Formal Invitations for Poly Folk

The nice thing about formal invitations is you are expected to list everyone who is invited. If someone’s name isn’t on there, they aren’t invited. This solves a lot of this “who is included?” of informal invitations.

This post generally assumes you are issuing an invite to people who are out about being poly. If your guests are in the closet, respect that and address their invites to match the way they publicly present themselves.

So let’s look at some of the problems that do come up with formal invites.

How Do You Address an Invite to a Triad, Quad, etc?

If you can fit it on the paper, you could list everyone on one invite. Or you can send separate invites to each person. If you are paying to have the invites professionally printed that ups the cost, so take finances into consideration too.

I Don’t Know Everyone’s Names!

You want to invite your poly cousin to your wedding. You know they are living with tow other people, but you don’t know the names of their poly partners. The first choice would be to call up and ask. If for some reason this isn’t an option, you can do a variation on the old +1. [Name]+1 is traditionally used for single people to tell them they can bring a guest. But there is no reason you can’t address the invite to [Cousin]+2, so they know both their partners are welcome.

I Don’t Know How Big Their Family Is!

Poly families can be confusing. So you love your sister, you want her to have everyone special in her life at your big event, but you don’t really know exactly how many that is. The three people that live with her? The boyfriend that doesn’t live with her? the partners of the people that live with her? Who do you include?

I’d go with [Sister]+family, and drop a quiet word that “family” means whoever she wants it to mean.

They Have a Huge Network and I’m On a Budget

Not everyone can afford to invite an unknown number of people to a big shindig. And if it’s a choice between including your cousins and your brother’s boyfriend’s wife who you’ve never met, I gotta admit I’d go with the cousin too. Here the old +1 standby can again be a great tool.

Figure out how many people you can afford to include from each family. Maybe you are including kids, and none of your guests has more than three kids, so you go for a max family size of 5. Your brother’s invite can be [Brother]+4. This allows your brother and his family to decide among themselves who is going and who isn’t. If there is someone in your brother’s family that you have a separate relationship with–say your brother’s boyfriend and you hit it off over Superman and have been getting together weekly to watch old Smallville reruns, send boyfriend a separate invitation so he knows you want him there as your friend, and not “just” as your brother’s boyfriend.

If you need to do this with a group relationship as opposed to a poly network, again drop a quiet word: you can’t afford to include everyone, and you hope they understand.

Ideally, we want all of our poly families to be welcome and included in our lives and with our families. But reality is a thing, and reality includes by budget limits and (in many places at least) fire codes dictating how many people can be in the building. As long as your poly friends and relatives don’t feel like they are being deliberately excluded or forced to “pass” as monogamous, they’ll understand.

Polyamory Etiquette: Let’s Talk Invitations

Invitations can range from, “hey, wanna come over and catch Jessica Jones?” to engraved vellum cardstock begging the “pleasure of your company” at a wedding or other major event.

That’s formality. There’s another range for invitations: who’s invited. Usually, there is a set standard. You can invite one person. You can invite one person and a guest. You can invite a couple. Or you can invite a family (kids included).

Scaling this to poly can get…interesting. Who is included in a family invite? If a friend invites me to a casual movie night and mentions the evening is kid friendly, does that invite include just me and the kids? My nesting partner? All my partners? Not exactly clear. (Yes, if you are reading this, I AM talking about you :P)

So for the next few weeks, we are going to be taking a look at invitations, formal and informal. Please join me, and friends and family welcome.

This post is part of the Polyamory Etiquette blog series.

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Poly Advice for the Mentally Ill: “You Control Your Emotions”

Standard Poly Advice: “You Control Your Emotions” (or sometimes “You can’t control your emotions, but you can always control your actions.)

Bullshit. You don’t have to be mentally ill to lost control of yourself–either your emotions or your actions. You can be high on pain meds, you can so stressed or exhausted you aren’t thinking clearly, you could be feverish and out of it. Lots of things make us lose control. That’s why so many drugs come with warning labels “Do not operate heavy machinery.” That’s why having sex with someone who is drunk is often considered rape.

