The 12 Pillars of Polyamory

This essay, written by Kenneth R. Haslam in 2008, has appeared all over the Internet as a defining document of polyamory. It is a long read and a little outdated, but it is presented unedited as requested by the author.

“Love withers under constraint; its very essence is liberty. It is compatible neither with obedience, jealousy nor fear. It is there most pure, perfect, and unlimited when its votaries live in confidence, equality and unreserve.”

Percy Byshe Shelley

The road to Polyamory Utopia is long and twisting. There are many learning curves and it is dotted with potholes and littered with road kill. The rewards are great on arrival but there is a price to pay. You have to learn how to negotiate this road and unfortunately our parents, peers, teachers, and clerics have not been too helpful in guiding us along the way.

But we are learning Brad Blanton, the author of Radical Honesty, in a keynote address at a Loving More conference several years ago said, “You guys are the research and development arm of society”. And as researchers we will make mistakes.

But we also learn as we make mistakes. In observing the Poly community over the past 10 years it has become apparent to me that there are some basic principles, I call them Pillars, that everyone must understand and internalize to be able to successfully negotiate the road to Polyamory.

THE 12 PILLARS OF POLYAMORY

I. AUTHENTICITY

You must know yourself and be comfortable being you. You need to know without question the differences between your love needs and wants. Do you know your languages of love and which of them apply to you? (words of affirmation, touch, quality time, gifts, acts of service) Do you know and accept your sexuality – kinks and all? Are you genuine with yourself and are you comfortable sharing yourself as you really are with others? Can you be the person you really are? And if you are unsure, can you admit this to others? A good grasp of your sense of self is mandatory.

Polyamory is about VARIETY. I firmly believe that included in our authenticity is an honest acceptance of our need for variety – variety in our sexual and relationship needs and wants.

II. CHOICE

A grounded and balanced Poly understands they are free to make decisions about how they will live their life. They are free to choose. For example every day you choose to stay with your partners.

Of course this may cause conflict with partners who think they know what is good for you. Ask your partners for their opinions, think them over, and then make your own choices. You will make and be responsible for your own mistakes.

Watch out for those in your life who want to control you and limit your choices.

III.TRANSPARENCY

Although some will disagree, I firmly believe that there should be no secrets in Polyamory. Full disclosure is paramount. And even if you try to keep things to yourself remember the Poly community is very small and pillow talk is second only to the Internet in keeping everyone informed about who is in relationship with whom. Many Polyamorists love to gossip and your secrets may well be common knowledge – but you just don’t know that everyone else knows.

Nothing is more damaging to a Poly relationship than to find out the details about your partner from others.

A close friend of mine is married, and his wife does not know he is closet bisexual and a closet cross dresser. You cannot believe the amount of stress this causes which manifests as poor heath and depression.

Wherever possible, get to know your partner’s partners. I say this easily yet I have partners who are reluctant to be fully open about their partners.

Keep all of your partners in the loop. Poly relationships often fail because the primary partner feels left out.

A lesson the Poly community can teach the mono community is how to deal with unadulterated truth in relationships.

IV.TRUST

A quick definition of trust is: firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something. An example might be condom use. You agree with all your partners to use condoms with everyone not your primary. You believe that they will do what they say they will do.

You want to know that your partners will behave responsibly. In fact, an older term for Polyamory is “responsible non-monogamy”.

Trust is always an “iffy” thing, as we all know how easy it is to break that trust in the heat of passion.

Keeping your partners trust and honoring agreements may well be one of the most difficult aspects of Polyamory. I fail from time to time but I communicate, confess and just deal with the aftermath. Sometimes this not a lot of fun.

V. GENDER EQUALITY

What is good for the goose is good for the gander.

Different rules for different genders are not allowed.

