Like in monogamous relationships, polyamorous relationship rules act as a roadmap for a happy and healthy partnership. But what rules you put in place will depend on your relationship(s) unique dynamics and needs.
A polyamorous relationship is one where you have two or more romantic and/or intimate partners. Polyamory falls under the category of ethical non-monogamy (ENM) or consensual non-monogamy (CNM).
Unlike an open relationship, where you’re free to have sex with people outside the relationship but stay committed to only one partner, polyamorous people are committed to loving multiple partners equally.
“Establishing rules or guidelines is crucial in polyamorous relationships,” says Dr. Jacqui Gabb, a professor of sociology and intimacy at The Open University and Chief Relationships Officer at Paired.
“These often include where sexual encounters can occur (at home or away from home), how often, and the gender of the third party — for example, if you’re in a heterosexual relationship and your partner wants to explore same-sex desire.”
Polyamorous relationships are like any other type of relationship, so they last as long as there is good communication and respect for your partner(s). But in some ways, polyamorous relationships might even be stronger than monogamous ones — and that’s all thanks to communication.
“Communication is hands down the biggest strength of non-monogamous relationships,” says Moraya Seeger DeGeare, a licensed marriage and family therapist, and Paired’s In-House Relationship Expert.
“Because the relationship requires a clear understanding of boundaries that can often be unique to the couple, or at least require the couple to make a clear choice on what they desire,” she adds.
“So the couple is constantly practicing and fine-tuning their communication skills. Unlike monogamous relationships, which are often handed sets of rules and boundaries that feel very standardized with little pressure on the couple to shape to their own needs.”
Research backs this up. A 2017 study found that people in polyamorous relationships tend to communicate better with their partners because “greater communication may be necessary for primary relationships to endure while other relationships are pursued.”
The research noted that polyamorous people communicate to negotiate boundaries, agreements, schedules, and well as any other problem that can emerge in any type of romantic relationship.
This might also explain why jealousy isn’t as big of a problem in polyamorous relationships. One study found that people in CNM relationships, including polyamorous ones, reported lower levels of jealousy and higher levels of trust than people in monogamous relationships.
No, polyamory doesn’t count as cheating. Polyamory falls under the bracket of consensual non-monogamy, which means everyone involved in the relationship is aware of and OK with having multiple partners. A successful polyamorous relationship relies on honesty and communication, much like a monogamous relationship!
Although everyone has different ideas of what counts as cheating, it involves a breach of trust and boundaries. In a monogamous relationship, you’ve essentially promised one another to be faithful and not have sexual or romantic relationships with anyone else.
Interestingly, a study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine found that people in polyamorous relationships are more likely to practice safe sex than those who cheat in a monogamous relationship.
Cheating is possible in a polyamorous relationship, but it might look different from infidelity in a monogamous relationship. What counts as cheating in a polyamorous relationship depends on the rules that you set in the relationship.
“Cheating can be anytime someone breaks a pre-discussed boundary and the agreement of the relationship,” says Seeger DeGeare. “This is a prime example of why the communication is so strong because it’s not as simple as ‘don’t have romantic intimacy or sex with someone else’,” she adds.
“It depends on what the individuals involved decide cheating could mean for them. This can be when and who someone has physical sex with, but it can also be being emotionally present with one person to the neglect of another, and not communicating your true desires.”
Polyamorous relationships are all different, and that’s partly why setting some ground rules is so important, but there’s no cheat sheet to consensual non-monogamy.
“In many ways, the rules for the relationship differ because you are first acknowledging that not all of your romantic needs are expected to be met by one person,” says Seeger DeGeare. “Having that as a base and being open to that is the start of how you can build a relationship that serves all involved.”
Seeger DeGeare says the main ground rules in a polyamorous relationship revolve around boundaries. “Set clear boundaries that include when and how you are going to share your time,” she says.
“Be clear in advance about how much you are talking about each relationship with another partner. Compared to a monogamous relationship where sharing could bring up jealousy (that can happen here still), sharing is breaking some intimacy you might have with another by sharing personal things with another partner. The boundaries are ways to protect each involved so you can feel safe and trusting so you can play and have fun together.”
Polyamorous relationship rules ensure that all partners are on the same page about emotional and physical boundaries, and what is or isn’t OK. Some rules to set in a polyamorous relationship can include:
What your expectations are for the relationship, including your needs and desires.
How much time to spend with each partner, and whether you will live with one or more partners.
Which types of sex are OK to have with other people and which are off-limits.
What safe sex practices you’ll each follow.
How much information you’ll share about your other partners and whether you want to meet each other’s partners.