In theory, it’s great to say “You control your emotions, they don’t control you.” In reality? Unless you are a Buddha, I’m not buying it. Sometimes we all lose control. Mental illness just makes it more likely.

Poly Advice for the Mentally Ill: You Are Responsible for Your Emotions and Actions

There’ two parts to this one.

You Are Responsible for Your Emotions

No one else is required to help you with your emotions. If you get jealous of your partner, it is not their job to help you not be jealous or to stop doing whatever is making you jealous. It is your job to deal with the jealousy.

This extends to other areas. If someone–including a partner–does something that triggers a panic attack, you are responsible for dealing with your own panic attack.

That doesn’t mean other people have an excuse to be assholes. Someone who knows that talking about X triggers panic attacks, but keeps talking about X around you is an asshole and no someone you need in your life. Similarly, in a healthy relationship your poly partners are going to want to help you deal with your jealousy. They don’t need to break off a date so you don’t get jealous, but if they say “Your jealousy is your problem” and refuse you support and/or understanding, they are not good for you.

It does mean that sometimes you will need to deal with your emotions on your own.

Last night I had to leave Michael alone while he was having an anxiety attack. It was after midnight, my PTSD has been flaring up, and I knew the kids would be up before 7 this morning. For my own heath and for the wellbeing of our kids, I had to give him a hug and walk away. He didn’t beg me to stay, he didn’t tell me I needed to help him. He didn’t say it would be my fault if he was up all night. He gave me a hug and said he loved me.

You are responsible for your actions

Terrorist: You’re in control here.
Negotiator: No, I’m not. It’s the devil’s bargain between control and responsibility. You are in control of the situation, I am in charge. You can imagine how much this thrills me.
–Paraphrased from Komarr by Lois McMaster Bujold

Sometimes, our mental illnesses are in control. These times suck for us and everyone around us. However, sooner or later we get control back. And that’s when the hard work begins. Whatever damage we did when our mental illness was in control, it’s our job to repair what can be repaired and make reparations as best we can. We may not be able to control ourselves all the time, but we are always responsible for what we do.

This post is part of the Polyamory and Mental Illness blog series.

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Polyamory Etiquette: Meeting Family About Town

The great thing about living in a small town or close-knit neighborhood is you are always running into people you know. The terrifying thing about being poly in a small town or close-knit neighborhood is…you are always running into people you know.

Meeting your SOs parents for the first time is always interesting. Meeting your SOs parents at the mall while you are out with your OSO takes interesting to a whole new level. Especially if you and your SO aren’t out about being poly.

When You Are Out

If everyone involved is out about being poly, or willing to be out, then just go with common courtesy and don’t worry about it.

You and SO1 are out when you run into SO2’s sister.
You: Hi, [sister]. [SO2] told us your birthday is coming up, hope it’s a good one!
sister: Uh. Yeah. Thanks.

Unless they are prepared to be an ass in public, the worst they can do is make a mumbled reply and hurry away. If they are prepared to be an ass in public, you can always turn and walk away. On the other hand, if they are cool with your relationships, or trying to be cool with them, you can have a nice conversation and add another brick to their understanding that your relationships are just a different way of doing things.

When Someone Isn’t Out

Often, one of more people in your polycule won’t be out about being poly. This can make running into friends and family awkward at best, and potentially life destroying at worst.

Take a deep breath. Repeat after me: “None of their business.”

The biggest and worst temptation when you are “caught” in public together is to give excuses and explanations. Don’t. You do not owe anyone an explanation of your relationships. Even if you weren’t polyamorous, you’d have friends, relatives, co-workers, etc, that you might be doing something around town with. So be polite, introduce the partner your with, but don’t give any explanation for your relationship.

You: Hi [sister]. [SO2] told me your birthday is coming up. Hope its a good one!
Sister: Hi [you]. Thanks. Who’s your friend?
You: [Sister] this is [SO1], [SO1] this is [SO2]’s sister, [sister.]
Sister & SO1: Hi. How you doing?
polite chit-chat
You: Well, nice running into you. We need to get going if I’m going to get back in time for dinner. Hope to see you gain soon, [sister].

