Cheers Sexy People!
I have been thinking a lot lately about rules, boundaries and negotiations in polyamorous relationships. A poly friend of mine once said to me, to him freedom feels more loving than rules. And to a certain extent, I agree with him. But if there are no rules at all, is that just relationship anarchy and chaos? Everyone can do whatever they want with anyone that they want at any given moment, both emotionally and sexually? There are aspects about that that do not feel loving to me. It feels a little bit… disrespectful… and unsafe, both emotionally and physically.
As I’ve been thinking about this, I realized that it comes down to there being a balance in our relationships if they are to remain healthy and strong. The relationship needs to feel fair to all parties. Each person needs to feel like their needs are getting adequately met. Back to my emotional bank account analogy from the last post… are you taking more out of the emotional bank account than you are putting in, thus the other person feels deleted, or used, or in some way cheated or dissatisfied? Maybe you are being completely honest and open, thus not actually “cheating” behind someone else’s back. But what if it feels like things are “out of whack?” On the flip side, are lies of omission actually lies? What if you tell a lover, I am polyamorous and have other lovers, but you don’t reveal the depth and extent of those other relationships or reveal the number of other lovers there actually are. Is that wrong or unethical? What if the other person is more a “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” type (a style of relating that I don’t subscribe to as I think it’s more about putting one’s head in the sand and saying “la, la, la, I don’t want to hear the truth.” Personally, I’d rather know the truth and deal with reality than play dumb and be in the dark.)
The interesting thing about this notion is that no one can answer it for you. You have to reflect and answer it for yourself. And you have to muster up the courage to have a direct, maybe difficult heart to heart with your partner and own up to exactly which of your needs does not feel like it is being met VS. saying something like “I forbid you from doing X.” That statement is more an act of controlling or manipulating VS. figuring out honestly and in a vulnerable moment, which need is not being adequately met by your partner, and saying it out loud to them in a nonviolent, not blaming or criticizing way. This can be tough and tricky stuff. And this is something that I am thinking about now. What are my own boundaries? Where can I “draw the line” for myself yet do it in a manner where I am respecting myself, yet not telling someone else “what to do” or who they can see, or how many lovers they can have?
In this area, monogamy is certainly simpler overall as compared to polyamory, which is much more complex and some can argue that polyamory takes more maturity and emotional strength to navigate. With monogamy, the “rules” and boundaries are pretty straight forward: I’m with you exclusively and you are with me exclusively, both emotionally and physically. Anything outside of that is cheating. Boom! Done. End of negotiations. But for me, at least over time, that scenario is just not realistic. I need more freedoms. My partner does not own me. Thus I work very hard to navigate the waters of polyamory and find my own way, which is not an easy task some days. Today is one of those days for me. I do however have faith that I can figure it out, in a loving, compassionate, supportive way, with the help of my partners who love me. Leading a polyamorous life is a journey. And this is the road that I choose.
Here is an excellent article that I found that relates to this topic. I hope you can find something useful here, as I did, in my quest for answers to polyamorous questions:
How about you? I would love to hear your thoughts on boundaries, rules, and what works for you in your relationships. I welcome your thoughts.
Wishing you peace, love and happiness,
(and thrilling, fun sex too!)
Great post Kitty. I know this issue is a huge one for many polyfolk, maybe the one that’s most often a concern in my own polycule, and you’ve laid out a clear-headed approach. You’re vulnerable but true to yourself. I like the clarification in both your post and the linked article between rules IMPOSED on someone else and boundaries that you are free to set on how YOU will choose to act or react.
