Polyamory: what is it and how do you make it work?

You Me Her, Unicornland, Wanderlust: an increasing number of TV shows explore the phenomenon known as non-monogamy, and especially polyamory. Imagine you’re married, but you also have feelings for a colleague. In a monogamous relationship, this will be a problem. But in a polyamorous relationship, it doesn’t have to be a problem at all. What is polyamory exactly and how can you make your polyamorous relationship a success? We’ll tell you all about it!

What is polyamory?

Polyamory means being in a relationship with more than one person. It’s the opposite of a monogamous relationship. There are many different types of polyamorous relationships. One partner could be in a relationship with other people, while the other partner is monogamous for example. But it’s also possible that both partners are in a secondary relationship with the same person or both partners have a relationship with someone else. Polyamory has nothing to do with cheating.

Research conducted in the US in 2016 concludes that one in five Americans was involved in a non-monogamous relationship at some point in their life. And even more people (31% of women, 38% of men) are open to being in a relationship with multiple partners.

If you’re in a polyamorous relationship, that doesn’t mean that you can have sex with whoever you like. Your relationship is about emotional connection and isn’t a carte blanche to sleep with everyone you meet. If you do want this freedom, with your partner’s permission, then an open relationship is probably a better option for you.

Forms of polyamory

It’s important to realise that there are many forms of polyamory. The rules aren’t fixed. These are the most well-known forms of polyamorous relationships:


A triade is a relationship triangle between three people, like in the TV show You Me Her. All three partners have an emotional connection with each other and are in a relationship together.


If one partner has an additional relationship, but their partner doesn’t, this is a called a V-relationship.

Primary, secundary, and tertiary relationships

In a polyamorous relationship, it is sometimes possible to distinguish between primary, secondary, and tertiary relationships. These terms can be used to make it clear for yourself which one of your relationships is the most important. A primary relationship is the strongest relationship. For example a married couple with kids or a couple that has been living together for years and consider each other family. Should there come a time where you have to choose only one partner, your primary relationship is what you go for. A secondary relationship can be the lover you’re in a relationship with besides your spouse for example. And finally, there are tertiary relationships. This relationship is the least important or newest relationship.

A primary relationship doesn’t necessarily mean that both partners live together. It’s very possible to be in an intense relationship with someone you don’t live with.  Primary relationships where three partners are involved are possible as well. Polyamorists try to make all their relationships as equal to each other as possible.


In this relationship, one person is a polyamorist, while their partner is monogamous.


Compersion is the exact opposite of jealousy. It’s when you experience happiness or joy because your partner is happy with another lover.


If you’re not sure whether you are a polyamorist or not, but you do want to explore the possibility, you are polycurious.

How do you make a polyamorous relationship work?

If a polyamorous relationship is a possible option for you, there is no harm in experimenting with it. The tips below can help you make this form of relationship work for you.


Polyamory is complicated and the most important thing, like with any other relationship, is communication. It’s also essential that both partner fully support this form of relationship. You can only find out if it works by trying it.

Find a balance

Everything that’s new is exciting. So if you just started an additional relationship, it’s a challenge to keep the balance. Make sure to give your primary partner your undivided attention when you’re together. Stop yourself from day dreaming, texting, ringing, or emailing your secondary partner.

Create clear rules

Create clear rules together about the do’s and don’ts within your poly relationship. Of course these rules could change over time, but until then make sure you always follow them. For example, think of rules for protected sex, taking your secondary partner home with you, spending time with your secondary partner during the Holidays, what to tell your children, etc. Talk about everything you feel comfortable and uncomfortable with.

It’s not a competition

If your partner has a secondary partner and you don’t, this could potentially cause some friction. Don’t spend all your time on dating apps just because you feel that you should have someone as well. It’s not a competition after all.

Don’t worry about other people’s opinion

A monogamous relationship is the norm for many people. Your polyamorous relationship will be fuel for people to express their opinion on the matter. Don’t listen to them! It’s about you and your partner, and choosing this type of relationship together. A man isn’t less of a man if his spouse has a second partner and a woman is not a slut if she has two partners. Of course you want your family and friends to accept your relationship, but you can’t force them to. The only thing you can do is explain why you chose this form of relationship.

Difference polyamory and other relationships

Polyamory and an open relationship

An open relationship is often about sex, while a polyamorous relationship is about love and intimacy. Clear communication and open-mindedness is important in both types of relationships. Usually friends and family of polyamorists know what kind of relationship the couple chose. Polyamorists often take their additional partners home with them as well. The main difference is that people in open relationships usually have one clear primary partner: the one they were already in a relationship with before they met their other partners. These lines are a bit more blurry with polyamorists. They tend to try to make every relationship equal.

Polyamory and polygamy

Polygamy means that a man is married to multiple women (polygyny) or a woman is married to multiple men (polyandry). The main difference is that polygamy is a rational union, while polyamory is about emotional connection. Polygamous relationships are common in some religions, like the Mormons. Islam allows polygamy as well. In the UK, polygamous marriages are not allowed.

Polyamory and swinging

Swinging often focusses on a sexual relationship and not on an emotional connection. Although the difference between swinging and an open relationship can’t be clearly defined, an open relationship is often long-lasting while swinging is usually a short-term commitment. Polyamorists are different from swingers in the sense that they are looking for a long-lasting emotional relationship with another partner. Like people in an open relationship, swingers have a clear primary partner.

Tips by polyamorists

There is a lot of information on the internet about polyamory. And who better to give you tips about polyamorous relationships than polyamorists? These are the things they’ve learned during their relationships.

Katie (28): “You learn why you’re jealous and how to deal with that the right way. You also learn to accept that there is never one person that can meet all your expectations and that that’s okay.”

Jeff: “Use a condom.”

Sheldra (45): “Honesty is essential in any relationship.”

Carly (31): “Not one relationship can be successful if you don’t have people outside the relationship to support you. There is a reason that abusive people try to cut you off from your social network. Deep friendships offer space to talk about things that cause conficts in your relationship and to think about solutions.”

Ky (24): “You learn to handle jealousy and accept your partner’s needs. You accept what they need and want, without trying to change them.”

Robin (29): “It’s important to be as respectful and honest as possible to your partner, even though it can be difficult, especially when the truth can hurt them. Your partner can work on a solution if they want and they will appreciate your integrity.”

Anon (37): “It’s important to be independent and autonomous if you want a happy relationship.”

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