What Is a Poly Relationship and Is It Right for You?

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Author Name: Mia Barnes
Date: Wednesday October 21, 2020

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You’ve probably heard of monogamy, but have you heard of polyamory? People have practiced polyamory — or poly for short — since Indigenous times, and it is still prevalent today. Keep reading to have seven of your burning questions about poly relationships answered:

1. What Is a Poly Relationship?

Polyamory is any consensual relationship with more than one person. If you identify as a polyamorous person, you are open to romance, intimacy or love with numerous individuals. These connections can be based solely on sex, but they can also be emotionally driven or have a mix of intimacy.

2. What Are the Most Common Forms of a Poly Relationship?

All poly relationships are essentially ethical non-monogamy. The definition of polyamory is broad and lacks universal acceptance. Many people might identify as polyamorous while partaking in various relationship styles.

Likewise, an individual can describe themselves as poly without being in an established relationship. Swinging, open relationships and multiple-partner marriages are all different relationship styles with individual nuances.

A poly relationship holds different meanings for each participant. You might date multiple people simultaneously, and those people may have no romantic connection with each other. You could also be in a poly relationship where you and your partners all share a romantic connection.

At its most basic level, polyamory means multiple loves — how you transform that into a long-lasting relationship style is up to you.

3. Is It Popular in the United States?

Ethical non-monogamy is becoming increasingly common in the United States. It’s estimated that 4%-5% of the population are currently participating in consensual non-monogamy (CNM).

Age, income, race, religion, political affiliation, location and education levels are not indicators of who might participate in a CNM relationship. Sexual orientation and gender are the only characteristics that are consistently unbalanced when evaluating the demographics. A study found that approximately 20% of single American adults have engaged in this type of relationship during their lifetime.

4. How Does Polyamory Relate to the Law?

In the U.S., it is illegal to be married to multiple partners simultaneously. The law doesn’t recognize these unions, which can cause problems for poly families.

You won’t have protection under anti-discrimination laws, which means employers can fire you for identifying as polyamorous. You may also face challenges with child custody, as the stigmatism surrounding polyamory has led some people to believe these are unsafe conditions for raising a child.

5. Can You Have a Happy and Successful Relationship?

Happiness and success come from practicing healthy relationship habits regardless of your dynamic. Many people are happy in poly relationships, and yet there are millions of successful monogamous pairings as well. Like any relationship, you can experience cheating, heartbreak and turmoil.

Among mammals, only 9% of species are monogamous, indicating that it isn’t nearly as common in nature as you might believe. Likewise, before Western imperialism, only 16% of Indigenous societies were monogamous, and 83% were polygynous. So some might argue that polyamory is more natural than monogamy.

6. What Are the Rules of a Poly Relationship?

Every poly relationship is different — couples often set guidelines to dictate their expectations of the dynamic. The non-monogamy aspect of it must be consensual, so the various partners must know the relationship’s rules. For instance, some poly relationships might have a hierarchical structure, while others value an equal partnership. Identifying your polyamory style will help you establish boundaries.

Ultimately, poly relationships rely on balance, honesty and effective guidelines to function successfully.

7. Is It Possible to Cheat in a Poly Relationship?

Cheating can occur in a poly relationship if the participants break the predefined rules and guidelines. This can happen if someone decides to prioritize another partner or leaves you for another connection after they’ve fallen in love. Due to the complex nature of poly relationships, cheating can be difficult to define, so it’s important to be upfront with your expectations.

Love Knows No Bounds

Understanding these seven questions will help you gain a deeper sense of what a poly relationship is to you. Your love for others is not guided by societal standards, so find a balance that works for you and your loved one. For some, that could be monogamy, and for others, polyamory — sculpt a relationship that fits your needs.

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