What does the research say about how long the average polyamorous couple stays together? I like the idea in theory, but I want to know how successful these types of relationships tend to be in the long term.
— Anonymous, from Tumblr
Sarah: I’ll let Debby break down the numbers, but I’d wager that polyamorous success is probably not that much different than monogamous success, except kind of on steroids. It also depends on the kind of polyamory you want to pursue. I have some poly friends who seek out other partners completely separately, and others who go about it as a joint venture. The point there is that they’ve had a lot of discussions about their likes, dislikes and preferences in an extremely open and honest setting, which builds trust. Success in all relationships, however, pretty much boils down to the same handful of things: being compatible in sexualities, lifestyles and attitudes, and knowing what your and your partner’s boundaries are and respecting them. The difference is that including more people in your relationship means you have to account for all those factors for them as well, which is a balance every poly person has to learn for themselves. Sexual possession in relationships can be hard to de-program, too, so just take it slowly, ask positive poly role models and friends for advice (or go find those people if you don’t have them already) and see what’s out there.
Debby: There’s not great contemporary research on the “success” (satisfaction) or longevity of polyamorous relationships. There are some decent older studies but they are quite old. One of the interesting points some of these earlier researchers made is that open relationships may be challenged when the couple (or triple, etc) lives in a largely monogamous community — like when most of their friends or family are largely holding tight to monogamy and possibly not supporting their open friends/family members. The idea is that community/family support can help relationships last, especially through tough times. These days, it may be easier for some people in open relationships to have more satisfying, longer lasting partnerships now that open relationships are slightly more common in some communities and, at the very least, people can more easily seek support and advice from other poly folks through online groups and meetups. Bottom line: if you’re into poly relationships, it may help you to seek out other people who, regardless of whether they are monogamous or open in their own relationships, will support you and your own personal choices.