Our concept of loving relationship is changing. Everything seems to indicate that the idea of being with just one person “until death do us part” is no longer so attractive. Just think that in 2021 there were 86,851 divorces in Spain, 12.5% more than the previous year.
The average duration of marriages has also been declining, which means that not only are there more breakups, but couples are lasting less and less. In this context, polyamory becomes another way of understanding and living relationships. And it is not an option as unusual as one might think. A study conducted at Indiana University revealed that one in five adults has practiced consensual non-monogamy at some point in his/her life. However, there are still many myths and ignorance around this type of relationship.
Infidelity and cheating in a polyamorous relationship
Polyamory is an erotic and sentimental relationship of a stable nature between several people, but with the consent of all. It is a relational orientation in which a couple decides not to be exclusive sexually and affectively, so that they maintain a more open relationship that accommodates other people.
At first, it may seem that polyamory leaves no room for infidelity or cheating since it is a consensual relationship. However, as Woody Allen’s romantic comedy “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” showed, polyamory can be very complex, especially when starting from a monogamous upbringing and a possessive conception of romantic relationships.
In polyamorous relationships there are also limits and fidelity pacts, although they are not necessarily of sexual exclusivity. In fact, unlike open relationships, in polyamory people come together with special ties to each other, fulfilling an exclusive fidelity. The breaking of these pacts, whether explicit or implicit, can imply cheating or infidelity that hurts just as much as in a monogamous relationship.
In polyamory not everything goes. Every relationship is based on trust and breaking it implies a betrayal. However, what counts as cheating or infidelity can vary drastically from relationship to relationship. In many occasions infidelity can simply mean breaking a non-consensual pact, which is often subject to each person’s interpretation. That is, it is possible that the red lines are different for each member of the relationship.
For this reason, in a polyamorous relationship it is essential to make the limits clear, since everything that is not made explicit is subject to interpretation. You have to spend a lot of time talking about the rules, clarifying what is considered infidelity and what is necessary to share.
Polyamory, a source of emotional security?
On a social level, monogamous relationships are often linked to security while polyamory is often seen as synonymous with instability. Undoubtedly, monogamy tries to recreate the external conditions for secure attachment when people have not internally developed a secure attachment style.
Getting married, buying a home, maintaining sexual exclusivity or even having children are factors that bring people together and, in a certain way, give them roots. However, security in a relationship is not about “owning” someone forever or sharing certain things with him/her.
That narrative structure only provides an illusion of emotional security that can turn out to be extremely fragile as soon as the wind blows against it. The degree of stability and security that a loving relationship provides does not come from possession but from the ability of each member to build a secure attachment.
Secure attachment is created through the quality of the experience we have with the other person, not simply by being married, sharing a home, or having a child together. That security is built when people are emotionally available, paying attention each other, connecting, and being able to freely express their deepest emotions.
The secure relationship takes place thanks to commitment, respect, closeness, intimacy and union. That builds trust and security. And this type of attachment can develop both in a monogamous relationship and in a polyamorous one, although in the latter a greater emotional effort is usually necessary since it is more complex.
In fact, it should be noted that in any relationship it is important to maintain a balance between security and insecurity, what is “owned” and what is not available to maintain passion, the other basic component of Sternberg’s triangular theory of love according to which, relationships based on intimacy, passion and commitment are more likely to survive over time being satisfactory.
Can a polyamorous relationship last long term?
Love has no limits. The limits are set by us, conditioned to a large extent by social canons. We can deeply love one person, two or three. This means that both monogamous and polyamorous relationships can fail or consolidate since the key is not in the relationship model, but in how the people who form it face the challenges.
In fact, researchers from the University of Guelph found that there are no significant differences in the level of satisfaction of people who are in monogamous or non-monogamous relationships.
However, we must bear in mind that polyamorous relationships normally break down the social conventions that give us stability, so they can expose our insecurities, attachment problems and emotional wounds. For that reason, the fear of abandonment or jealousy can intensify when another person enters the relationship.
To maintain a polyamorous relationship it is important to heal past traumas and get rid of ingrained monogamous beliefs in our minds related to possession. It is also essential to know each other well, having clear what we want and developing the ability to express our emotions and needs. That means that for non-monogamous relationships to work, inner hard work is essential.
Of course, it is also necessary to maintain fluid communication. You have to talk a lot about the limits, insecurities, needs, expectations and desires of each one. It is essential to dedicate energy to creating a healthy and developing bond in which each party understands and feels satisfied with the “contract” they have agreed to.
If any of those ingredients are missing, polyamorous relationships, as well as monogamous ones, can become a source of suffering and painful breakups.
(2022) Estadística de Nulidades, Separaciones y Divorcios (ENSD) Año 2021. In: INE.
Wood, J. et. Al. (2018) Reasons for sex and relational outcomes in consensually nonmonogamous and monogamous relationships: A self-determination theory approach. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships; 35(4): 10.1177.
Haupert, M. L. et. Al. (2017) Prevalence of Experiences With Consensual Nonmonogamous Relationships: Findings From Two National Samples of Single Americans. J Sex Marital Ther; 43(5): 424-440.
Eleno, A. (2013) Las ideas del amor de R.J. Sternberg: la teoría triangular y la teoría narrativa del amor. Familia; 46: 57-86.
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