When we think of relationships, the traditional image of monogamy usually comes to mind. That’s because monogamy — the practice of having only one romantic or sexual partner — is the most common type of relationship. But interestingly, studies reveal that about 1 out of 6 people (16.8%) express a desire to engage in polyamorous relationships (Moors et al., 2021).
Despite the fact that millions of people prefer polyamorous relationships both in the U.S. and globally, misunderstandings and stigma around this relationship style are still common. Most of the time, people mistakenly equate ‘polyamory’ with ‘polygamy’,’ which are actually two different concepts.
Unfortunately, these misconceptions about polyamory often lead to negative or discriminatory attitudes. This, in turn, negatively impacts the well-being of people involved in such relationships.
In this article, we aim to demystify the concept of polyamory and explore how it affects mental health and well-being. Hopefully, by the end of the article, you’ll have a clearer understanding of the diverse ways in which love and relationships manifest in our society.
What is Polyamory?
The word ‘polyamory’ is derived from the Greek word “poly” which means “many” and the Latin word “amor” for “love”. Based on this etiology, the word “polyamory” refers to the practice of engaging in multiple romantic or sexual relationships. However, relying solely on its etiology isn’t enough to understand this type of romantic relationship.
In fact, polyamory is a form of consensual non-monogamy that involves engaging in multiple romantic or sexual relationships with the knowledge and consent of all parties involved. Unlike polygamy, which is about being married to more than one person, polyamory doesn’t necessarily involve marriage and can be either purely romantic, sexual, or a combination of both relationships.
In simple terms, polyamory is about having the freedom and choice to love more than one person at a time. It’s a relationship style where individuals mutually agree to have multiple romantic or sexual relationships. This practice is based on the idea that an individual can have feelings of love and affection for multiple people simultaneously, and it emphasizes open communication, honesty, and respect among all partners.
Polyamorous relationships can vary greatly in how they are structured and may or may not include sexual intimacy. But the core thing that characterizes this type of relationship is the consent and knowledge of everyone involved. As a result, psychologists usually describe it as an ethical form of non-monogamy (ENM).
Common Misconceptions About Polyamorous Relationships
As a result of societal norms, a lack of awareness, or confusion with other relationship styles, many people still don’t understand the essence of polyamorous relationships.
Here are 5 common misconceptions about polyamorous relationships that need to be debunked:
1. Polyamory is Uncommon
Contrary to popular belief, polyamory is more prevalent than many realize. While monogamy remains the most practiced relationship style, according to a 2021 study, 4%–5% of the U.S. population engages in polyamory. This is about 1 out of 5 people who report engaging in consensually non-monogamous relationships (ENM) at some point in their lives (Haupert et al., 2016). Therefore, ethical polyamory isn’t as uncommon as many people think.
2. Polyamory Equals Infidelity
A common misconception is that polyamory is the same as infidelity. However, polyamory is based on mutual consent and open communication, where all parties are aware of and agree to the relationship dynamics. And this directly distinguishes it from infidelity, which involves secrecy and betrayal.
3. Polyamory is Only About Sex
While polyamorous relationships can include sexual connections, they are not entirely defined by them. In fact, polyamory involves emotional and romantic aspects too, and for some people, this type of relationship isn’t sexual at all. Moreover, some people even think that only LGBTQIA+ people engage in polyamorous relationships, which is also not the case. The truth is that regardless of sexuality, individuals of any orientation can be involved in polyamorous relationships, including heterosexual, bisexual, or asexual.
4. Polyamory and Polygamy are the Same
People often confuse polyamory with polygamy. As we mentioned above, polygamy involves being married to more than one person and is often tied to religious practices. Polyamory, on the other hand, involves having multiple romantic relationships, whether they’re married or not.
5. Children Complicate Polyamorous Relationships
Another misconception is that having children makes polyamorous relationships more complicated. In reality, polyamorous families often provide a supportive and loving environment for children and their kids don’t really find it as complicated as it may seem.
The reason is that polyamorous couples often make sure to communicate openly, which positively impacts their relationships with their children. In polyamorous families, children typically recognize their primary parents, while other adults in the network often take on supportive roles of aunts or uncles, for instance, rather than disciplinary figures.
As a result, children are clear about who their parents are and are not confused by the presence of additional adults in their lives.
Polyamory and Mental Health: Why It’s Stigmatized
Even though polyamorous relationships can be as satisfying and healthy as monogamous ones, people in this type of relationship often experience stigmatization, including rejection from family members and criticisms about their parenting. For example, polyamorous relationships are frequently perceived as lower in quality, immoral, and potentially damaging to children’s well-being (Moors et al., 2013). In some cases, this stigma has even caused severe consequences, like the loss of child custody (Sheff, 2011).
This stigma is also present in healthcare settings, where individuals in CNM relationships encounter judgmental interactions and a lack of understanding from professionals. For example, some individuals have reported that their therapists lacked basic knowledge about CNM. Some of them even pointed out therapists pushing them to end their CNM relationships (Schechinger et al., 2018).
Contrary to these stigmatized views, research shows that people in CNM relationships report similar (sometimes even higher) levels of relationship satisfaction, trust, commitment, and psychological health as those in monogamous relationships (e.g., Conley et al., 2018). In terms of sexual health, it turns out that individuals in CNM relationships pay more attention to practicing safer sex strategies effectively (Lehmiller, 2015).
Effectiveness of Relationship Therapy for Polyamorous Relationships
In order to address the challenges polyamorous relationships face, “couples therapy” (aka relationship therapy) can be particularly beneficial. Therapy provides a supportive environment for people who struggle to balance the needs and desires of multiple partners and deal with issues like jealousy and communication breakdowns.
A therapist skilled in understanding the dynamics of polyamory can help individuals and couples develop effective communication and conflict resolution skills. These skills are crucial in polyamorous relationships, where clear, honest dialogue is essential for maintaining healthy connections among all partners.
For example, the latest study highlights the potential of emotionally focused therapy (EFT) for polyamorous relationships. This approach focuses on building and sustaining multiple attachment relationships and aims to address a diverse range of relational needs and provide a secure base for individual and relational exploration (Edwards et al., 2023).
Furthermore, therapy can help polyamorous individuals explore their feelings, work through personal issues that influence their relationships, and gain a deeper understanding of their needs.
Counseling for Polyamorous Relationships in Michigan
If you’re looking for counseling options in Michigan for polyamorous relationships, you should know that professional therapists at Health for Life Counseling specialize in various types of therapies, including couples counseling. Our team understands the unique aspects of polyamorous relationships and is dedicated to helping you strengthen your connections and overcome the challenges that may arise.
Whether you choose in-person sessions at our offices in Grand Rapids, MI, or Ada, MI, or prefer the flexibility of online counseling, our therapists are here to assist you in developing effective communication strategies, enhancing emotional intimacy, and building a foundation of trust among all partners.
We also understand the importance of making therapy accessible, which is why we accept a variety of health insurance plans, including Golden Rule, Meritain Health, Aetna, and CIGNA. You can find a full list of the insurances we accept on this page.
Health for Life Counseling Grand Rapids provides the following programs that could help your relationship.