If sister asked how you know each other, you can probably find a “safe” way to tell her how you met: through a local meet up, at a convention, online, etc. You don;t need to which meetup or convention. Asking how you met or how long you’ve known each other is polite chit-chat. Pushing for details is prying. “Look sis, I like you, but I don’t owe you my life story. Now if you’ll excuse us, I have to [X].”

If you need to pull this line, or one like it, SO2 will probably be getting a call later, so make sure they know about what happened.

Sister: Sis, did you know that [you] was out with [SO1] today? I tried to find what they were doing together and [you] got snarky at me.
SO2: My sis, the private eye. Did it maybe occur to you that [you] is allowed to have friends and doesn’t owe you an explanation for them? Yes, I know about SO2. Thanks for worrying, and chill.

[h3]You Can’t Afford PDAs[/h3]
When my ex got involved with a cowgirl, I thought her insistence that we could have and PDAs was one more part of her trying to get him to herself. Right along with her (literally) picking a locked door to prevent us from having any alone time.

Well, I wasn’t smart enough to cut my losses. Instead, I finally put a foot down and said: “There is no one here who knows us, I’m tired of being treated like a shameful secret, I want you to kiss me.”

Wrong thing to put my foot down about. It seems her ex was in the crowd that day, and even though we didn’t see him, he saw us. And the picture he took of me and my ex kissing was used as evidence that the cowgirl was lying to the court. She lost custody of her kids and became even more obsessed with separating my ex and me permanently.

I have no sympathy for the cowgirl, but her kids did not deserve to be caught in the middle of our feuding.

The larger point of this story, of course, is that unless you are in a private room with a closed door, you can never know who is around. If anyone in your polycule needs to be in the closet, avoid PDAs. Depending on your culture a hug or a kiss on the cheek can be passed off as a gesture between friends. More than that? Well, you may not be risking anything–or you may be risking everything.

And if, like in my case, there is feuding in your polycule, don’t use PDAs as a lever. A PDA in the wrong place can destroy the life of people who are in the closet.

This post is part of the Polyamory Etiquette blog series.

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Poly Advice for the Mentally Ill: “Set Clear Boundaries and Expectations”

I’ve written a fair bit about boundaries in the past. There is a fair bit of theoretical discussion in polyamory about the benefits of using boundaries or agreements in relationships. Theory aside, no matter which you use for relationships, we all have personal boundaries. For instance, many people have a boundary about respect in relationships. They will not be in a relationship with someone who does not respect them.

According to the Big Book of Poly, it’s important to have clear boundaries. Unclear boundaries lead to miscommunication and people accidentally infringing our boundaries. Which is why clearly stating our boundaries is important.

However, the idea that we need to set clear boundaries assumes that are needs and desires are generally stable. Or at least predictable. “I need to be left alone right after work so I can recharge, but after I come out f my room I love to have you cuddle with me.”

Okay, I’m not phrasing it as a boundary, but it is a clearly set expectation, right?

So, for me, most of my triggery issues involve sex. I love to have my breasts played with–except when my anxiety or PTSD are acting up, in which case you can send me into a panic attack just brushing my nipple. Worse, sometimes I don’t know what’s going on in my head. I can think I’m fine for some sexy time, until you touch me and my brain blows a circuit.

How do I set a clear boundary or expectation about that?

“I love it when you play with my boobs, except when hate it. And I can’t always tell you ahead of time if it’s okay or not. So…we’ll play it by ear, okay?

Well, that’s clearly stated, at least. But not exactly a clear boundary.

When our partner’s ask us about our boundaries, or needs, or what works for us, there’s a pressure to find a way to smush all our illness-related unpredictably into a neat box that we can explain and understand. We owe it to our partners, right?

We don’t owe our partners clear boundaries. We owe are partners the truth.

Own Your Randomness

I don’t know anyone with mental illness who doesn’t wish that the random firings of our brains would go the fuck away. It would be nice to be able to predict for ourselves how we’re doing and what we need from one day to the next, never mind our partners.

Since we can’t, the best we do for our partners is the same thing we do for ourselves: own the randomness and try to plan for it.

