Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


For Many Polyamorous Relationships, Year 1 Is the Hardest

Why CNM relationships have such a sharp learning curve.

Key points

  • Experiencing new relationship energy can be fun and exciting for the people enjoying it, but it can be difficult and painful for others.
  • Meshing multiple partners can be challenging when it comes to resources like time and money and partners' conflicting needs.
  • The first year of CNM relationships can be more challenging than the rest of the relationship turns out to be over time.
Image: Irridescent heart
Source: GDJ/OpenClipArt

Decades of research on polyamorous relationships have clearly demonstrated that the beginning of these consensually nonmonogamous (CNM) relationships can be both incredibly exciting and tremendously difficult. The first year of a new polyamorous relationship is often challenging for people who attempt to sustain lasting intimate partnerships with multiple people simultaneously.

While some poly folks are able to transition into new relationships smoothly, it can be much harder for others. This is primarily because of new relationship energy and the challenges of meshing multiple relationships.

New Relationship Energy

It is common for people who have just begun a polyamorous relationship to experience new relationship energy (NRE), in which they become fascinated with their new partner and tend to pay less attention to their longer-term partners. Too often, this leads to people unintentionally taking their longer-term partners for granted while they pour most of their romantic energy (and potentially a lot of their free time) into their new relationship.

Practiced polyamorists learn to expect this dynamic and take measures to ensure that they give their long-term partners a lot of attention too in order to counteract the temptation to focus intently on the new and shiny partner. These practiced polyamorists who are dazzled with a new partner will be sure to make dates with their long-term partners, woo their long-time lovers, and share fun free time in addition to the mundane chores of life.

Even with this intentional compensation for the allure of the new and shiny, it can still be difficult for many people when their partner is distracted by a new love. Tolerating those feelings can be painful. For some, it is also tinged with or sometimes turns into compersion—a term polyamorists use to describe the happy feeling they have when their beloved is snogging/enjoying/falling for someone else.

For others, compersion is simply too much to expect, and tolerating the situation is perhaps the best to hope for at that point. With demonstrated goodwill and shared trust, compersion can grow over time. Compersion can be especially difficult to cultivate at the beginning when people are just getting to know each other and exploring their boundaries in the situation.

Source: gillnisha/Pixabay

Integrating New Partners

Another reason the first year can be difficult for people engaged in new polyamorous relationships is that it can be incredibly challenging to blend multiple partners simultaneously. Even though the amount of love they can feel is limitless for many people who identify as polyamorous (or some other form of CNM), the time has some very strict restraints that care nothing for anyone's expansive heart.

Spending time and resources on a new partner almost always means redirecting them from somewhere else. That can be challenging when some of those resources were previously spent on personal time, co-parenting, work, sleep, education, existing partners, etc. Other areas of life start to feel the squeeze of that loss, and it takes special attention to make sure that things like parenting, partnering, and self-care do not fall by the wayside in favor of the new relationship.

While attempting to balance multiple partners' boundaries and emotions with each other is difficult enough if everyone discovers that they agree on most issues, some partners have clashing needs that make finding compromise quite difficult.

As people attempting to form polyamorous and polyaffective relationships begin to practice meshing with each other over time, they often realize that they simply do not get along. This configuration will not work unless they are able to blend their boundaries and work things out in an increasingly comfortable and balanced way as they get to know each other better individually and as a unit.

As I have mentioned previously, the polyaffective relationships among the metamours are the key to a happy and resilient polycule. In polyamorous relationships, non-sexual partners who share a partner in common can make or break their mutual relationships with that shared partner. Earning each other's trust and friendship takes time. It can be hard to get started if people make mistakes at the beginning of their polyamorous relationships, which is quite common (in monogamy as well).

All of these different factors—the steep learning curve, many pitfalls and possible mistakes in this complex relationship style, and all too human propensity to become fascinated with the new partner—can combine to make the first year of serious polyamorous relationships quite challenging. While this turmoil may settle down over time and transform into a smoothly functioning, happy, and supportive relationship, some folks who attempt polyamory find it such a poor fit or so difficult to establish and maintain that they bail out before that first year passes.

Overall, the first year of a serious and lasting CNM relationship can be a lot more challenging than the rest of the relationship turns out to be over time.