When it comes to relationships there’s a sense of empowerment in describing a personal experience as unique, special, and/or different than anyone else’s. In particular when confronting relationship difficulties, “being unique” builds a space for dismissing the wisdom of others and creates the sense of the challenge being insurmountable. Particular forms of relationship are often viewed as intrinsically different than other forms. How often have we heard someone, when confronted by clear objective advice, say: “yes, but my situation is different”? Yet the truth is skills are the foundation of every healthy relationship.
Every situation, difficult or easy, is unique because it embodies the particular variables of your life. However, at the level of usable relationship skills, the differences are far outweighed by the similarities of both being human and living in a generally homogenous society.
What is a Relationship?
As a starting place, let’s consider ‘relationship’ as any form of interaction between two or more people and/or objects. The qualities depth of the connection and the extent of the effects determine the different labels we apply and the judgments we make about their meaning and importance.
Let’s be clear: you have as much of a relationship, with the chair you’re sitting on as you do with the person you’re having sex with. If you don’t believe me, imagine your chair suddenly disappearing and you having an immediate intimate experience between your backside and the hard floor beneath you. Yes there was a relationship involved and just because you took it for granted doesn’t mean it didn’t exist. In fact, that very lack of awareness is often at the heart of so many difficulties in any form of relationship.
Relationship Forms: Monogamy vs Polyamory
With this understanding of ‘relationship’ in mind, we can look at two forms of relationship: monogamy and polyamory. Broadly speaking, the difference between the two is the latter allows for more than one potential sexual partner within a negotiated agreement. The negotiated agreement distinguishes polyamory from, say, swinging.
Below, you’ll see a Venn diagram of “Relationship Problems” within monogamy and polyamory. This is not supposed to be indicative of how everyone views the differences, it’s just an example.
Problems and the Relationship Skills that Solve Them
All relationship problems stem from the same issues: fear of abandonment, unhealthy attachment, poor communication, who or what is important, jealousy, and lies for example. The differences always relate to the individuals and agreements involved, are not an issue uniquely found within a particular relationship form. Further, the skills needed to address problems are consistent across all relationships.
Take for instance ‘hierarchy.’ In polyamory, this may represent one partner as being more important than another, while in monogamy the complaints that “he’s married to his job” or “I’m a gamer widow” come to mind.
There are people in monogamous relationships who believe they’ll never have a problem with their partner loving someone else more and people in polyamorous relationships who think they’ll never have to worry about being bored.
To say that “wanting to be intimate with other people” isn’t a problem within polyamory is to offer an idealized view of reality. Everyone wrestles with some fears, of being unworthy, of not enough (time, attention, etc.), of not being respected. Adding another person to a polyamorous relationship takes good communication skills to discuss the concerns and fears of the other people involved in the relationship.
The issue here is the belief that the form of your relationship excludes you from the potential struggles of being human. Instead, we can learn to focus on refining our skills: communication, listening, focus, respect, and asking for what we need. This is how we build strong relationships, regardless of form, with those who are important to us.