Full Disclosure: How We Get in our Own Way in Polyamorous Relationships

Many people who embrace polyamory (or open relationships or relationship anarchy) subscribe to the idea of total openness.  Where did your lover go last night? Who were they with? What did they do together? If they did that, then how will I fare with them the next time we meet?  Am I "good enough?” Will they leave me? Disclosure may be one of our most challenging lessons to unwind.  The pull to know everything is strong, and often is the companion to fear of loss or abandonment. But full disclosure—a kind of "tell me everything" approach to polyamory—can be corrosive, even toxic.  For starters, knowing every last detail puts your partner(s) on the spot: tell all or you're being dishonest. And the power of novelty and mystery in our loving relationships can’t be underestimated (and may be a wonderful surprise for you both).  Mutually agreeing on "less is more" is a path to better relationships. 

Have any of these happened to you?

  • Your relationships are doing well.  Suddenly, one partner is unhappy, apparently over something you did or didn’t do.  Is it that wild party you went to last Friday night without them?  “Is everything okay?” you ask.  “Sure, I’m fine” they say.  But lurking inside this exchange are subtle, difficult-to-decipher signals.  You’re close, connected and communicate well.  What’s going on here?
  • Or maybe this is more familiar: everyone’s happy, and then bam: your partner is in deep distress. Your partner is struggling with one of their partners, maybe trying to manage the reaction of that other partner around something you both did together, creating unhappiness.

  • Or maybe this is in your experience: one of your partners asks if you’d like to go see a movie Saturday. “I can’t” you reply, “I’m going dancing with my other partner Mary” and boom—their once cheery, eager invitation is now a well of rejection and sadness.

How much should either of you know about the others in your mutually entwined lives, about exactly what you do when you’re with that other person?  Is less more?

What does “disclosure” mean exactly?

It’s crucial to clearly define “disclosure” here.  We’re talking about just how much you disclose or share with a partner about what you do with your other partners.  It's tricky: we’re navigating our own feelings, those of our partners, and all the cultural and social baggage accumulated during our lives while still respecting openness as well as boundaries and privacy. 

Note that this isn’t about clear communication between and about the two of you; that’s a different discussion.  A free, open and honest exchange of heart is an essential element of any relationship—how you feel about them, what they did or did not do with you, or what either of you want or don’t want. If you’re afraid to tell your partner about some aspect of your relationship with them, then you likely need to talk about that.  Sexual, emotional and physical health and safety must always be part of the conversation right from the start; they’re essential to our right to make a clear choice about being in the relationship at all.  Whether you have agreements, check-ins, or something else, regularly sharing this part of your relationship is vital.  Many excellent resources  can offer help—you can find a list by clicking here.

The pervasive, confusing nature of “disclosure"

The idea of full disclosure has a lot of cultural and social currency.  “Tell all” is pervasive in our political and social lives. We’re used to "more is better."  Sometimes, not having "all the information" can feel vaguely uncomfortable. This shows up in our intimate relationships: we’re used to it here too.  There’s also an odd tension here.  Is our relationship still intimate if we disclose everything?  The very nature of “intimacy” is very personal to each of us.  What one person thinks is intimate might, for their partner, be mundane.  So how much do we disclose?  The wrong choice can set off a chain of miscommunication that can take weeks, even months, to untangle.  Each person in the chain of relationships has a different experience, a different perspective and a unique set of needs that all deserve respect.  How do we navigate this unruly mob?

 

Can less be more?

Almost all of us have experienced jealousy.  It’s a range of different emotions, and can hurt a lot.  As Tristan Taormino puts it, "Relationships raise issues.”  Sharing can help soften these hurts.  By digging in and feeling it, we go through whatever it is that’s come up and help let it all go. But how much is too much? Full disclosure can add unneeded stress. Whether it’s intimate details of sexual activity or what you had for dinner, there’s no certainty about how a partner will react.  Our past plays out differently in every single one of us from moment to moment our whole life through.  

