So you’re interested in finding out out what it means to be polyamorous… well, then it’s probably a good idea to learn a bit about polyamorous relationship rules.

But first off – let’s define what polyamory is exactly.

What is Polyamory, anyway?

Polyamory consists of the Greek word “poly” – meaning “many” – and the Latin word for love, “amory.” Quite literally, it is defined as “many loves”.

Perhaps the most infamous ethical non-monogamy style is polyamory. In her seminal work Opening Up: A Guide to Creating and Sustaining Open Relationships, Tristan Taormino succinctly defines polyamorous relationships as “the desire for or the practice of maintaining multiple significant, intimate relationships simultaneously”.

The meaning of polyamorous relationships can however vary for different people. It may encompass many elements: love, friendship, closeness, emotional intimacy, recurring contact, commitment, affection, flirting, romance, desire, erotic contact, sex, and a spiritual connection. Polyamory is deeply rooted in the ideas that it’s unrealistic to expect one person to fulfill all your needs, and that it’s possible to love more than one person (serial monogamists might agree).

Navigating a polyamorous relationship can be mostly smooth sailing. But it’s essential for the couple, couples, and metamours have all the right tools in place. These mostly consist of clear communication, boundary setting, and expression of desire. They are implemented to ensure all parties feel heard, seen, expressed, and taken care of. 

Top 7 Polyamorous Relationship Rules

If you are considering venturing into a lifestyle where you ethically cultivate multiple romantic connections, its’ important for you and your partners to know the top 7 polyamorous relationship rules. Whether you’re barely exploring polyamory, or you’re a seasoned poly-lifer – they are the guidelines that become the framework of an open lifestyle.

Polyamorous relationship types can vary greatly

Below are some basic principles you can follow that help you thrive in this lifestyle with freedom and respect:

1. Boundary Setting

Many people believe if a relationship is open, cheating cannot happen. If a sexual or romantic connection happens outside of what you and your partners agreed upon, it is out of bounds. Period. 

3. Honesty

Boundaries are quite literally the ground rules for navigating any relationship. In polyamorous relationships, you need to firmly know what your boundaries are, and be able to share them with your partners. In return, you’ll need to be able to hear theirs – and fully respect them.

2. Ethics

Once boundaries are set, it’s important for you to uphold them. Don’t look for ways to “bend the rules.” If you’d like a boundary to be adjusted, say so, and be open to your partners’ responses, negative or positive.

Be ready to share the truth that is inside of you, especially when it’s difficult. Never agree to something you are uncomfortable with in order to avoid disappointing your partners.

To have a great poly relationship, you need to share honestly about your true desires and fantasies. You’ll then need to be able to deal with the disappointment of not having every desire met. A poly relationship built on unrealistic or untruthful expectations does not likely withstand the test of time. 

4. Communication

For polyamory to succeed, communication must be better than good – it requires excellence.

Be ready to talk about and meticulously negotiate every detail of your relationship, with multiple people, and until total clarity is reached. Truly listen to your partners’ feelings, hurts, desires, and expectations, and fully share your own. 

5. Grace

Even if all parties involved have the absolute best intentions, there will still be times when things go awry. Feelings get hurt, boundaries unknowingly get crossed, and you will feel out of control.

In these moments, it’s best to have grace for yourself and others. Give each other the benefit of the doubt about your heartfelt best intentions. You are writing the script as you go, and you can’t prepare for everything. 

6. Trust

This is a big component of polyamorous relationship rules. Being able to trust ourselves and others determines if venturing into polyamory is a pleasant or painful journey.

In those times when trust is being tested, it helps to believe your partners to be people of integrity. If you have reason to suspect your partners are breaking agreements, you may want to check in with them. Living in a space of anxiety about your partners finding joy elsewhere will however only result in your own misery. 

7. Personal Development

The poly lifestyle offers a superb opportunity for personal development by testing your abilities on more than just one relationship front. It allows you to look for ways to learn more about yourself, ways to connect with humans, and the poly world in general. Be sure to take advantage, and support your partners in their own personal growth.

Polyamorous Relationship Types 

No matter the exact rules you agree upon – each poly relationship is as unique as the participating individuals. But there are several principal polyamorous relationship types that can guide your configuration:

Primary + Others

In this relationship model, a couple decides to prioritize each other (such as in an open marriage) while remaining open to outside connections. More likely than not, when they are together, primaries function as most couples do in society. They are sharing birthdays, holidays, and are building a life together. Secondary and tertiary connections remain just that – lower on the totem pole of commitment than the primary connection. 

Polyamorous Group

This distinction of polyamory refers to a relationship shared by a group of people where hierarchies do not exist. One of the most common examples of this is called a triad in which three people are in a romantic relationship with each other. No primaries exist, and everyone is dating each other. This is the main distinction of the poly group approach. 

Egalitarian Network

For poly people who wish to move freely and do not prioritize relationship hierarchies, this approach may work best. In the egalitarian network approach, individuals are involved in several intimate connections. However, none of their connections are considered primary, and they have room to shift and grow without boundary. 

Polyamory vs Open Relationship 

So – is there a difference between polyamory vs open relationship? There certainly is. Poly relationships are always considered open relationships – but the reverse is not necessarily true. 

An open relationship means you and your partner have “opened” up yourselves to sharing each other with other people. Mostly, these connections are strictly physical though – and in comparison to poly relationships – don’t include love or romance.

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Overall, polyamory allows for open connection, fulfillment of multiple parts of who you are, and the ability to push yourself into new levels of growth.

If you are honest with yourself and your partners, you won’t believe what can open up for you. Cultivate a community that supports you and your chosen relationship structure, and be free to live a life that is bold, kind, and filled with sexy fun! 

If you want help with making the change to a poly lifestyle, a sex coach might be able to help. If you want to experiment with polyamory in a safe environment, consider taking the Somatica Core Training for personal growth

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Celeste Hirschman
Celeste Hirschman, MA is the Co-Creator of the Somatica® Method and Co-Founder of Somatica® Institute. She trains coaches in the Somatica® Method of Sex and Relationship Coaching. She has her own private practice in San Francisco, where she works with clients to have profoundly pleasurable and fulfilling lives. She has co-authored multiple academic articles published in peer-reviewed journals and is the co-author of two books, Cockfidence - The Definitive Guide to Being the Man You Want to Be and Driving Women Wild and Making Love Real - The Intelligent Couples Guide to Lasting Intimacy and Passion. Celeste has her MA in Human Sexuality Studies from San Francisco State University (SFSU) and her BA in Women’s Studies from the University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC). Celeste has taken the Hakomi Pro-Skills Training as well as multiple other trainings on sexuality and relationships. Celeste also has a Certification in Sexological Bodywork from the Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality (IASHS).