Polyamory Relationships and Family Dynamics: An Introduction

Polyamory Relationship Constellations

There are an infinite number of polyamory relationship styles. Oftentimes, the chosen family is a large part of these constellations with friends and partners are often lumped together as “family.” Mim Chapman (2010) describes a number of different dynamics and constellations that can occur within ethically non-monogamous relationships, which are described below. As a mental health professional, your best option is to simply inquire as what your client is either looking for or what they have already existing in their dynamics.

Mono-Poly (MP) Relationships

In this dynamic, one person in the pair chooses to remain monogamous while the other partner acquires other partners. The extent of the metamour relationship develops is as infinite and personal as polyamory relationship styles.

Plural Poly Pairs (P) Relationships

“Plural Poly Pairs” are constellations made up of a traditional primary couple and open relationship with separate secondary partners. Thus, the initial couple is the foundation and primary focus for both partners but they each have the option for an additional partner that is considered a secondary.

The Big O Family (O/Kitchen Table Polyamory) Relationships

This constellation, developed by Chapman (2010), is similar to a micro-community where, even if there is a non-sexual or non-romantic partner, the focus is the family as a collective. In these polyamorous relationships, there is a significant reduction in autonomy and often, these families are polyfidelitous, a group of individuals who may have multiple romantic partners but agree too only have sexual relationships within a defined group, and introducing a member is primarily a group event. When making decisions in these types of dynamics, it is important that the choices be based on the good of the family vs. the good of the individual. This is a common form of poly dynamic for those who desire children or who have small children.

Roles within a family must be clearly defined and when discussing the Big O Family, it is important to include non-romantic intentional family members, as they often will have a significant influence on the poly family as a whole. One such role is having a platonic nanny/housekeeper also known as a “Slanny,” resembling the role Alice from The Brady Bunch (1969-1974) in these dynamics. The slanny is a platonic member of the family who contributes to the care of the family without expectation of monetary reimbursement. The Slanny is considered to be an intricate member of the intentional family, but because they are not romantically involved, they have the freedom to have relationships outside of the “polycule”, the term used in lieu of couple to identify a romantically committed group. Often this person lives with the poly family and often will earn either a small stipend with room and board or have a part-time job for spending money. It is not uncommon for the family to include the Slanny in all family activities and the Slanny fills their need for familial connection and meaning by being a part of the polycule.

Poly O Family

Chosen Family Relationships

I would be remiss not to discuss the “Chosen Family” which may include both sexual and romantic partners but also platonic connections and can exist alongside other polyamorous relationships. This is very common in the “Poly O” families, this term coined by Mim Chapman (2010), refers to a polyamorous family where all members are working as one large unit. There are a number of individuals who came from dysfunctional families, have minimal families, or are estranged from and/or geographically far from their family of origin. It is not uncommon for these types of poly people to acquire deep intimate friendships which they adopt as chosen family and can often be closer than traditional siblings. I have been asked many times, how are these dynamics different than long-term best friends? My polyamorous clients report that what separates these individuals from traditional friendships is the level of intimacy and the level for which their loyalty lies. For example, I currently treat a poly couple that we has been very close with another couple for more than a decade. They speak almost daily, spend holidays together, travel together several times per year, and they have raised their children like siblings. When their polywog daughter (the other couple’s daughter), the humorous term sometimes used to identify children in polyamorous dynamics, graduated from high school, emotionally it was similar to watching their own children graduate. Additionally, they would think nothing of providing her a home and /or helping to support her through college as they would their own without thinking twice.

Web Relationships

Finally, there is the poly “Web” where it may take a set of tinker toys or a couple pieces of paper to keep all of the characters straight. In short, there are so many romantic links and intersections, that it looks like a spider web or large sugar molecule. It is not uncommon to see “polysaturation”, the term used when someone has so many romantic relationships that they become emotionally burnt out and unable to maintain health in their relationship dynamics. It is also not uncommon to see relationship anarchy intermixed within these dynamics because it lends itself to their views on relationship responsibility.

polyamory relationships

Factors to consider in polyamory relationship agreement

  • Safer Sex
  • Veto Power
  • Hierarchy Structure
  • Defining Primary Privilege (re. involving special days, holidays, and emergencies)
  • Financial Boundaries
  • Exclusionary Activities (often the primary partner will request that certain things remain sacred only to them such as specific restaurants, sexual activities, or special terms of endearments)
  • Disclosure and Don’t ask Don’t Tell
  • Childcare
  • Contact During Dates
  • How to propose changes in the Relationship Agreement Conflict Resolution and Repair
BDSM Relationship Agreement Example


References

Chapman, M. (2010). What does polyamory look like?: Polydiverse patterns of loving and living in modern polyamorous relationships. New York, NY: iUniverse, Inc.

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