No control of another person, but retaining the control to choose YOUR path, accomplishing much the same outcomes in a truer, more fair and more honest and balanced way. So thanks for the post, and the link. Both very helpful (but I like your writing much better 🙂 )
Thank you for offering your insights and feedback. And I’m so glad that you enjoyed the post! I agree whole-heartedly that we need to be true to ourselves and allow personal growth to look inside and determine what feels right to us. Sometimes we have to show our soft underbellies to do that, and it can be scary, admitting a vulnerability or a weakness, or (gasp) a need. I need to feel loved, valued, appreciated and safe with my partners. Yes, I like the concept and practice of boundaries that one is free to set, versus imposing rules on another. I also believe in asking for reassurance when we need it. Our partners are not mind-readers. “Retaining the control to choose YOUR path” = perfect. And lastly, thanks for the compliment on my writing. <3
“With monogamy, the “rules” and boundaries are pretty straight forward…” which is really the trap where monogamy begins to fail for many, the assumptions made when people believe their definition of something (monogamy) is the same as everyone elses. Interestingly it seems a lot of people fall into this same trap with polyamory, thinking it will solve the poor assumptions problem when the reality is that polyamory often requires much more relationship negotiation.
I strongly recommend people negotiate their relationships regardless of the design outcome (mono, poly, whatever). It is in those negotiations that common language is found and assumptions are corrected. Though I believe some ‘rules’ or ‘boundaries’ (IMHO those are the same in a relationship, a control measure) are okay in the beginning of relationships, they should have a trigger (time or an action) that invalidates them. Instead I encourage people to recognize language and other differences during relationship negotiations and create ‘agreements’ that acknowledge those differences clearly. Agreements, rather than being limits or for behavior modification, are simply common language that let the parties involved have a clear understanding of how they each feel about a particular action, situation, etc. IMHO, with that clear understanding the question then becomes one of respect and consideration for other partners, and if our own needs for respect and consideration are being met.
Thank you so much for contributing here. Interesting perspective. And I agree that polyamory often requires much more relationship negotiation. That’s a great recommendation, as I think good communication and negotiation skills are important for every relationship. I like the notion of common language (understanding) and correcting assumptions (more understanding). The one place I differ is that I feel a rule is something imposed on another person. Whereas a boundary an individual defines for themselves. I whole-heartedly agree with using “agreements” as a way to communicate and negotiate and that is the word we have used thus far. I neglected to put it in this blog post, so thanks for reminding us here. I like how you described it as well… that it’s NOT about limits or behavior modification. I like that. And I LOVED this:
“…with that clear understanding the question then becomes one of respect and consideration for other partners, and if our own needs for respect and consideration are being met.”
I can’t imagine being in any form of poly relationship and no rules exist; calling it chaos doesn’t begin to describe the type of insanity a lack of rules can bring to a situation. Oddly enough, I found that in my poly quartet, some of the rules of monogamy were still valid, while others – and a lot of others – had to be created to further define the relationship and its boundaries.
Since each poly situation is different, the rules are going to be different and I’m not sure if there’s a “one size fits all” approach that can be taken other than employing sound logic and common sense as well as having a shared vision of what the poly relationship is going to look like, how it will behave, etc.. Yeah, the rules are imposed by agreement – hopefully; I mean, there has to be rules even if a poly relationship is open to changing the rules as required but, yeah, if you’re gonna do this or be a part of this, there are rules. They shouldn’t be about controlling anyone… but isn’t that what rules also do other than being a form of governance? They’re about what can and cannot be done and, effectively, controlling the behavior of all who participate and if someone feels that they are being controlled, well, that’s when you speak up and let this concern be known so that the rules can be tweaked so everyone can be happy and comfortable in this situation.
Putting rules together can be a sticky situation… but having a poly relationship without any rules is just inviting disaster.
kdaddy23, as always thanks for offering your perspectives here. I love hearing your perspectives from your own individual experiences. It’s good to know that some type of rules, negotiating and boundaries worked for you in your poly experiences. I agree that each polyamorous situation / relationship is different, and that sound logic and common sense, with a shared vision is the way to go. I view some rules as a safety measure, such as practicing safe sex. To me, that is not about controlling another person, but simply goes back to your sound logic and common sense thoughts. Finding a way to assert oneself and speak up when there’s an issue, in an effort to make sure everyone is happy and comfortable is key. Thanks again for your thoughts here. I think they are very insightful.
What is the matter, my lord?
I mean, the matter that you read, my lord.
