The first rule of polyamory is… THERE ARE NO RULES.
A lot of people do their polyamory with rules, structures and hierarchies. If you’re new to it, maybe opening up a monogamous relationship for the first time, rules can seem to provide a form of comfort, safety and control. It strikes me most people make rules to try to keep things as they are, but the only thing that is inevitable is change. If you’re committed to the idea of loving authentically and freely, those rules are probably going to get in the way, sooner or later.
When we follow the standard escalator script for relationships, we make assumptions about a specific linear direction for that change – that the relationship will naturally progress from connection to affection to commitment – from meeting, to dating, to moving in and living happily ever after (or a less happy ending). When we go off script, there is no guarantee that our relationships will follow that trajectory – most likely they won’t. They will wax and wane in relation to other things, people, situations – external forces that none of us can possibly control. So why even try to?
“It is far better to grasp the universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring.”
Traditional relationship scripts create assumed rules about what is and isn’t acceptable in your relationship – those need exploring, examining, discussing and agreeing… or throwing out. Monogamy can sometimes provide an illusion of control – if both parties stick to the rule of exclusivity, closing off the possibility of forming specific new connections (usually romantic/sexual), then that’s one external variable less to worry about impacting on your relationship.
Regardless of your relationship structure (poly/mono) external factors will probably cause any long term relationship to go through periods of disconnection, shifting or mismatched energies, reconnection, passion, distraction, contentment, and so on. When external factors impact on your relationship, attempting to control that change by making rules and placing limitations on your partner may foster resentments and destructive cycles rather than help your relationship adjust to change. Acceptance and good communication can help you through those periods of adjustment, enabling you to redefine the relationship and choose to recommit.
Nurturing more than one romantic relationship has taught me the vital importance of acceptance. Feeling the acceptance from my long term partner as I fell in love with someone new was extraordinary – and it helped me towards feeling loved for who I really am, and feeling even more deeply in love with him because of that. Our relationship has changed and evolved in relation to the new one – and in this instance, some future possibilities that might have become plans have changed, too. Accepting those changes has meant my partner feeling sad, and seeing and accepting that my decisions had resulted in some sadness for someone I love wasn’t easy for me, either.
As the new partner began to find their place in my life in relation to this existing, committed, loving partnership, they also had to practice acceptance of the important role my existing partner has in my life. The work of acceptance and adjustment has been a process for all of us.
Now my new partner is forming new connections – and having only recently established the importance and significance of them in my life, I have had to work at processing, accepting and adjusting to the new relationships they’re exploring and to the inevitable change that will go with that. Being in multiple loving relationships just makes these kinds of changes more frequent – and I’ve become better at acceptance because of it.
Anyone who, like me, has experience of anxiety will understand that it is, fundamentally, misplaced fear. Fear can be a useful emotional response – it keeps us from harm. But misplaced fear (anxiety) tells us lies. Today, anxiety told me that my partner’s late return from their date was a breach of rules, a breaking of trust, and a lack of care for our relationship. It was of no real consequence that they were late (the timing was arbitrary and they weren’t letting me or anyone else down), they had let me know they were running late, I’d been reassured and had nothing real to worry about. But my anxious brain was attempting to control things, attaching meaning to something entirely arbitrary, an unnecessary rule we had inadvertently created for this one date – “be home by the unnecessary/pointless deadline we set”. The solution was obvious – and after a short conversation about it, in future we won’t set an unnecessary/pointless deadline time for return from a date!
It’s not always that simple. An arbitrary deadline is pretty easy to let go of. It can be harder to accept other possibilities and let go of control. Because I am polyamorous, I have to be able to accept that my partners are free to explore, form and develop other connections – and that those connections will have some kind of impact on their connection with me is likely. They may have less time for me. Their attention, energy and focus may be elsewhere. They may disconnect or withdraw. They may behave differently. Things will change. I cannot control any of those things, and making rules won’t make any difference. I don’t want my partners to feel limited and controlled by me. All I can do is process and respond to these changes, discuss my feelings, and be clear about my needs, wants and boundaries.
With acceptance, my relationships have refocussed. Some have de-escalated as we’ve recognised we no longer want what we thought we might want. Some have deepened and become more committed – though that doesn’t always mean moving on up the traditional escalator, e.g. committing for the long term and deciding not to live together. And they could evolve in ways that look more traditional, with practical life commitments like sharing a home, co-parenting, collective finances, etc agreed for the long term, regardless of changing feelings/circumstances. Whatever external factors have been thrown at my relationships, the changes we’ve made have been authentic, the right ones for us.
Rules and false limits don’t keep us safe from change – and nor would we want them to. Change can be scary, but stagnation doesn’t allow anyone space to grow and learn and be their true self. Accepting change may not be easy, but how difficult are the compromises necessary for a life that seems ‘easy’? If you want to live and love with authenticity, then however hard it might seem, the first step has to be acceptance.
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