Dr. Kelly Neff is a renowned psychologist, author, founder of The Lucid Planet and the host of the hit new show, Lucid Planet Radio. She has reached millions of people with her articles on psychology, transformation, and wellness. She has a B.A. in Psychology from Georgetown University and an M.A. and Ph.D. in Social Psychology from Claremont Graduate University.
Love is perhaps the most enchanting of all human emotions and experiences; it can be painful, challenging, bittersweet and incredibly transformative.
When it comes to sexuality and love, so many of us have been conditioned by a lifetime of programming from our families, media, religious institutions, our teachers to believe our desires are wrong, shameful, unnatural, or irrational.
As a bisexual non-monogamous woman, and as a psychologist who specializes in relationships and sexuality, I have personally and professionally witnessed so many people who have sought out that safe place but who have been fearful to express their authentic sexuality to their partner(s).
I certainly was one of those people, but my life has been transformed as I have been traveling on a magical, soul-baring, heart-exploding, crazy challenging and totally enchanted journey into polyamory.
What is Polyamory
Polyamory is an alternative to monogamy where people make a conscious choice to seek out multiple intimate partners in an ethical, responsible fashion.
The term is derived from the Greek word “poly” (meaning many) and the Latin word “amor” (meaning love).
In my understanding, polyamory is not about having a sex free-for-all without permission from your partners, nor is this an opportunity to be deceitful or a form of cheating:
In our practice (my partner and I) of polyamory, there is a strong emphasis on ethical and responsible behavior.
For example, this means that ..
we communicate about potential partners before we engage in any sexual intimacy or activities with them;
we share mutual consent for all activities and connections involved;
we are completely honest about how we feel;
we budget our time accordingly;
we respect each others feelings;
and most importantly, we frequently communicate and check with each other.
My Polyamory Experience
My partner and I began our journey in an open relationship, where we would have sex with other couples, as well as bringing third parties (men or women, depending) into the bedroom with us.
This was really great, incredibly liberating, enjoyable and most definitely enchanting, but we realized that we wanted more than just sex:
We seek to build deep, spiritual connections with all of our intimate partners, and it sometimes requires we spend solo intimate time with outside partners to really build these bonds.
So a few months ago, we began to explore being in a polyamorous relationship.
We are primary partners, meaning we are building a life together and tend to spend more time together:
We have been together for several years, we own a home together, we live together, we work together, we own pets together and we spend the majority of our time together.
In addition, my partner now has a secondary girlfriend and I have a secondary boyfriend. I imagine that when I meet the right person, I will also have a secondary girlfriend, too.
One very important distinction here is that to be secondary does not equate to being ‘second place’ in the amount of love, nurturing or enjoyment that partners have for each other.
Rather the distinction is more descriptive, recognizing the hierarchical structuring of the relationship and the fact that primary partners tend to have more obligations and spend more time together, although this is not always the case
(Note: This is not the only way to structure polyamorous relationships, this is just what works for us.)
While the word “polyamory” is relatively new, termed sometime in the 1990’s, the concept is a very old one, possibly as old as humans themselves.
In fact, there have been many arguments put forward suggesting that humans evolved in small forager group societies where everything was shared: The resources, the work-load the child-care and yes, even the sexual partners.
According to this perspective, prior to beginning of the ‘agricultural’ way of life around 10,000 years ago, humans spent hundreds of thousands of years of our evolution living in small polyamorous groups.
We can certainly look to the few remaining forager tribe societies today for support of this theory, as well as the undeniable reality that none of our close primate relatives are monogamous.
Polyamory 101: 5 Magical Tips To Make It Work
Still, I am not here to tell you polyamory is any better than monogamy.
But just looking at current divorce rates and statistics on relational infidelity it might be a good time to look into different ways of relating. (the divorce rate in the US is past 50%; statistics on relational infidelity are as high as 70%)
But many of us do not have a proper frame of reference, or any socially acceptable media content, elders, or role models, to learn from about how to responsibly pursue alternatives to monogamy.
Therefore I have summed up my experience on how to mindfully expand a romantic relationship:
#1 Be Honest, Even if it Hurts
If you try to hide the truth (even with good intentions of protecting your partner’s feelings), it will hurt them MORE when they find out than if you had just told them the truth from the start.
Trust is incredibly important to all relationships.
#2 Communicate Rigorously & Safely
Always check in with your partner, and be prepared to listen without reacting.
You should both be able to express your feelings in a safe place without the other person interpreting it as a personal attack, or feeling the need to defend themselves.
The same goes for communicating your intentions, feelings and choices before pursuing them, especially in the early phases of opening up your relationship.
Instead of coming home and saying “Hi honey, I just hooked up with so – and – so, I hope that’s ok,” start out by asking permission first: “Hi babe, I am attracted to so – and – so, how do you feel about me pursuing this?” Opening a dialogue is key.
#3 Remember, You Do NOT Have Ownership
It is my belief that none of us have ANY ownership over our partners, whether it be their bodies, their sexuality, their identity, their expression, their feelings or their choices.
Trying to control and dictate your partner’s wishes does not lead to a constructive and happy relationship.
Respect and accept your partner’s feeling and choices as you wish yours to be respected.
If you have a problem with their behavior, or even with their choice of partner, it is important to communicate this, but remember that the final decision is theirs.
One of the most common questions we receive in our workshops is:
“What happens if my partner falls in love with their other partner and leaves me completely?”
to which we respond:
If you ARE polyamorous, your partner won’t necessarily have to leave you, in the same way they would if you were monogamous. If your partner will be happier completely moving on with someone else, you can also respect that knowing this is what is best for you both. Letting go can be incredibly hard, but refer to #3 above… we do not have ownership over our partners.
We must also consider that the initial fear of sharing our partners is possibly derived from the scarcity programming that we are conditioned with in this world:
The idea that there isn’t enough to go around; not enough money, not enough resources, not enough water or gasoline or energy or love! From a scarcity mentality, we should hold on to what is ‘ours’ so tightly that we would become unwilling to share it or let it go.
But if you ‘mind-hack’ yourself, you can begin to identify the scarcity programming and change it to abundance programming, understanding that there is more than enough love to go around.
After all, you are able to have enormous amounts of love for many different people, aren’t you? Think about your family, your friends, your pets, or say, your favorite authors or musicians.
Does loving one song preclude you from loving another song just as much? Does loving an additional partner take away your love from your original partner? Or does the freedom to explore and enrich your life with another partner actually enhance your love for all?