Polyamory, or many loves, hinges on being consensual and a positive experience for all involved. This sounds simple on paper, but is this ideal actually achieved in complex polyamorous relationships? If not, what are the unintended and potentially dangerous consequences of polyamory?

Polyamory means having several or many loves. Unlike polygamy, it does not involve marriage. It often includes sex, but this is not a defining feature. Instead, it can be described as having many intimate and romantic relationships. In can involve same sex, straight, or people who are attracted to multiple genders. Those who take part in polyamory advocate that it is highly ethical; everyone is aware of the situation and consents, and it is enjoyable for all parties. Polyamorists state that they are not subject to the norms and ideals of mainstream society, which they view as oppressive. Instead, they believe they have found a freedom to express their love to many, which is destroyed by institutions like marriage. The appearance of polyamory in Western cultures is still quite unusual, but recently some polyamorous communities have formed in both America and the UK. The claims about polyamory being a positive experience for everyone involved are all well and good. Of course, each individual has the right to decide about their own sexual and relationship preferences. However, it is possible that polyamory has unforeseen consequences and can be harmful to individuals.

When Polyamory Becomes Unhealthy

Polyamory is described as a great way of life, and gives off a hippy, free love appeal. But, it can become unhealthy and individuals can get hurt. Feelings of jealousy and being left out are common, but because these emotions are looked down upon in polyamory, individuals might feel unable to speak about and discuss such issues. Other unhealthy feelings that might be experienced as a result of polyamory include low self-esteem, a lack of confidence and anxiety. Even serious problems like depression and suicidal thoughts can emerge. It is also important to consider what has led an individual to want to live a polyamorous lifestyle. Perhaps they already had underlying insecurities or were vulnerable and easily led. Polyamorists contend that the practise upholds gender equality; we would have to consider each individual case to assess if this is truly the case. In addition to possible difficulties with the values of polyamory, polyamorists also often have to face negative reactions from media and society. If someone is already in a vulnerable state of mind, this can be extremely damaging. It is important that polyamorists are aware that if they are experiencing difficulties, the help is out there to overcome psychological problems.

Polyamory and External Relationships

The decision to become polyamorous can have a large impact on external relationships. Revealing to others that you are polyamorous can be a scary and daunting affair. It has been likened to the ‘coming out’ period for gay and bisexual people and can be very stressful. Family and friends might initially feel confused, disapprove and be ashamed. In many cases they adjust over time and get used to the idea of their loved one being polyamorous. However, in some cases the news might cause on going tensions or families might cut off contact altogether, obviously these outcomes are extremely damaging to relationships. Society and the community they live in might also disapprove, and again this can make life hard. A known polyamorist might face verbal abuse and in extreme cases potential violence if they venture out. Another example of how polyamory can affect relationships is in the case of child birth. Of course, polyamory has a significant effect on parenting. The child might be confused about their familial situation. They can face awkward questions, bullying and abuse at school or among their peers. In some cases this can damage the relationship between child and parents, as blame might become involved.

How Therapy Can Help

Therapy is there to help anyone who feels they have or are developing any kind of psychological problem. Polyamorists should be aware that a therapist will not turn them away, judge them, or betray trust. Counsellors and therapists help any individual who needs it, regardless of the choices made in their private lives. Therefore, if a polyamorist feels trapped, depressed, or is experiencing difficulty finding acceptance, a therapist can offer support. Talking to someone impartial and uninvolved can offer a platform through which to release pent up emotions and frustrations. This can be extremely beneficial and helps to relieve stress and work through issues. If you are feeling confused or lost, discussing why you feel this way can help you to uncover what you really want from life. For many this means continuing with their polyamorous lifestyle, whereas for others, they choose a change of direction. This decision will always lie with the individual. Therapy is about helping people to overcome their psychological and emotional problems rather than advising them on what course of action to take.

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