“I can’t give you a clear idea of my needs and boundaries. I’m sorry about that but what I need changes a lot with how my mental illness it doing. I can promise to tell you in each moment what I need or want to the best of my ability. And I’ll try to explain how my illness affects me and my needs, so you have some idea of what to expect depending on how I’m doing.”

It’s not a perfect solution, but it’s honest, it’s respectful, and it’s the best we’ve got.

This post is part of the Polyamory and Mental Illness blog series.

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Polyamory Etiquette: Bumping Into Your Metamour

I missed a few posts in April, so look for these bonus posts throughout May as I get caught up.

If you and your various poly partners and their various poly parters live in the same area, sooner or later you’re going to bump into each other at a local fair, browsing the grocery store, or at the movie theater. At base, bumping into your metamour is no different from bumping into your brother’s friends. Someone you know, to one extent or another, who is in a relationship with someone you have a relationship with. The big difference is that your brother and his friends probably aren’t hiding their friendship. Your poly partners and/or their metamours may be in the closet about being poly.

You will almost certainly know if your poly partners are in the closet or not. (If you don’t, ask them. Now.) However you may not know anything about your metamours other than the name they use in poly circles. Which may not be the name you use publicly.

On the other hand, and especially if you practice kitchen table polyamory, your metamour may be your friend as well. You may not only know whether or not they are in the closet, but exactly how much hell their mother gave them for not yet bringing home a date to meet the family.

If Your and Your Metamour Know Each other Well

Follow the same guidelines as you would for running into a poly partner in public.

If You and Your Metamour Don’t Know Each other Well

It’s probably safest to politely ignore each other. Even if you think you have a safe explanation for how you know each other (“I’m dating someone in their apartment building.”) you never know when that might just cause more trouble. (Nosy neighbor who was in the next aisle, “Oh? I’m surprised I haven’t seen you. Are you Mark’s new SO, then? I hear he’s back in the dating game.”)

Never Be Offended By Being Ignored

In most spaces, ignoring someone you know is disrespectful. However, when someone might be in the closet, ignoring them is actually respectful. Specifically, it’s respecting their right to decide who knows about a private part of their life. If someone you know through your poly network or community ignores you in public, assume they are either protecting themselves or trying to protect you. If you are comfortable with being seen in public together, wait until you see each other somewhere poly-friendly to ask them if they’d be okay with you coming up and saying hi in public.

Polyamory Etiquette: Running into a Poly Partner in Public

Life was even crazier than usual last month, and in the craziness I completely forgot that I’d been going to get in depth on how to handle unexpected encounters with poly partners, metamours, friends and family. With that in mind, this today we’ll be looking at how to handle it when you run into one of your poly partners in public.

But first, a quick review:

Running into a poly partner when you don’t expect to can be amazing or awkward depending on the circumstance and whether or not you are both (all) out of the closet. With that in mind, be prepared–

Know if your partner(s) are out or not (about being poly AND about any other parts of the identity that may cause them problems at work/school/home)

Know how they want to be addressed in public–this includes both their public name and their public gender

And if you don’t know these things, play it safe. Assume PDAs are off the table, avoid gendered pronouns until your partner has a chance to clue you in. (Luckily, English doesn’t have gender for second person pronouns “you” can be any gender.) Generally assume that outting them can ruin their lives–because depending on person, place and circumstance, it might.

Hopefully, you and your partners all know how you prefer to be addressed in public and if you are out or not. So we are going to look at three different scenarios: if you are both (all) out, if one of you is out and one of you isn’t, and if neither (none) of you are out.

Everybody’s Out!

You and your partner are both loud and proud about being poly. You may need to avoid mentioning that kinky play party you went to last weekend, but you don’t need to worry about hiding your relationship.

Wandering down the grocery aisle, you see Partner
You: Hey, Partner!
Partner: (You)! I didn’t know you shopped here.
Hugs, kisses, handshakes, whathave you

Continue as you would meeting any friend.

Some Are Out, Some Are In

You are out about your relationship style, but your partner is keeping things on the low down. Maybe a few trusted friends know, but no one else. Let the person who is the closet set the level of interaction.

