If you are polyamorous, you have probably encountered toxic polyamory in your dating, sex, and love journey.
No matter where you find people, there will be a variety of characters and qualities. Some are wonderful, and some are toxic. And some wonderful people have personality traits, weaknesses, or situations that contribute to challenging habits or behavior patterns.
Is Polyamory Toxic?
No, polyamory is not toxic, in and of itself. Toxic polyamory is a thing, though. That means some polyamorous people and some ways that polyamory is practiced are toxic. They contribute to toxic polyamory, but polyamory is not necessarily toxic.
There are many studies and anecdotal examples of healthy polyamory. There are also many examples of toxic polyamory.
Think about monogamous relationships. There are many examples of toxic monogamy. Forced marriages, child marriage, impossible divorces, and intimate partner violence are just a few things that come to mind. Are all monogamous relationships toxic? No, of course not. Is monogamy toxic? Well, I know some of us think so! But it works for many people.
Think about friendship. Is friendship toxic? Of course not. But lots of friendships are, or there are people in those friendships whose behavior is toxic. It’s the same with toxic polyamory.
Since we pride ourselves on ethical polyamory, it can be difficult to talk about our experiences with toxic polyamory.
10 Toxic Behaviors in Polyamory
1. The Commitment Phobe
There is nothing wrong with seeking casual hookups. But some get off on the power, or the perceived easy access sexually, to people looking for relationships and love. They can put their dating profile on a hookup site or pick up lovers at a bar. But they enter the dating world as if they’re seeking the same thing you are, then find they just can’t make the commitment necessary for a relationship.
This can be a form of gaslighting as you try to find out what’s wrong with you. But it’s not you. It’s the same toxic person that monogamous people meet, the toxic polyamorous player who is the same commitment phobe.
2. The Married Woman
The married woman archetype and the married man archetype are familiar to most of us, since we met them before we were out loud about being polyamorous.
In monogamous dating, it’s a classic, finding out your date is actually married. Or being told that person will be leaving their wife for you but never does.
In toxic polyamory, it’s very similar. The married man or married woman syndrome means, very simply, you are dating someone who is married. This is nothing unusual on the surface, but after awhile you start to understand that your date’s spouse is not on board with the polyamory thing.
This is a very common form of toxic polyamory. You can nip it in the bud early on by asking very direct questions when dating someone new who is married. Asking to meet your metamour is one of the fastest ways to bring this problem out of the shadows quickly.
3. The Misogynist
Toxic polyamory is full of closet misogynists. They talk the feminist talk, and say all the right things, but when push comes to shove, they aren’t any different than every other womanizer. They see polyamorous women as promiscuous, as easy bait, or as less than equal.
4. The Man Hater
Of course, it sometimes works both ways. Some women view men with bitterness and disgust. In this form of toxic polyamory, they date poly guys but believe they are disloyal, cuckolds, subservient, or horndogs. With toxic people, you sometimes can’t win.
5. The UnJolly Green Giant
Jealousy ruins monogamous relationships all the time. It’s even one of the most common motivations for murder. In ethical polyamory, we strive to get over this irrational and destructive human emotion, and exchange our jealousies for compersion.
But jealousy can still destroy beautiful situations. In toxic polyamory, jealousy is often the culprit. Someone professes to believe in freedom for their partners, but does everything they can to sabotage your other relationships. It often shows up as simply not liking your date, or being “worried” because they don’t trust your date, rather than trusting you to decide who to trust, or to live and learn.
They can’t put their finger on what it is, as opposed to having a good reason and examples. After a while, you realize they don’t like ANY of your dates, and also get upset when you spend time with friends and family.
6. Polyamory Cowboys and Polyamory Cowboys
This is not a true example of toxic polyamory, since polyamory cowboys are not really polyamorous. But it’s something you need to watch out for that can be toxic and damaging to your relationships.
A polyamory cowboy is someone who believes monogamy is superior but plays a poly role in order to “lasso” people into a relationship and then move them away from their partners.
7. Polyamorous Supremacy
A fairly common issue in toxic polyamory is the assumption of superiority some have. Rather than simply “live and let live” someone who has a poly supremacy issue constantly finds ways to assert their belief that poly people are more evolved.
Of course, you are polyamorous because you believe it is a better, more natural way to love. But folks with insecurities, shame issues, or arrogant and narcissistic traits may try constantly to assert their superiority over others. We’ve all had that partner or date who criticizes our sister, neighbor, and friend for their limited monogamous worldview, or who has tried to convert monogamous people to their team.
8. Toxic Polyamorous Codependency
Codependency is a relationship between someone who is unstable and someone who frequently finds themselves attracted to, or attracting, unstable people.
You don’t have to be monogamous to find this pattern. It is part of toxic polyamory as well as family relationships, friendships, and more.
Basically, one person gets off on the attention and value validation of sacrificing themselves, and the other uses, abuses, or is emotionally messy. It is a very common cycle of relationships.
9. The Sex Addict
I hate to put this here because the stereotype of poly people in general as sex addicts is so destructive. It is also destructive to view the desire for sex, or people who are very sexual, or people who are kinky, as perverted, and seeing them as sex addicts is the same thing.
However, some sex addicts hide their compulsions behind polyamory. And some polyamorous people are sex addicts. Monogamy does not have a monopoly on people with compulsive sex behaviors. Toxic polyamory can include those people who use others for their own sexual gratification.
Classic addictions like alcoholism, gambling, and drug addiction are tragedies that effect polyamorous communities as much as any others. Addiction is a serious human problem, and so it is sometimes a part of toxic polyamory.
I don’t love calling addicts toxic because addiction can happen to kind, generous people. It causes toxic behavior but the person inside the addiction is often sweet and beautiful. Addiction is ugly and can happen to someone whose nature is honest and loving as easily as anyone else. It is often from trauma, including abuse, grief, shock or physical pain.
We often hope to wait out the addiction but this becomes codependency because addiction is complex and not likely to disappear quickly.
Are you dealing with toxic behaviors in your poly relationship?