Jenn Masri here. This is not my original writing. We’ve posted part of the article here and it can be read in full at the blog More Than Two.
This is a long article, however, if you are in a poly dynamic or thinking about entering one, this hits on many important points. I like it because it is written for those who are approaching poly from a well-intentioned and compassionate place, yet mistakes and hazards can still happen. Enjoy!- Jenn
Article by Franklin Veaux
With grateful acknowledgement to Suzie, for her insight and contributions
There is an excellent guide to screwing up poly relationships on the alt.polyamory site, which describes in some detail the petty, mean-spirited, malicious things that you can do to help ensure that your relationship fails in the most dramatic, painful way possible.
This is not that page.
This page is designed to describe some of the mistakes you can make in a non-monogamous relationship even if you are compassionate, honest, and well-intentioned. Sometimes, building a stable, happy, non-monogamous relationship is not intuitive, and there are mistakes that can be made along the road no matter how well-intentioned you may be. Ideally, you should seek to learn from other people’s mistakes rather than your own; it’s a lot less trouble.
Don’t make assumptions about your partner or your relationship; talk about everything
There are people in the world who don’t like talking about relationship stuff, or who see it as an onerous chore. The problem with that is you can easily end up in a situation where you think something’s okay with your partner, or that you’re at some place in your relationship with your partner, or that you’re in a type of relationship that allows some things or doesn’t allow others, and your partner has a completely different idea. Finding that out by talking about it is a lot less dramatic than finding it out by crossing a line you didn’t even know existed. Be clear up front about what your partner expects from you (and about what you expect from your partner), and you’ll be a lot happier, trust me.
Don’t ignore the consequences of your actions—even the unintended consequences
The law of unintended consequence is as universal and as inescapable as the law of gravity, and is certainly more than capable of screwing up your romantic relationship beyond all recognition.
Put simply, your decisions and your actions have consequences for both your partners and your relationships, and you bear responsibility for these consequences—even if you feel that your decisions were appropriate and justified, even if you feel that your actions were expressly permitted by the rules of your relationship.
The most common example of unintended consequence can be found in relationships that have “veto” rules permitting one partner to veto another partner’s romantic relationships. Most of the time, veto is a negotiated and mutually agreed-upon rule; the people in a relationship that includes a veto power explicitly give that veto power to their partner.
Yet if your partner falls in love with someone, and you then veto that relationship, you are almost certain to hurt your partner. It does not matter if your partner explicitly agreed to that veto power and explicitly consented to give you that power; when a person loses a romantic relationship, it hurts. That’s the way human beings work. When you hurt your partner, that can and likely will affect your relationship with your partner, even if your partner explicitly gave you that power. Now, I’m not saying you should never exercise a veto; but I am saying that when you make a decision affecting your partner, seek to understand how it affects your partner, and take responsibility for that. Say “Yes, I know this hurts you, and I’m sorry.” Acknowledge that your decisions may affect your relationship with your partner, and take responsibility for those effects, even if they were unintended.
This is probably the single most crucial factor to the success of any relationship. Everything you do—whether it’s inviting your partner to some function but not inviting your partner’s partners, or seeking to exclude your partner’s other partners from things that are important to you, or even something as simple as not acknowledging the value your partner sees in his or her other relationships—will affect your relationship with your partner, sometimes in subtle ways and sometimes in ways that are more obvious. Be aware of the consequences of your decisions as well as your reasons for making them.
Don’t try to micromanage your feelings, or those of your partners
One of the more common problems in a polyamorous relationship arises when one of the people involved, in an effort to feel less threatened or more secure, seeks to control the extent to which his or her partner becomes emotionally involved with another partner. People often feel threatened by emotional intimacy—sometimes, more threatened than by physical intimacy. But trying to micromanage emotions isn’t the way to solve that problem.
Emotions are resistant to being managed that way; it’s virtually impossible to pass a “rule” that says “you may be physically intimate with another person, but you may not be emotionally intimate past this point” and have it stick. It’s not always possible to predict what relationships will become emotionally intimate, or how they’ll become emotionally intimate; attempting to manage insecurity or fear by micromanaging emotional connections is virtually certain to fail. In fact, sometimes, attempts to micromanage emotional intimacy lead to the next problem, which is: