5 Lessons Monogamous Families Can Learn from Polyamorists

Polyamory is not for everyone, but these tips can be useful for many families.

Posted Sep 30, 2014

Because polyamorous relationships can be intense and complicated, the people who engage in them over the long term put a lot of time, effort, and though in to developing strategies to help their relationships last and survive hardship. While polyamory itself is certainly not for everyone, these strategies can be useful for people in all sorts of relationships. Divorced parents and others in blended families will find them especially relevant.


1. Communicate Honestly

Polyamorous people put a lot of emphasis on communication as a way to build intimacy, explore boundaries, negotiate agreements, and share feelings. Telling the truth is paramount to this process, as honesty forms the basis for trust. Trust helps people feel safe, which in turn builds intimacy, and (ideally) communication creates a positive feedback loop within the relationship. Even when communicating about difficult things that feel less positive, polys use the strategies of telling the truth and being willing to tolerate the conflict in order to work through the problem as tools to sustain their relationships over time.

2. Don’t Leave Too Soon

Staying with a difficult conversation, even if it is uncomfortable, is one of the ways in which poly people persevere with their relationships. For poly relationships to last, those involved must be willing to keep trying to work things out, even when they are difficult. Unsurprisingly, others in monogamous and serial-monogamous relationships also are more likely to sustain long-term relationships when they try to work things out, and both people involved put a lot of effort in to the maintenance and sustenance of the relationship.

Another strategy poly people use to maintain their relationships is to seek support, something that could benefit and sustain serial monogamous relationships as well. If things get rocky, reach out to friends for sympathy, support, and advice. Getting professional counseling can be tremendously helpful in dealing with concrete issues and establishing patterns for communication that can help deal with other matters that arise over time. 

3. Don’t Stay Too Long

In what can be a delicate balancing act, poly people find that it is important not to drag things out until the bitter end when partners have been so awful to each other that they simply must run away from each other. Instead, polys suggest that it is better to recognize when people have grown apart or relationships that used to work well are no longer good for the people involved, admit it, and change in accordance with what the relationship has become. During this phase it is especially important to be kind and act with integrity – when people leave before they cheat then they can still look their ex-partners in the eye when they interact later.

Additionally, plan for the long term because when families have children then it will be important for them to interact smoothly with each other in the future. Even if the urge to slash their ex’s tires is overwhelming in the moment, thinking carefully about sharing big events with their ex-partners in the future, taking a deep breath, and making a choice that will allow them to look their former partners in the eye without feeling ashamed when they see each other at their children’s graduation or wedding ceremonies. 

Shifting attitudes can help as well, and allow people to give each other a break. Rather than characterizing their former relationship as a “broken” family that has failed because the adults’ relationship has ended, people can choose to view their relationships as good for what worked for whatever period of time that was, and then time to move on when they no longer met the needs of the people involved. In other words, the end can just be an end, or even transition to a new kind of relationship.

4. Be Flexible, Allow for Change

Flexibility can be a key to resilience

Polyamorous people sustain their relationships by being willing to try new things. If the ways in which the relationship has been going so far are not working, then trying something else can be quite effective. This can mean shifting expectations and letting go of former patterns, which can be both invigorating and frightening. Being able to shift in response to changing circumstances allows families to be resilient, and polyamorous families routinely must adjust to new familial and emotional configurations. To accommodate their unconventional family lives, poly families try new things, reconfigure their relationships or interactions, and remain open to alternatives. Because this can be difficult, it makes sense to get help negotiating the changes by reaching out to trusted friends, a counselor, or even a mediator. Trying new things can be challenging and it doesn’t always work the first time, so be willing to refine and renegotiate as the family explores is crucial to learning and growth.

5. De-Emphasize Sexuality

Even though most people associate polyamorous families with sexuality, polys ironically de-emphasize sexuality to help reconfigure and cope with change. Emotional connection is the glue that holds families together anyway, and while sex is good and help people feel connected, it is not enough by itself to sustain a long-term relationship. Very importantly for polyamorous and non-polyamorous families, the end of sex does not have to mean end of relationship. Remaining friends is a real choice, and especially important when people have had children together. Children do not care if their parents have sex, and in fact would much rather not hear about it or think of their parents as sexual beings. Instead, de-emphasizing sexuality can allow family members to focus on cooperative co-parenting and remaining on positive terms. When people have treated each other with respect and allowed themselves to change or leave a relationship that is no longer working before they do terrible things to each other, it makes it much more reasonable to actually co-parent or even be cordial to each other.