A lady friend of mine has a bit of trouble with this concept. She is Poly and very much in love with her primary. She continues to date others, but he, being consumed with New Relationship Energy (NRE), preferred to be monogamous. As his NRE cooled and he became more comfortable with Poly thinking (and multipartnering) he began to develop an interest in other women. She was distraught, entered psychotherapy and now, months later she is still in therapy and still not comfortable with him dating.

It is easy to embrace the concept of Polyamory but the practice is sometimes hard. It may take years to feel at ease with the Poly lifestyle.

Let me add a word or two here about women and Polyamory. There is a saying that men often have to beg women to come to the first Polyamory party. But by the third party he has to beg her to come home. Women seem to love Polyamory and as you look over Poly history you find many women who are the movers and shakers in the Poly community.

It is my impression that men are more often prone to have difficulty sharing their women with other men.

VI. HONESTY

Now I ask you, who would want their partner to be dishonest?

When I was first learning about Polyamory I cheated on my primary partner. I had met someone new and was consumed by New Relationship Energy. When I eventually confessed, my partner was destroyed and there was a bloodbath with me getting the worst of the battle.

I was told in no uncertain terms that she could handle anything but deceit. She had no problems with my having sex with others, or falling in love with others, but lying and withholding information was not acceptable.

So now I just tell my partners when I am attracted to others and keep them informed. No editing, no withholding.

Your partners may not like hearing what you are telling them but in the long run just getting everything out for discussion beats lying, withholding information and editing.

Poly life is so complicated that I cannot imagine not being honest with all of my partners. And I will tell you this is not always easy.

In my opinion the essence of Polyamory is about HONESTY IN RELATIONSHIPS.

VII. OPEN COMMUNICATION

Although this overlaps other Pillars it is so important it is worth repeating.

There should be NO secrets in Polyamory. None.

Over and over I hear stories about multiple partner relationships failing because someone felt left out. Everyone should know about everyone in your life that is of romantic/sexual interest to you. Not knowing is deadly. Keep all of your partners in the loop, especially when you are starting new relationships.

By way of illustration I have a partner whose husband became depressed because of health issues. He did some inappropriate things which I didn’t understand until I found out about the depression. And I will warn you; depression dissolves lots of the defenses and melts your self-esteem.

Depression and Polyamory are not a good mix.

As an example of communication there is an apocryphal story about a man in therapy who finally confessed that he always wanted to tie up his wife and have sex with her. He was afraid to tell her for fear she would divorce him and he didn’t want that to happen. The wife finally entered therapy and after many sessions confessed that she always wanted her husband to tie her up and have sex with her but was afraid to tell him fearing that he would want a divorce. Think about the joy these two might have shared if only they were about to be honest in their communication.

When I begin a new relationship I always make it a point to tell my other partners the details of my romantic life.

COMMUNICATE, COMMUNICATE, COMMUNICATE

It has been said that successful Polyamorists are so busy communicating that they cannot find time to have sex.

VIII. NON-POSSESSIVE

No one owns anyone.

This supposedly ancient Chinese proverb sums up possessiveness:

“If you love something, set it free. If it comes back to you, it’s yours. If it doesn’t, it never was. We do not possess anything in this world, least of all other people. We only imagine that we do. Our friends, our lovers, our spouses, even our children are not ours; they belong only to themselves. Possessive and controlling friendships and relationships can be as harmful as neglect.”

In Polyamory you must quickly learn to love with an open hand. Allow yourself to understand and accept your partner’s autonomy.

My partners have complete autonomy to establish relationships that work for them. Of course, I am free to voice my opinions but they are welcome to make their own mistakes.

Practicing Polyamory requires heaps of self-esteem!

IX. CONSENSUAL

Everyone knows what is going on in all the partners’ lives and everyone AGREES to what is going on.

If there is no agreement it is cheating. And if it is cheating then it is NOT Polyamory. It is cheating.

X. ACCEPTING OF SELF DETERMINATION

Understanding that each of us is different is essential. Encourging your partners to follow their own life’s path is mandatory.

