Marriage and Family Therapist
February 7, 2022
Being Poly In A Mono World:
A Paradigm Shift
Polyamory is a completely different relationship paradigm than monogamy. They are essentially different relationship cultures. You cannot take the rules and assumptions of monogamy and apply them to polyamory if you want to have a comprehensive understanding of polyamory.
-Polyamory is not monogamy with multiple partners. It is a whole different worldview and its own identity.-
Neither relationship paradigm is better or worse. They both have shadow sides, and they both have strengths. But, they are different.
In monogamy, commitment is demonstrated by sexual and romantic exclusivity. While in a polyamorous paradigm, commitment is demonstrated by other behaviors negotiated by the partners in the relationship. In the polyamorous paradigm sexual and romantic exclusivity are not indicative of specialness or commitment to your partner(s).
How do we wrap our minds around a relationship paradigm that does not rest on exclusivity if we were socialized in a monogamous culture?
That paradigm shift can be difficult and feel ungrounding, even to those who feel they are polyamorous in their heart. People coming out as polyamorous can struggle with knowing what to hold onto as specialness in their relationships too, once the structure of exclusivity is removed.
In Jessica Fern’s book, Polysecure, she discusses how the structure of monogamy is very often what relationships fall back on to create security. When that structure is removed, it can shake one’s sense of attachment security.
This does not mean that polyamory is not possible or even the best relationship type for the person. It simply means that monogamous assumptions are so completely different from polyamorous assumptions that it can be a shaky transition from one paradigm to the other.
Can you imagine how difficult it would be to move from rural Alaska to a tourist-filled beach city in Hawaii? Perhaps you even really wanted to make that move and felt called to do so. Perhaps, it was your heart’s greatest desire. That would still not make it an easy transition. It would be new, there would be rules and cultural assumptions you knew nothing about, and there would be nuances you never thought to plan for. These same difficulties come up for a person transitioning from monoamory to polyamory. And, most poly people were at one time mono-folks because that is the default setting in our culture.
This compulsory monogamy decides for people what their relationship style should be in much the same way compulsory hetereosexuality never asks the question, ‘might you be LGBTQIA?’ So, even when the paradigm shift is deeply desired it can be emotionally very difficult.
In fact, even when the paradigm shift is a matter of being one’s true self, it can (and often is) still difficult and upending. Having these kinds of difficulties with the transition can be further complicated by the shame it triggers. We may ask ourselves, “if this is really right for me then why is it so difficult?” Others may echo this idea and advise us to abandon polyamory and return to a monoamorous paradigm. We may feel we are causing upset or harm to our partner by, “being this way” or we may think, “why can’t I just be normal?”
Change uproots us and brings insecurity. We have to find our comfort zone all over again. So, please know that beginning to practice polyamory can be challenging. It can bring up new insecurities you never thought you had or old ones you thought you put to rest long ago. It does change relationships, which is sometimes desirable and sometimes relationships do end.
It is normal to second guess yourself. It is normal to feel shaky. And yes, people probably will tell you not to do it. People will probably tell you to return to monogamy to fix these feelings bubbling up inside of you. But, the problem with the shift is not in how you feel. It is in the lack of support and lack of knowledge of the people around you. It is in the culturally ingrained monogamy that discourages its own interrogation and discussions of other valid relationship styles.
-The problem is not you. You are not wrong for feeling called to another type of relationship.-
Your partner is not wrong if they discover they are polyamorous and are trying to follow their inner knowing. Polyamory is fundamentally different from monogamy, and that is why the shift is so scary. Give yourself time to integrate the new way of being. Give yourself space to have scared, insecure and jealous feelings. Give yourself space to doubt yourself. Educate yourself about polyamory and look for cultural guides. Most of all, get support. Polyamory is also a valid relationship paradigm.
This is all not to say that you can’t be a poly person in a relationship with a person who is mono. If you find yourself in that kind of relationship its just important to talk about these issues with your partner and to challenge the monocentric cultural paradigm and talk about jealousy and other issues when they come up. There are ways to navigate relationships where one person is mono and the other is poly. The important thing is that you talk about your issues, be vulnerable with each other, and hold each other close. All these things are important in any relationship, polyamorous or mono.
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About The Author
Genevieve Fahey is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist with a private practice in Midtown, Sacramento. She identifies as Queer herself, and is dedicated to providing informed therapeutic services to the under-served LGBTQQI and Poly communities. She loves working with people who are carving their own way in this world. She has 8 years of clinical experience with couples and individuals. She doesn’t work alone though. Her co-therapist is a lovable therapy-dog named Halo.
She is currently offering therapy through telehealth and can be reached at email@example.com. You can also follow her for inspirational, uplifting quotes on Instagram @tellyourtherapist.