Whether you know it as open monogamy, ethical non-monogamy, polyamory/polyam, or plain ol’ open relationships – there have never been so many different ways to describe the same thing. But at the end of the day, what is it really and what’s the hype about? Let’s talk about it.
My name is Ayssa Scipio and I am a Registered Social Worker, Psychotherapist in Toronto, Ontario. Folks I work with are most often 20-something to 30-something year-olds navigating concerns around anxiety, life transitions, and sex and intimacy.
In the therapist office, many clients come with questions around open relationships and polyamory. The most common concerns are around where to start, how to initiate polyam conversations, and what polyam dynamics might look like.
Polyamory is almost like the golden unicorn of relationships. They’re incredibly special and unique in their ability to provide an alternative to traditional monogamy (which quite honestly just doesn’t work for everybody). That said, the stigma that surrounds polyamory can make talking about this dynamic nerve-wracking depending on who you’re having the conversation with. But if there’s one thing we know, just because people don’t talk about something doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist or that we aren’t curious about it.
Realistically, any relationship can open us up to the potential of hurt because relationships mean vulnerability, and vulnerability means risk. Risk can take us towards love, abundance, and happiness, or hurt and pain. This risk is best balanced through something called informed consent. But what does that really mean?
Informed consent = honest, clear, and transparent communication around expectations and boundaries
Everyone involved in a relationship dynamic should be there because they are willing, curious, and excited to be there. If you’re wondering if a polyamorous relationship is for you, it’s important that you sit and have a reflective conversation with yourself. Ask yourself questions like:
💭 Am I doing this for me?
💭 What do I need in order to feel safe and happy in this relationship?
💭 Have I had the clear conversations I need to understand what to expect in this relationship?
Setting rules and expectations are a must in any relationship. Establishing this sort of foundation sets the bar for what’s to come. Often times, folks in polyam dynamics have relationship contracts that touch upon a variety of topics including goals of opening the relationship, guidelines and privileges of primary/secondary/tertiary relationships, limitations to sexual activities, and more.
Above anything else, it’s important to make sure your identity and your values show up in these conversations.
Monogamist trends have a tendency to make folks second guess what works for themselves, but in reality, we are all very different people with very different needs and wants. Open relationships allow for flexibility in love. Love is a beautiful thing and can bend as we need it to, whether that’s to one partner or multiple.
There’s a whole polyam community out there and the people you’ll meet in your journey will keep you full! As people, we are complicated. Our layered identities allow us to belong to many communities – queer, BIPOC, disability, and more. Should you decide that polyam is for you, this will just be another community you can add to your bank. There are tons of ways to meet people in the polyam community whether it be through apps, in physical spaces, or online forums – the options are plentiful. You just have to take the risk of putting yourself out there and reap the rewards that follow.
Jealousy often accompanies relationships at one point or another. It’s how we work through it that matters. In the 70s, the Kerista Commune coined the term, ‘compersion’, to describe the joy that is felt when you see your partner romantically, sexually, or otherwise intimately happy with someone else. In the polyam dynamic, compersion is one of the biggest and most fulfilling goals to work towards. This expression of love requires us to unlearn jealousy and lean towards a new way of receiving and giving love. Compersion is what happens when we rejoice with our partners as they grow and love.