Seeking Couples Counseling as a Polyamorous Couple

While Monogamy is the most popular relationship type in America, there is a growing population of people who either have engaged in or are currently engaging in some form of an Ethically Nonmonogamous relationship. Ethical Nonmonogamy (ENM) is the practice of any form of romantic or sexual relationship in which the people involved are informed and consenting of additional relationships happening outside of the established two person relationship. A 2021 study showed that almost 11 percent of respondents had been involved with some form of ENM, while almost 17 percent were interested in nonmonagamy. Specific groups that are more likely to have experience with ENM include men and Queer people. With such a large percentage of the country at least interested in polyamory, it’s important to consider what might make a polyamorous couple seek counseling and what might be worth seeking out a specialist about.

It’s important for a polyamorous couple to define the terms of their relationship and what kind of outside relationships they are comfortable with. Polyamory is usually defined as a relationship style in which the people involved are free to see others for romantic and sexual needs, but an open relationship may be defined as one in which sex is allowed but romance is not. Within polyamory there are also different styles of relationship. Hierarchical polyamory involves having primary partners who are prioritized and secondary or tertiary partners who, while still important, are not given as much weight in a person’s life. Nonhierarchical polyamory may look more like a set of relationships that are all equally prioritized in someone’s life. Polyfidelity may be a closed relationship in which more than two people are in a relationship, such as a triad or throuple. These definitions are mostly general guidelines, and you can and should use whatever terms you feel most comfortable with.

So why might a polyamorous couple want to see a counselor? The two most common groups of polyamorous couples that would seek out counseling together are those engaged in a primary relationship and those previously monogamous couples who are looking to open up their relationship. For the first group counseling can be a needed space to work through feelings that were previously abstract and are becoming more real as the couple starts to date other people. Questions like “how would you feel about me dating another person?” can elicit completely different responses than the actual experience of your partner dating another person. Confronting feelings like jealousy, frustration, and abandonment is key to successfully navigating the complexities of polyamory. For the latter group couples counseling is a helpful space to begin the work of setting boundaries and exploring what needs each person is looking to get met by opening up their relationship. For both groups it is valuable to confront the stigma that comes with being polyamorous. While more and more people are embracing nontraditional relationships, some people are still uncomfortable with the idea, and they may reflect this back onto those who practice Ethical Nonmonogamy. Issues such as slut shaming and familial rejection are common for people in the poly community, and it can be valuable to navigate the feelings these bring up in session.

When selecting a counselor it’s important to try to find one that you feel is a good fit. Looking for someone who advertises as poly-allied or otherwise experienced with working with polyamorous couples is a good start, but sometimes it may be hard to find a specialist. If that is the case, it may be easier to prioritize a counselor who is open minded and willing to learn (both from you and on their own time) than it is to prioritize experience. If you begin working with a counselor and feel that you are being judged or misunderstood, then you should feel empowered to ask to be transferred to a new therapist or to seek treatment elsewhere so that you can receive the most supportive and helpful care available.