Tag Archives: ethical nonmonogamy

Poly Groups are Only as Strong as the Weakest Link

Over the past few years of observing dozens of kinds of polyamorous relationships and talking to people about what they’ve also observed in their circles, I’ve come to the conclusion that poly groups (or Relationship Anarchist groups) are only as healthy as the people in them. Unhealthy-minded people tend to be in unhealthy poly groups that are either very dysfunctional or do not last long.

What makes someone a weak poly link? I don’t think it has anything to do with physical strength, self confidence, or even being free from mental or physical illness. I think that “poly weakness” comes down to a person’s inability or refusal to improve their communication skills, and a lack of motivation to learn from their mistakes and change their behavior. It also involves a lack of willingness to compromise and increase their empathy for all the people involved.

Regardless of how connected metamours may or may not be to each other, polyamory is always a team effort. If one partner is wearing out the shared partner with their unhealthy relationship practices that they refuse to change, then the shared partner will not have much energy or time left to be emotionally supportive for their other partners. If one partner is influencing the shared partner to give into bad habits and stop pursuing personal growth, that will always affect the other partners. One unhealthy-minded person, even on the fringes of a poly group, can have devastating effects on the entire group if it’s left unchecked.

Even the most fucked up people in the world can, and do, have wonderful healthy poly relationships. I see it all the time, and it warms my heart to see imperfect people supporting each other and growing as a group. But the thing they all seem to have in common is that they try really hard to communicate effectively, and they strive to learn and grow from each mistake. Those who don’t communicate and don’t learn from their mistakes tend to lose their relationship stability very quickly because poly is intense and complicated, and there’s no place for intentional emotional immaturity.

Poly is hard work, and it requires focused effort from all the participants in order to keep it healthy. Things that people could get away with in monogamy can’t be ignored in polyamory because poly requires such a healthy foundation and teamwork for it to function. Unhealthy relationship practices and mindsets must be dragged out of our dark corners and worked on until they are more compatible with a healthy poly situation. This is brutally uncomfortable sometimes, and I inwardly groan every time I have to face my weaknesses in communication, conflict resolution, and mental health management, but facing these weaknesses is absolutely vital to becoming a healthier poly partner.

The point is that we try, and we never stop trying. We learn and grow as a team, and that’s how we thrive.

Experienced poly people, especially ones who have been doing this for a long time, what tips do you have for people looking to start their own poly groups or improve their existing ones? What pitfalls have you personally observed in poly groups? Do you agree with my thoughts or think I’m way off? Respectful dialogue is welcome. 🙂


Relationship Types

Discovering new things about myself can be emotionally complicated. On one hand, it can be really discouraging to realize how badly I’ve been managing a personality interaction type that I was unaware I had. On the other hand, it’s encouraging because it means now that I understand myself more accurately, I can avoid my triggers better and work on addressing my weak areas. Knowledge is power. Ignorance leaves us unprepared to handle life in a healthy way.

Recently someone pointed out that they thought I was an anxious attachment type. Not knowing what that meant, I looked it up. And man… it hit the nail right on the head.


It was like someone stepped inside my head and wrote out exactly how I think and feel when I’m in a relationship. It resulted in several thoughts.

  • I had no idea that this was not how everyone mentally handled relationships. I mean it makes sense, but it’s not something I ever consciously thought about.
  • That explains a lot.
  • Fuck. That REALLY explains a lot.
  • Shit, I’m a really anxious needy person! How is anybody ever going to want to put up with a partner who is so needy and clingy? Maybe I’m doomed to be alone forever.
  • Man. A lot of people I know are either Anxious/Attachment types or Avoidant/Dismissive. That’s very interesting.

(After some contemplation and discussing this with people who are more objective than me)

Ok. This is not about my relationship style (or anyone else’s) being good or bad. It’s just how we are and what our personal needs and coping methods are. What’s important is for me to be aware of my own relationship/personality style and needs, to work on my triggers and expectations and communication, and to be with people who are also aware of this and willing to work with me on it. And the same goes for people close to me. If they have a relationship style that contrasts mine or that also requires extra effort, I need to work with them on theirs too so we’re not triggering each other’s negative responses or leaving needs unmet. Relationships are work, and certain personality combinations require some extra attention and conscious thought that others.

Here are descriptions of the three main relationship types. Do you know which one you are?


It’s been so interesting reading about these. A friend suggested that I write out specifically what my needs are, and then also write out how I can address each one. I’ve started doing it. While many needs cannot be met through our own efforts alone and we really just need partners who can meet them, a few can be met through self growth and conscious effort, and others can be lessened in importance or compromises can be found to get around them if enough other needs are being sufficiently met.

