how to manage expectations in a polyamorous relationship: a general guide

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If you wish to be the sort that lives the traditional, vanilla married couple life, you may well get along without much in the way of expectations management.  Though I don’t believe it’s ideal, as I see far too many memes of clearly upset wives whose husbands do not help around the house enough, or adults who are still put in between problems with their own parents. Expectations mismanagement.

But I will agree that when you start involving multiple, full on relationships that it ups the ante. And while you normally may be okay with putting off conversations till later (I still think you ought to have them sooner than later in any relationship!), you may not have a choice in polyamorous relationships.

Children? Living arrangements? Medical decisions? Those conversations may descend upon you before you have so much as a chance to blink.

But it doesn’t have to be the end of the world. Not if handled “properly.” Or at least handled in a moderately effective manner. Which is absolutely within the capability of any grown adult.

As I’ve been asked to advise some folk in the past, I’ve given the subject considerable thought. Hopefully you will find the below helpful in navigating between your own relationships.

1) Establish boundaries, not RULES, early on in any particular relationship.

“Hi, so I really prefer living alone or with people I’ve chosen to live with. If we end up living together, we both need to be romantically/intimately involved with the person and all three come to the decision to live together. I don’t want to live with a metamour or a roommate. Is this something you are okay with?” or “I do not want to have, raise, or live with a child under 18. If you decide to have kids, obviously that is your life, but I cannot live with you. I will still want to be with you, in some form, but I just can’t live with you.”

The idea is to prevent “scary” conversations happening without some previous dialogue occurring. The conversations will still happen, but with less shock to the people involved. The first conversation should ideally not happen with a pregnancy scare or a partner suddenly falling in love and immediately wanting to move new person into their home.

2) Slowly, but surely, be open and honest with your partners about your desires.

When you meet, within a few months, within the first year or two. As the relationship evolves, you should be adjusting and elaborating on your wants and needs with each person you are involved with- on an individual basis. That is, between you and each particular partner. It’s okay for things to change, or what you want to change. Just make sure you are both keeping each other on the same page as you move forward.

At some point, you should both basically know what the two of you want and expect from each other. If you cannot comfortably get through the questions from this poem and any similar questions inspired by it, than there is a problem. You don’t have to know all the answers right away, but you do need to be able to ask the questions without your partner(s) reacting defensively.

This way, when new partners are introduced you have some already established expectations with existing partners. This is important for all relationships, as the “older” partners won’t feel so thrown off and the “newer” partners will have a better idea of what they are walking into.

3) Do not play bouncy ball with your partner’s time and feelings.

It is okay for a relationship to be loose in how you play with each other (if this is how you negotiated). It is okay for a relationship to de-escalate. Some relationships are like this. But it is not okay to promise one thing, than deliver whatever you feel like giving at the moment. It is not okay to pour affection on your partner while you are single, but forget about them when you are dating a new person (and then rekindle the romance once you’re only with them again). This can wreck absolute havoc with a person’s feelings.

Understand what you want with that person, regardless of how many others you are dating. Communicate if you aren’t sure if you are ever going to be their “ultimate” person, and you might eventually move on more seriously with someone else. Some people might be okay with being a temporary fling (especially if that’s what they want, too, maybe that’s a source of relief for them!). But communicate that clearly between you, even if it’s difficult. It’s better than replacing them. For the love of God, please don’t be one of those that is currently in a couple, invites a “third” to join, than replaces the partner with the new person.

4) Get the “big questions” out of the way sooner than later.

Where and how does your partner want to live? Would they ever move? What is their relationship with their family and social networks, especially in regards to how they want you involved with both? How do they feel about children? Their own? Their partner(s)’? What is their stance on vaccines, surgery, etc? Would they ever get an abortion? What are their hopes for the future? Crazy ideals and realistic goals? Nothing should be off the table, though you cannot hope to address every possible scenario. But you are entitled to answers to any of the above questions. If they cannot, that tells you something. And it will 100% affect you to a greater (and almost assuredly more painful) degree once new partners enter the picture.

5) Don’t allow an uninvolved/semi involved third party to become overly involved in YOUR relationship.

Remember, your relationship is still with the person you are involved with! Just like if you were married and your MIL interfered too much between you and your spouse. Is she related to the situation? Yes. Does her relationship with your spouse affect you? Of course. But any issues you have with said spouse are primarily with spouse. Make sure that stays true with your partner. Your metamours are close to the situation. But your problems with your partner are first and foremost with your partner.

It is okay to practice Kitchen Table Poly or styles where your paths cross with your metamours. In fact, this is actually healthiest. You should never be dating someone where you literally cannot be around their other partners, or have to pretend your relationship is non romantic or different around other partners. This is cheating, and it may be your kink, but it is problematic.

But that doesn’t mean you should feel obligated to always be around their other partners, either. Know to what extent you are generally comfortable being around your metamours/partner’s friends/partner’s family. You needn’t have experienced this in a romantic situation before; you know how you felt around your best friend’s friends, etc.

Discuss what kind of time you want to spend with them when they are only dating you (this prevents it from seeming like you only want Friday night dates so they can’t have them with New Girl). Talk to them about how often you’d like to hang out as a triad/group, should one form. Talk to them about how you would prefer to hang out with metamours, or balance time at mutual social events (maybe you’re comfortable with them mostly spending time with other new person, but you want them to come check on you every half hour or so).

I may do a follow up piece about how I’ve personally done this. But for now, I just want to leave with a general guide on how to have a healthy relationship with your partner and metamours.

Thanks for listening!

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