Mixed Marriages - Couples in Conflict:
When the Polyamory vs. Monogamy Debate
Strikes Close to Home
by Dr. Deborah Taj Anapol, Ph.D.
In the last day and a half, three men and one woman have phoned me for relationship coaching. All four yearn to revel in the delights of polyamory but have a spouse or significant other who strenuously objects. In fact, over the years, I've found this to be one of the most common problems encountered by domestic pioneers. This dilemma can be a tough one for a would-be polyamorist who hesitates to face the wrath of a self-righteously monogamous partner but isn't comfortable with cheating and lies. Having also worked with many men and women who've chosen to maintain a facade of monogamy while indulging their desire for loving more on the sly, I know that while cheating may look like the easy way out, in the long run it's not. But openly persisting in polyamorous experimentation may well ignite fireworks.
Of course, it's equally tough for the monogamous partner who can't understand why he or she is not enough and is firmly convinced that three - not to mention four or five - is a crowd. Unable to grasp the possibility of more than one lover, the besieged traditionalist may live in constant fear that they will be replaced at the first opportunity with someone more desirable, more adventurous, and less uptight. Worse yet, he or she may suffer from jealousy or other dreadful feelings of shame, sin, and moral indignation even though he/she knows there's not a snowball's chance in hell of losing their partner.
Actually, in many of these cases, there's little likelihood either of secret affairs or trading up because the polyamorously inclined partner is not in love with a real flesh and blood potential lover, but rather with the idea of multiple partners. But whether the romantic attraction is to a person or a dream, the anguish of couples who are polarized on this issue is the same. What's often overlooked is the realization that this very anguish may be an important part of the journey to love without limits. So what to do? How can you transform this potentially disastrous conflict into a blessing?
First of all, stop playing the victim. If you are someone who finds yourself entangled with a partner whose ideals for erotic love seem diametrically opposed to yours, you may be reluctant to acknowledge that, consciously or unconsciously, you have selected each other specifically so that you can struggle with this issue. It may be tempting to blame circumstances beyond your control, as in, "I had to pick a monogamist (or polyamorist, fill in the blank) to get involved with because I couldn't find anyone who was open to monogamy (or polyamory, fill in the blank.)" Or how about this one, "I knew she/he had always been polyamorous/monogamous, but I thought that would change once she/he got involved with me."
Whatever your rationalization, the sooner you realize that neither circumstances nor your partner are to blame for your situation, the sooner you can begin to move ahead. By taking responsibility for choosing each other, you let your partner off the hook and open up the possibility of some kind of satisfactory resolution. As long as you remain stuck in one posture on this issue, you essentially force your partner to maintain his/her position to preserve the status quo. Since the status quo in this case means struggle, or to be more blunt, power struggle, it is only by changing the rules of the game that the struggle can be ended. Instead of stubbornly insisting that your partner do it your way, you can agree to creatively search for a solution that works for both of you.
If you have been using a reluctant partner to allow yourself to indulge in the romantic fantasy of polyamory without doing the personal work necessary to manifest the vision, now is the time to come clean. Consider all of your options, including separating. Before calling it quits, be sure that you have really taken responsibility for your present situation or you're likely to go from the frying pan into the fire. I know more than one ardent monogamist who left a mildly polyamorous partner only to reel in a replacement who made the previous partner look tame.
The truth is that we all have within us both polyamorous and monogamous urges. By owning both sides of yourself you reclaim your inherent wholeness and free your partner to discover his/her internal polarities. Doing the internal work will probably serve you much better than denying your own contradictory impulses and then projecting your "disowned selves" as Drs. Hal and Sidra Stone put it, onto your partner. If you acknowledge both your monogamous and polyamorous sides, your partner may or may not follow suit, but at the very least, you will be able to express your love in a more genuine and balanced way.
Another valuable approach is to take a close look at the level of intimacy and sexual satisfaction you are each experiencing. If either of you are disappointed in any way with the quality of your connection as a couple, focus your attention on going deeper with each other. If you are polyamorously inclined and your partner wants monogamy, don't even think about taking on another lover until your current beloved feels totally fulfilled. If you are a monogamously oriented partner who doesn't see how your beloved is going to manage another lover when he/she hasn't yet demonstrated he/she can really be there for you, speak up and let him/her know how you feel. Don't allow manufactured needs to manipulate the situation, but be honest about your intimacy skills, or lack thereof, instead of finding fault with your partner.
A corollary to this one is that if you are in a position to begin or continue an additional relationship without breaking a prior commitment (i.e. if you never promised monogamy in the first place), you don't need permission. If you know in your heart that you are doing the right thing and that you are fully prepared for polyamory, go for it and be willing to live with your partner's protests. Give your partner the space to do what he or she needs to do for him/herself. Do not in any way use polyamory as a punishment. As Jaia sings in her fabulous song "Freedom," (see LMM Summer 1996 for a review of Jaia's CD, Songs of the Earthschild)
"A little bit of freedom makes everyone wiser,
so if you want freedom, just go - don't criticize her."
Couples often decide to delay opening their relationship until they feel "secure" with
each other, but this is not what I'm talking about when I suggest working on
your relationship before expanding it to include others. The reality is that
love is inherently unpredictable and you can never exercise complete control
over another person's heart, let alone your own. Some people could wait a life
time and still not feel safe or "comfortable with polyamory. However, if you're
thinking about taking on additional partners and you haven't completely opened
your hearts, bodies and souls to each other, it's no wonder that your beloved
is resistant to the idea.
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© Deborah Taj Anapol