When my husband and I chose to include other people in our relationship a little over a year ago, we stepped out on an incredible journey, one that has yielded unanticipated rewards. But before we took that first step, we made sure we had a solid foundation to build upon. We established ground rules and boundaries, needs, and expectations. We discussed our fears and insecurities.
There is also a prior history with my boyfriend. We knew each other for several years before making this transition. We’ve had time to determine that our personalities mesh well. We all ‘get’ each other. We’re all healthy for one another.
I’m not suggesting that a marriage must be ideal for polyfidelity to be a reasonable consideration. It doesn’t. But it must be happy. If either spouse is dissatisfied, bringing a third person into the equation will turn dissatisfaction into discord.
There are several relationship-busters I believe couples need to tackle before bringing another person into their romantic lives. By addressing these obstacles, couples not only strengthen their existing bond, but they also become better partners for their future metas.
Relationship-buster #1: One or both partners struggle with jealousy.
One of the emotion ‘levers’ that polyfidelity plays with is jealousy. For couples who embrace multiple partnerships, jealousy is turned on its head. It makes intimacy with one’s primary even hotter. But this is why a strong marriage is a pre-requisite. If one’s spouse feels threatened instead of liberated by the idea of open marriage (and especially if they struggle with confidence, self-esteem, or self-image), then jealousy will do more harm than good. Rather than amping up the excitement and attraction to one’s spouse, it will lead to feelings of inadequacy and resentment.
Relationship-buster #2: One or both partners struggle with assertive communication.
Impossible though it may sound, my hubby, my boyfriend, and I never fight. Ever. No concern or misunderstanding ever escalates to an argument. If something causes confusion, we bring it up. We discuss it, so we don’t give power to things like doubt, which are the source of interpersonal conflict. Communication is a critical skill to creating and sustaining healthy relationships.
Effective communication is assertive; it’s respectful to all parties and ensures the wants and needs of all are taken into account when reaching a decision or outcome.
Relationship-buster #3: One or both partners struggle to understand or articulate their emotions.
Our ability to enjoy such harmonious throuple-ness has arisen through hardship. Loss and grief, while universal, are individual experiences. No two people grieve the same. Some people emerge from emotional upheaval hardened and bitter; others do not. Fortunately for us, we came away from our tragedies with greater self-awareness and a deeper appreciation for the feelings of others.
Through this awareness, we’ve increased our capacity for self-management. We’re able, through introspection, to label our feelings, to determine their cause, and talk about them with one another in a way that is compassionate and rational.
Relationship-buster #4: One or both partners struggle to control their emotions
Being aware of our feelings allows us to be more personally accountable. For example, with my hormonal swings, anxiety, and depression, it’s essential to be transparent about how I’m feeling, to manage my attitude on ‘bad days,’ and to own up and apologize when I let it come out sideways (which does occasionally happen…I’m a work-in-progress). As an alcoholic in recovery (it’ll be 6 years at the end of April), I’ve found the 12-step method a handy guide for managing myself. Steps 8 – 10 serve as good daily practice, not only for sustaining my sobriety, but for ensuring I am mindful of my words and actions, and their effects on others.
Learning to avoid acting out on my emotions has been one of the most significant personal improvements I’ve made. When I acknowledge and own how I feel, I’m capable of giving my partners what they need to be well around me when I’m at my worst. It helps ensure they don’t feel responsible for something that is entirely outside their control.
Polyfidelity isn’t a solution, and it’s a consideration not to be taken lightly. The dynamic only works when the primary relationship is healthy. A marriage that’s not on sound footing will crumble quickly under the strain of secondary relationships, even when both spouses are “on-board.”
By tackling relationship obstacles in the marriage first, couples set themselves up for more positive experiences if/when they eventually navigate the waters of non-monogamy. In those waters, there will be fear and doubt and awkwardness and ambiguity. Shit will happen. But, a couple who’s equipped to handle uncertainty together can thrive amidst the chaos.
Some articles and resources for further reading…
Self-Awareness & Emotional Awareness: