Polyamory & Enduring Love

ImageIs long-term, emotionally satisfying polyamory possible?

Polyamory and other non-monagamous relationships are popping up more and more in the popular consciousness. Polyamory is  when married couples engage in romantic, sexual relationships with multiple people simultaneously. It differs from swinging in that it emphasizes long-term, emotionally intimate relationships, and from adultery with its focus on honesty and (ideally) full disclosure of all sexual relationships.

Most of the research on polyamorous relationships has focused on the “rules” needed to make these types arrangements work, such as maintaining emotional intimacy rather than sexual intimacy, and mutual appreciation, emotional closeness, caring, honesty, good communication, and flexibility.

ImageMultiple organizations exist to support and advocate on behalf of polyamory. However, while polyamorists may be increasingly vocal about their lifestyle, research may not support their claims that polyamory is successful over the long-term. Enduring love is diluted when sexual infidelity is tolerated, according to a 1995 study. A 1980 study of 120 sexually permissive communes found a close relationship between the number of sex partners and an individual’s inability to feel love or sustain a love bond. Other studies have found that symbolic boundaries are vital for the maintenance and enhancement of a long-term intimate relationship, and as such, sex-inclusive communities never last beyond the life span of its founding generation. And then there’s always the hurdle of dealing with the significant stigma is still associated with polyamory.Image

Despite all this, polyamory and polygamy may become increasingly mainstream as same-sex marriage opens the door to other alternative sexual lifestyles. The road ahead may still be bumpy as society negotiates all the second and third order effects (taxes, health benefits, childcare and custody, etc.) of non-traditional relationships. An article in Huffington Post argued that while same-sex marriage is “neutral for society”, polyamory is the road to social unrest (the main argument seemed to mix up polygamy and polyamory as it argued that with polygamy, there are disenfranchised men who can’t find a wife). Another argument is that homosexuality is innate, like race, and therefore “more worthy” of civil rights while polyamory is a choice. Polyamorists defend their lifestyle and say it’s possible to pursue consensual, loving, respectful relationships, form happy families and participate productively in society. Only time will tell.

For an interesting look into the polyamory lifestyle, check out this story from CNN about a married couple and their live-in partner, Jeremy.

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4 thoughts on “Polyamory & Enduring Love

  1. This is a much needed debate — whether open and poly relationships tend to be more or less successful than traditional relationships. I obviously do not know the answer to this, but am skeptical of the studies done on the issue, especially those studying commune experiences. Commune living has power dynamics that go well beyond sexual sharing and, I would propose, what we leant about the success (or lack thereof) of commune relationships, has little to offer by way of analogy to modern open or polyamorous relationships.

  2. OOooh, I love your comment. Excellent point. Another thing I noticed is that a lot of the “polyamory is bad” studies tended to come from before about 1990. Since that time, an entirely new generation has grown up with the norms of divorce, non-married monogamous couples, single parents, and open homosexuality.

    I wonder if that means today’s adults are more open to non-traditional relationships, and if that means that a wider cross section of adults would be willing to try it? I don’t know the answer to this either, but I’m eager for a scientifically rigorous study looking at how long different types of relationships last and how respondents in them rate their happiness levels.

  3. For a real debate on the “success” of a relationship lifestyle, I personally think it would be neccessary to define what a long-term-relationship is, and whether the longitude is a factor that accounts for the quality of the relationship and the love. Love between any number of people can last longer than the (active) partnership between them.

    The other question is, whether it is too early to compare these relationship types. In my personal circle of polyamorous friends, I see many people trying polyamory without knowing how they should deal with the complicated sides of polyamory. They all grew up in a mono-normative culture that taught them how to feel and to feel jealousy and insecurity, and they honestly don’t know what to think and to feel in certain situations. I think for polyamory to flourish, we need to be patient, we need to work towards a more loving and less competitive culture, and we need to research on how to best support poly people. We should wait for the time when polyamorous people aren’t afraid to be “come out” as poly, before we analyze whether they are capable of living “long term”, happy, loving polyamorous relationships 🙂

    Personally: I’m poly, out & proud, and very seldomly jealous, my love lasts for many years, but my beloved ones are still afraid of the judgement of their neighbours, parents, working collegues… so how on earth could I even hold hands with all of them in public – something faithful monogamous people don’t have to worry about at all. For me, holding hands symbolizes our love, our commitment towards eachother, it serves the bonding, and gives me a sense of security 🙂 More often than not, I can’t have that in public. I know, in many places it is already “normal” to be poly, but in most places – even in the US and in Europe – it’s not.

    So please let’s not be too sceptical with ourselves, and see it as work-in-progress.

    Let’s all work towards the acceptance of polyamory, so that it will become natural and no big deal anymore, and then let’s have fun evaluating ourselves and our relationships! 🙂

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