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Resilience

Resilient Family Outcomes Through Polyaffectivity

How de-emphasizing sex allows polyamorous families to remain elastic over time.

If family success is conceived of as remaining in the exact same relationship form until one of the partners dies, then very few relationships -- polyamorous or monogamous -- are successful. If, however, family success is conceived as the ability to meet people’s changing needs and retain a familial connection even when the sexual connection no longer persists, then many polyamorists are able to build successful and resilient relationships.

This is the second on a series of three blogs on resilience. In the first blog I introduced the idea of resilience and explained how poly families use honesty, communication, and flexibility to foster resilience in their relationships. In this blog, I explain how many polyamorous people sustain emotional continuity in the face of shifting relationship configurations by de-emphasizing sexuality. Instead, they often prioritize polyaffective relationships, where polyamorous adults define their chosen significant others as family, but do not have sexual relationships with them - either because they were never sexually connected or because their sexual connection is over (for now or forever) and they remain emotionally intimate.

Polyaffectivity

google
Source: google

For some poly folks, no longer having sex does not signal the end of a relationship. Instead, it means they are shifting to a new phase. In these cases, the emphasis of the relationship changes to a non-sexual interaction, but the emotional and social connections remains continuous.

Because they have few or no role models in conventional society, people in poly relationships have a range of relationship outcomes and a wide array of meanings from which to select. Some follow a conventional pattern of alienation when a sexual relationship ends, while others forge values and perspectives that define former partners as continued intimates, or “chosen family.” Shifting the crux of the relationship from sexuality to emotional intimacy can foster more connected co-parenting, because it allows for continued and cooperative relationships among adults.

Some poly folks emphasize the changing nature of relationships over time, as sexual interest waxed and waned due to the vigor of youth, having children, shifting circumstances and passage along the life-course. By emphasizing polyaffective connections, these polyamorists are able to sustain resilient relationships even as the exact form of the relationship shifts over time.

Useful for Monogamous Folks

Polyamorous families can provide monogamous families – especially those who have divorced or remarried – useful examples about how to navigate their blended family life. Because polyamorists’ elasticity allows their complicated families to manage daily life, their ability to retain relationships after a breakup offers insight for (ostensibly) monogamous families who divorce, and their experiences in co-parenting can illuminate the ways in which blended, post-divorce families of all types might deal with multiple parents, regardless of how or if they are sexually connected. This form of resilience becomes important as divorce can dilute the expectation of permanent connections with legal family, while simultaneously creating new multiple-parent blended family connections for which children and adults require psychological and emotional adaptation.

google
Source: google

Such persistent polyamorous emphasis on fluidity and choice has several ramifications for the multitude of ways in which people can define the ends of, or changes in, their relationships. The most flamboyant version of poly identity is explicitly sexual in that it centers on being open to multiple sexual partners. A quieter version of poly identity, polyaffectivity, appears to be more durable and flexible - able to supersede, coexist with and outlast sexual interaction. Relationships that have such a multitude of options for interaction and define emotional intimacy as more significant than sexual intimacy provide poly people with a wide selection of possible outcomes in relationships subject to change.

In the next and last blog of this series on resilience, I explain the two primary outcomes that resilient polyamorous families usually experience.

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