The Fundamentals of Polyamory: Know Yourself

What are your beliefs about love and sex? What do you believe about relationships? How should you be treated by friends, family, and partners? How are your time management skills? What do you desire in an emotionally or physically intimate relationship? What are your relationship fears? What are your feelings about your own self-worth? What are your goals in life, and why are these your goals? Who has encouraged you to have these goals? Where did you learn your values? How do your values align with, or dis-align with, societal expectations and values?

Many people go through life without ever truly investigating these questions. They may have basic answers to them, but they never truly examine themselves or their beliefs. Many people are content to do this. However, if you are thinking about entering into a polyamorous relationship, or are already in one, it is imperative that you examine these aspects and know your values, beliefs, and goals. If you are a mental health clinician and have a client interested in exploring polyamory, it is important to discuss self-awareness with them and investigate some of these questions, either in individual sessions or with their partner(s).

Many people, including mental health clinicians like myself, believe that communication is the key to a healthy, happy relationship. But few people realize that so much individual, internal work must be done in order to accomplish honest communication. If you do not know what you want, or what your values are, how can you possibly communicate your needs and beliefs to your partners? You really can’t. And when you are confused about your own needs, beliefs, and boundaries, your partners will be, too. This will often lead to misunderstandings, arguments, and other not-so-fun relationship stuff.

So, how do you deconstruct your beliefs about love, sex, relationships, fears, and goals? First, understand what it means to deconstruct these things. Deconstruction is the process of analyzing these concepts to expose the internal assumptions and contradictions you have learned within our society. This allows you to understand the meaning behind these concepts, and to create your own meaning and find your own truth.

You can deconstruct some of the things you “know” (or have been taught by society) yourself, through internal exploration or the use of Dedeker Winston’s book, The Smart Girl’s Guide to Polyamory: Everything you Need to Know About Open Relationships, Non-Monogamy, and Alternative Love (2017). Chapter Three is all about self-awareness, and comes equipped with questions to ask yourself about love, sex, communication, fears, and more.

You can also deconstruct some of your beliefs with a trusted friend, partner, or a therapist. If you are interested in pursuing polyamory, I would recommend finding a poly-friendly therapist to help you process and understand more of your beliefs and expectations. Some mental health clinicians who are not knowledgeable about polyamory or are not accepting of polyamory may challenge you as you attempt to deconstruct what society has taught you about love, sex, and relationships – mainly because these clinicians still subscribe to these beliefs, and don’t know that other relationship styles exist and can be very happy and fulfilling. To find a poly-friendly therapist, try a site like polyfriendly.org or the Kink Aware Professionals Directory at ncsfreedom.org.

If there are no available poly-friendly therapists in your area, try contacting some therapists listed in your state to see if they offer online therapy. Otherwise, if you are able and have the privilege of owning a car and can afford the gas money, it may be worth traveling the distance to find a therapist who is really accepting, knowledgeable, and open.

If you are a poly-friendly mental health clinician, consider looking into online therapy and the laws about it in your state. Online therapy is not advisable for clients with significant risk issues, such as suicidal ideation or in domestic violence situations. However, online therapy can be utilized for clients with alternative relationship styles. As there are not many poly-friendly therapists available to the community, online therapy is advisable for polyamorous clients who would otherwise not have access to mental health care.

As a polyamorous person explores and has new experiences, they will learn more about themselves. When you have a partner who is out on a date with their other partner, ask yourself, “How do I feel about this?” If you are feeling anxious or jealous, investigate those feelings. What exactly are you jealous or anxious about? Are they at a cool new restaurant you want to try? Are you worried they are going to love their other partner “more” and leave you? Do you simply want to be out on a date of your own, but are instead at home with only Netflix for company?

Once you understand what your feelings are and what is causing them, you will be better able to address those feelings for yourself. You will also be able to communicate your needs to your partner. For example, if you realize that the reason for your jealousy is because your partner is trying a new restaurant without you, you can remind yourself that you can go to that restaurant with them next week, and create your own special memories there! Then, when you next speak to your partner, you can talk to them about your jealousy by saying something like, “I was feeling jealous tonight that you were able to try that new restaurant without me, but I reminded myself that I can go to it as well. Can we go next week?” This kind of self-awareness, exploration, and communication will go a long way in any relationship, but especially in a relationship in which multiple partners are involved.

Remember that self-awareness is a continuous, ongoing process throughout your lifetime. What you want now may not be what you want five years from now, and it is important to continually ask yourself what you need, what you want, and how you can grow as a person. Only then can you adequately communicate these things to your partners.

-Steph.

[1] Winston, D. (2017). The smart girl’s guide to polyamory: Everything you need to know about open relationships, non-monogamy, and alternative love. New York, NY: Skyhorse Publishing.

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