By Kristen Lilla, AASECT Sex Therapist, Omaha, NE
While the concept of polyamory is not something new, the discussion of it seems to be.
Those who are exploring polyamory, or identifying as polyamorous, find that they have to “come out of the closet” to their partner, family, and friends. Some are accepted and understood, but many others are ostracized and considered deviant. I often hear people question, “isn’t it just giving your partner permission to cheat?”
Working with polyamorous clients has taught me a lot about love, relationships, and communication. At the same time, it has taught me a lot about judgment and respect. I once had a polyamorous client tell me that her previous therapist told her that she was a “criminal” for engaging in polyamory. But what exactly is polyamory?
Polyamory describes a person who is in more than one relationship. It is someone who opens their heart and allows others in romantically. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines it as “the state or practice of having more than one open romantic relationship at a time”. A polyamorous person does not feel confined to the constricts of monogamy, which Merriam-Webster defines as having “one wife at a time”. It is hard to say where those who do not have a wife fit into the concept of monogamy, but that seems like another blog post altogether. Rather, polyamorous people feel that their heart’s capacity allows them to love multiple people. This is a concept that most people can relate to; as we have multiple friends and family members that we love simultaneously. The main difference in polyamory is the feeling of being “in” love.
It is also important to note that polyamory is not the same thing as having an open relationship, swinging, or polygamy. It is also not comparable to being a criminal, as my client was labeled. The definition of a criminal is “involving illegal activity”. While those in polyamorous relationships still face many legal hurdles, such as the inability to marry, or requiring a lawyer to get involved to ensure financial rights, it is not criminal activity.
Polyamory is a personal journey, and will not work for every couple owing to several factors, a prime one being jealousy. For others, it is not such a far-fetched concept. A polyamorist may tell you it is not realistic to think that one person can meet all of one partner’s needs, wants, and desires. In that scenario, it may be equally unlikely that you can meet theirs. Isn’t that why we have multiple friends with various interests? Or so goes the polyamorist point-of-view.
Additionally, in nature only 3-5% of animals are naturally monogamous. Perhaps that is why the rates of infidelity and divorce are so high? Acknowledging the concept of polyamory as a viable option might allow for couples to not only commit to one another. The practice relies heavily on honesty and open communication, which in turn might increase their investment in their relationships.
If nothing else, I hope this provides a better understanding of polyamorous people and a respect for their relationships. Engaging in a discussion about polyamory could motivate you to communicate more openly with your partner(s) and to talk about your hopes and dreams for your relationship.
Kristen Lilla is one of three AASECT-certified sex therapists practicing in the state of Nebraska. Her credentials as an Omaha Sex Therapist include a MSW, LCSW and CST. Learn more at www.omahasextherapy.com [DRL]