Letting go

If your relationships enjoy clarity about feelings, mutual honesty, integrity and safety, I am a strong proponent of “less is more.”  Here’s what I’ve learned about it and why I think it’s a good way to do things.  I’ve felt and struggled with jealousy on lots of levels, and I keep doing my own personal work, learning to recognize my stuff and my partner’s stuff (and even our stuff).  I’ve come to realize that I don’t need or want to know all.  Paradoxically, there is deep power in preserving a sense of mystery in my relationships—it helps keep things fresh.  Today, one of my cherished values is the art of letting go, knowing full well that in giving my partners the freedom to be themselves, to fully explore who they are and make their own choices (honoring, of course, our mutual respect) is not simply something I have to do for them—it is deeply liberating for me and for the relationship.  It can be scary, even terrifying.  However, I willingly relinquish the idea that I must know what they do with others.  I let go to strengthen the tie and deepen the intimacy. 

Each of us is different, and each of our relationships is unique. For this to work, there must be a mutual understanding of what it entails.  If one of us loves sharing lots of detail, but the other is hesitant, it’s going to hurt unless you clearly work out what is and is not appropriate to share.  This is wrapped up in our personal boundaries, but may be overlooked or ignored if we are overly concerned with preserving the relationship just as it is (or as we wish it to be).  First, be sure you’re both okay with a clear “yes” and a clear “no.”  When you’re ready, have a good conversation about it all.  How much does each of you want to know about your other partners?  What kinds of things make each of you happy or cause distress?  Is it okay to talk about difficulties with your other partner?  Is it better to say “I’m not available” instead of the details of why you can’t be together?  It’s likely to change too, so regular check-ins about this should be part of the plan, and arranging specific times for just this is a good idea.

There are moments in this practice when I feel like giving up, abandoning my relationships and love itself because I feel distant from our shared heart.  But when I find my way back to it all, the warmth and closeness is perfectly amazing. In the end, I believe you will sustain your relationships better if you know less.


Lola |lōˈlä| adjective. Humanity of, relating to, or denoting a transgender person of the female persuasion, and comprising the girl (lovely)parts and boy (nether)regions together. The two parts have been co-transitioning via estrogens, fashion, whoring and cuddling, and are inextricably bound. Many past lives as alternately gendered & named others.  Well honed. Passionate lover, teacher, consultant, healer, guide and facilitator in such diverse topics as body image, touch, consent, techniques and toys!  Anthropologist (MA, McGill U), Pleasure archeologist, Sexual cosmonaut (Urban Tantra Professional, Like A Pro, Ecstatic Body Meditation), Writer (academe, Good Vibes, Kinkly), Teacher, Counselor & Guide (sexuality, gender, touch, breath and dark arts at places like Beltane, C.O.P.E., Fetish Fair Fleamarket, Fires of Venus, Dark Odyssey, Queer Play Con, Transcending Boundaries and Translating Identity), Cuddler (Cuddle Party), Polyamorous (Poly Leadership Network). Offerings at liveatruelife.org.

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Lola Houston

Lola |lōˈlä| adjective. Humanity of, relating to, or denoting a transgender person of the female persuasion, and comprising the girl (lovely)parts and boy (nether)regions together. The two parts have been co-transitioning via estrogens, fashion, whoring and cuddling, and are inextricably bound. Many past lives as alternately gendered & named others.  Well honed. Passionate lover, teacher, consultant, healer, guide and facilitator in such diverse topics as body image, touch, consent, techniques and toys!  Anthropologist (MA, McGill U), Pleasure archeologist, Sexual cosmonaut (Urban Tantra Professional, Like A Pro, Ecstatic Body Meditation), Writer (academe, Good Vibes, Kinkly), Teacher, Counselor & Guide (sexuality, gender, touch, breath and dark arts at places like Beltane, C.O.P.E., Fetish Fair Fleamarket, Fires of Venus, Dark Odyssey, Queer Play Con, Transcending Boundaries and Translating Identity), Cuddler (Cuddle Party), Polyamorous (Poly Leadership Network). Offerings at liveatruelife.org.