This is my monthly column about our life, life in a triad in general, or whatever rants & raves I feel like talking about at the time.

Previous editions of this column can be found in the Monthly Columns Archives.

The "Fallback Position"

A recent search on Google for the word polyamory returned about 1,260,000 hits. Given the slowly growing public exposure and acceptance, it comes as no surprise to me the increasing number of people exploring the possibilities of polyamory in their own lives. One very important thing that people need to understand before they embark on a journey towards polyamory, though, is that it's not for everyone. Despite the obvious appeal, not everyone can live the lifestyle successfully. It takes lots and lots of open, honest communication. It means virtually eliminating feelings of jealousy, or at the very least knowing how to process those feelings in a healthy manner. It requires constant compromise, as being involved with multiple partners can often make a person feel torn in many different directions. I've heard many stories lately from folks considering or actively persuing expanding their monogamous relationship into a polyamorous one. Some of these were success stories, but an equal number are horror stories. Given the fact that my triad has managed to reach our third year successfully, I wanted to share something that I feel was an integral part of that success.

A back up plan.

I think that every single person or couple that is considering entering into a poly relationship needs to start with an agreed upon safety net for all the people involved. When my family first considered forming an expanded family, we sat down and had a long talk. We realized that we were at the beginning stages of new relationship energy (NRE), and we wanted to make sure that this energy didn't cloud our judgement and cause us to react irrationally. The first thing we decided was that no one was going to sell off their things and give up their current living arrangement. Having this "fallback position" was the first step in ensuring that we would still have a place to call home if things didn't work out. The second thing we decided was that the wife and I needed to know that we could cohabitate. The fact that we were (and still are) head over heels in love had nothing whatsoever to do with us being able to live together, and we all recognized this fact. Loving a person and living with them are, for some, totally unrelated. What we decided upon was a trial living period, not to exceed six months. The wife got on a plane and flew to Maine to be with me, secure in the knowledge that if things didn't work out between us she could return to her "fallback position" in Maryland. Luckily, for us, things have worked out fantastically and we're happily approaching our third year anniversary as a triad. The safety net didn't stop their though. Even once we realized that we did want to be together, we still put in a few checkpoints in case things went sour after the fact. I gave up my apartment, but packed up all of my worldly possessions and put them into a storage unit. I left these things in Maine while I went to Maryland. This then gave me the security of knowing that I had a "fallback position" if needed. This entire process might sound convoluted and displaying feelings of mistrust to some, but to us and the development of our family it was a crucial part of our comfort level as we made the journey into an expanded family. To quote one of our forum members, who recently went through a painful situation like this, "When you go from seeing someone only on the weekends to seeing them 7 days a week you find out things arent always what they seem". This is the exact sentiment that this entire "fallback position" is designed to help everyone realize. NRE is a very powerful emotion and can easily cause you to not see the very things that you need to see in order to have a happy, healthy relationship. The inconvenience of maintaining separate homes and bank accounts for a few months will pale in comparison to the end result of a strong and unified family environment.

What worked for us and made us feel comfortable and secure might not work for everyone. The point though, is that I strongly recommend and encourage anyone considering a polyamorous lifestyle to do something similar. It's all too easy to let NRE cloud your judgement and let your heart make decisions that your brain should be handling. Sit down with all of the people involved in your future family and talk about the issues I've raised here. Set NRE aside and address any other potential issues that might remain long after those feelings have waned and life stabilizes. Ask the difficult questions that no one ever thinks about during the early stages of any relationship.

"Who (if anyone) has feelings of jealousy regarding other potential significant others?"
"Who (if anyone) feels insecure with the relationship dynamics of other partners?"

Trying to analyze the emotional makeup of potential significant others (SO's) might also save you some pain and heartbreak in the future. Granted, we're not all pyschologists, but most of us understand human nature and emotions at least well enough to make educated decisions based upon our own life experiences. Watch for warning signs that you might otherwise credit to NRE.

Does someone act differently when they see other partners relating?
Does someone seem to crave attention or make excuses to be included when they see others relating?

These are just a few suggestions of things to be looking for and examining in the early stages of a new relationship. I understand that this won't be easy for everyone to do. Luckily with my family it was very easy for us to approach our relationship in this manner, and I truly believe we became a more solidified family as a result of this practice. I do believe that the concept of formulating a "fallback position" for every person involved in a new relationship is an important first step. I think that you'll be surprised at the added levels of comfort and security it will give you, as well as how much underlying stress to "make it work" will be alleviated by the thought of knowing that if it doesn't work out you have somewhere to go back to. Finding yourself in a relationship that has failed is hard enough without finding yourself stuck in a failed relationship because your options have been eliminated.

Leave yourself and your SO's a trail of bread crumbs. It might be a long walk back.

~ Chias, March 23, 2006


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