• Sarah M. Neal

Commitment in Polyamorous Relationships

One of many questions on the lips of monogamous folx for those of us who are polyamorous, has to do with commitment to multiple partners. How can you truly be committed to a romantic partner if you are committed to another? What does commitment for a polyamorous relationship look like? Can romantic commitment even exist if you are non-monogamous?

Photo by Micheile Henderson on Unsplash

One of many questions on the lips of monogamous folx for those of us who are polyamorous, has to do with commitment to multiple partners. How can you truly be committed to a romantic partner if you are committed to another? What does commitment for a polyamorous relationship look like? Can romantic commitment even exist if you are non-monogamous?

Many years ago, when I had just started dating my husband John, my aunt made a comment that she didn’t understand why people in an open relationship got married to each other. “What was the point if you weren’t going to be faithful or if you were going to have sex with someone else?”

This was before John and I really had a chance to delve into the world of ethical non-monogamy. I didn’t have the language or the knowledge to defend non-monogamy, so I just went along with her thought process and agreed.

On the more conscious level, I really did KINDA agree with her. That is what our mono-normative culture teaches us. At the same time, my ex-husband was in an open marriage with his first wife, so I knew there was something to be said about that, despite the nightmare their relationship was. My ex and I were monogamous because I hated the idea of sharing, not because I was worried about him leaving me.

This conversation with my aunt took place over a decade ago, yet it still sticks with me. I think about how I would answer that question now, which then leads into the discussion of commitment within polyamorous relationships.

What is commitment in a relationship anyway?

One of the definitions of “commit” is to pledge or engage oneself

It doesn’t specify what that pledge or level of engagement is. The Powers That Be in the realm of the English language leaves that up to us individuals.

If someone can make a commitment to their spouse, their kids, their siblings, their parents, and their friends all at the same time-ish, then why is it such a far leap to the idea that a person can also commit to other romantic partners?

My commitments to my husband, my children, my family, my friends, and my community have similar values, dedication, and loyalty, however those commitments also look different from each other. So, it would only make sense that my commitment to multiple romantic partners would look similar, but also different.

Those who are open to the idea that people can be in love with, or cultivate romantic relationships with multiple people, are open to the idea that love is infinite. Thus, we recognize that it is possible to love more than one person. When we love someone, we make a commitment to them in some shape or form. Because everyone has different needs, and because those needs vary with each type of relationship, our commitments look different based on our relationship with that person whom we love.

What John needs from me in our relationship, looks different than what Tyler needs from me in our relationship. My commitment to John looks different from my commitment to Tyler. However, those commitments do have some similarities:

I am committed to fulfilling each of their needs to the best of my ability.

I am committed to standing by each of them and supporting them through the good, the bad, and the ugly.

I am committed to not giving up on our relationship the moment something gets messy.

I am committed to making sure they both feel loved and valued by me.

I am committed to allow them the space they need to fulfill other needs that I cannot.

I am committed to walking on a path with each of them for as long as it is the best decision for our best and highest good, for as long as the relationship is a healthy one.

I am committed to doing what I can to make sure we all work together to make sure we communicate well with each other.

Then, we have where the commitments differ because the relationship is different:

I am committed to raising my family with John and all that is required for that purpose: sharing in parental duties; sharing in financial responsibilities and commitments; holidays with the in-laws; putting up with the in-laws; spending time with my family; sharing the responsibility of supporting the physical and emotional needs of our children. I am committed to doing everything in my power to make sure our marriage stays healthy and in-tact.

I am committed to spending as much time with Tyler as I can carve out. I am committed to making sure he also feels like a priority in my life, even when my schedule gets hectic and I can’t spend as much time with him as either of us would like. I am committed to loving and trying to help take care of Thor, the dog Tyler adopted 3 years ago, to the best of my abilities. I am committed to doing everything in my power to make sure our relationship stays healthy and in-tact.

Just as I can make commitments to multiple people in my life, I can make commitments to multiple partners.

I think where we get tripped up around the idea of commitment is due to the mono-normative mindset that in order to show that we love our partner, we must devote everything we have to fulfilling all of their needs. We must lock ourselves away from anything else that may even hint at another romantic relationship. If we stray from that mentality, then we cannot be fully committed to that partner or our relationship.

Our monogamous culture tells us that romantic love, unlike familial or platonic love, is finite. It tells us the same when it comes to commitment to romantic relationships versus familial and platonic relationships.

My mom, who has finally come to terms with my polyamorous life wonders how in the world I have time for multiple partners. Time and personal energy, unlike love, is most certainly finite. We only have so many hours in the day and we only have so much energy to expend. The amount of time and energy any one person has is based on the individual.

Deciding how many relationships you can commit yourself to should be based on the amount of time and energy you have. This goes for EVERY relationship and EVERY commitment. It isn’t just for romantic relationships. We must always be cognizant of our time and energy before every commitment we make.

Polyamorous folx are just as committed to our romantic relationships as monogamous folx. In the world of Monogamy, we are conditioned to believe that a person can only be in love with one person at a time and therefore one can only be whole-heartedly committed to one person at a time. Polyamory turns that on its head and says that a person can absolutely be in love with more than one person at a time, so of course one can be whole-heartedly committed to more than one romantic relationship at a time

We understand that each of our relationships are unique and therefore the commitments look different. Just because the commitment to each relationship may look different than those in monogamous relationships, we aren’t any less committed to each of those relationships.

Commitment isn’t about locking your and your partners’ hearts into a cage (as gilded as it may be and as safe as it may seem) to set the relationship on display while protecting it from other possible experiences and relationships.

Commitment is about sticking around to work through the obstacles every relationship goes through.

Commitment is about choosing to invest time and energy into your relationship.

Commitment is about being there through thick and thin.

Commitment is about showing up time and time again to support your partner the best ways you can.

Commitment is about encouraging your partner to find happiness even if you need to be on the sidelines.

Commitment is about coming back to center time and time again and knowing and trusting your partner will do the same.


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