In that grocery aisle again
You: (See partner, say nothing. wave or not politely if that’s normal for you.)
Partner: (waves back)

Or maybe
You: (See partner, say nothing. wave or nod politely if that’s normal for you.)
Partner: Hi, (You). Nice seeing you again.
You: You too. I didn’t expect to run into you here.
(Continue as if acquaintances who know each other to talk too)

Or:
You: (See partner, say nothing. wave or nod politely if that’s normal for you.)
Partner: (Grabs you for a quick hug) Olee, olee in-free! I never shop here, so it’s safe if we’re careful. God I’ve missed you!

In the US, medical professionals need to follow the HIPAA law. According to HIPAA if a doctor sees a patient in public, in order to protect their privacy the doctor needs to act like they don’t know the patient. If, and only if, the patient approaches the doctor (thus “outting” themself) can the doctor interact with them. When you run into a closeted poly partner out and about, this is a good rule to follow.

Possible exception: if you have a non-poly related connection

Back in that grocery store
You: (See partner who is also a classmate) Hi (Partner), we missed you in class last week. How was your trip?
Partner: It was good. I’m really feeling that missed workout, though. Was it the usual routine or did the instructor start something new?

It’s A Crowded Closet

You and your partner are both in the closet. It’s probably best to be discreet. It may be a safe spot for you, but you can’t be sure that your partner’s co-worker isn’t in the next aisle over.

You: (See partner, say nothing. wave or nod politely if that’s normal for you.)
Partner: (Same)

This post is part of the Polyamory Etiquette blog series.

Want more great articles? Support Polyamory on Purpose on Patreon.

A Brief Guide to Marriage Around the World

It seems every six months or so someone’s questions lead me to write a long involved post on social media about the history of marriage, the variety of forms marriage takes around the world, and how monogamy as practiced in the US and Europe today has not actually been the “one true” marriage for the past thousand years. In fact, as practiced in the US and Europe today hasn’t even been around for a hundred years.

The topic came up again recently. I decided this time instead of posting on social media, I’ll write a blog post so I don’t need to keep rewriting the same info. So this week we’re taking a break from the current running blog series. Today’s post is a brief review of marriage practices around the world. Thursday will be a review of the history of Christian European marriage–which is what most people I know are talking about when they go on about “traditional marriage.”

A Glossary of Marriage

Anthropologists have spent over fifty years arguing about how to define of marriage. As far as I can tell, they still haven’t come to a consensus. Think about that a moment. Marriage varies so widely across cultures that we can’t even define it properly. Most attempted definitions include one or more of:

1) restricted sexual access (ie, sex only with marital partners)

2) economic responsibility for marital partners

3) recognition of paternity and/or responsibility for raising children together

There seems to be a general consensus among anthropoligists that marriage is universal. I find this a questionable conclusion, especially in light of the sonhun (“walking marriage”) of the Mosuo. (My usual reference for the Mosuo practices is http://www.mosuoproject.org/mosuo.htm — a site which I recall as being maintained by members of the Mosuo. Unfortunately that site is down as of this writing. For an academic source check here: https://imaginarsocial.files.wordpress.com/2012/09/stacey_marriage1.pdf) It seems (especially in light of the argument about defining marriage) that anthropologists have sometimes looked for a practice which might resemble marriage as they understood it and then adjusted the definition to fit.

While you are thinking about that, here are some terms related to marriage I’ll be using in this post:

  1. Monogamy: marriage involving two people
  2. Polygamy: marriage involving more than two people
  3. Polygyny: marriage involving one man and several women
  4. Polyandry: marriage involving one woman and several men
  5. Group marriage: marriage between multiple men and multiple women, sometimes called polygynandry
  6. Term marriage: marriage which lasts only for a set time
  7. Arranged marriage: marriage which is arranged by a third party with the consent of the spouses-to-be
  8. Forced marriage: marriage with is arranged by a third party without the consent of one or more spouses-to-be
  9. Social polygamy: arrangement where marriage is legally only recognized between two people, but sexual/romantic/intimate relationships outside of marriage are socially recognized
  10. Social monogamy: only marriage between two people is legally and socially recognized, but other relationships are expected as long as they are hidden

Marriage Around the World

Marriage both now and throughout history has taken a variety of forms.
The Ethnogrphic Atlas found that of ~1300 cultures, most practiced a mix of polygyny and monogamy, some practiced monogamy, and a very few (four) practiced polyandry. Anthropologists have since found an additional 53 cultures which practice polyandry and (according to wiki) 4 which have group marriages. Unfortunately I don’t have access to the citation for group marriages.

