Love is messy. It just plain is. There are so many different ways that we, as humans, express love to one another that it should be no surprise to anyone that sometimes we end up in love with more than one person.
In Western culture, the norm is to love one person at a time. We're so busy pursuing our dreams and life goals that it's hard to imagine having time for more than one relationship. That doesn't always work for everyone though, and cross-culturally is sometimes not so practical. Societal problems arise such as having access to partners or being able to provide for one's children and descendants. Conflicts erupt and women and children are left alone due to husbands leaving to find better opportunities for their families and then never come back. Sometimes, one just finds themselves in love with more than one person. These issues have racked the brains of people for thousands of years...the solution to which is quite interesting to consider.
'Poly' style relationships have existed in human societies for literally thousands of years. Loosely speaking the terms mean, respectfully, to be in love with (and in a relationship with) more than one person, man or woman at the same time.
Like any relationship, 'poly' unions can be messy and complicated, but unlike monogamous relationships they can sometimes be considered taboo depending on the culture they exist within. They can be found in Western society, although they're not as prevalent due to stigmas associated with them. The way to expel the taboos surrounding these forms of relationships though is by trying to understand them better. With this endeavor in mind, we have put together 15 facts about 'Poly' families to help you gain some insight on what makes these relationships tick! Enjoy!
15 Marriage Is The Key Difference
The defining difference between polyamory and polygyny/polyandry is marriage. In polyamory, one might have multiple partners - all of whom are aware of each other - but you are not married to all of them. You may be married to one person who is considered your 'Primary' partner. Other partners are ranked according to their status in the relationship. This can get complicated depending on how many partners you have! According to The Daily Dot, the app 'Poly Life' helps people in polyamorous relationships organize their lives.
In polygamous (one man, many wives) and polyandrous (one wife, many husbands) relationships, all members of the group are considered married to their spouse - regardless of the number of spouses. Although a lot of countries prohibit formal marriage with more than two people, the marriages do still take place informally and with specific rites practiced and followed to mark the union. In most cultural groups there is a limit to how many spouses a person can take on, but that is not always the case though.
14 One Man + Many Wives = Super Common
It should be no surprise that the most prevalent form of 'poly' family comes in the form of polygyny, where one man is married to many wives. There are a variety of reasons for this depending on the cultural background you come from, but one thing that most of these cultures have in common is the powerful role that patriarchy plays within their social structure. Men are in power.
In North American culture, the most heard of groups who practice polygamy are the Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints (FLDS) groups who reside in communities in Utah, Arizona, Texas and in British Columbia, Canada. They have been in existence for decades, with the same families marrying each other's children off to one-another. So much so that according to Buzzfeed.com, there is now a problem with too many relatives mixing that has caused those communities to have their own genetic abnormality called fumarase deficiency, a form of Down syndrome. Not all polygamist communities have challenges such as high rates of birth defects however, as rules for whom one can marry differ from group to group.
13 One Woman + Many Husbands = Most Rare
When we think about polyandry, or the practice of a woman being married to more than one man, many women would say that it's hard enough being married to (and cleaning up after) one man - let alone having multiple husbands. For many cultures around the world though, it works.
Polyandry is the most rare form of the 'Poly Family' arrangement and is found in countries such as Tibet, Zimbabwe and the Marquesas Islands in the South Pacific. It's typically found in cultures whose subsistence strategies rely on hunting and gathering or in agriculturally based societies, many that could be argued are more egalitarian in nature. It's beneficial in agriculturally based groups especially because it helps to preserve family land. 'Fraternal Polyandry' is one style of polyandry where one woman marries the eldest brother in a family and then if the younger brothers consent, they may also join in on the marriage. This way, the land stays in the family and also provides a lot of help in working it. It also limits births, which helps to lessen the likelihood of dividing land among siblings. When children are born in these families, they are considered to be children of all members of the parental unit.
12 On The Rise And Requiring Total Trust
'Poly' relationships are not like those ones where you all of a sudden find out your spouse has another wife half way across the country. These relationships are based on a large amount of trust and are built with the understanding that all members of the relationship (married or not) understand exactly what's happening.
According to CNN.com, the way these relationships work is by having multiple consenting adults being involved in relationships with one another while also being above board with each other about what each sub-relationship entails. One gentleman said he always knew he wanted to have multiple partners, but wanted them to know about each other and be okay with it. Polyamory seemed to be the best solution for him and his family, and to this day he insists that having to ask permission before is better than having to ask forgiveness after.
