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Explaining Poly Breakups: Why Polyamory Isn’t (Always) to Blame

People like to place blame. It’s one of the ways we try to understand the world and how bad things happen. Because of this, it’s extremely common for the wrong person, event, or thing to take the blame, especially when the real blame could fall on your own actions or the actions of someone you love.

When you have a relationship outside of the cultural norm, some people will blame the relationship, not the actual problem, when issues arise. If a monogamous couple divorces or breaks up, people assume there’s some sort of problem that causes this, such as different opinions on having children, or religion, fighting over many things, or even cheating. No one assumes that monogamy is the issue, even in the case of cheating.

When polyamorous partners break up, a majority of people, particularly monogamous people or those unfamiliar with poly, instantly assume that polyamory was the problem. This is especially the case when a couple has opened up, one or both started dating someone, and when the original couple breaks up, one continues to date the newer partner.

The fact is, polyamory itself is rarely the problem. There are many issues that being polyamorous can highlight, and that may mark the beginning of the end of the relationship. Polyamory can highlight a lack of communication, an incompatibility that might not have seemed like a big deal at first, personal issues such as anxiety, and many other things. All of these could be the cause or the start of a relationship’s end, but it’s not polyamory’s fault that those issues were there.

This isn’t to say that polyamory never has anything to do with a relationship breaking up; some couples part ways when one person introduces the idea that they are polyamorous or want to try an open relationship, when the other partner is monogamous. This could be immediately after the topic comes up, or later on, either because they decide to be monogamous or polyamorous, because this can lead to resentment if one partner agrees to the other to save the relationship. Many people blame polyamory for this, but really, couldn’t you blame monogamy as well with the same logic? The problem is, blaming either is wrong. The core problem is that the two need different types of relationships.

Another area in which polyamory can be the cause of a relationship ending is rash decisions being made in the middle of the NRE (New Relationship Energy) phase. When you meet a new partner and deal with that “honeymoon period” of intense emotions, it can be easy to neglect your existing relationships, or make fast or bad decisions that can hurt other people. If you are not careful with how you deal with NRE, this can in fact cause the end of a relationship. NRE can also highlight existing issues in your previous relationships that cause you to decide to end those relationships.

Anything outside of the norm is the first thing to be blamed. Polyamory, kink, one or both partners being LGBTQ, being childfree, a heterosexual couple where the woman makes more money or is the only one with a job… so many things that are blamed but are almost always not the true core issue.

Another thing to consider is that many poly breakups aren’t at all like most monogamous breakups. Many polyamorous exes can and do remain friends, after realizing they do not make good romantic or sexual partners; one poly person I know is still very close to their ex and had their marriage officiated by their ex-partner. This can happen in monogamous relationships, but it’s much less common. Some polyamorous relationships tend to ebb and flow, as well, without any hostility during the break periods. There may not even be a break period, just a restructuring or relabeling of your relationship. If you go through an amicable breakup, your friends might assume that you want to rant about your ex, or might feel as though they should badmouth them. It’s their way of showing support, without understanding that that sort of support may not be needed.

Other times, breakups may not go quite as smoothly. In these instances, poly breakups may end up more difficult than monogamous breakups. While in monogamous relationships, you may end up dealing with losing mutual friends in a sort of “friendship custody” that tends to happen. In polyamorous relationships this can be even more difficult, because poly groups tend to be close-knit and small, and if you break up you’re very likely to cross paths with them often. Not only that, but your ex-partner might still be your metamour, and even if you don’t have to interact with them in person, you can still be very aware that your partner still loves them.

All that said, when you do go through a breakup, don’t let your friends treat it as though your being polyamorous is the main cause – and don’t let yourself do that either. Poly breakups can and do still hurt, they still mean that two people have chosen to either change or end their relationship. Let yourself mourn if you need to, and use it as an opportunity for personal growth and understanding how you may have learned to improve future relationships. Maybe even enjoy being single…ish.

Chelsey Dagger

Chelsey is solo polyamorous, with multiple wonderful partners across the United States. They are in IT during the day, and at night they are currently in school for their Master's in Marriage and Family Therapy, and on their way to being a therapist, with focus on polyamorous and LGBTQ individuals and families.

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