Why Good Manners Are Key To Successful Polyamory

Nov 16, 2021

As a therapist who works with many polyamorous clients, I spend a lot of time thinking about what separates the non-monogamous relationships that work beautifully from the ones that struggle—and about how to help my clients develop the skills they need to move from the second camp to the first.

Quite a few skills are involved in successful polyamory. Some of the more obvious ones are honesty, strong emotional regulation, a willingness to experiment, and the ability to take responsibility for your actions and choices. But in this article, I want to tackle a more subtle skill that can nonetheless make all the difference: good manners.

Why good manners are vital in polyamorous relationships

What do I mean when I say “good manners”? Obviously, this is distinct from things like not slurping your soup or keeping your elbows off the dinner table. I’m referring more to a kind of conscientious thoughtfulness that helps smooth out sticky emotional situations and invites everyone involved to show up as their best self.

Most of us are raised with monogamy as the default mode. We’re taught to expect that if our partner is attracted to someone else, that means something’s wrong in our relationship, and we’re probably going to lose that person. Polyamory requires facing these fears head-on. Even if you’re intellectually invested in polyamory, that can be a hard pill to swallow! Good manners can be more than the sugar that helps the medicine go down: They can make a huge difference in everyone’s experience.

Here are some ways to cultivate good manners:

Express gratitude frequently.

Polyamory can be a real emotion-regulation challenge for the people involved! Make sure your partners know you see the effort they’re putting forth in order to make this possible for all of you. It’s hard to access your best self when you feel like your hard work isn’t appreciated or even noticed, but when you feel that your efforts are being seen and rewarded, it’s much easier to stretch. If you have difficulty seeing your partner’s strengths or positive effort, this is a terrific opportunity to expand your ability to notice positive aspects of all situations.

Keep your partners in the loop.

If you tend to be a bit avoidant about telling people things they don’t want to hear, or if you’re just a little scatterbrained, this is a good one for you to practice. Make sure your partner(s) know when plans change as early as you know it yourself. Let them know when you’re running late. Text or call immediately if you forgot something important to them and take responsibility for your mistake. Help your partners feel cared for and considered, rather than ignored and left out.

Celebrate the uniqueness of each of your partners.

Each one has wonderful and unique qualities that make them irreplaceable. Challenge yourself to think of as many as you can and notice new amazing qualities in those you care about when they reveal themselves. Then make it a regular practice to share your admiration. This goes a long way toward soothing any fears that might be under the surface about being replaced by a new lover. But it also is just good form for creating a juicy, meaningful connection with those you love.

Express yourself honestly and warmly.

If you’re someone who tends to hold on to hard truths and then let them all out in a big, angry burst, this is a great skill for you to practice. Honesty need not be brutal; it’s very possible to express yourself both honestly and kindly. This is the difference between “I feel suffocated. You need to back off and let me go on a date” and “My darling, this is a part of myself that I really want to explore; can we talk about what might be possible?” That doesn’t necessarily mean that your partner will welcome a hard truth in the moment, but it will probably make a difference in how they remember the tough conversation in the future.

Give your full attention to the person you’re with.

Nobody enjoys having a conversation with someone who’s half-listening while they text under the table. That goes double if the person you’re texting is another partner. If your goal is to increase your partner’s jealousy and fears of coming in second place, you couldn’t choose a better strategy!

I see this happen a lot when one partner has just embarked on a new relationship, and they’re overwhelmed with the excitement of a new love—which is a whole other topic for another article. For now, suffice it to say that, no matter how much you may want to check your phone or send that text, staying present with the person you’re with in the moment will pay off long-term with increased comfort, security, and closeness.

There are many relational skills that contribute to polyamory and other ethical non-monogamies working well, but good manners are more than just the icing on the cake: They’re about being able to stay warm, gentle, and generous even in situations that challenge you.

Photo by Gemma Chua-Tran on Unsplash. This article was originally published on Psychology Today.

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