Although polyamory is becoming more popular in North America, the gentleman mentioned still insisted upon CNN not giving his last name so that he wouldn't have problems with discrimination at work due to his relationship style. Clearly polyamory has a ways to go before it will be accepted by mainstream society.
11 Always Comes With Rules... Lots And Lots Of Rules!
People are different when it comes to how they approach being in a relationship. Most people understand that there are things you 'do' versus things you 'don't do'. Polyamorous groups are no different in that regard. In fact, according to Franklin Veaux's 'More Than Two' polyamory site, there are numerous things you should do in order to secure the health of your relationships. For example, according to Veaux, you should:
- Not keep score.
- Understand that your needs have nothing to do with your partner's other partner.
- Ask for what you need so that your needs are fully met.
- Try not to demonize your partner's other partners.
These are just a few of many points to consider when deciding if a polyamorous relationship is for you. It seems to me though like there's an awful lot of emotional work going on behind the scenes in this type of relationship. It would definitely not be for the faint of heart or the emotionally vulnerable.
10 Helping Each Other Feel More Fulfilled
One benefit of being in a polyamorous relationship is that it takes the pressure off of the primary partners (if the relationship is defined that way) and allows each member of the family to help fulfill the needs of the other members in their own unique ways.
In monogamous relationships we find a partner who we want to live our lives with and accept and love that person. That doesn't always mean that every need we have is fulfilled by that particular person though. This is why we typically have more than our spouse in our life - because we need more people (friends and family) to feel whole and fulfilled in our lives. This, by extension, is the inherent benefit of having a 'poly' family. Instead of having our spouse and then a bunch of friends who we love but maybe don't see very often, you instead have your spouse and then a few other people who love you dearly and commit to being there for you in the same way as your spouse. The unique traits those other people possess help to make 'poly' family members feel more fully supported and well-rounded in their lives - increasing their personal fulfillment.
9 Fight For Legalization Ends Because Women Want Their Share
There are a few practical reasons for legalizing polygamous marriages in countries such as Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan. According to the Institute for War & Peace in Turkmenistan, one of those reasons is to protect the rights of the additional, non-primary, wives and children. For women in those countries, unless the man is an upstanding citizen oftentimes those women and children end up not being able to provide for themselves. They lack basic rights because, legally speaking, a man's duty is to his marriage partner only, which leaves a lot of families destitute to the point of having to turn to crisis workers for help. One major obstacle to legalizing polygamy, other than men's lack of desire to be legally obligated to more than one spouse, is the fact that some women are fighting back and demanding that polyandry also be legalized. This has created stalemates in parliament in some cases, pushing the issue off the table over and over again.
8 Desperate Young Men Fighting For Wives
In most cultures, men are seen as possessive of their women and even somewhat territorial. When you combine this with the monetary and social competition involved in not only getting married once, but multiple times it's no wonder that things can get ugly in some cases.
In countries such as the Sudan, men must pay a bride price to their wife's family in order to marry. Rich men can marry multiple wives with ease, while the less fortunate often struggle to even marry once. According to The Economist, the rich men are also marrying the majority of the women in their communities, leaving few women to choose from which also drives up the bride price. This takes away the poorer men's chances of gaining a wife and having children, leaving them socially marginalized and desperate for a solution, as the men are not considered to be adults in the community until having done so. Often, the solution involves joining less than reputable military organizations that are involved in social conflicts. These organizations often promise the men assistance in gaining a wife if they join their cause.
7 Real-Life Goddess Worship
Many cultural groups that practice polyandry have elements of goddess worship woven into their cultural norms, which is one major reason behind the existence of this relationship style in their communities. The men in these groups have grown up venerating the female essence in their religious lives, which makes the idea of worshiping women in their day-to-day lives far more natural. Not only do the men give their power over to their wife in these unions, they also recognize her as the superior partner.
One of the contributing factors to why polyandry is the least common form of multiple-partner relationships can be said to be because of the superior position the wives take. Most men in patriarchally-based Western cultures simply aren't comfortable with their wives ruling the roost.
6 These Relationships Have Been Going On Forever
The idea of having multiple spouses or partners is nothing new. It has been going on for literally thousands of years. What changes is how people feel about it.