I’m sharing this partly because this is how I process things I discover about myself, but also because this was a huge revelation for me and I’m hoping that others might find this helpful as well. If you understand how you and your partners think and what their needs and interaction styles are, it’s a lot easier to navigate differences and problems when they arise.

What is Relationship Anarchy?

The following are some excerpts from an article about relationship anarchy, which you can read in its entirety here if you wish.

What is relationship anarchy?

Relationship anarchy is a lifestyle, a way of doing personal relationships. Relationship anarchy is a philosophy, specifically a philosophy of love. A relationship anarchist believes that love is abundant and infinite, that all forms of love are equal, that relationships can and should develop organically with no adherence to rules or expectations from outside sources, that two people in any kind of emotionally salient relationship should have the freedom to do whatever they naturally desire both inside their relationship and outside of it with other people.

How does relationship anarchy differ from polyamory?

First, let’s define polyamory.

Polyamory is the practice of having more than one romantic relationship at the same time, in an open and honest way that requires the consent and knowledge of all people involved. Polyamory is a secular movement about expanding and increasing consensual romantic-sexual love, an alternative way to build family and community.

Relationship anarchy goes further than polyamory in its departure from the monogamous norm. Relationship anarchy does share with polyamory an overall rejection of sexual and romantic monogamy, its common rejection of legal/institutional marriage, etc, but it also seeks to completely break down what I like to call the Romantic Sex-Based Relationship Hierarchy by erasing relationship categories determined by the presence or absence of sex and/or romance. Relationship anarchy consequently creates equality of all personal/intimate relationships, behaviorally and emotionally. The freedom to interact and value one’s relationships starting with a blank slate, distributing physical intimacy, sexual intimacy, emotional intimacy, etc. according to one’s desires rather than preexisting rules and categories of relationship types, is an expression of this equality.

A polyamorus person can be and often is just as much a sex supremacist or a romance supremacist as a monogamous person. That means, just like the vast majority of monogamists, a poly person can make their romantic and/or sexual relationships superior to their nonsexual/nonromantic relationships, solely on the basis of sex and romance. A polyamorous person can and often does separate romantic-sexual relationships from their friendships by restricting intimacy and certain behaviors to their romantic-sexual relationships.

A relationship anarchist does not assign special value to a relationship because it includes sex. A relationship anarchist does not assign special value to a relationship because it includes romance, if they even acknowledge romance as a distinct emotion or set of behaviors in the first place. A relationship anarchist begins from a place of assuming total freedom and flexibility as the one in charge of their personal relationships and decides on a case by case basis what they want each relationship to look like. They may have sex with more than one person, they may be celibate their whole lives, they may live with someone they aren’t having sex with, they may live alone no matter what, they may raise a child with one sexual partner or multiple sexual partners, they may raise a child with a nonsexual partner, they may have highly physical/sensual relationships with multiple people simultaneously (some or all of whom are not sexually and/or romantically involved with them), etc. Relationship anarchists recognize that no behavior is inherently romantic, and the only behavior that is inherently sexual is actual genital sex. What determines the nature of a given act is the individual’s feelings behind it.

For monogamists and many poly people, a “partner” is someone you are both fucking and romantically attracted to, and only that kind of relationship can be a space for commitment, for long-term cohabitation, for childrearing, for profound emotional intimacy and vulnerability, for financial interdependence, for sensual touch and nongenital physical affection, etc. For these people, a “friend” is not as important as a partner because they’re neither the object nor the source of sexual desire and romantic attraction. Normative friendship does not allow for commitment, for long-term cohabitation, for childrearing, for complete emotional intimacy, for financial interdependence, for sensual touch and nongenital physical affection, for legally binding agreements, etc. Monogamists rank their relationships in a very obvious, rigid fashion, and many polyamorous people follow the same basic ranking system by putting romantic-sexual relationships above nonromantic/nonsexual relationships and sometimes also ranking their polyamorous romantic-sexual relationships too. (Thus, the idea of “primary” vs. “secondary” partners—a tenet of what some call polynormativity.)

