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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Integration causes disintegration.

Yay, I have a new partner! Let's make them a part of the family right now!

At a poly event the other night there was an interesting conversation about a MFMF quad that is having a bit of a problem. Apparently one of the men in the quad had recently acquired a new female partner. Being a somewhat close quad they began to try and incorporate this new woman into their quad immediately. To their surprise they found the woman didn't have much interest in incorporating with the family. She seems perfectly content to date the man separate from the quad and have a relationship with him alone.

Interestingly, to the men in the quad that seems to be just fine. It is the two women in the quad who seem to be upset with the idea. They are quite frustrated the new woman doesn't care to interact with them and won't be contributing to the quad. A big part of their frustration is that the man will now be spending time away from the quad to be with his new partner. The result being that one of the women currently in the quad will be left alone at times while everyone else is out on a date.

The question became; what to do when a new partner doesn't want to integrate with an existing poly family?

Actually, I think that is the wrong question to ask. It seems to me the quad has created a paradigm being that anyone new should become a part of the family. Related to that is that nobody wants to be the odd person out, to be sitting home alone. This would be the same problem were it a couple instead of a quad and one of the two found a new partner. The question in my mind is more like; How do we deal with one partner in the quad being out with their new partner.

Or maybe an even better question since the women in the quad seem so unhappy without someone to occupy their time; Are we a closed, fidelitous quad?

When creating our poly lives it is sometimes easy to create a paradigm that supports our desires while protecting us from the undesirable; being alone, not having our partner when we want them, not feeling threatened in our relationships, and on and on. When the paradigm is questioned, such as in the situation mentioned, it is easy to defend it by saying "That's our agreement" or "That's how we have always done things."

When I run into a problem like this in my relationships, where something isn't working or feeling right, I try to question what it is that is actually being challenged. Is it a rule or just a common expectation. And where did that rule or expectation come from. Was it something born of an honest reason or cause, or is it the result of repetition in the current relationship that has morphed into a subconscious expectation. If there isn't a good reason supporting the feeling then a subconscious expectation is likely the cause and the expectation needs to change. That can be a very hard thing to do, almost as hard as changing psychological norms.

The feeling that things are changing and shouldn't be is a trend I have noticed where people resist change they haven't initiated. Couple that with the type of expectation mentioned above and it is easy to see how someone could become defensive and hostile very quickly. The key for me is realizing how the expectation was created and taking a deep breath before examining what is changing.

Tell me your thoughts. Did the quad create their own problem as I believe they may have done or am I on a sailboat with no sail again? Have you ended up with expectations in a relationship due to repetition that were contrary to the relationship goals or design? And, how do you deal with change in your relationships?


  1. I think you are right in that the quad could have handled this differently. In fact, this is the kind of troubles that got me and my primary to make a move towards Relationship Anarchy. In RA every relation, sexual or not, is handeled individually. If a friend gets a new friend, you wouldn't expect them to become close friends with each and every of your old friends, RA handles lovers the same way. Right now our feeling is that polyamory is just an intermediate step to the "real" goal.

  2. Dennis,
    Thanks for the comment!

    I apologize if I gave the impression the quad had handled the problem to conclusion. They are actually in the process of working through the problem.

    Interesting you mention RA. I've been reading a bit about it lately and understand it is quite the trend in Sweden and New Zealand. Although I believe and live the concept that each relationship regardless of the level of physical intimacy is individual, I don't fully agree with the term RA or the conceptual details. Here is why:

    -Though I know the word 'anarchy' is being applied in a particular way it holds some negative associations so I really just don't care for the term. (Yes, illogical, I know).
    -I find it highly contradictory that RA is comprised (commonly) of 8 concepts, one rule being that there are no rules.
    -RA to me feels incomplete. There is a lot of focus on freedom and how to avoid restriction but not much about detailed mechanics or making oneself happy. It seems to focus on how you deal with another person and allow them happiness but not how to make yourself happy. I truly believe you have to make yourself happy before you can support others in finding happiness.

    I practice many of the ideals of RA though I would state them much less clinically than most of the definitions I have seen. Because they are part of my Poly lifestyle I don't see Poly as a "step" toward a "real" goal. Instead I view Polyamory as a fluid or dynamic lifestyle which is defined by those involved in a relationship. As such, it doesn't require a new term to be defined nor is it absolute indicating it is a step in a process.

    I do however believe that the term Polyamory, due to social stigma, may not last and the lifestyle may adopt a new name before societal acceptance is achieved.

    I would be very interested to hear more of your thoughts about RA and Polyamory. Particularly why the tenents of RA aren't (or can't?) be included in Polyamory, both from a definition and a practice perspective.

    Thanks again, I look forward to more of your comments!