Many of the cultures which practice exclusive monogamy allow for social monogamy or serial monogamy. I don’t know of any cultures which practice social polygamy today. Several countries in Europe used to practice it, including France where the king’s mistress had a recognized position in the court. (For a layperson’s introduction: Kathleen Wellman, Queens and Mistresses of Renaissance France. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2013.) Concubinage was a common practice in some socially polygamous cultures. Concubines had a socially (and sometimes legally) recognized position, but did not have the status of wives. (As practiced in Greece and Rome: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/9781444338386.wbeah22061/abstract)

Some cultures allow for term marriages. In the US, the best known of these may be the Celtic tradition of handfasting* (marriage for a year and a day). Some neo-pagan groups have revived this tradition. Term marriages were also practiced in pre-Islamic Arabia and Persia. The custom, most often called mut’ah, survives to this day in the Shi’ite sect of Islam. There are accusations that in some cases mut’ah is practiced today as a religiously legitimate cover for sex work and sexual trafficking.

Arranged marriage has been the norm for much of recorded history and remains common in some parts of the world. Forced marriage has often, though not always, existed side by side with arranged marriage. In some places forced marriages have been technically illegal but still practiced. For instance, in Christian Europe a marriage could only happen with the consent of both the bride and groom. However, women and men were both often pressured or coerced into a marriage against their will. Women seem to be the victims of forced marriage more often, as many cultures that have arranged marriage allow the man to arrange his own marriage. However in cases of child engagements or where a large inheritance or political alliance was in the balance, both sons and daughters might be bartered off. (And yes, I am deliberately referring to people as property in this case, because often that is exactly what they were treated as.)

Arranged marriages continue in many parts of the world today. I have known or known of people in the US, Israel, India, and several Islamic countries who have been in arranged marriages or had an arranged engagement that was later broken off. Some have sought out arranged marriages through the services of a matchmaker. Others have had their marriages arranged by families. All the people I have personally known have been pleased with their arrangements and had the right to break off the engagement if they changed their minds.

Forced marriage, either legal or illegal, continues to be reported in many parts of the world today.

I apologize for not citing my information on arranged and forced marriages. I do not currently have any saved citations, and searching for citation is likely to be triggering for me. However information on these marriage forms is relatively easy to find. Adding “pdf” to your search terms is quick way to filter for academic papers.

Wrap Up

Obviously this is a very general overview. The full details on the variety of marriage practices around the world could fill a library. I am a some-what read layperson and not any kind of expert. Please use my citations as a jumping off point for your own research, don’t take them as the end-all be-all on marriage. And if you have additional information or citations, please share in the comments.

*Many sources will cite the work of A.E. Anton in the 1950s who said that handfasting only meant betrothal and the idea of it being a “year and a day” marriage could not be found prior to mythic histories from the 1800s. However other sources cite the Gaelic scholar Martin Martin’s book “A Description of the Western Islands of Scotland” published in 1639: “It was an ancient custom in the Isles that a man take a maid as his wife and keep her for the space of a year without marrying her; and if she pleased him all the while, he married her at the end of the year and legitimatised her children; but if he did not love her, he returned her to her parents.” The Statues of Iona (1609) are also cited as banning marriage contracts for a set term of years, suggesting that such marriages were allowed prior to 1609. I haven’t been able to find a non-pay walled text of the Statutes and don’t have access to a copy of Martin Martin.

 

(All citations accessed on 4/16/2016 unless otherwise noted)

Book Review: When Someone You Love Is Polyamorous by Dr. Elizabeth Sheff

book review when someone you love is polyamorousA few years ago, I said that with Dr. Sheff’s The Polyamorist’s Next Door we finaly had a book to share with friends and family trying to understand polyamory. Dr. Sheff has done herself one better.

