How to Balance Polyamory and Primary Partners 101
With Advice from Agender, Poly Sex Therapist Kristen O’Guin
Just like sexuality and gender, non-monogamous feelings and relationships fall on a spectrum. One type of non-monogamous relationships is polyamory, which is defined as “people having multiple loving, intentional, and intimate relationships at the same time with consent of all people involved and with specific guidelines.”
A primary partner is defined as a relationship that takes precedence over other relationships you engage in.
This is a well-known but still stigmatized type of non-monogamous relationship. Despite stigma, 4%-5% of people living in America are polyamorous, and 20% of Americans have at least attempted polyamory at some point in their life, according to Rolling Stone Magazine.
This study also found that more polyamorous people tend to be a part of the LGBTQIA+ community.
Let’s set the stage: you have a primary partner, and you are thinking about opening up the relationship and engaging in polyamory. You may feel excited, but the future is riddled with questions: What now? How do you start that conversation? How do you prioritize your primary partner while also showing love and respect to other partners?
Let’s talk about it!
How to Open Up A Relationship
Opening up a relationship is scary for some people. For others, it’s exciting. Whatever you are feeling, know that it’s valid and you have the right to explore those emotions before moving forward and engaging in polyamory with your partner.
Some Things to Expect
Kristen O’Guin, a sexuality and relationships coach who has decades of experience working with couples said, “It’s not for everyone. If you’re doing it to please your partner or because of some other pressure, that might not be a good idea. It’s definitely ok to try it if you’re not sure, it’s ok to take that risk! Throughout the process, you have to come back to being real with yourself about the process.”
O’Guin also said, “Jealousy definitely comes up. Insecurity or a sense of inadequacy can come up. Fear of losing the person you love can come up. Of course, some people have a fear around STIs.”
All of these feelings are normal and ok. It doesn’t mean polyamory isn’t right for you, just that you need time to practice and to continue communicating.
O’Guin said that, for many, polyamory can feel like coming out for the first time or coming out again. “It’s still quite stigmatized, and people can have strong reactions to it. It can be difficult to know who to tell.”
Tips for Healthy Polyamory
Communication is key, according to O’Guin. “Excellent communication is one of the most important things. Self-awareness is super important. First, being able to work with the emotions or triggers that come up. Something I would highly recommend is that people investigate their own attachment styles.”
An attachment style is a person’s specific way of relating to others in relationships.
Some of the most common attachment styles are:
- Anxious (also referred to as Preoccupied)
- Avoidant (also referred to as Dismissive)
- Disorganized (also referred to as Fearful-Avoidant)
Express Your Boundaries
Your boundaries may shift and change over time as you engage more and more in polyamory.
“If it’s possible to work with your emotions before communicating a boundary shift, that’s great. Just sit and do some deep breathing before you go to your partner, calming your nervous system is huge. Present that information from a calm place. It can also help you connect with your partner better.
Even people who have been doing polyamory for many years might have things change. That’s something everyone should go into polyamory knowing,” O’Guin said.
She also mentioned that it’s important to communicate with your secondary partners: “Clearly state with your other partners the limitations of your secondary relationships. The more you can tell people up front before feelings arise the better.
For example, letting people know you will always be spending holidays with your primary partner. Then, let your secondary partner respond with any feelings they have about this. Don’t sugarcoat anything, just be clear and direct about these boundaries”
Things To Avoid
O’Guin said, “Some things that make it more toxic is being polyamorous but just wanting to sleep with a bunch of people. If that’s what you want, just say that. Or, lying, of course. Breaking agreements is another one. And ‘unicorn hunting,’”
Unicorn hunting is most common in straight relationships and is when a couple looks for a bisexual person (most often a woman) to sleep with to satiate desire or try polyamory. It’s cliche and frowned upon by most poly people.
What Should You Do If You and Your Primary Partner Start Feeling Disconnected?
“There’s a wonderful method or tool I recommend. It’s an acronym, RADAR. It’s setting aside regular time for communication with your partner. Once a week, once a month, whatever works,” said O’Guin.
RADAR stands for:
- Review: this could be related to polyamory or your life in general. It’s a time to reflect on any new or relevant facts in your life
- Agree on an agenda: you and your partner decide in advance what you will touch on: family, other partners, etc.
- Discuss: take some time to discuss every item on your agenda.
- Action points: after discussion, make notes for action items you will each take ownership of. For example, if your partner wants to meet a new secondary partner, they will set up a time for all of you to connect, if that’s a boundary you have.
- Reconnect: after all of the hard stuff, this could be a time to feed into each other’s love languages, cuddle, or do anything that helps you feel connected.
O’Guin noted that, “Whether it’s monogamous or non-monogamous, there’s an ebb and flow of connection in all relationships.” So, if you feel disconnected from your partner from time to time, know that this is normal.
Kristen’s Top Tips?
- Couples who take risks together stay together! Try taking risks with your partner to deepen your bond.
- Polyamory can trigger shame. Incorporate the breath and the body. If you feel shame, where in your body do you feel it? Maybe it’s in the chest, tightness in the gut.
Once you locate that feeling, sit and breathe deeply, imagining the breath going into that part of the body. If you sit with that physical sensation, that can help you connect your body and your emotions.
Get More Tips
Looking for more tips like these? Follow @getqcareplus on social media and read our blog. Looking to get on PrEP and protect yourself and your partner(s)? Get PrEP provided virtually by becoming a Q Care Plus patient.
As mentioned by Kristen, STIs are sometimes a barrier to opening relationships. Good news: Q Care Plus offers PrEP, a once daily pill that prevents HIV, and you can sign up for free from the comfort of your home. Best of all, our providers are LGBTQIA+ focused and poly friendly.
Kristen O’Guin is an agender poly, relationship, and sex therapist who spent many years living off-grid in Hawaii. They intentionally lived off-grid so she could reconnect with nature, their body, and their sexuality.
After moving back to the states, Kristen obtained a Master’s of Education in Human Sexuality Studies at Widener University. They love using their experiences to help people reconnect with themselves and have pleasurable, holistic experiences.
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