According to AskMen.com, polyamorous relationships were quite the norm as far back as in Ancient Mesopotamia and Ancient Greece. It was perfectly normal for men during those times to have multiple partners of both genders in addition to their spouses - so much so that no one even questioned it.
Polyamory is definitely gaining popularity once again, but in today's society it's more likely to be found in clearly defined sub-cultural groups, whether online or in communities that purposefully define themselves as polyamorous in order to attract potential mates, rather than out in the open and on their own. Although 'poly-style' relationships have been in existence for thousands of years, certain cultural pressures from religious groups and other organizations (legal ones especially) make it difficult for 'poly' family members to live without fear of judgment or persecution by their family, friends and the larger community in which they live.
5 More Cautious Than Monogamists
When we meet a new potential mate, we typically have all sorts of thoughts running through our minds once things get more serious. Will my family like this person, should I ask them about their history, do our worldviews match up? Imagine having this conversation in your head when you have five other partners' feelings to consider as well though! It is for this reason that polyamorists are so careful about choosing new mates to bring into their families. There is just too much at stake to not vet them prior to inviting them to join you. One of the lovely parts about the polyamorist way of being is the deep level of commitment and love each person has for the other members of their 'poly' family. They're in it to love people, and when you love someone you take care of them. If someone were emotionally unstable or had some other issue for example, it could ruin the whole 'poly' relationship.
4 Not Everyone Has To Live Together
The sky's the limit when it comes to living arrangements in 'poly' families. For example, in some Muslim communities, in polygamous relationships, the husband must provide a house for each wife and their children. Conversely, in polyamorous family arrangements sometimes all the partners live under one roof. Once again, the main and most important element here is that the arrangement works for that particular family and all of its members in such a way that everyone's needs are met and the partners are happy. There's nothing worse than living under the same roof as someone you don't like. We've all had a roommate at one point or another that we weren't crazy about. Imagine what it would be like if that person were also in a relationship with our spouse or partner? The main goal here, once again, is to maintain peace, harmony and well-being in the relationship.
3 One In Five People Have Done It (Not Kidding)
According to experts on AskMen.com, at least one in five people have been in some sort of polyamorous relationship in their lifetime. This is when you take 'open relationships' - situations where two partners agree to date one another but still date other people - into consideration. We hear about this in celebrity magazines a lot. According to Celebromance.com, Dolly Parton, for example, claims to have a 'don't ask, don't tell' policy with her husband of more than 50 years. She says that if neither one knows the other is cheating, but they're both happy and the relationship is working, then what can it hurt?
According to Refinery29.com, researchers studying open relationships noted that one of the more prevalent factors in whether a person would pursue polyamory or not had to do with their personal preferences for partners. Apparently, those people in the study who preferred both men and women were more likely than the other participants to have participated in a 'poly' style relationship.
2 Needs Are Better Met With More Than One Person
According to The Huffington Post, many people in 'poly' relationships are attracted to their other partners for a variety of reasons and even have different personal needs filled by different partners, leaving them more likely to feel more fulfilled as a person than individuals in monogamous relationships. After all, most people at one time or another have had times in our lives when we were under a lot of pressure at work, were sick or were busy in some way and therefore less able to meet the needs of our spouse or partners. It's really challenging to be in a relationship and not have time for the other person. 'Poly' families are unique in that if one family member is caught up with something in their life and unable to be there as much for their partners, then others can step in. This takes the pressure off and helps couples navigate all sorts of relationship hurdles which may vary from scheduling conflicts to desires relating to gender identities.
1 Failure Is Usually Because Someone Isn't Following Rules
Nothing ruins a relationship faster than jealousy and lack of trust. This goes for any type of relationship - whether in a 'poly' family or a monogamous one. Typically when a polyamorous relationship fails it's because someone is looking for more from a primary partner in the relationship than they're currently getting. This is why setting boundaries and rules from the start is so important - so that no one is hurt and to make the relationship function in a healthy way. Vying for positions is definitely not a healthy behavior and suggests a lack of emotional maturity. Hopefully, in order to save the family group, the original primary partners in the 'poly' family can communicate about the challenges they're facing and work through it together so that the family unit is preserved.
Good, honest communication is important in every relationship. Ultimately though, if a person is wanting to try being a part of a 'poly' family then they need to be really sure about their emotional and personal needs so that in the long-run no one is unnecessarily hurt. You'd definitely have a lot to consider before entering into this type of relationship.