Columns / Discourse / October 16, 2019

Pillowtalk: “Can a monogamous person and a polyam person make it work?”

Hi Pillowtalk,


Do you think a polyamorous person and a monogamous person in a relationship can make it work?


Let’s start with some definitions. A polyamorous (polyam, as I abbreviate it) person is someone who prefers to have multiple consenting relationships at one time. A monogamous person prefers to have just one exclusive relationship.

When you get into the nitty gritty details, though, polyamory gets pretty diverse. Some polyam people prefer to have one “primary” partner, who they invest most of their time and energy into and have the most intimate relationship with, and multiple “secondary” partners. Some polyam people see every relationship as entirely unique and don’t bother to try and classify them. Some polyam people need multiple relationships; some just like having the option open.

So, it depends on what kind of polyamory we’re talking about. With thorough discussion of boundaries, you can make almost any relationship work.

The key questions for the situation you’re describing are, “What are you comfortable with me pursuing in other partners (sex, love, fun, dates, intimacy)?”, “What are you comfortable with hearing about my other partners/dates?”, “What do we consider cheating?”, “How do we keep each other sexually safe?”, “What can I do to make you continue to feel secure in our relationship?”, “Do you want to meet my other partners?”, and this is the kicker, “What happens if you don’t like one of my other partners?”

If you have a strong enough relationship to comfortably bring up those questions, answer them clearly and trust that those answers will remain the status quo, you’re probably good.

If having that conversation makes you particularly nervous or apprehensive, or if your partner seems closed off or defensive when talking through any of those questions, chances are it won’t go well. If either of you have unaddressed jealousy issues, chances are it won’t go well. If the first thing you do when you’re newly polyamorous is get back with your ex, chances are it won’t go well.

I’ll also give you a fair warning: it’s a lot harder to change a previously monogamous relationship into a polyamorous one (or vice versa) than it is to just start one way or the other. We like keeping the status quo in our relationships — it’s much more comfortable, and any time that changes, it’s going to present additional difficulties.

Get ready for some difficult conversations. You will keep having to have them. Get ready to do some serious emotional work, and get ready to be surprised at some of the boundaries you never knew you had. If the relationship is worth it, try!

Remember that you will have to try, though. Be safe, be respectful, be assertive, be kind.


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Elleri Scriver

Tags:  advice communication monogamy polyamory relationships

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