Suppose, as for an example, your partner wants to explore BDSM and you have little interest and maybe even an aversion to this pastime. If they find a play partner for an occasional session of impact play or bondage you just have encourage them to do it safely and welcome them home.

I have members of my extended Poly family where she wanted to explore her interest in BDSM and he encouraged her to find safe ways to do this. For a year or two she had one or two sessions a month with a Dom, learned her limits, and eventually lost interest. They remain happily married and Polyamorous.

You must keep an open mind about your partner’s behavior since you have no control. Yes, you can voice your opinions and make your concerns and wishes known but expect disagreements from time to time. And disagreements can lead to disruption of relationships.

No one ever said that Polyamory is about perfection in relationships. Rather Polyamory is about honesty in relationships. Polyamorous relationships can and will fail, just like monogamous relationships.

I will be the first to tell you THIS IS NOT ALWAYS EASY, especially in the early stages of exploring Polyamory.

XI. SEX POSITIVE

Sexuality is, of course, a major part of Polyamorous relationships and all partners being in agreement on sexual matters is essential. Are all of your partners sex positive?

I have seen few descriptions of what sex positive means and here is my definition.

1. A sex positive person is comfortable with their emotional, spiritual, physical and sexual selves.

2. A sex positive person understands, accepts and tolerates their partners sexual needs, beliefs, practices, and yes, even kinks.

3. A sex positive person is open to exploration of a variety of sensual, intimate, and sexual experiences and freely shares their thinking with their partners.

4. A sex positive person can easily communicate their sexual needs to their partners — they can ask for what they want comfortably.

Communicating your needs to NOT have sex or participate in activities you do not desire is also sex positive.

Ask for what you want – sometimes you might even get it.

XII. COMPERSION

Understanding and embracing compersion is the essence of successful Polyamorous relationships.

I plagiarized this description from a web site now disappeared into cyberspace and I quote (in part): “Compersion is the opposite of jealousy. In simple language Compersion is the love we feel when others feel love. It is the pleasure we feel when others feel pleasure. It is that vast landscape of pleasure and intimacy beyond jealousy. It is the emotional expression that what we want for our loved ones more than anything is their happiness and fulfillment. Compersion recognizes people for who they really are rather than for whom we might want them to be. Compersion recognizes that autonomy, not control, is the way of the lover.”

Here is an example plagiarized from an entry by “birgittefires” on My Space April, 2008:

“Compersion is taking your fiancé out to buy flowers for the girl he’s wooing, and offering to help pay for the bouquet without being paid back when he finds one a little out of his price range… And feeling excited and happy for him when you’re sitting on the couch eating pizza and watching romance movies while he spends his first night over there… waiting up for him to get home from a late date so you can hear all the sordid details.”

It takes some time and some practice to fully understand and embrace the concept of Compersion.

IN CONCLUSION

Having considered these 12 pillars, you might conclude that Polyamory is just not for you! Polyamory is not for everyone. It works for some and is a disaster for others.

As you travel down the road to Polyamory, especially during the first few miles, do not exceed the speed limit – ever. Go slow! Speed kills.

The road to Polyamory is difficult since there are no roadmaps that are suitable for all. But the traveler, by studying and understanding and embracing the 12 Pillars of Polyamory will have a much easier journey.

Kenneth R. Haslam MD

14 June 2008

Tell Me How You Feel

 

Polyamory is all about communication, and sometimes we don’t have the words to express ourselves. When talking with your partner, reflect on your internal state of mind and use these words to describe what you are feeling. Remember, no one is responsible for your feelings, and all feelings are valid.

