I went to lunch with a friend the other day who is just getting over the break-up of an important love relationship-her first attempt at maintaining a polyamorous relationship. Inexperience, insecurities, jealousy, trust issues and poor communication skills contributed to the relationship’s demise; her partners’ deceit was the killing blow. She is understandably hurt and disillusioned.
Her monogamous friends immediately blamed the relationship’s end on the fact that it was poly.
Frankly, I don’t get the logic there. Monogamous relationships don’t break up? Trust issues, lying, poor communication skills and jealousy don’t plague monogamous relationships? That’s like blaming the institution of marriage for the high rate of divorce. It’s not the institution that is to blame, it is the people involved in the relationship, if blame must be assigned.
“I don’t know of any successful poly relationships,” her friend argues. How many monogamous relationships are successful? I would counter. What’s the national divorce rate now? Fifty-percent? And how many monogamous relationships break up before Jack and Jill Monogamous finally find each other, settle down and start that “successful” relationship?
What is the criteria for a “successful” relationship, anyway? Is the only successful relationship one that doesn’t end? Is staying together the only criteria for what makes a relationship successful? Because I know a lot of long-time married people in relationships that don’t come close to what I’d call successful in terms of happiness, contentment and personal and relationship growth. And I know many relationships that have ended (my own 15-year marriage, for one) that were highly successful. Although my ex and I eventually split, we remained close, have raised three well-adjusted, happy children, and have moved on into healthy, happy post-divorce relationships.
“Give up on poly,” her friends tell her. I say, acquire the skills to have a healthy relationship, whether it is monogamous, poly or something else entirely. Choose the relationship model that works for you, learn to have healthy relationships, and then choose people with those same skill sets to be in relationship with.
“Poly is hard,” is another common refrain. I’d both agree and disagree— yes, poly relationships, simply by virtue of the sheer number of relationships one is engaged in, are complex. But so are monogamous relationships, and relationships with our family and our friends and our coworkers—you get the idea. Human beings are complex creatures. That said, there is nothing inherent in poly that makes relationship hard. Any relationship can be difficult, monogamous or poly. My own primary relationships are the easiest I have ever known. And relationship difficulties can be overcome, and are all the time. Being able to work through those difficulties effectively is one hallmark of a successful relationship. (Although if it’s more difficulty than reward, I’d say an evaluation of the relationship might be in order. But that’s just me.)
What makes a relationship difficult, unsatisfying or unsuccessful is the people involved in them. There are specific traits that will raise the probability of a relationship being successful, certainly: the ability to communicate effectively; honesty with yourself and others; the ability and willingness to identify issues, face them and work through them. The capacity to love others selflessly and to find happiness in another’s joy don’t hurt either.
Do any of these traits sound like they are exclusive to poly or mono relationships? Of course not. There are certain traits that might make poly easier, of course—organizational ability for one (it’s hard to keep all those schedules straight!) and someone who is not naturally possessive or jealous might also have an easier time. I myself struggle with jealousy, however, so I know it can be overcome. But that, too, is a relationship killer in the mono world. How many of us know the horror stories of the hyper-possessive boyfriend or girlfriend?
My point is, don’t blame poly for the demise of a relationship. Relationships, no matter what relationship model you are practicing, rely on emotionally healthy human beings to be successful.