Issues Concerning "Open - Poly" Relationships

Katherine Phelps

We do live in a modern era that is questioning traditional relationship structures. I believe that this is an important endeavour. However, somewhere in the chaos of change some people are using the situation in order to behave in ways that hurts partners and keeps themselves in a state of emotional immaturity. I have seen many young people do their best to remain open-minded in order to experiment with potentially new and beneficial ways of interacting with others, then find themselves bewildered, damaged, and abused. This article is to alert people to when their good will in a relationship is being taken advantage of, or where they are deceiving themselves.


At dinner or while sitting in the living room eating dessert one member of a couple starts talking about how their needs are not being met in the relationship. They say that they still love the other member, but would like the freedom to explore. After all, they have enough love to go around to several people. The person suggesting this may even bring up the concept of polyamory, mentioning that it's about both people being free to see others.

The listening member may choose to patiently consider this proposal because they pride themselves upon being reasonable. Who's to say that this relationship structure is wrong? Life might even become easier. It is true that one person cannot answer all the needs of another after all. The listening member may be feeling all sorts of things like fear, grief, betrayal, but quash these feelings in order to be modern and reasonable, then despite internal objections agree to the arrangement.

First, I would like to say that there is a time and a place for open and polyamorous relationships. I do not feel that they are ipso facto wrong or bad. However, the time to form such a relationship is from the outset, when people need to know what they are getting into with another. Feelings are precious and fragile things that need respecting. To spring a change from a monogamous relationship to one including more partners after the other member has already made an exclusive commitment can be dishonest. It is legitimate for people to choose and desire monogamous relationships over polyamorous ones, regardless of whether that is how things have always been done or not. Genuine love respects the other's needs and desires.

Another time and place issue has to do with age. Young people are at a better time and place to engage in open-poly relationships. In group houses I have heard of people having casual sex with one another with few dramas. This is possible because the people have their own individual space and possessions, everyone is aware that the situation is temporary, and it is just friends having a good time with no attachments. This changes as people start wanting to settle down with steady jobs, own houses, and have children. Time, energy, and attention become precious commodities. To spend time with one person may mean that you aren't spending it with another. Parents complain about this frequently. They may rarely get time to spend with their friends in order to spend it with the children. The more people involved in intimate relations, the less time is available for any one of them to be of any depth. The question becomes, what quality level are you seeking in your relationships?

Sadly, those who propose open-poly relationships often do so due to issues of co-dependency and/or the incapacity to maintain mature relationships. A woman may suggest an open relationship as a way to hang onto a relationship that is growing apart. She may feel that she is unlikely to find anyone any better than her current partner, that she will be unable to support herself, or that no one else may find her attractive. Therefore, she is willing to compromise her relationship in order to hang onto what little she can of her partner. This is by no means a choice that she wants to make, but one she feels that she must make out of necessity.

A man may suggest a relationship becomes open-poly in order to avoid facing difficult emotional issues, when he should be suggesting counselling. The woman may even agree feeling that she would like to hang onto the relationship until she can find something better. So, it is not about being open or poly, but simply having something seviceable until you can arrange to leap into a better situation. Either of these scenarios are dishonest.

Women have frequently been sucked into accepting extra relationships in order to maintain a complete family for their children. The father finds the day to day responsibilities daunting, he finds his wife too familiar, and some other woman is giving him the sort of attention that boosts his ego. For whatever reason the husband is unable to understand the benefits of a committed relationship, and too readily throws it away for a temporary buzz with a new woman. This can certainly happen in reverse as well.

A healthy intimate relationship will offer more opportunities for personal growth and fulfillment than casual relationships; the cost will be that you will also face more challenges. Certainly, in a genuine polyamorous relationship all members agree to the participation of all other members from the outset, and a supportive community is formed. I have only heard of a very few such arrangements that have been successful. I have never found that when this term is thrown out after a couple have already been in a monogamous situation that it is used in a genuine manner. It is used as a rationalisation.

We all need to learn that we are capable of and deserve loving relationships that can weather the tough times; where members can expect other members to be there for them should they experience emotional turmoil or physical illness, rather than deciding it is too hard and then disappearing in a smoke they try to justify as loving by calling it polyamorous. People who are subject to this sort of deception need to have the self-respect to be forthright about what they want out of the relationship, and the courage to recognise when it might be time to move on. When a person shows real commitment to a loving, sharing, vulnerable relationship, they have every right to expect to be treated with respect, to not be taken for granted, and to be cherished; especially when they are so aware of the other's humanity and still choose to see things through hard times, dull every-day times, and good times with them. In matters of the heart quality is superior to quantity.