Love The One You’re With? Polyamorous Love Life
There are essentially two ways that “being in love” with more than one person or what is currently called a “polyamorous” love life can occur in a person’s love life. The first I refer to as “substituting love partners” and the second way is by setting up a love life where you love more than one person at a time or what I call having “multiple love partners.” Let’s discuss these two types of polyamorous love life and their advantages and inherent limitations.
Before getting into the specifics of these two love life types, I should remind my readers that “falling in love” is very individualistic and usually takes place with one other person who is experienced as unique and special. Beyond this fact of our love lives there is the “intimate relationship,” the type of interpersonal relationship that takes the best care of and grows the emotion of love you have fallen into. When a person is able to establish interpersonal intimacy when they are in love, they are in a better position to form and sustain a healthy love relationship. Unfortunately, life experiences can interfere with and complicate a person’s ability to tolerate and develop an intimate relationship. For example, in situations where earlier experiences in life were traumatic and have not fully resolved (e.g. abuse, neglect, abandonment, dishonesty, etc.).
Problems with intimacy are a major motivator in the creation of alternative love lives where the emotional difficulties with intimacy are avoided. Substituting love partners and multiple love relationships are two such adaptations. Let’s start our discussion with substituting love partners. By the way, I am not just talking about falling in love with someone else after a breakup. I am talking about the substitution of one person after another, repeatedly, over the course of a love life. People who practice a love life based on substituting one love partner for another tend to believe in what I refer to as the myth of total compatibility. This myth encourages the search for the “perfect” love partner. I have met people in my life and practice who have constructed this type of love life which eventually brought them to the point of frustration and ultimately resignation.
First and foremost, there is no perfect love partner. When a person falls in love, the beginning of that experience is naturally a “honeymoon” where the experience is idealized. This is the closest to the illusion of perfection we ever come to in this life. Eventually, the illusion wanes and the honeymoon couple becomes more realistic, experiencing disagreements, conflict, misunderstandings and of course, differences. In other words, the individuality in the couple emerges. What is now required is an intimate relationship that respects and acknowledges differences, successfully works out compromises and solves problems. In the substituting love life, love partners are often substituted when the going gets rough.
The polyamorous love life of multiple love relationships is supported by the belief that it expresses the freedom to love that we are all born with. This love life represents the idea that our ability to love is endless and it is possible and probable that a person will fall in love with more than one person in the same time period if the feelings are permitted to emerge. Of course, this comes into conflict with the earlier idea that falling in love is specialized and individualistic.
If falling in love is as specialized as I am describing, it is inherently overwhelming and intense and I believe beyond the mental and emotional capacity of human bings to experience with more than one person at the same time. Recall how consuming falling in love has been in your own life. More like an obsession when it first occurs. Reoccurring thoughts of the person you are in love with, whether you want them or not, and an overwhelming need to be in their physical presence. Never mind all the physiological sensations that naturally occur when in this state. At this stage of falling in love, sharing the person you have fallen in love with, with another person, is difficult to say the least.
Why would anyone prefer the limitations of a polyamorous love life over the intensity and uncontrollable experience of falling in love with a special and unique person? Because the ability to establish an intimate love relationship comfortably is easily corrupted in too many people’s lives. The vulnerability involved is too much to bear when there are hurtful experiences with human intimacy still unresolved. Experimental love life adaptations can have a place in the process of finding ourselves and outgrowing our pasts and the limitations they can place on our love lives. But remember, the goal is to take care of the love you fall into by establishing a healthy intimate love relationship. The good news is, we can always learn something new about our love lives and correct what unhealthy learning about intimacy our life experiences have taught us. For more information about this unlearning process and a guide to how it can be accomplished, read Learn to Love: Guide to Healing Your Disappointing Love Life.
Comments are very welcome. Tell me about your love life situation.
Dr. Thomas Jordan, Clinical Psychologist/Psychoanalyst, author of Learn to Love: Guide to Healing Your Disappointing Love Life