(excerpt from The Polyamory Toolkit)
When Dawn and I started to explore polyamory as a couple, we, like many people that approach polyamory from an existing couple perspective, set up some rules.
Rules that seemed to be ‘no brainers’, such as “condoms are mandatory”, were easy to accept. Others we viewed as ways to express respect for each other, such as “partner gets to meet the new person before intimacy occurs”. Other rules we discussed that were each problematic in their own way included ‘no one comes in the home’, ‘other partners can’t come to your work’, ‘no open mouth kissing’, ‘no falling in love’ and ‘the veto rule’ (more about those last two in a few moments).
Within the polyamory community in general, rules are viewed with a wide spectrum of response, some positive, some negative (and some extremely ‘don’t try to control me’ negative). We didn’t understand the negative view at first, as on the surface, our rules were intended to help us navigate communication and expectations. But we realized later that often rules can be about trying to create a sense of personal and relationship safety – an unconscious idea that if we have walls around our behavior and a set of clearly defined ‘what is allowed/not allowed’, we would be more ‘in control’ and thus, things would be less scary.
The problem with rules
So our approach to rules has changed over the years. I try to keep in mind that if a partner wants to introduce rules into our poly to have empathy for them – they are most likely trying to find security in a situation where they perceive they have none and the rules are a way to mitigate that fear. I then ask myself, “how do you feel about each one?”. Does it seem reasonable to me? I look at each one, decide how it feels, and if I disagree with it, I keep my partner as a partner and have them help us find a compromise.
But overall, I ask my partner to reframe rules to agreements. Meaning, instead of a rule that says ‘never get a girl’s phone number without consulting me first’, an agreement that says ‘if you believe you are engaging with a new girl and it gets to the point that you are going to get her phone number, let me know about that as soon as you can’. This represents a desire to be informed as you make new connections. Versus the rule, which could be interpreted as ‘I want to control who you can/can’t talk to’.
The Polyamory Toolkit
A book that focuses on specific tools people can use to address the common issues and deeper aspects of a polyamorous relationship. This work includes topics such as: Jealousy, Compersion – finding joy in your partners’ joy, Communication, Mitigating Triggers, Creating a Solid Foundation, and so much more.