It's a fact. Whilst most humans might have an inclination to 'pair bond' many of us also have a roving eye. At a biological level our most successful survival tactic is not - as the church might tell you - remain faithful and worship a deity in the hope of salvation, it is to breed with many partners. And at an emotional level we seek connection in a range of forms with a range of people. Put plainly, we need Love to survive. And an open relationship satisfies both our biological and emotional needs.
- An open relationship recognizes the reality of some people's human nature.
- An open relationship recognizes the reality of some people's relationships.
If you find that you and/or your relationship is less suited to monogamy than the configuration preached by society, you will find yourself needing to explore the option of an open relationship. But how do you know if you are ready?
Notwithstanding the paradigm of relationship anarchy and solo polyamory (polyamory practised by non-committed individuals wishing to explore their lives and themselves through a network of relationships) many open relationships begin life as a monogamous couple.
In most cases the couple expect that theirs will remain a primary relationship because the purpose of opening of their relationship is to protect it, not to destroy it.
Here's a newsflash. Disney lied. Did you know...
Whether you open your relationship or not, your relationship may fail.
In fact, if you believe in the possibility of loving many, a failing relationship has little to do with whether you include others, but whether your relationship is a healthy and stable one; remembering that what may be stable at one point, may become unstable at another because (here's another newsflash) there is no permanency in this life.
Including other people in your relationship when your relationship is (too) unstable, provides an escape route which can be thoroughly tempting. And if you use polyamory as an excuse to escape your current configuration then you might be ready to open your relationship, but you should also be ready to lose your relationship.
Relationships change, because people change.
It is a proper and humble admission of this which allows to evaluate what you have now and what is truly going on. This concept of what 'should be' versus what 'is' is not just attributable in relationships; in fact it is universal and key to our happiness in all things. Whilst the illusion (or the blue pill) may be wholly pleasurable, if there is a big discrepancy between it and the reality (red pill), it will create a schism filled with denial, that will at a given point empty... and inevitably plunge you into a pit of unhappiness, causing a brutal end to your illusion.
For me, it is far better to grasp the Universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring.
~ Carl Sagan
So how do you know if you're using polyamory to heal a failing relationship? By looking at your relationship honestly. Forget OK Cupid's quiz questions. Your compatability lies in two fundamental tenets.
- How matched you are in the strategies you use to achieve happiness
- How whole and secure you are in yourselves (and thus the level of co-dependency you have/need)
Different Happiness Strategies
Connection and bliss between two people open to trying, is always possible. But the work required to make this so can be a lot or a little. And this depends on the strategies you use to achieve your happiness. These strategies fall into two camps. Feminine 'type' strategies and Masculine 'type' strategies (don't get put off by the labels, you can call them category type A or category type B if you prefer). If one of you uses only feminine strategies and the other only masculine, then you are ill matched.
Masculine strategies include achievement in logical work or profession, money, ambition. Feminine stratagies include empathy, creativity, relationship building (rarely including money as a part of what is called success). If both of you find satisfaction in similar elements then you are likely to connect well because you will recognize your own needs in your partner and identify with what your partner does to meet them - even if your industries/activities are dissimilar. This provides a solid base for connection but like all things, runs on a scale for different elements of your life. If one of you is predominantly masculine in your happiness strategies and the other is feminine, it should signal a red flag. Polyamory may be the "polyfilla" you seek to patch up different holes in your mutual compatibility.
Levels of Codependency
You can read elsewhere on the web that co-dependence is an terribly unhealthy thing and that healthy relationships are not codependent. Personally I believe that's a load of crock. Unless your self-esteem is perfect all the time and you are a truly practised in relationships, most relationships will contain an element of 'need'. Given that relationships are always changing the amount of need will fluctuate. As each person learns and hopefully grows up, it may be that they 'outgrow' the needs that were served in the first place. If you needed to feel like a hero for example and rescue your partner from a bad situation, and that bad situation no longer exists, then the need no longer exists and that bond no longer exists. The dynamic between you needs to change (and probably already has).
If one or both of you has changed and the relationship no longer serves any of the original needs then it is time to reconsider why you are together and how your relationship functions. If - in the most ideal case - you have (both) grown to a place where you can love each other in whole-ness and security - in a state of interdependency not co-dependency, then your relationship is in a healthy place to be opened. If not, then opening your relationship may simply be a way for you to find people who are more in tune with your needs - whatever they have become.
The good news is that inspite of both these reasons being 'unhealthy' reasons, polyamory can still work if you have a degree of awareness about them. If you can be completely honest with one another about what you want out of life and a relationship, then you will be able to conduct your relationships in parallel whilst working towards a healthier you.
Are you really monogamous in polyamorous clothing?
Nobody knows. But opening your relationship where you seek other partners who are more in tune with your needs or with whom you have more in common, means you may have to say goodbye to your partnership as you knew it or at the very least downgrade it to a less involved one.
This can be a very painful process if you are busy clinging to an ideal of 'til death do us part'. Of course, you will do what you want. But if you are both joyfully aware that you want to keep a relationship with one another but that your relationship is no longer serving its original purpose then the transition will be a whole lot easier. And funnily enough, even monogamously inclined people may use the guise of polyamory to achieve their transition.
That isn't a bad or a good thing. That's the way of life. Because time will tell if you are truly polyamorous. It's an inclination/orientation which isn't easily suppressed especially once you have lived it. And whilst you go through your transition from monogamous to polyamorous (and maybe back again), be aware of all possibilities. Enjoy the experience, but embrace the changing continuum and keep communicating. Because the truly horrendous pain only happens when your unrealistic relationship castles in the air come crashing down around you, not when you face the reality of how your relationship has changed and continues to change, together.
First published on Multiple Match.