Slanders, sir; for the satirical rogue says here that old men have grey beards, that their faces are wrinkled, their eyes purging thick amber and plum-tree gum, and that they have a plentiful lack of wit, together with most weak hams; all which, sir, though I most powerfully and potently believe, yet I hold it not honesty to have it thus set down, for yourself, sir, shall grow old as I am, if like a crab you could go backward.
Though this be madness, yet there is method in’t.
Hamlet Act 2, scene 2, 193–206
* * *
Some poly tribes/families/groups have a simple rule, “There is no rule”. If any one wants to bring another rule in there, what will happen? Chaos. There are different types of poly tribes/families/groups. Some are Open poly, some are closed poly, poly fidelity etc. etc. Each type has its own way. They set their rules or “there is no rule” rule to satisfy their arrangements.
We are fluid bonded and we are open poly. If any of us want to have sex with someone else, that person need to take some steps to protect him/her and us so that rest of us don’t have to ask (worry). We all trust each other because we’ve demonstrated to others that we are trustworthy. We tell before we are asked. We inform before the need to ask arises. These are very simple rules we follow to make all of us happy.
All’s fair in love and war. That’s cow poo. There is no rape in love. Genocide isn’t allowed in war. I agree that some areas of life are so important and overwhelming that you cannot blame someone for acting in their own best interest. But when you are in a relationship it’s different. You can’t clap with one hand. Respect, love and trust are two way streets. Respect, love and trust are some of the key ingredients of any relationship. In any relationship, how do you respect and be respected, how do you love and be loved, how can you trust and be trusted? You do something to achieve those, don’t you? Your relationship, your rule.
As long as everyone is happy in any relationship any rule or no rule is perfectly fine.
Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and feedback here. It is greatly valued. I like the “we inform before the need to ask arises.” Sometimes, I feel the need to ask because I don’t feel informed I realize. I generally don’t like feeling “in the dark.” I like and prefer the truth, even if it hurts. I agree that when you are in a relationship, it’s different. I loved your thought that “you can’t clap with one hand.” Amen! Very nicely worded. As well as amen to “respect, love and trust are a two way street.” Everything you said is very insightful and valuable, and I am so happy that you shared it. <3
In my opinion, regardless if you are having a threesome for the first time or well-established in a polyamorous relationship having rules ensures things remain balanced. It is the key element that allows trust and it provides a ‘safety net’ to let all involved it will not go beyond a certain point.
Thank you so much for your contribution here to the conversation. I definitely agree that balance for each individual is a big key to all of this. You are correct, sir! Trust and a “safety net” sound good to me. I know others differs on this point, but I am in the camp with you. Safety is very important, and trust is paramount.
I know there are some who believe they do not want boundaries because they want to ‘fully experience’ it and not be constrained by ‘rules. Unfortunately they are the ones who go online upset about the experience because their partner did something they did not expect. Had they put some basic boundaries in place then most likely the ‘unexpected’ would not have occurred.
I think that is a valid and wonderful point to bring up, thank you. And again, in some ways, it really just comes down to honest and open communication with our respective partners. It’s important to remember that none of us are mind readers. We need to voice our concerns, needs and expectations to have a good, solid chance at a healthy relationship, and this becomes even more important when there are multiple relationships in play.
The key difference, in my experience, is “agreements” rather than “rules”. Rules are generally perceived as set in stone, unchangeable, requiring punishment when breached. They also have a sense of being handed down from above – a moral imperative, at times. Agreements, on the other hand, are more like a contract – clearly stated parameters by which consenting adults choose to abide. No coercion, nor hidden assumptions. How can anything go wrong with that, right? Well, things change in real life. When this happens, an agreement can be renegotiated. Rules generally can’t. They’re “rules”. And the result of a renegotiation is that trust is maintained, love can continue to thrive, and respect given to all parties. Sometimes a “renegotiation” can result in the loss or substantial modification of a relationship. I prefer to live in this space of honesty and openness, even if it’s painful at times, than to play society’s monogamy game, where “cheating” (as if it was a win/lose game?), betrayal of trust, and near-slavery often result.
Wow, that was so powerful. Thank you so much for your thoughtful words here. I really appreciate it as I sift through my own renegotiations and agreements. This is all so very helpful, not only for me, but everyone who reads my blog and these comments. What you said is very clear to understand, and makes good sense. I also wish to not play society’s monogamy game.
