Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Just Say No

Something that comes up occasionally on poly forums is a situation where one partner in a couple is anxious to pursue a poly relationship, and the other is opposed.

Is it really possible for a poly-minded person to live monogamously, if that is what their partner needs to feel loved and secure? I know of at least two cases where somebody, having explored the idea of poly, decided against it in the end because his partner said she did not want it. I am absolutely convinced that there are many people out there in good relationships who have decided against poly because their partners dislike the idea.

Every day, people decide against starting relationships which their partner would not like because they honour their feelings: everything from opportunities for cheating to poly are turned down. There are poly-minded couples who have decided against a relationship with a particular person because, although one partner was very attached to the person concerned, the other did not get on with them, and it was clear that pursuing that relationship could only be painful for everyone concerned in the long term.

Everyone in a relationship should honour the feelings of their partner/s. So should we expect our partners to sacrifice a poly lifestyle, or a relationship with a particular person, for our own comfort? There is absolutely no doubt that a poly relationship will result in additional demands on the time and energy of the person in the relationship, and so the original partner will lose in some ways. Poly is very rewarding for those of us who choose the lifestyle, but for those who do not want or choose it, any benefits are vastly outweighed by the losses.

So I would suggest that the issue comes down to a choice between sacrifices. Someone who refuses to 'sacrifice' a desire for a poly relationship when they know that their partner is not, and may never be, ready for it, sacrifices a part of their existing relationship. Specifically, they sacrifice their existing partner’s trust that they love them enough to take their needs into consideration; the trust that they would never deliberately hurt that partner. An element of emotional insecurity is thus introduced into the relationship which will affect them both in the long run.

As long as somebody insists on a 'right' to poly or to developing a particular relationship over and above the wishes of their partner, the partner is likely to remain insecure. An insecure person is unable to give as much to a partner or to a relationship as one who is happy and secure. Pressure will only make a person defend their position more strongly than ever, and become deaf to the feelings of their partner, because an element of competition has been introduced into the relationship: a conflict between what ‘you’ want and what ‘I’ want.

A poly relationship which begins under such circumstances has, I believe, very little chance of success in the long term. Quite aside from the issues between the original couple, it is unethical to bring another person into a relationship which is currently unstable. It will only make the situation worse and the other person desperately unhappy, as well as exacerbating problems between the original couple. It is all but impossible for anyone to keep their poly relationships completely separate: misery or stress in one relationship will inevitably affect any other relationships a person has. In my view, forced poly is no better than cheating, though the third party bears little or no responsibility for the situation.

Sometimes, just knowing that their partner is prepared to forego something important for their sake can be enough to make a previously insecure person completely confident in the love of their partner. Sometimes, so secure that sometime down the line they may suggest poly themselves, because they want their partner to be completely happy. The root of compersion is security.

I am a firm believer that nobody, male or female, should go into poly against their better judgement. It is a difficult lifestyle even when everybody in the relationship loves each other and is very keen to work at it. If someone's partner is trying to coerce them into poly, I think they should examine their relationship very carefully, and strive for open communication. It is very important to be aware that, in some cases, one partner may really not understand what a huge problem this might be for the other: both partners should take care to explain their feelings about poly (or about a particular relationship) very clearly and in such a way that they cannot be misunderstood.

If I had made my feelings plain, and a partner still insisted, I would ask myself: Is it worth staying in a relationship where my partner cares so little for my feelings that they would force their preferences on me against my will? I do not give up on relationships lightly, but I EXPECT my partners to care for my feelings as I care for theirs, and I think everyone, whether mono or poly, should have such high expectations of themselves and of their partners. We can and should, in my view, make choices that respect and honour our existing partner/s. Again, if we do not care to do so, we should ask ourselves how committed we actually are to that partner. Are we really prepared to risk losing the relationship we have in favour of one which may, or may not, turn out to be worth having?

A person in any relationship who desperately wants to live poly or to develop a specific romantic relationship would be wise to pay attention first to developing trust, security and emotional openness in the relationship they already have, and to ensuring that their existing partner is absolutely certain they are loved. Only when these are in place is it likely that an existing partner will feel comfortable with the reality of a poly relationship. Without them, it is likely that any poly relationship will very soon become mono again, one way or another.

People can only be termed ‘polyamorous’ if they are living by the accepted definition of polyamory. Polyamory is often described as ‘consensual non-monogamy.’ Somebody who is brow-beaten into accepting poly, or a particular poly relationship, against their wishes or better judgement is not truly consenting to the arrangement in my book. It is certainly non-monogamy but it is not consensual, so it is not polyamory. There is a word for it. That word is ‘cheating.’

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