two men one vintage uniform on bikesI’m a full-time working mother of three children, married to a wonderful man while dating others. This column chronicles our challenges, boundaries, and successes in a polyamorous marriage. 

Living and loving in a polyamorous lifestyle is a wonderful yet sometimes complicated adventure. Just like being monogamous, relationships involve people, and people are prone to interactions fraught with pitfalls and compromises. Since polyamory involves even MORE people, it is important for couples to establish boundaries and agreements that best suit everyone’s needs.

If there is one thing I have learned on this journey, it is that no two people as well as no two couples are alike.  In my relationships, negotiations and communications need to take place around me and my spouse, my boyfriend and his spouse, his spouse and her partner, my spouse and any partners, my family, and my family and my boyfriend. Complicated? Yes. Worth it? Definitely.

1. Constant Open Communication

I know I stressed communication in my previous article, but in my mind it cannot be stressed enough. If communication breaks down anywhere in the polyship, it can cause issues for any number of interrelations. Everyone has to be willing to not only talk, but listen.  You may not always like what you hear, but you can hear it and try to respond without anger or judgment.

My boyfriend once told me that he knows most things we discuss will be heard by my spouse because things flow between us like water. I think this is part of the reason my spouse and I get along so well in a polyamorous relationship; we are not afraid of words or reactions and can freely say what’s on our minds. There are a plethora of things to be discussed: children, time, sex, everything encountered by couples but magnified.

2. My Boyfriend Does Not Supplant My Husband’s Role With The Kids

My spouse Allan and I have three children under the age of 10 and my boyfriend Jim and his wife Diana have none.  Both the presence and absence of children creates different boundaries to be created.

First off, Allan and I are very careful about who will meet, interact with, and become a part of our children’s lives.  If one of us were to date a succession of different people, which hasn’t happened, our children would be unaware of this. The most important thing for them is to be provided with loving adults in their life.

Jim does know and love my children. We had been friends for about three years before we ever became romantically involved, so Allan and our children already knew him.  As he and I have spent more time together, he has spent a little more time with the children.  We go to events or trips with all three of us grownups and three children, or at times with Jim, the children and I.

Plans with Jim and the kids are always run by Allan, and he is always invited because they are HIS children. Jim himself has boundaries around how much he is involved in their care.  He would not want to alienate Allan, or confuse the children by acting in a “parent” capacity.  So they think he’s great, and we all enjoy time together, and maybe someday they may ask further about my relationship with him. But for now all they need to know is that everyone loves them.

 3. Respecting The Time With Each Partner

In our little world, there is Allan and I, Jim and Diana, and Diana’s other partner Cliff.  To me, the key to peace and happiness with existing partners is and planning/negotiating what time you spend with others and respecting your partner you’re with at the time.

When Jim and I started dating, our impulse like any other new couple was to spend as much time together as possible. Being poly, this had to be tempered with sustaining and nourishing our existing partnerships as well.  At first, we spent an evening together every couple weeks while we all acclimated to the fact that we were dating.  When we wanted to spend one to two nights a week together, that discussion involved all four of us agreeing on what was comfortable.  Allan and Diana had input on what night Jim and I would be together, and if they also wanted to be part of an evening hang out.  Allan, Jim and I have had some wonderful times together playing board games or just sitting around talking, while Jim and I can go out on dates doing things Allan and Diana are not interested in.  We’ve been to concerts, or experienced cuisine not part of a usual date night with our spouses.

The other piece we have all learned to be sensitive to in our different ways is respecting who’s company you are in right at the moment. If Allan and I are playing a game and a woman he’s talking with sends a message, he’ll ask if I mind if he answers and I would do likewise.  Jim and I may check in with our spouses while out together, but generally our time is just us.  When more people are involved, it’s important that the person who’s time you’re taking right now knows that you are with them.

Of course there’s slip ups. In the excitement of someone who’s interested in you sending a message, you may jump for the phone, but then it’s on your partner to speak up and tell you what they are feeling.

4. Expressing Your Needs

If you cannot comfortably express what you need and want, polyamory is probably not going to work. Each person needs to be able to say “I want your full attention right now” or “I’m not comfortable with you dating so-so” and be prepared for a discussion.  Like all areas of life, you can’t always get what you want but if you speak up you are more likely to get your needs met.

Allan and I do not like to spend more than two nights in a row apart for the sake of our own relationship. Jim likes to be able to get time alone at his house with me, which means discussing that schedule with Diana and making sure she is comfortable.  Discussing, planning, heck sometimes arguing, is hard but rewarding work in the world of poly.

5. Spouses Having A Say In New Partners 

One of the most important areas to be on the same page on is how and when a new partner is introduced.  For Allan and I, we talk to whom we see fit and then discuss it with the other person if we want to date them. I’m not dating anyone else right now, but I’m happy for Allan to go out on dates with women he is attracted to, and know he will discuss it with me before anything becomes serious.  Jim is in a similar situation with Diana, though when it comes to just hooking up with someone, maybe even just once, our rules diverge.

For me, I want Allan or Jim to tell me before they engage in any sexual activity with another person and Allan feels the same way. Jim, on the other hand, is OK with not knowing if Diana or I were to hook up with someone without his knowledge. Which brings me to…

6. Safe Sex

Everybody’s favorite subject. I save it for last because believe it or not, poly isn’t all about sex. It seems that many people not familiar with polyamory think there is some kind of sexual free for all going on throwing caution to the wind.  Perhaps there are people out there who do this, but I do not know any of them.

For the four of us, as well as the other poly couples I know, safe sex is the most important component of having multiple sexual partners. When one of us is sexually involved with someone, it is the responsibility of that partner to verify that the new person has a recent and clean STD check.  My husband and I, as well as all of our partners,  get tested every three to six  months, and the only people agreeing to not use protection are the married couples.

This is an ongoing and some times strenuous conversation. If I become uncomfortable with Diana and Cliff for some reason, I may not engage in activities with Jim.  Or if Jim is uncomfortable with this new person, he may implement safe sex with his wife.  Each person has it upon themselves to protect their own health, and we all trust each other to follow the safe sex guidelines.

(photo: Boston Public Library)