Depending on the poly structure, you need a shared vision, some rules or guidelines (that includes being safe in all things and not just sex), and some good management and communication skills but most of all, trust; without that trust, failure becomes an option. I was reading what MoG wrote about “rules” vs. “agreements” and it’s really all semantics; break an agreement and there’s usually some form of punishment waiting for you as well. Again, perception: To me rules are never set in stone except when they absolutely, positively, have to be; otherwise, everything’s negotiable and change shouldn’t be resisted; if it ain’t broke, it probably doesn’t need to be fixed… but it might need some adjustments so when it comes to this,flexibility is a great thing for the gestalt to establish along with everything else.
Just two more cents; ain’t saying MoG is wrong about what he said but just as every poly situation is different, so is the perception of those participating in it.
I like breaking it down to something as simple as a “shared vision” and also that you brought up being safe in all things, not just sex. I couldn’t agree more. And YES on the trust. If there is no trust, you have nothing. There can be no healthy relationship without it. I have been in the situation where agreements were broken. Instead of the relationship dissolving, we decided to continue, but we had to rebuild that trust from that point forward. And we did successfully. Go us! As we evolve and change, so does the relationship(s), and we need to communicate about the new place we find ourselves. Yes, Flexibility is key as does the trust in your partner that they have your best interests (as well as theirs) in mind because you both chose to happily be in the relationship. A friend of mine says: “Remember the value of staying together.”
Well, it’s why people who try this fail more often than not because they don’t realize that this is a very different kind of relationship and that ‘normal’ relationship standards aren’t going to work (depending on what kind of poly relationship you’re having, wanting, find yourself in, etc.).
They don’t have the necessary mindset; they don’t have the expanded skills that are necessary and, yes, things like trust and flexibility wind up being lacking because no kind of relationship is static – yet, that’s how we behave, like, the relationship’s started and we don’t have to do anything else to keep it alive, fresh, and other things that are important to the survival of a relationship… and this kind of thinking just will not work when you’ve stepped up to be poly – it is, in my opinion, the ultimate relationship state and the most difficult to be in successfully.
Wow, all very well stated. Every day that I am in polyamorous relationships, I would say I agree with you more and more on your thoughts on this. Sometimes, we all get exhausted from all of the “talking” and “sorting out” and checking in. But it seems absolutely necessary as we move forward. In my poly family, as a result, we have just gotten better and better at making these conversations pleasant and respectful, so everyone feels heard and needs get met. When a new person comes into the mix, it can turn things sideways as we learn how skillful they are at any of this complex stuff. We try to make sure feelings don’t get hurt as a result, as we are all doing the best that we can. We are protective that we try to find “sane” and respectful new friends. And yes, the trust and flexibility is HUGE I am finding. Showing new friends my blog has proved very helpful as well, as they see that we are “legit” and actually trying very hard at all of this. Thanks for your contributions!
Thank you for letting me contribute. One last thing that’s important is managing the relationship, which means you need exceptional communication skills as well as excellent time management skills – and a mind capable of juggling and sorting out all the different personalities you’re dealing with, remember who likes what and who doesn’t like this or that; I know from my own experienced in a closed poly group that it’s a lot of information to process and keep track of… and those processes never stop because the dynamic is always changing… and that’s because the people you’re dealing with – as well as yourself – are always changing!
I just can’t say enough about this!
Very very good point! I find for me, generally speaking, I don’t feel that I can handle more than two full-time relationships (as in primary-like and in my case, living with them, thus VERY primary). To do relationships WELL, I need the time and the brain capacity to do it. To honor these extremely important relationships, I need the bandwidth and don’t want to get spread too thin. But I know others, maybe they have several part-time relationships, or simply friends with benefits that maybe they only see a few times a year. But yes, you still have to keep this all straight in your head and be respectful and polite in all of your dealings, or it becomes unhealthy or not sustainable. Sometimes unhealthy relationships tend to fizzle out on their own I have seen. Yes, lots of moving parts (pardon the pun LOL)