When first learning about polyamory or any other form of consensual non-monogamy (CNM), some people in monogamous relationships feel incredibly uncomfortable. (I explore this in greater depth in my post, "Fear of the Polyamorous Possibility.") One major source of discomfort that monogamous individuals mention is the concern that polyamorous people seem indiscriminately sexual and so they fear that a polyamorous person might want to hook up with their own spouse or partner. 

   Elisabeth A. Sheff Ph.D., CASA, CSE
    Elisabeth A. Sheff Ph.D., CASA, CSE is the foremost academic expert on polyamory in the United States, and the foremost expert on polyamorous families with children world-wide. Her first book, The Polyamorists Next Door: Inside Multiple-Partner Relationships and Families (link is external) details the results of her 15-year study of polyamorous families with children. Stories from the Polycule: Real Life in Polyamorous Families (link is external) is Sheff's second book, and her third book is When Someone You Love is Polyamorous: Understanding Poly People and Relationships (link is external)

Editor: Talha Khalid

Looking for a "Hell Yeah!" Partner

CNM can be a very challenging relationship style, because it often brings up feelings of insecurity and jealousy. Even in emotionally stable relationships, deciding how to divide resources like time and money can create tension: While love might be infinite for polyamorous people, time and money are not. Because CNM has such built-in challenges, it is best entered into with whole-hearted consent. Otherwise, when the inevitable challenges arise, the person who was pushed, cajoled, or manipulated into trying polyamory will most likely be more upset and less willing to go to the great lengths it may take to make the relationship style work.

Given the demonstrated tendency for CNM to be an emotionally challenging style with high requirements for well-intentioned communication, it is unwise to court dissidence by trying to mix polyamory and monogamy. (In "Poly/Mono or Mono/Poly," I explain the challenges of trying to blend the two relationship styles, and in "When Your Partner Wants Polyamory and You Don't," I explore some of the options that find people in that difficult situation.)

Polyamorous community wisdom is clear that, if you want polyamorous relationships that work well, you should date others who want polyamory as well. Dating monogamous people has a tendency to set polyamorous people — and often their monogamous sweethearts — up for conflict and heartache, because they want fundamentally different things. Polyamorous individuals are not trying to steal your monogamous partner, because they want partners who are already polyamorous. 

Mad Skills

One of the reasons polyamorous people prefer other CNM practitioners as partners is that the relationship style often requires intensive relationship skills. This kind of emotional competence is important in any relationship, but absolutely crucial in CNM — compassionate communication, willingness to admit when you are wrong, willingness to try new ways to interact, the ability to self-soothe when feeling agitated or jealous, and to cultivate compersion. 


Although skills learned through study and practice certainly contribute to the ways in which relationships function, in my research it has become clear to me that the desire for monogamy/multiple partners is an element of sexual orientation. As I explain in the post, "Is Polyamory a form of Sexual Orientation?" some people who are polyamorous by orientation will never be happy or comfortable in a monogamous relationship, and others who are monogamous by orientation are never going to be content in a non-monogamous relationship.

Just as many men who attempt to turn a lesbian into a heterosexual woman are doomed to fail, polyamorists have learned through difficult experience that it is not possible to make a monogamous person joyfully engage in polyamory simply because the polyamorous person wishes it to be so. 

The original version of this post stopped here. After several comments from blog readers I have revised my thoughts on this and addressed the other side — what I call Predatory Polyamory. 

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