Pleasant Feelings
OPEN
HAPPY
ALIVE
GOOD
understanding
great
playful
calm
confident
gay
courageous
peaceful
reliable
joyous
energetic
at ease
easy
lucky
liberated
comfortable
amazed
fortunate
optimistic
pleased
free
delighted
provocative
encouraged
sympathetic
overjoyed
impulsive
clever
interested
gleeful
free
surprised
satisfied
thankful
frisky
content
receptive
important
animated
quiet
accepting
festive
spirited
certain
kind
ecstatic
thrilled
relaxed
satisfied
wonderful
serene
glad
free and easy
cheerful
bright
sunny
blessed
merry
reassured
elated
jubilant
LOVE
INTERESTED
POSITIVE
STRONG
loving
concerned
eager
impulsive
considerate
affected
keen
free
affectionate
fascinated
earnest
sure
sensitive
intrigued
intent
certain
tender
absorbed
anxious
rebellious
devoted
inquisitive
inspired
unique
attracted
nosy
determined
dynamic
passionate
snoopy
excited
tenacious
admiration
engrossed
enthusiastic
hardy
warm
curious
bold
secure
touched
brave
sympathy
daring
close
challenged
loved
optimistic
comforted
re-enforced
drawn toward
confident
hopeful
Difficult/Unpleasant Feelings
ANGRY
DEPRESSED
CONFUSED
HELPLESS
irritated
lousy
upset
incapable
enraged
disappointed
doubtful
alone
hostile
discouraged
uncertain
paralyzed
insulting
ashamed
indecisive
fatigued
sore
powerless
perplexed
useless
annoyed
diminished
embarrassed
inferior
upset
guilty
hesitant
vulnerable
hateful
dissatisfied
shy
empty
unpleasant
miserable
stupefied
forced
offensive
detestable
disillusioned
hesitant
bitter
repugnant
unbelieving
despair
aggressive
despicable
skeptical
frustrated
resentful
disgusting
distrustful
distressed
inflamed
abominable
misgiving
woeful
provoked
terrible
lost
pathetic
incensed
in despair
unsure
tragic
infuriated
sulky
uneasy
in a stew
cross
bad
pessimistic
dominated
worked up
a sense of loss
tense
boiling
fuming
indignant
INDIFFERENT
AFRAID
HURT
SAD
insensitive
fearful
crushed
tearful
dull
terrified
tormented
sorrowful
nonchalant
suspicious
deprived
pained
neutral
anxious
pained
grief
reserved
alarmed
tortured
anguish
weary
panic
dejected
desolate
bored
nervous
rejected
desperate
preoccupied
scared
injured
pessimistic
cold
worried
offended
unhappy
disinterested
frightened
afflicted
lonely
lifeless
timid
aching
grieved
shaky
victimized
mournful
restless
heartbroken
dismayed
doubtful
agonized
threatened
appalled
cowardly
humiliated
quaking
wronged
menaced
alienated
wary

 

Poly is What You Make It

You think being a polyamorous person will erase all of your relationship woes? Guess again. If anything, being poly puts everything under a lens that allows everything to be discussed. Many will believe that they are not meant for poly because the same tragedies that plagued their monogamous relationship has in turn plagued their poly relationship. This doesn’t have to be true for you and the relationships that you form.

What’s great about being in an open relationship is that you have more control of your life. You’re not stuck in a situation where your options are limited. The concept of family and love is taking on a new identity, and I believe that it’s heading in a direction that will allow people of color more flexibility in the design of their families.

Poly encourages healthy dynamics in relationships. It’s a mirror reflection of what you put out in the world. You’re unable to hide in other partners because your issues will simply rise to the top. The connections you’ve formed will be strained if you don’t first take care of the relationship you have with yourself.

I’m a counselor by trade, so I highly advocate for people to practice some form of self care as they navigate life. Knowing yourself goes a long ways in figuring out what kind of poly relationships you desire. So I encourage everyone to look into taking the Myers Briggs personality tests and other scientific instruments that can give you insight into who you are.

Ask your partners, friends, and family about quirks of yours that stick out. It’s better to know your strengths and weakness so that you can educate your partners about the best way to communicate with you. Do some journaling about your past relationships and look at them without the concept of you being involved. Some exploration about who you are in relationships will give you better insight into what style of relationship will work best for you.

