When it comes to “relationships”, the ethically non-monogamous lifestyles usually are very similar to monogamous ones in most ways; for example...
· The intimate partners are consenting adults.
· A strong (if not over-riding) factor is the romantic or erotic love for one another; at least initially.
· The partners are sexually active with each other; at least initially.
· There is an expectation or desire that the relationship will be ongoing, if not life-long.
· They will cohabit (share house).
· Possibly pool incomes, or expenses.
· Or at least spend a lot of time at each other's homes.
· There may be a formal celebration or a public
· declaration of their love and future commitment to each other.
· They are likely to create (or adopt/merge) children together.
· They will either discuss a set of rules or boundaries to the relationship, or make assumptions about them.
And many more aspects.
On the one hand: This makes it easier for people in ethically non-monogamous relationships, their friends, and any professional service providers. The fundamentals are basically the same for most people. We want to be loved, appreciated, treated honestly, contribute to our partner(s)'s well-being, be secure in our relationship, etc. Except for some specific differences, the things that will help you through a difficulty in a monogamous relationship will help in non-monogamous ones too.
On the other hand: Some of the patterns we've developed (as survival mechanisms for maintaining a monogamous relationship) would either harm the partners or the non-monogamous relationship itself. For instance... In our mainstream culture, a “jealous” partner would get very angry, cut off communications with their partner (for a while), insist their partner cut off all contact with the “outsider”, and would probably attack the “outsider”...if they ever met. But the most effective poly response is nearly the opposite: to increase the quality and quantity of communications between all concerned; to share feelings of jealousy and to voice feelings of support and loyalty in return. This is just one example of many.
On the third hand: Poly lifestyles are not immune from many of the same anti-social individuals and events as in the mainstream culture... such as randy guys willing to say anything for some sex; insecure people who run manipulative or coercive ploys upon others; people who over-react or mis-respond to the little conflicts that arise in a normal relationship.
Generally, poly lifestyles are so demanding (and rewarding) that it's best suited to people who “really have their act together”. But we can't assume that someone we meet in the lifestyle, or who wants the lifestyle, are sufficiently above average in maturity and effectiveness in themselves.
That's why (just like in mainstream monogamy) it's good to have mutual friends outside of the relationship; people who are experienced in the life-style and willing to listen & make suggestions. You might even need professional counsellors if things get really tough or intense.
It's quite tricky, knowing when to do what. But I guess that's part of the magic in any relationship.
Until our next chapter (on Relationship Resources).