Now, social scientists embarking on brand-new research into these types of relationships are finding that they may challenge the ways we think of jealousy, commitment and love. They may even change monogamy for the better.
“People in these relationships really communicate. They communicate to death,” said Bjarne Holmes, a psychologist at Champlain College in Vermont. All of that negotiation may hold a lesson for the monogamously inclined, Holmes told LiveScience.
“They are potentially doing quite a lot of things that could turn out to be things that if people who are practicing monogamy did more of, their relationships would actually be better off,” Holmes said.
[…] [L]ittle is yet known about who participates in consensual nonmonogamy and why. Research is largely limited to self-report and surveys, in which people can be tempted to present themselves in a positive light. There are, however, some key definitions to understand. Consensual nonmonogamy contains multitudes. It includes sex-only arrangements, such as two committed partners agreeing that they’re allowed to seek no-strings-attached sex with other people. It also includes polyamory, which involves multiple committed relationships at once with the consent and knowledge of everyone involved.
Consensual nonmonogamy does not include cheating, in which one partner steps out without the permission of the other.
While there are no national statistics on consensual nonmonogamy,University of Michigan psychologist Terri Conley has estimated that about 5 percent of Americans are in one of these types of relationships at any given time. From the little data collected, scientists know lesbian, gay and bisexual individuals are slightly more likely than heterosexuals to enter nonmonogamous relationships, said Amy Moors, a graduate student in Conley’s lab. So, it seems, are people high in the personality trait of openness, which indicates high interest in new experiences.
So far, studies suggest that polyamorous individuals are well-educated, holding more master’s and doctoral degrees than the general population, said Champlain’s Holmes, who is conducting ongoing research of an online sample of more than 5,000 polyamorous individuals. Despite their smarts, they’re not particularly wealthy.
[…] One thing that seems to unite the polyamorous community is a real enthusiasm for digging into emotions. Honesty, openness and communication are cornerstones for polyamorous relationships, Holmes has found.
It’s this intensive conversation that might be wise for monogamous couples to emulate, Holmes said. His work also suggests that basic emotions work very differently in polyamorous relationships.
Take jealousy. Ask a polyamorous person [how they’d feel if their partner had sex with or fell in love with someone else], and they’re more likely to tell you they’d be thrilled. It’s a concept called “compersion,” which means the joy felt when a partner discovers love outside of you. It’s similar to the feeling the typical person might get after finding out their best friend scored her dream job, Holmes said. But in this case, the happiness stems from a lover’s external relationships.
That finding challenges much of what traditional psychological research has established about how jealousy works.
[…] In another example of polyamorous people potentially turning typical psychological reactions upside-down, Holmes conducted a preliminary analysis of about 200 polyamorous people, asking them about feelings of jealousy. Typically, he said, you’d expect to see that women are more anxious about emotional infidelity, while men worry more about sexual infidelity. That wasn’t the case among the polyamorous individuals. In fact, there were no gender differences in rates of sexual and emotional jealousy to be found.
None of this suggests that polyamorous people are somehow immune to jealousy, Holmes said. But when jealously does occur, it’s discussed. The person feeling jealous is encouraged to examine their own psyche to find out what’s bothering them and which of their needs aren’t being met. Then the pair (or triad, or quad) can negotiate boundaries.
[…] The University of Michigan’s Moors has found that people who cheat on their partners sexually are less likely to engage in safe sex while doing so than are people in consensual nonmonogamous relationships.
[…] There are many open questions left about polyamory and other nonmonogamous arrangements, but research is picking up, Holmes said. This weekend, the first International Academic Polyamory Conference is being held in Berkeley, Calif. The Internet has likely boosted interest in polyamory, said Sheff, who is working on a book about polyamorous families.
“The Internet has revolutionized things for sexual minorities in general,” Sheff told LiveScience. “It offers people a way to find out about it, and it offers people a way to find partners.”
That last point is relevant for consanguinamorous people as well. Exogamous homosexuals are, by nature of being exogamous, driven to make contact with each other and form communities in ways that endogamous couples are not. Without the internet, most consanguinamorous people would likely still think that they are literally the only ones in their city, let alone the world. The internet has been a wonderful thing.
I have a question, if that’s okay. My partner and I are just starting out as poly and he wants to have a relationship with his sister and myself. I’ve know about their relationship before but it sounded more like it was experimental teen stuff but it turns out he really loves her, and I don’t want to stop him from being with his sister, but she doesn’t really want to be poly. For their happiness, should I let them be a couple? I just really love him, it’s been hard even accepting it.
This is a tough situation. While poly works for some its definitely not for all. It sounds like in your situation it wouldn’t work well. It seems like he wants to be poly because he wants to be with you but also with his sister. You want to be with him and are willing to go with it for him, and she wants him all to herself. There is nothing wrong with the 2 of them together, but for most people it is hard to wrap their head around the reality of siblings together. But as for the problem at hand, the only one who seems like they win in the situation is him, you feel like you need to back off, she wants him to herself, neither of you would be happy with the situation. Sounds like he needs to make a decision.
100%. It’s his responsibility to sort things out and figure out what he actually wants. I would bet that he also likes the idea of having an official, “acceptable” girlfriend that he can show to his parents and take places, while still being able to be together with his sister. If so, that’s incredibly unfair to both of them. If he wants to be with his sister, he should be willing to make the sacrifices that she’d have to make to be with him.
Ideally, people should be free to consent with understanding of what is going on. A polyamorous relationship in which your metamour is your lover’s relative almost always means your bond will not be as strong. I know this from personal experience, but the important thing is that I was willing. Some people, including experienced polyamorous people, do not want to be in that situation and that’s OK. It is OK to say “this won’t or doesn’t work for me.” Either way, it is a matter of what you need and what you have to offer.