You’ll encounter heartbreak, passion, tears, joy, all of the emotions that are essential to the human experience. If you’re running away from those things, then you need to take a reality check. Poly is hard. Mono is hard. Life is hard. But learning to dance in the rain is what makes life worth living. Those moments when we are able to see the sun through the fog and realize that it’s all about our perspective.

Developing healthy relationships is my passion these days. And I want to help others have those healthy relationships with their partners, family members, and friends. The poly community is growing. I would love to see it become more popular in the black community. The economic hardships that face minority populations and low income folks would benefit from a more communal style of family and relationships. It could make a world of difference in the development of young lives. Think about the emotional intelligence of these children compared to what we currently see.

Just like we go through stages of our black identity, so does our identity as a poly person. Allow yourself the space and grace to make mistakes. Move at your own pace and educate yourself by reading posts, joining Facebook groups, etc. The only way to start finding out what you want from poly is to explore. Look at certain relationships and say, I can see myself in a relationship like that. Or vice versa. Personally, I could never see myself in a closed triad, but at some point in my life that may be a great option. It’s all about the now and what it’s doing for you.

Last but not least I want to reiterate the importance of self care. Schedule time to yourself as if it was a date. Just you and the universe. Interact with the world in a different way and bring the information you’ve learned back to your partners. It’ll make for a wonderful experience and promote growth amongst your polycule. Take care of yourself and others. Metta.

Check out more of Brian’s writings at www.cultivatingdopeness.com.

Race Matters

I like white women. Yeah I said it. Not only that, but I love women of all races that inhabit this earth. That’s why, as an heterosexual cis-gendered male, I do not have a preference when it comes to race. In my book, race shouldn’t matter. But I’m far too wise to understand that this hasn’t been the case. I understand that some brothers feel the need to only marry and populate this earth with melanted sistas. To a degree, I completely understand where this ideology comes from.

My personal marriage story ended pretty tragically, because I was trying to uphold an ideal of what black love is supposed to look like. Called myself trying to create an Obama family of excellence. Since that fall from grace, I took race and religion out of my love book. It’s not so much that I don’t value race and religion, but because of my own personal experience, I can’t fathom trying to design a relationship based on race alone. Now! With that being said, I do have a bar for my partners to leap over. I need to know their wokeness. How authentic is this person? Are they generally eager to understand the oppression that is faced by African-Americans in this country? Or do they use my friendship as a prop to show that they have that one black guy that they are cool with? These are the things that matter most to me personally. My future children will grow up with a black father and have black culture ingrained into their upbringing. That’s a priority that I’m not willing to budge on.

I wanted to write about this because in our Black & Poly discussion board, a member asked the question about if he was wrong for requesting that his wife only have relationships with black men. You are never wrong for voicing your opinion on something that speaks to your heart and core values. I would caution that you should give your wife the opportunity to explain if this doesn’t fit well with her core values. If you’re married, then I would assume that you share core values, but you must remember that she is an individual just like yourself. She has autonomy over her personal dominion, and there is nothing more beautiful than a black man who completely trusts his black wife to make decisions in regards to how they shape their polycule. Remember, she loves you, and she already wants to make sure she doesn’t rock the boat with the relationship.

Imposing unnecessary restrictions on people is a sure fire way to create an environment for deception and cheating. Try boundary language where you get to the root of your feelings. Rules can come off as feeling entitled and controlling. Rules enforce restrictions and make people feel stuck. Value her views as you would want your views to be valued also. May nothing but peace and happiness bless your relationships from this point on and forward. Metta.

Check out more of Brian’s writings at www.cultivatingdopeness.com.

The Sharing Game

2017-04-11-18-54-52

black couple

"The Sharing Game" was designed by Dr. Arthur Aron as a way for complete strangers to develop close bonds or even romantic connections in just under an hour. This "game" explores vulnerability and transparency in a way that results in accelerated emotional intimacy, and interpersonal closeness with others through introspective sharing, and deep communication.

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