Relationship Questions: Lessons from Polyamory

One thing I’ve seen a lot around the feminist blogosphere, when talking about relationships, is an emphasis on communication and honesty.  No big surprise here, though feminist bloggers tend to take it a little further than Seventeen magazine, borrowing from the BDSM community, anti-rape activists, and other groups to promote a communication style that’s a lot more explicit (especially about sexuality, but about other topics as well) than what mainstream dating advice sources suggest.

These are my number one principles in relationships as well, and every adult relationship I’ve had (since a good college example of How Not To Do This) has been based on a pretty intense level of openness, honesty, and communication.  Part of what it means to live by those principles is to have frank, up front communications about how a relationship is going, and what the people involved want the relationship to be at the start.

Now, I think this kind of conversation is good to have for anyone, whether poly or monogamous, both at the start of a relationship and as it progresses.  But I was wondering if perhaps monogamous couples might have something to learn from the kind of questions poly people often take for granted in a relationship.

Poly people, for example, often have to have an explicit conversation about the rules of a relationship in terms of other partners.  Questions might include:

  • Do all our partners need to know each other?
  • Do we have veto power over new partners?
  • Is one or are some relationships “primary” and others “secondary?”
  • How many relationships do you feel comfortable with me having?
  • Are you interested in a single relationship that includes three or more people?
  • Who sleeps where?  And, if we’re sleeping apart, do we need to have check ins?
  • If I’m going to have sex with someone new, do I need to let you know or ask permission before proceeding?
  • Do children or other family members know about the poly situation?

Etc, etc, ad infinitum.

Obviously, some of these questions don’t make sense in a monogamous context, but I do think that this type of question could save a lot of heartache in the end.  Sometimes, in a monogamous relationship, it’s pretty easy to make assumptions about the rules based on what seems to be societally acceptable.  This is a little bit like the BDSM/vanilla consent split–the idea that vanilla people, operating in a context that everyone supposedly understands, have to ask fewer questions about consent, whereas in BDSM people tend to ask many questions to make sure everyone’s comfortable.  Like that example, though, the poly/monogamous split doesn’t make much sense, because “societally acceptable” is a relative term.  People have different moral, emotional, and practical standards about relationships, and explicit conversations are a good idea for everyone.

Here’s a list I’ve brainstormed based on my experience in monogamous relationships.  Feel free to suggest your own in comments!

  • What does the word “monogamous” mean to you?
  • Are we sexually exclusive?  Romantically exclusive?  Both?
  • In past relationships, have you tended to get jealous?  In what situations?
  • If jealousy is a problem, what are the best ways to reassure you?
  • What is your definition of “cheating?”
  • If I’m attracted to someone and don’t intend to act on it, do you want to know?
  • Are you comfortable talking about crushes?
  • Is kissing friends acceptable?  Cuddling?  Spending the night?
  • If I’m attracted to someone and I do act on it, do you want to know?
  • Which is more important to you, honesty or exclusivity?
  • If I’m away or if we’re in a long-distance relationship, do you need regular check ins?
  • How often do you like to see someone in a relationship?
  • How much “me” time, or time with friends, do you need in a relationship?
  • Do you want to marry?  Live with someone?  Share finances?

This post was originally published on the blog Sex Positive Activism, which has now merged to become the sex & relationships section of Queer & Now.

One thought on “Relationship Questions: Lessons from Polyamory

  • December 6, 2011 at 2:14 pm
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    Hello and thank you for posting!
    Well, the first thing that comes to my mind after reading your article is the question of safe sex.
    In any relationship, monogamous or poly, it is a very important matter.
    Deciding together if and how often you’re gonna get tested, if you have safe sex with all your partners or if you decide to be ‘fluid bonded’ with one of your partner, … etc…

    Reply

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