside the bedroom, over the other, and that is not an issue, either. You don’t expect your best friend to never spend time with anyone but you, so why restrict someone that should truly be your best friend from doing the same?

Seek's avatar

Thank you, @Keysha for a beautiful and thorough answer. I was hoping that you or Aris would see this.

Your set of “rules” is something like I was imagining it would be – very responsible and respectable. Thanks again. ^_^

Arisztid's avatar

@Seek_Kolinahr A couple of things that always arise in discussions of polyamory are cheating and disease. I addressed these here

Oh another thing that I consider a “rule” is being upfront about being polyamorous. I mention it in the above link.

phillis's avatar

@Arisztid Well, okay, but…...I want Keysha while you’re in Ohio, and Keysha doesn’t have any say in it. I love that woman’s mind, baby! :)

Arisztid's avatar

@phillis I think she might object. :P I would get quite the “thwap,” and deservedly so, were I to suggest that she do something she does not want to.

jerv's avatar

@Keysha That sounds pretty much like my wife and I, except that I am the one who gets “alone” time. I am not really a “people person” and my wife is one of the few people I can stand to be around for more than a few minutes period.

@Arisztid That seems a little redundant. Or am I just weird because I consider being upfront in general to be a rule for any relationship, romantic or otherwise.

Arisztid's avatar

@jerv The redundancy is useful. I have had, over my life, people who seem to believe that they can change me into being monogamous. I learned early on that it is much better for them and myself to be redundant. I have also had quite a few who assume that, due to me being polyamorous, that I will hop in the sack with anybody.

Maybe it is that I am old but I have observed a decrease in honesty between couples, dating or established, over the years. Or I am just cynical.

jerv's avatar

@Arisztid My wife and I pretty much had that out there and agreed upon within the first couple of days of us ever knowing each other. I guess the part that strikes me as weird is to make a special point of doing something that you’ll do anyways. I mean, how often have you written a post-it note to remind yourself to breathe?

I take it that those people are unfamiliar with the etymology. They get that “poly” means many, but seem to overlook that “amor” means love, not lust. Or maybe they just don’t know the difference between love and sex.

Considering that I’ve been cynical for longer tan I’ve been able to even spell that word, I’d say honesty hasn’t really declined much; it was pretty damn rare to begin with.

Arisztid's avatar

@jerv I have to go with you there, Jerv, when you say ”I’d say honesty hasn’t really declined much; it was pretty damn rare to begin with.” My overall opinion of the human animal is, shall we say, somewhat dim.

The issues I have had since I started stating it right out front are significantly less than before. As soon as there is any interest showing, I tell them this so, if they are going to call me a pervert and stomp off in a huff, they can just get that done before any further emotions are invested

Arisztid's avatar

@jerv I forgot the other half of my comment. Indeed I have noticed that people do not understand that “amor” part of “polyamory.”

Keysha's avatar

@jerv , @Arisztid They probably think French is just a kiss, not a language.

jerv's avatar

@Keysha I thought it was a tickler :D

Keysha's avatar

@jerv I wouldn’t know about those things. I have Aris as my main toy.

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