Marriage and Family Therapist
January 14, 2021
Navigating Relationships When One Person Is Poly And The Other Is Mono
For many polyamorous identifying people being poly is an innate orientation, not a choice at all. They share that they feel they are wired that way. And, many monogamous people say they are, in kind, wired for monogamy. So, if being polyamorous or monogamous is an innately wired orientation how do we navigate a relationship where a polyamorously oriented person and a monogamously orientated person fall in love?
What is a “Mono/Poly” Relationship?
These kinds of relationships (in which a monogamous and polyamorous person fall in love) have been termed, “Mono/Poly Relationships.” And, we can look to the The Polyamorous Community for some guidance on the topic. They have had to think more about this issue than monogamous folks, typically, because monogamy is the norm in our society. The Poly community is divided on how to approach Mono/Poly Relationships. Some say to just not get involved. They have horror stories about how it didn’t work out for them.
Their mono partner was too insecure, jealous, pressured them to be exclusive, or they just felt they were breaking that person’s heart every time they went on a date. Conversely, some people have absolute success stories. One partner may have come out as polyamorous after the relationship was already established, and the couple came to the conclusion that the poly person will have multiple relationships, while the mono person does not. And, this can work. In fact, it is a very common place to land for the Mono/Poly couple. Sometimes the mono partner does date, and the poly partner supports them in slowly exploring opening up. There are also cases where the poly partner decides it is right for them to engage in a monogamous relationship with this partner for a variety of valid reasons. There are all kinds of ways to negotiate Mono/Poly relationships. Each couple has to decide what is right for them.
There are so many things to consider when entering into a Mono/Poly Relationship.
How To Handle It
Should the poly partner immediately start dating other partners or wait? One school of thought is that starting to date right away will get the mono partner acclimated to this new way of having a relationship. The conventional wisdom here is that it is easier to start a relationship open than to change the status quo later. The other school of thought is that you should hold off on beginning new relationships or dating until your mono partner is secure, and therefore your relationship is more established (this is, of course, assuming the poly partner does not already have other partners).
Should you give this relationship a try at all? Is this kind of relationship doomed? Some good advice for anyone who finds themselves in a Mono/Poly situation is that if you think the emotional labor is worth the relationship then put in the work, clearly communicate, and have empathy for your partner. Basically, good advice for any relationship. I don’t believe differing relationship orientations need to be non-starters for relationships. Mono/Poly Relationships can, not only be successful, but can also be very fulfilling. You need to decide if this kind of relationship is right for you, just as you would have to do with any other kind of relationship. If you decide that you are going to enter into a Mono/Poly relationship then it will be important to do some internal investigation of your own needs, feelings, and beliefs. Then, you should be ready to share these with your partner, and ready to do a lot of processing and continual check-ins with your partner.
Best First Steps
Identify Needs, Be Honest, and Open Conversation
Once you’ve identified your needs, and where you stand, you need to be very clear and honest with your partner about that. This conversation is potentially going to be painful and awkward, on both sides. Be clear with them that you are here for the conversation, for them, that nothing needs to be decided today, and that you are sharing about yourself and want to hear about them. Reassurance is key to setting this conversation up.
Find Healthy Ways to Communicate
You are both going to need to hold space for the other’s strong emotions. This can be deeply uncomfortable. You may find yourself wanting to fix your partner’s feelings for them, bury your feelings just to keep the peace or use your strong emotions as a way to get your partner to adjust their behavior. These are normal impulses, but you can find healthier ways of communicating than to act on these impulses. One way to do this is to notice and name the impulses. Then you can follow it up with a need your partner can potentially and reasonably meet.
Take Your Time
It feels good when a loved one shows curiosity in us. Ask your partner what their orientation means to them and what assumptions they hold about yours. Listen as if you are trying to get a window into your partner’s world. Suspend judgment for now. If you are the poly partner, and you just came out to your monogamous partner, then they are likely going to want to know if this means you are planning a date with someone else for tonight, and how the heck they are going to handle that! And, have you already been seeing someone? Do you have someone in mind that you are bringing this up specifically for? Monogamous partners might have insecurities stemming from a culture that tells us love is about ‘the one and only.’ As a poly partner, be prepared to patiently answer all your mono partner’s anxious questions, offer reassurance and set realistic expectations. Assure them that not all the big questions need to be answered right now. It is a good idea to sleep on the immense information you have both just
shared before making concrete decisions. Ask them if this is something they think they can be open minded about. Assure them that this has nothing to do with them and that your feelings for them have not wavered.
Remember that you both did grow up in a monogamous culture. Some toxic monogamous messages may be embedded in your unconscious. Toxic stereotypes about polyamorous people sound like, “you’re selfish, why, you’re greedy, you’re a sexaholic or slut, etc.” These stereotypes are not true, and poly folks do not need to apologize for the way they are oriented. Just as we would not counsel a queer person to apologize for their sexual orientation. A poly partner’s need for other partners has nothing to do with their partners or any other human being. It is how they are wired. Being polyamorous is their personal identity, and has no moral value. It would not be okay for the monogamous partner to hurl any of these cruel stereotypes at their partner, no matter what they might be feeling.
If you are the monogamous partner you may feel frozen or angry or incredibly heart-broken. You may be grieving the relationship you had fantasized having. These are all valid things to feel, but it also does not mean that your feelings reflect reality. You might feel abandoned, but you are not being abandoned. If your first reaction is really big then you may just ask to be held while you cry or you may want space. When you are ready, come back and ask any questions you have. At this time, it is probably best to keep the conversation open. You may want to refrain from saying things that put you at an impasse for now.
If you are the poly partner you may be feeling guilty, responsible for your partner’s hurt feelings, and wishing you could just ‘be like everyone else.’ Remember, you are oriented this way and you have a right to be out and be yourself. You have done a brave thing by beginning this conversation. You may also need reassurance right now that you aren’t going to be abandoned because of who you are. If the relationship does end, it might feel like abandonment, but it isn’t about you. It is about you and your partner having differing needs. As painful as that is, it is no one’s fault.
Keep Checking In
Now, that you’ve begun to talk about what this relationship will look like, it is time to keep talking. Continually having check-ins about if anything has changed on either end, what new things you have discovered about your relationship orientations, your sexual needs, your romantic and affection needs, your feelings about each other, what needs are being met and what needs are not being met, your fears and insecurities is paramount. And, uncomfortable! These conversations are all the stuff we usually want to avoid. But, it’s also the stuff that makes a relationship healthy. You might end up growing immensely as people and as a couple from this thing that felt like a crisis.
Make Plans Together
If you are moving towards openness, at least on one end, come up with a comfortable opening up plan together. Again, this has to be individual to what works for you. Do not agree to a relationship dynamic with the hope that your partner will dislike it and change. A conscious way forward has to be agreeable to both of you if the relationship is to have longevity or intimacy.
Do what you want for you and your relationship. Throw out the rule book. Don’t listen to society, cultural norms, religion, or your family of origin about what your relationship should look like. Make it up for yourself. Be a relationship anarchist.
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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 firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also follow her for inspirational, uplifting quotes on Instagram @tellyourtherapist.