Being in a committed relationship is tough. It takes hard work to balance your own wants and needs with those of your partner. Imagine then, adding another human or several humans into that equation. It’s a recipe that, if left unchecked, can result in some pretty spicy results. OK, so a normal, monogamous, two-person relationship can be plenty spicy too, but three’s a crowd, or so they say.
Cat Skinner is an author, entrepreneur and a mom of three kids being raised in a polyamorous triad in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont. As a polyamorous partner in a long-term relationship, she’s had to learn how to live and love in her unconventional family, and help teach her children as well. We asked her to name a few tips for making polyamory work.
“Your cards need to be on the table at all times. Building rock-solid trust is the key to relationship success, and your partner(s) really need to know where your head and heart is at. You’ve got to get comfortable sharing your wants, needs, fears, hesitations, goals, jealousies. The only way to extend boundaries beyond the traditional is to have a really clear sense of who your partner is and what they need.”
Become a Communication Jedi
Some pretty uncomfortable and atypical conversations and situations come up when you tread the waters of polyamory. Learning your partner(s) communication style and practicing some time-tested communication basics should be like your Padawan training. Put these techniques to the test whenever you can, so you are comfortable utilizing them when emotions are high. Learn how to move through disagreements with love and a sense of openness. Everyone in your primary relationship(s) needs to become excellent at sharing and listening.”
“Be okay with not being okay sometimes. Approaching your partner(s) openly and honestly with your complicated emotions can be one of the most difficult aspects of relationship. Asking for help, admitting that you’re uncomfortable, sharing raw feelings are all challenges that can bring partners closer together if they’re tackled from a place of love. I used to be filled with inexplicable rage if I had to confront my own feelings of vulnerability. Turns out, if I just let the tears I was battling flow, it made my partners feel closer to me. I still don’t like crying, but I know it’s better for our relationship than shutting down and getting angry.”
“Intimate relationships have a nasty way of holding a light up to the darkest corners of our soul. Sounds dramatic, but it’s true. The more we love someone, the more our unresolved issues come into play. Working with a therapist, both individually and as a triad, saved our relationship on more than one occasion. Traditional couples have enough difficulty navigating life together. When you reinvent the wheel without as many tools, chances are you’re going to need some help. Working on your own healing and personal growth will give you the chance to show up and be present and engaged in a whole new way. I’d say this extends to your physical self too. That extra cardio will come in handy in the bedroom.”
“There’s an ongoing and ever-evolving conversation that should be part of the polyamorous relationship experience: what’s okay and what isn’t. Opening up your life shouldn’t be a free-for-all. There should be some ground rules established, so all of the primary parties feel safe and secure as relationships are explored. I say start slowly here. Maybe your first foray is just a night out where you decide as a couple to flirt with someone. Are there things that you know you’d be uncomfortable doing? Or knowing your partner was doing with someone else? How do you feel about your partner engaging with other romantic and/or sexual partners without you involved? Which sexual acts or experiences do you wish to reserve for yourself and your primary relationship(s)? Which activities are you excited about experiencing with others? These are all questions you have to tackle, first on your own, and then with your partner(s). In any relationship, I highly recommend the use of a safe word; a very random word, agreed upon in advance by all parties engaging in sexual activity, to bring a full stop to the activity if anyone is uncomfortable either physically or emotionally.”
Skinner’s advice, though developed for couples in polyamorous relationships like hers, is really applicable to all relationships. Whether you’ve got one lover or many, staying happy and committed takes work. So get busy.