7 Habits of Highly Effective Poly Relationships Pt. 2

In last week’s blog post I addressed 4 habits that are present in most successful poly relationships: the ability to make decisions and talk about safe sex, willingness to embrace vulnerability, a high sense of commitment, and the ability to be flexible.  Let’s dig in to the last three!

5. You love getting to know yourself.

First dates.  Some people love them, some people hate them.  Personally, I get a lot of enjoyment out of the process of just getting to know someone. Beyond discovering surface-level similarities between you and your date such as favorite movies, musical preferences, or a shared love of Vietnamese food, I love asking my date questions about their upbringing, about their craziest, wildest hopes for their life, their deepest or weirdest fears, their philosophies surrounding spirituality or self-development.  

And of course, when we start falling in love with someone, every unique facet of them that we encounter can become interesting and endearing--their secret obsession with Taylor Swift music, their dedication to daily meditation, or the way they talk to their 3 dogs (all pugs of course).  These are the puzzle pieces that put together a human being, from deep foundational beliefs to silly idiosyncrasies and habits.  It’s the sum of these parts in someone else that we fall in love with.  

You, too, are made up of all these puzzle pieces.  And it’s just as important to become familiar with your own ins and outs as it is when getting to know a potential mate.  You may be incredulous.  After all, you’ve been stuck with yourself your entire life.  Surely you would be pretty well acquainted with yourself by now!

Gaining self-awareness needs a clear intention to not just discover who you are, but why it is you are that way.  Get curious about yourself.  If you’ve never been excited by the idea of getting flowers from your partner, but your knees turn to custard every time he compliments the way you look, take note and investigate!  (Hint: It might have something to do with your love language.  Or an extreme pollen allergy.)  If you get turned on by getting to hear about your partner’s sexual attraction to other people, but get paralyzed with jealousy or fear if you find out the person your partner is dating has a much higher income than you, take some time to look inward.

Uncovering our strengths, our weaknesses, our countless triggers, and emotional landscape is a priceless resource.  If upon examination you realize that you’ve had a long-standing insecurity surrounding money and self-worth, that gives you access not only to start undoing the negative thought pattern but also to open up to your partner about it (that vulnerability thing just keeps coming back around).  Instead of being a slave to the emotional trigger, you have an in to fixing it, adjusting it, or re-directing it.  

There are so many different ways to get to know yourself in depth, which I talk about more in my earlier blog post Self-Awareness: Michael Jackson and the Oracle of Delphi Walk Into a Bar.

6. ¡Sí se puede!

No, I’m not saying you have to be bilingual to have great relationships.  “Sí se puede” was originally the motto of the United Farm Workers, coined by Latino American activist Cesar Chavez during his 24-day fast in 1972.  It has been translated many different ways, generally to the tune of “Yes, it is possible,” or “Yes, we can.”  Here in California, white people celebrate Cesar Chavez Day on March 31st by taking a day off from school or work, drinking Mexican beer, and generally having no idea who the heck this Cesar Chavez guy is.  

The phrase has its own Wikipedia entry, and this is my favorite part:

The saying Sí Se Puede has long been a UFW guiding principle that has served to inspire accomplishment of goals even in what at times may seem insurmountable situations.

I love that.  

For me, saying “Sí se puede” or “Yes, we can” isn’t just a little verbal pump-up or inspirational mantra.  It’s a great expression of a trait known as self-efficacy.  Self-efficacy is kind of a mix of confidence, self-esteem, and the ability to bounce back from setbacks.  

For example, let’s say this section of the blog inspires you to go take a Spanish class at the nearby community college.  If you go into your Spanish class with the inherent belief that there is no way you can actually learn the language, knowing you’ve always been terrible at languages, and that this class is unlikely to be useful or effective, then guess what?  You’re probably going to come out of that Spanish class having learned very little.  No bueno.  But if you believe that you do have the capability to learn Spanish, even if you have a history of difficulty in language classes, you will learn much more, much faster, and much more effectively.  Several studies corroborate this phenomenon.  

So where do non-monogamous relationships come in to all this?  For most people, entering into a poly relationship involves a lot of learning -- learning about yourself, learning to manage emotions, learning to communicate better, learning how to love many people without hurting them or yourself.  The stakes are a little bit higher than in Spanish class.  

That’s a lot of learning to do, and many people squash their own success before they even try.   

“I am way too jealous of a person.”
“I can’t stand the thought of my partner having sex with someone else.”
“I don’t want to know about or meet my partner’s other partners.  I couldn’t handle the awkwardness.”

These sentiments are all too common, and anecdotally I can tell you that anyone who has expressed any variant of the above to me generally ended up having a terrible first foray into non-monogamy.  

Open relationships requires you to extend yourself outside of your comfort zone and to do and feel things that may be completely new and totally foreign.  But the common thread that I’ve seen in great poly relationships, whether the people in them had been doing this for decades or just for a few months, was that confidence in knowing that they had the capability to handle whatever arose.  Even if it was totally new.  Even if it was terrifying.  Even if it was awkward and uncomfortable.

So how do you get self-efficacy in the face of new emotional challenges? Most people establish a strong or weak sense of self-efficacy in childhood and their formative years, but there are still many options for developing it as an adult.  Here is a fantastic article that explores the topic more.  (Can you have self-efficacy about learning to have self-efficacy?  Like a meta-self-efficacy?  Mind = blown.)

7. You have balls.

Not literal balls.  I’m talking figurative balls.  Chutzpah.  Guts.  Nerve.  Grit.  Audacity.  Courage.

(Side note: can we find an anatomically feminine equivalent for this? “You’ve got ovaries” doesn’t have quite the same ring to it.)

Historically, people who go against the grain do not have an easy time of it. Though some would argue that non-monogamy is a more natural behaviour for human beings, the majority of Western cultures currently embrace the long-term, monogamous dyad as the hallmark of normalcy.  Straying beyond the bounds of “normal” almost always guarantees reactions ranging from excited, curious fascination to confusion, disgust, and ridicule.  

When you are in an alternative relationship, nearly everyone you encounter will have an opinion about it, and sometimes it will be negative.  That’s where the courage comes in.  Not in order to righteously defend yourself or to rip apart that close-minded tight ass criticizing the way you love.  Instead, you need to use your courage to let it slide like water off a duck’s back and to keep doing you.  It’s the courage to keep being happy even when someone else tells you you shouldn’t be.  The happiest poly people I know take these reactions--the good, the bad, and the ugly--in stride.

And negative reactions can come from other non-monogamous folk too! Even within the poly community, you’ll find plenty of people convinced that they have figured out the one right way to do it, and your open relationship may not meet their standards.  But the most fulfilled poly relationships are those that are being uniquely created by the people involved in order to achieve maximum possible happiness for everyone, whatever that may look like.  Having the guts to unapologetically create something new (which may take several different experiments) is paramount.  


In looking back on this list, there are several qualities that you can apply to any kind of romantic relationship, not just open relationships.  In the ongoing evolution of human beings, we have tried over and over again to uncover the mystery that is love, puzzling together what works and what doesn’t, which actions are fool-proof or foolhardy.  A list such as this cannot even begin to cover the many moving parts that need to be in place in order for a relationship to be happy, but I’m just painting with a broad brush.  It is up to you, and to the people you love, to paint in the fine details in pursuit of fulfilling relationships.

What else would you add to this list?  What personal qualities do you think are absolutely necessary to have before entering into open relationships?