by Alan Wexelblat
Often when people ask me about problems in polyamorous relationships I will answer "That's not a poly problem." I do not mean to say that the problem about which the questioner asks is not experienced by poly people, only to say that many things that people think of as particularly poly problems aren't unique to poly. They're relationship problems or living a busy life problems.
Probably the most common question to which I give this response is: "Don't you get jealous?" Of course polyamorous people get jealous. We get jealous at many of the times you'd expect (at least, many/most of us do). But jealousy is not a poly problem, because we see that monogamous people often get jealous too. Indeed, we have a whole world-wide literature full of jealous lovers, jealous spouses, and so on. The fact that my partner may be spending time with someone else can indeed promote feelings of envy or jealousy.
But the fact that poly people experience these things doesn't make it a particularly poly problem. Indeed, it may be said to be less of a poly problem, in that if you are in a polyamorous relationship then you know going into it that jealousy is something you will have to deal with. Knowing you may be in situations that might promote these feelings, it's easier to talk about them and negotiate around them. Advance work can defuse potentially explosive bad feelings, can lessen stresses and can enable partners to come to agreements that avoid situations where they feel deprived or left out. Avoiding bad situations can be a good way to avoid being hit with negative feelings. Jealousy can be seen as a problem of any relationship, not as a particularly poly problem.
Scheduling is another such problem. If I am making time for other lovers, how do I schedule that time against the needs of my existing (perhaps primary) partner(s)? At first, this seems like a prototypical poly problem. Certainly a monogamous couple never have to worry about scheduling time for other lovers. However, as any parent can tell you, scheduling problems abound in so-called traditional families as well. By the time the kids have been shuttled to and from school, daycare, after-school activities, the house has been cleaned, clothing has been cleaned, food made ready for the next day, bills have been paid, and so on there is often no time left for even two loving parents to enjoy each others' company. Scheduling is a potential problem in every household.
Similarly, I think we can see many such problems - feeling left out, being treated unfairly, etc - as problems that must be faced in any kind of committed relationship. Poly relationships have the disadvantage of having to face these problems more directly and more often than monogamous relationships do. But they also have the advantage that the participants know that these problems may occur and they have the chance to discuss and deal with them up-front.
This kind of openness can be nearly impossible in other situations. For example, a monogamous couple may have a hard time talking about feelings of jealousy because that requires admitting interest in other people. Such an interest might be taken the wrong way by a person who believes in forsaking all others as a part of marriage.
As I've said in other of these columns, I don't think poly should be seen as a panacea for dealing with these problems. Having things out in the open is often difficult and may raise tensions rather than resolve them. I find it is important to respect others' limits as to what they don't want to hear and in what you're going to tell them.
There are real, serious problems that you get to deal with as a poly person. Things like deciding what to tell your children about your relationships, or how to handle potentially awkward social situations such as the office holiday party where you are invited to bring your date (singular). I hope to write more about these issues, how I see them, and some of the solutions that I've seen work successfully in the poly relationships I'm aware of.
But that's not for this column; this column is about separating relationship problems in general from poly problems in particular. Poly relationships have all the usual sorts of problems, and more. This isn't an appeal for pity; I wouldn't do this if it wasn't right for me. But I do grow tired of hearing people say "That's a poly problem" as if nobody who wasn't poly ever had that problem.
So, readers, it's your turn. What's your biggest poly problem? Send me an email; I'd love to hear from you.
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Copyright © 2002-2003 Alan Wexelblat
The opinions expressed herein are solely those of the author.
Last modified: Wed Jan 15 06:43:40 2003