Commitment in Poly Relationships

by Spring Cascade

Originally published in Loving More #37 in Winter 2006

What keeps polyamorous couples together? Some people feel that polyamory is too risky. It allows (even encourages) their partner to try out their replacement. However, some couples have stayed together for a long time and are also happily polyamorous. What keeps these couples together?

To investigate this question for my master's thesis (which is available at, I did extensive interviews with 7 long term committed polyamorous couples. I found the following factors in these relationships that suggest the reason they might be successful.

  • Appreciation. One thing that stands out in the interviews is the level of appreciation expressed by the respondents. They have a great deal of appreciation for each other and for their relationship. They want to be together, they enjoy their relationships. Some of this comes from a sense of shared history. Some appreciate the effort that the other has put into the relationship in difficult times, or the other's willingness at times to relax the agreements they have made. Some of the respondents seem to dwell on what it is that they like about each other and the good things that they have together.
  • Closeness. Perhaps related to appreciation, the participants expressed a sense of closeness to their primary partner. Several expressed the sense that they just keep getting closer and closer. Some feel an underlying closeness even if they are currently experiencing some tension or are in the midst of reworking their agreements. For some of these couples, being polyamorous appears to have increased their sense of closeness and their commitment to each other. Some of this closeness appears to be a result of the communication needed to manage a polyamorous relationship.
  • Communication. One woman noted that the level of honesty and communication required to be polyamorous is one that all couples should practice, but it is required for polyamory to work. Communication and honesty were mentioned repeatedly as vital to maintaining poly relationships. Good communication was seen by the participants as both a requirement to make their relationships work, and a benefit of being in a poly relationship.
  • Willingness to Change. All of the respondents have had to make changes in their relationships, changes which are not part of the standard expected experience of marriage. They have had to listen to their partner's expressed needs and desires, and work with their partner to figure out what works for both of them. They have had to be adaptable. We might speculate that someone with fairly rigid ideas of how things should be done might have a difficult time in a polyamorous relationship, or in any long term relationship.
  • Willingness to Deal with Jealousy. While a few of the participants did not experience any jealousy, most of them have had to find ways to avoid letting it control them. They have been willing to face it and let it pass. They have actively worked on finding ways to reduce its hold on them, and on helping their partners manage it as well.

While these results may seem intuitive to people who are in the poly community, they provide all of us a reminder of some of the things to focus on in order to maintain a healthy primary relationship.


© 2005 by Elaine Cook

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