How to Figure Out Whether Your Relationship Can Handle Polyamory

08/24/2016 02:47 pm ET Updated Aug 25, 2017

How can mono/poly couples successfully deal with the issue of grudging consent, since one person is polyamorous and one is monogamous? originally appeared on Quora - the knowledge sharing network where compelling questions are answered by people with unique insights.

Answer by Claire J. Vannette, polyamorous since 2006, on Quora:

Mono/poly couples should not proceed if one of them is giving grudging consent.

If the poly person can only grudgingly agree to monogamy, the relationship should not be monogamous.

If the mono person can only grudgingly agree to polyamory, the relationship should not be polyamorous.

If they cannot find an arrangement that both of them can comfortably consent to, they should not be in a relationship with each other.

Consent exists on a spectrum. Perhaps on one end we find clear non-consent and coerced faux-consent. Not good. Then we have grudging consent. That's better than coercion, but not by much; "I really don't like this, but the alternatives are worse, so I'll grit my teeth and muddle along." In the middle is ambivalent or indifferent consent: "Hmmm, I guess so" or "Eh, why not." Then there's content consent: "This is acceptable." And finally, enthusiastic consent: "Yes, this is exactly what I want! Perfect!"

Obviously, if two people enthusiastically consent to monogamy or enthusiastically consent to polyamory, everything's great. Similarly, if one of them is enthusiastic and the other is content, I'd expect things to work out fine. The potential for trouble starts with ambivalence. I'd argue that any long-term intimate relationship is going to require plenty of "I guess so" and "Eh, why not," but it's best if these moments are confined to, say, choosing one car over another, or going to a sporting event you find dull, or eating a meal you don't like. You go with the flow when you can. If you're trying to go with the flow all the time, however, regarding the foundational terms and conditions of your relationship, that's a hard row to hoe. You should definitely expect trouble with a grudging agreement. That's a recipe for resentment, and resentment poisons relationships.

My husband is monogamous and I am polyamorous. When we first started dating, I explained that I could not be happy in a monogamous relationship. He explained that he could be happy in a polyamorous relationship. And so we proceeded. After nine years together, I don't think he'd describe himself as enthusiastic about poly, since he himself does not date other people; but he is content with the fact that I date other people. I couldn't be comfortable with less than that.

Now, we were poly from the start. Unfortunately, many people agree to monogamy at first, and later realize they'd rather have polyamory. They're enthusiastic about it, but their partner hates it, and feels torn between a breakup and grudging consent. Based on what I've seen over the years, I recommend the breakup, because you're going to break up eventually anyway. I have literally never seen someone progress from strong hostility toward polyamory to comfortable acceptance of polyamory. Don't waste time chasing the impossible. If you're not at least starting from ambivalence, part ways while you can still do so amicably.

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