Graceful Endings and Expanded Connections: Resilience Part 3
How poly families' resilient techniques can help divorced families stay in touch
Posted Dec 16, 2015
This blog is the third in a series about resilience in polyamorous families. The first blog explained how poly families use flexibility and communication to foster resilience, and the second blog focuses on the ways in which non-sexual polyaffective relationships help to sustain families over time. In this third installment I explain two resilient outcomes poly families experience: graceful endings and extended connections between adults.
Graceful endings are those in which people treat each other decently enough (at least most of the time) that they are able to remain friendly or cordial afterwards. Because poly relationships are completely voluntary and negotiated -- rather than encoded in religious or cultural rules –the people in those relationships are required to shape the parameters of their interactions by themselves. When a relationship can end without someone being at fault, the social mandate for couples to stay together and fixed in exactly the same way at all costs can relax.
As the stigma against changing or ending relationships subsides, the subsequent drop in shame and blame simultaneously decreases the need for previous lovers to stay together until they have exhausted their patience and sympathy for each other, and possibly lied to or betrayed each other in the process. If it becomes clear that a relationship no longer meets the participants’ needs or works for people who have grown apart, accepting the change and shifting to accommodate new realities can contribute to more graceful endings and transitions. People who are able to amicably end one phase of their relationship are more likely to be able to smoothly transition into a new phase characterized by continued connection, communication, and cooperation. As one respondent stated: ‘Don’t drag it out until the bitter end, disemboweling each other along the way. Split up while you can still be friends, before anybody does something they will regret later.’
Extended Adult Connection
People who used to be a spouse or mate and remain platonic emotional intimates don’t have to be exes, forever defined but what they used to be. They can be friends, co-parents, and chosen family members. This extra-sexual allegiance is fundamental to my concept of polyaffectivity, or emotional intimacy among non-sexual participants linked by poly relationships. Expanding important adult relationships beyond sexual confines, whether they are former sexual partners or polyaffective partners who don’t have sex, provides people with more templates for interaction and choices in how to define relationships.
This does not mean that every relationship can or should endure: Some relationships are destructive, hurtful, unhealthy, and even violent. These negative relationships should end, and in those cases poly and serial monogamous people make positive moves in their lives when the truly end destructive relationships.
A wider range of choices are becoming increasingly important, as the limited range of conventional relationship templates simply don't work for many people. People in developed nations live far longer now than anyone used to, and these longer life spans include more time to change and potentially grow apart. If they are to remain in relationships, some of these long-lived people require the room to shift and expand over time, outside the narrow confines of ill-fitting social scripts.
Others might be wiser to avoid organizing their lives around marriage and instead invest their emotional and material resources in something more durable than romantic love, crafting relationships that provide reciprocal care and support with siblings, friends, or other chosen family members. This need not mean an end to sexual relationships or childbearing, simply a shift in which relationship(s) take on practical and emotional (if not sexual) primacy.
Useful for Divorced People
Serial monogamy – the pattern in which two people couple in sexually exclusive relationships for a time, break up, and re-couple exclusively with someone else – has replaced classical monogamy in which young people marry as virgins, remain sexually exclusive for their entire lives, and become celibate after their spouse’s death.
As a social pattern, serial monogamy inevitably creates some families with multiple parents related to children through various legal, biological, and emotional connections. Parents who used to be romantic partners often end up trying to figure out how to create a workable co-parental relationship when they were unable to create or sustain a spousal relationship. For the many people in this situation, remaining on positive terms with a former partner/current co-parent makes the transition less painful for children and more cooperative for adults (Sheff 2013).
Crafting relationships able to transition from a romantic phase to a platonic co-parental phase can be challenging. Polyaffectivity provides a pathway to continuity and a way to remain connected across time, even though a graceful ending and beyond. In an era when conventional stability appears to be difficult for many to sustain, this new form of stability can prove quite useful to everyone who has separated from a significant relationship.