When Someone You Love Is Polyamorous is a clearly laid out book that introduces the basic concepts of polyamory in simple, easy to understand language. Topics include advantages and challenges of polyamory, why are people polyamorous, and children in polyamory.

Dr. Sheff doesn’t sugarcoat the problems in polyamory, including the lack of diversity among people willing and able to be openly polyamorous. She does lay out clearly what polyamory is, why it works for some people, and why it isn’t cheating or religious-style polygyny. I especially appreciate Dr. Sheff’s taking the time to explain why many poly folk want to “come out” to friends and family, and how friends and family can be supportive.

There are two things I would have liked to see in this book. The first is an explicit acknowledgement of the variety in polyamory. Dr. Sheff does describe several different ways people structure polyamorous relationships. Still I would have liked to see something like “Every polyamorous relationship is different. What you see in TV or the media may not be anything like the relationships your loved ones form.”

The other I would have liked to see addressed is abuse. You’d think “non-abusive” would be covered under “ethical” “honest” and “consensual.” But I’ve known a number of people who believed a poly relationship had to be abusive or coercive. Best to grasp that bull by the horns. “People who don’t understand polyamory may fear their loved one is being abused. The vast majority of polyamorous relationships are non-abusive and abuse seems to occur in polyamory (about as often/slightly more often/slightly less often) than in monogamy. If you have specific concerns about the way your loved one is being treated in their relationships, don’t focus on polyamory. Instead talk with your lloved ones about the specific issues that concern you.”

Those two points aside, When Someone You Love Is Polyamorous is a well written and useful book. I recommend it for anyone considering coming out to their friends and family, or anyone who has come out but is having trouble getting their loved ones to understand and accept their relationships.

Mental Illness and Polyamory Recap

This blog series is already one of the longest I’ve written, and I’m about to add a bunch more information. So before we dive back in I decided it would be good to do a quick recap of the key points of the series so far.

Educate Yourself

If one of your poly partners suffers from mental illness, take the time to learn about their illness and how it affects them. This includes both reading up on the general information about the illness and learning about how your partner experiences their illness.

There is No Quick Cure

Mental illness is not something people can just “get over” and there is no fast treatment or cure. Medication can help manage mental illness but is NOT a cure or fix. And just finding the right treatment approach can take months, if not years.

Mental Illness Can Mimic Relationship Problems

Mental illness can mimic jealousy, abuse, loss of interest, and a number of other relationship problems and red flags. Treating mental illness like relationship problems just compounds the problem. Treat mental illness like mental illness and relationship problems like relationship problems.

The Big Book of Poly Doesn’t Always Apply

There’s a lot of great advice for folks in poly relationships. However, some of that advice doesn’t work when combined with mental illness. Following the standard polyamory advice may not work or may even make things worse. If this happens it doesn’t mean you/your partner are bad at poly. It just means advice formulated by and for mentally healthy people doesn’t always apply when dealing with mental illness.

Sometimes Mental Illness Isn’t

Michon Neal shared a horrific experience of being misdiagnosed and having physical illness dismissed as “all in zir head” and mental illness. In Michon’s case the problem was compounded by the way doctors tend to overlook or dismiss all black women’s problems as mental illness.

For Michon this meant, ze was not only NOT getting the treatment ze needed, but was put on unnecessary medications with severe adverse effects. Nearly as harmful is when the wrong mental illness is diagnosed. Depression and bipolar may seem similar from the outside, but the respond very differently to treatment. Bipolar and schizophrenia are often mistaken for each other.

Irrational Feelings Are Still Feelings

Mental illness makes people feel things that have no basis in reality. Telling someone feeling abandoned because of depression “You are wrong to feel that way!” or “how dare you say I don’t do enough!” or anything like this doesn’t help anyone. That doesn’t mean you should try to fix problems that don’t exist. But understanding and empathy go a long way. “I’m sorry you feel that way. I hope you know that I love you and would never abandon you. Would cuddling for a bit help?”

This post is part of the Polyamory and Mental Illness blog series.

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