Sometimes I think that when people see “Poly + Mono” relationships they subconsciously turn that “+” into a “vs.” In the largest Poly + Mono support group that I’m aware of (and of which I am one of the team of moderators), we will sometimes notice that the pendulum swings from one “side” to another, where the group consciousness starts to paint either polyamory or monoamory as “right” or “wrong” or “better” or “worse.”
It’s not a competition. It *is* actually possible to be in a healthy, harmonious, long-term relationship where at least one person is polyamorous and one is not, but here’s the thing: They both have to want to put in the effort.
It’s a common misconception that in order for a mono person and non-mono person to make it work together, the bulk of the emotional labor falls to the mono person to “get over” the script that society had given them.
Yeah, no. Turns out, polyfolk have a couple of unhealthy scripts they’ve adapted for themselves, and thinking that they are “more evolved” and that the monofolk are the ones that have to do all the work is part of it.
One of the most common examples I’ve seen of the work the poly person has to put into making a relationship work with a mono person is the ability to allow the mono person to experience and express their truth without becoming defensive or dismissive about it.
When your mono partner tells you they are feeling lonely because you are spending the night with someone else, that is an opportunity for you to practice a really important combination of skills that is part of healthy communication: Acknowledging and Validating.
Here’s how it looks:
I understand that it’s hard for you when I’m not home, and it makes sense that you’d feel lonely when I’m not around since we’ve grown so accustomed to spending all our free time together.
That’s it. It’s not taking on blame. It’s not about being responsible for their feelings. It’s about allowing their feelings some space to exist and letting them know you respect that they feel it.
Acknowledgment and validation can go a very long way in making a partner feel heard. But, the mono person in this example also has a responsibility to remember that it isn’t their partner’s role to protect you from ever having a bad day or a negative emotion again. If you have agreed to be part of an open relationship; then finding ways to deal with feelings of loneliness is part of your responsibility. Yes – you absolutely can and should share those feelings with your partner, but you should *not* expect your partner to cancel a date because you’re feeling lonely.
Imagine, for example, if you were in a conventionally monogamous relationship and your partner had to spend three days out of town for a work conference. You might still feel lonely, though the level of loneliness might not also be exacerbated by feelings of jealousy and/or insecurity. You would express, when your partner called during a break in their itinerary, that you miss them. They would tell you that they miss you, too. But you wouldn’t expect them to quit their job or put it in jeopardy to come home early because you were having a sad.
At least, I hope not.
Getting comfortable with polyamory has a lot to do with reframing a situation to recognize that it’s not unlike other situations you have encountered and overcome before. It could be a job, or your partner’s family obligations, or their commitment to a sport or hobby that you aren’t that into – there are any number of examples in conventional relationships that show that both you and your partner can have separate interests and commitments that don’t detract from the one you have with each other.
Another pitfall of the misconception that the mono-person is the one who needs to “get with the program” is that not infrequently, the poly person is actually making a lot of well-documented newbie mistakes and incorrectly assuming that the monoperson’s complaints are about jealousy rather than about legitimate lapses in ethics and judgement on behalf of the poly person.
You are not infallible. You will make mistakes. You have to work on getting really good with being conscious of how NRE (New Relationship Energy) is affecting your interactions with your established partner. NRE is a reason why people can be thoughtless, but it does not excuse thoughtlessness. If your partner (mono OR poly) tells you that your NRE is interfering with your ability to be present with them then it’s time for you to take a look at that and be more conscious of how you show up for each of your partners. It is not the time to tell your partner they are “overreacting” or that it’s “just NRE, and therefore okay.”
It’s not okay, and continuing down that path may lead to the end of your established relationship.
Speaking of relationships ending – it’s important to note that the success or failure of a relationship has nothing to do with how long it lasts. Unhealthy and abusive relationships last for years and years, but I don’t know that I’d call them “successful.”
Poly and Mono relationships end for a variety of reasons, but it regularly comes down to fundamental incompatibility. You cannot charge the Android phone with an iPhone charger, and you can’t charge the iPhone with an android charger.
What you’re doing is trying to create an adapter that will get both phones back up to 100%. If you can’t, one or both will eventually run out of juice and the relationship can end. It’s not about the Android or the iPhone being “better” or “right” or “more evolved.”
It’s about working together to find what works for both.
Mono Bill of Rights & Responsibilities:
1. You have the right to feel what you feel, and the responsibility to take conscious actions around those emotions to avoid knee-jerk responses that place blame or responsibility for them on your partner.
2. You have the right to desire only one romantic/life partner, and the responsibility to ensure you are not making that partner wholly responsible for your every need.
3. You have the right to express your discomfort, insecurities, and fears, and the responsibility to explore them to their root to gain a better understanding of where they come from so that you can move forward.
4. You have the right to seek support, and the responsibility to practice self care in times that are most challenging to you.
5. You have the right to change your outlook over time, and the responsibility to communicate those changes to your partner.*
6. You have the right to expect honesty from your partner in all things, and the responsibility to accept honesty even when you don’t like what you are hearing.*
7. You have the right to set your boundaries where they make sense to you, and the responsibility to enforce them with your own actions.*
8. You have the right to make requests of your partner, and the responsibility to respect that their answer might be “no” based on their personal boundaries.*
9. You have the right to limit your interactions with any metamours, and the responsibility to cultivate a non-comparitive and non-competitive approach to their presence in your partner’s life.
10. You have the right to leave, and the responsibility to recognize that in a healthy relationship – leaving is always an option.
(*) – See #10
Poly Bill of Rights & Responsibilities:
1. You have the right to feel what you feel, and the responsibility to recognize that your partner’s feelings are just as valid even if they are different from yours.
2. You have the right to desire more than one partner, and the responsibility to be honest and transparent about that desire with every partner and potential new partner you date.
3. You have the right to express your discomfort, insecurities, and fears, and the responsibility to explore them to their root to determine where they are coming from so that you can move forward.
4. You have the right to seek support, and the responsibility to practice self-care in times that are most challenging.
5. You have the right to change your outlook over time, and the responsibility to be transparent and communicate those changes with your partner(s).*
6. You have the right to expect honesty from all your partners in all things, and the responsibility to accept honesty even when you don’t like what you are hearing.*
7. You have the right to set your boundaries where they make sense to you, and the responsibility to enforce them with your own actions. *
8. You have the right to make requests of your partner, and the responsibility to respect that their answer may be “no” based on their personal boundaries.*
9. You have the right to privacy in each of your relationships, and the responsibility of ensuring that you are upholding the agreements you have within each of them.
10. You have the right to leave, and the responsibility to recognize that in a healthy relationship, leaving is always an option.
(*) – See #10