Relationship anarchists do not rank personal, loving relationships. They do not see any set of behaviors as innately restricted to romantic and/or sexual relationships, which certainly makes it difficult to elevate romantic-sexual relationships to a superior position above nonsexual/nonromantic relationships. RA’s see all of their personal, loving relationships—meaning, any relationship that isn’t professional or casual in nature—as equally important, unique, fulfilling different needs or desires in their life, and as possessing similar or identical potential for emotional/physical/mental intimacy, love, and satisfaction. A relationship anarchist does not place an emotional ceiling on nonromantic/nonsexual friendship or on a sexual friendship that’s devoid of “romance.” A relationship anarchist does not limit physical/sensual affection in their nonsexual relationships just because they’re nonsexual or nonromantic. A relationship anarchist does not expect to spend most of their time with just one sexual partner/romantic partner or with their romantic/sexual partners in general, nor does an RA assume that the romantic/sexual relationships (if they have any) automatically deserve or get more time and prioritization than the nonsexual/nonromantic relationships.

Relationship Anarchy Vs Poly, Hierarchy vs Non-Hierarchy…

I spent several hours trying to write out my thoughts on Relationship Anarchy vs Poly, and hierarchical poly vs non-hierarchical poly. I’ve been trying to figure out what kind of label best fits me or what roles I would consider under which circumstances. I was having a really hard time figuring it out- but I’ve come to a conclusion.

I don’t give a fuck at the moment. There are so many if’s and but’s that I cannot sufficiently cover them all to narrow it down to which one I prefer the most and which I would never consider.

What I do care about is this:

  • My needs as a partner need to be met. If that’s not happening, then the type of relationship system doesn’t matter. If my needs are being met, then it doesn’t matter then either.
  • I need to be free to explore relationships with people as they come up, and to explore my sexuality and kink interests. Unless these activities and relationships directly affect or threaten my partners in some way, they should not have veto power over any of it.
  • I am not comfortable when other people’s relationships affect mine without my direct involvement and decision-making input as an equal. It raises my anxiety, makes me feel devalued and ignored, I feel betrayed, and I do not feel safe or secure in my relationship afterwards. I don’t trust people easily, I’ve been burned too many times before. When major decisions that affect me or my relationship are made without me being involved, it makes me very upset because that’s my life or relationship being affected too. When this happens and I’m already feeling like I cannot control anything else in my life, it can seriously exacerbate my anxiety levels. If it’s just an oversight and I wasn’t intentionally excluded from the decision-making process, that I can understand as long as it’s acknowledged and remedied soon afterwards.
  • I am not comfortable with role or titles that make me feel inferior or lesser in importance. If the role has a bad association for me, then it’s probably not being presented as a very stable or desirable option. If it’s presented in a way that sufficiently meets my needs and makes me feel desired and respected, then perhaps I’d consider it.

Here is partly why I am so wary of considering secondary or non-primary roles. My insecurities regarding these roles are not without valid reason.

Our society is set up to venerate and support primary relationships — while ignoring, trivializing, or vilifying non-primary relationships. According to society, non-primary relationships by definition are not supposed to be “serious.” This creates inherent obstacles for any significant non-primary relationship; but especially for those where at least one partner is also part of a primary couple.

The result: too often non-primary partners end up not getting treated very respectfully or fairly in the long term. This usually does not spring from conscious neglect, disrespect, or malice. Rather, the people involved usually are inventing how to manage their non-primary relationship as they go along — typically with scant support, few positive models, and tons of ingrained baggage from standard social models of relationships that don’t fit (indeed, that are designed to avoid) their very situation.

The problem, in a nutshell: There’s an overwhelming social narrative which says that anything other than monogamous life partnership is wrong or invalid — which in turn casts the perspective of non-primary partners as less important. This discourages people from developing skills to nurture healthy long-term non-primary relationships — and also to end or transition these relationships honorably. It also makes it easy for people who have (or desire) a primary partner to unilaterally write their non-primary partners out of the script, or at least recast them as threats or minor characters, when uncomfortable issues arise. This is why, very often, non-primary partners get summarily axed or shafted when a pre-existing primary partner gets insecure, or when a non-primary partner decides they want a primary relationship (with you or someone else).

Yeah, that sucks. But that’s just how social conditioning works, despite good intentions or deep feelings. Also, it sucks for everyone — even people in primary couples.

We need better models for how to conduct non-primary relationships — especially in the poly/open community. Because sadly, right now polyamory (or any approach to significant non-primary relationships) simply isn’t a very safe place for non-primary partners; not in the long run.

That needs to change — and it can change, through the conscious attention, goodwill, and courage of non-primary partners and the people who love us. (More here)

Of course many people make non-primaries and all that work, but it involves a lot of hard work, immense amounts of open and honest communication among everyone involved, and very high levels of of trust that not everyone is able or willing to facilitate. So it’s a much scarier situation for many of us to consider.