Facts & Info

Polyamory vs. Open Relationships: Does it Matter?

Couple with Other Woman

As polyamory has become more well known in recent years, as well as open relationships and other forms of non-monogamy becoming more mainstream, certain misconceptions and misunderstandings of poly lifestyles have taken root, partially because there is no single definition that will describe the range of polyamorist relationships that exist out in the world.

While polyamory and open relationships have moved much further into the open, particularly recently, the conflation of open marriage and open relationships with polyamory are not quite in keeping with the realities of true polyamorists’ relationships, particularly the notion that “polyamory” means a committed couple who has casual partners on the side for extra-curricular sexual activities.

In the open-marriage model of non-monogamy there is the central and primary relationship, often legally-married with secondary and sanctioned side-relationships that are either strictly sexual, or at least significantly more casual, and are expected to be treated as secondary relationships, respecting the primacy of the primary. Truth be told, there are many poly relationships that fit this model, regardless of the larger configuration, be it a vee, a triad, a quad or any other geometric configuration.

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While hard-line polyamorists might bristle at the notion, maintaining a primary relationship that supersedes their secondaries, a configuration which some polyamorists might dismiss as “swingers,” insisting that their ideologically-pure version of polyamory where “everyone is equal and is equally loved,” while appealing in the abstract, fails to take human nature into account. Just as you might have a number of close friends with whom you share a special bond, there is no shame in having your favorites, and the same can be the case in poly relationships, as long as everyone knows the score and is treated equitably.

Polyamory is what you and your partners make of it, and many long-term triads, quads and the like start off casually and develop organically from there, with the members of the group feeling their way towards a stable equilibrium. While assumptions about hierarchical relationships might annoy the more politically correct polyamorists out there, remember: there’s no singe “right” way to organize your love life.

With openness and honesty you can build the relationship(s) that best suit your needs, labels be damned. It is up to you to define your relationships both to yourself and to the outside world. If you have a primary and secondary relationships or if you live in an everyone’s equal commune, neither is more valid, and neither is demonstrably “better” than another.

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