Tips & Advice

7 Lessons to Learn from Polyamory Breakups

Woman Breaks Up with Man

As the saying goes, breaking up is hard to do, but learning from your mistakes is the best way forward.

When something doesn’t work out, including a relationship, there are many lessons that can be learned and applied to other or future love affairs.

It’s natural to worry and examine the situation from every angle in our minds, going over and over it to see where we went wrong or whether something can be salvaged. Putting that anxiety to good use and really paying attention to the conclusions can help us strengthen our other relationships, keep civil after breakups, and prevent fallout in future love affairs.

I was talking with some of my guy friends over the weekend, who had recently parted ways with their partners, about what we can learn from breaking up. Here are some of the things I learned.

7 Poly Breakup Lessons

1. Picking with your pecker isn’t a wise choice.

Sometimes it is no surprise at all when something doesn’t work out. “We had nothing in common at all. She lived in Dallas, and I lived in Toronto! She was into horses, parties and sports, and I was into social justice and climate science. But I couldn’t stop thinking about her.”

That might have been a great recipe for a hot fling, but not so much for a long-distance poly relationship. This kind of poor choice can have you overspending, jilting a live-in lover for time, and losing a meaningful connection to your poly community. You can’t have it all!

2. Jealousy can be poison in any relationship.

Don’t be polyamorous if you’re going to be an asshole whenever your lover sees someone else. The irony of polyamory can be breaking up over jealousy, which is super common! The guy wants to see lots of women, but can’t take it when she does. So you lose someone you love because you’re acting possessive and jealous, but these were the terms you wanted and agreed to!

Jealousy doesn’t just happen to inexperienced poly lovers or guys who would prefer different his and hers rules. It can come up when you least expect it, after lots of relationships or years without. The ugly green monster can surprise us when we least expect it and ruin a good thing. If she tells you that you’re acting like a jealous asshole, believe her.

3. Sex isn’t everything.

The kind of sex you have at the start doesn’t go on indefinitely. Nor does it say much about how a relationship will work.

If the sex is sizzling, but there isn’t much more to go on, don’t make it into something it isn’t. Enjoy the affair, and don’t try to seal the deal with a committed relationship.

4. Recognizing your mistakes and being able to apologize work wonders.

Some breakups are easily preventable—all you had to do was apologize for something you did wrong. Admitting you were a jerk or being selfish is never easy, but learning how to say you’re sorry when you’re the one to blame can fix things before they fall apart.

Reflecting on past relationships can help prevent making the same mistake twice.

Read: How Do You Apologize for a Mistake?

5. Sometimes it’s not you… it’s them.

Being able to say your sorry is great when your behavior warrants it, but don’t be a doormat who apologizes and takes responsibility for something when it’s the other person who is at fault. The other person is not always the innocent one!

Some guys are addicted to blame in relationships. They might have a poisonous partner, or they might prefer to be the one at fault because that means, symbolically at least, that they have the power to fix or change something. You can’t force someone else to act, so believing you’re to blame is “empowering” in a sick kind of way.

Read: Setting Boundaries after a Breakup

6. We should all learn to listen.

One of the most important skills in family, work, and love is how to listen—an area many of us could use improvement.

Active listening involves focusing, paying attention, and putting another person first. It can save us a lot of heartache and misunderstanding.

Listening involves more than hearing, but that is where it starts. Putting aside all the stuff you want to say and what you think you know about the situation, not becoming defensive, and really hearing where she’s coming from can save you a lot of pain.

Read: How to Be a Better Listener in Your Relationships

7. Pay attention to what people show you early on.

For a long time I had a thing for this beautiful and wretched thing who was chronically unemployed and always fighting with his other girlfriends. He would tell me that he was too lazy to get a job in construction, and I would argue with him about how he was a writer and the world just couldn’t see his genius yet.

He would say he was a shitty writer, and I would comfort him and coo about how he needed to find his voice. It’s embarrassing, I know. When he was getting in trouble with women, I would think he was a free spirit and that I was in the best position to understand him, since I was also polyamorous, and they just couldn’t accept him the way he was.

Thing is, sometimes a lover doesn’t even have to lie about anything, because we are so willing to lie to ourselves on their behalf!

I usually expect my men to pull their own weight and be responsible for themselves, whether they are poets, bankers, or forklift operators. But sometimes we are foggy from the chemicals and refuse to see the truth, even if they’re waving it in our face.

Heed the wise words of Maya Angelou: “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.”

Still struggling with the end of a relationship? Read Dos and Don’ts for Surviving a Poly Breakup

What was one good lesson you learned from a breakup?

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