So You Think You’re Poly: Graceful Exits

We’ve all heard the phrase, “begin with the end in mind.” While the sentiment may have originated as a key to personal effectiveness, it also permits us to plan how we’ll handle disappointment if our experience doesn’t go the way we hoped.

I suspect most couples who choose to explore polyfidelity don’t anticipate returning to monogamy, but it can happen for numerous reasons. One partner may find themselves less poly-oriented than they believed, or they may discover jealousy or doubt too unpleasant. Even the most successful polycule has potential to be torn apart by life-changing stress; a decline in personal health, or a family member’s, or a traumatic loss.

No one has to act against their values or be hurt or wronged by a partner. Sometimes it just comes down to not knowing how we’ll feel about opening up until we do it.

Anything short of experience is an assumption.

When we take new risks, we must make room for the possibility of failure. Entrepreneur and author, Tim Ferriss, provides an excellent framework for considering potential outcomes and addressing the fears and assumptions that hold us back. You can watch his TED Talk on “Fear Setting” and Stoicism here: Fear Setting (13:21). Well worth the time.

In addition to establishing the Ground Rules for opening up (see my SYTYP: Getting Started post here), it’s important to frame your approach. The following are guiding principles I’ve discovered over the past 12+ months. I hope they prove as helpful to others as they’ve been to me.

Intention #1: Curiosity

  • Approach opening up as an experiment. This is a phenomenal opportunity to learn more about yourself and your partner, and what makes both of you happy
  • Separate “negative results” from “negative intentions.” When trying new things our expectations can easily be misplaced, (e.g., what did your partner hope for, that didn’t go as planned?)
  • Regardless of outcomes, use what you learn through the experience to deepen your intimacy and strengthen your relationship


Intention #2: Personal Accountability = Partnership

  • Hold yourselves equally responsible for outcomes if/when things go wrong. Rather than blame and shame, seek to understand the role you played in the situation (were boundaries unclear? was there a lack of communication?)
  • Forgive yourself and your partner for mistakes, because you WILL make them
  • Be specific about hurts, disappointments, and needs; use Assertive Communication when discussing your relationship


Intention #3: Future Vision

  • Feelings of insecurity and inadequacy can surface, and anxiety about “being replaced.” Reassure one another you are in this TOGETHER for the long haul
  • What worked yesterday may not work tomorrow. Continue to learn from your experiences and shape your “new normal,” whatever that may be


Further Reading & Resources:

People Skills by Robert Bolton

Emotional Intelligence 2.0 by Travis Bradberry

Crucial Conversations

Crucial Accountability

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