Fidelity in Polyamorous Relationships
Expanding beyond sexual exclusivity.
Posted Jan 29, 2019
In terms of romantic relationships, fidelity technically means being faithful to one’s partner. For monogamous and most mainstream individuals, faithfulness translates to sexual exclusivity. Following this logic, infidelity is having sexual relations with others outside of the committed monogamous partnership.
For polyamorists and others in consensually non-monogamous relationships, however, ideas about fidelity are expanded to a far wider range of fidelitous behaviors and attitudes outside of or in addition to sexual exclusivity. Poly folks also have four main of ways in which they express their commitments to each other, something I explain in greater depth in another post.
Polyfidelity is a form of polyamory in which a group of people agree to be sexually exclusive with each other and not have lovers outside of the group. Usually these groups are quite small—triads with three people or quads with four are most common—though they can be as large as 20-plus people who form an exclusive intimate network. Twin reasons usually motivate people to consider polyfidelity: sexual exclusivity among a smaller group makes fluid bonding much easier, and a desire for emotional exclusivity. Some groups choose to be polyfidelitous for a while and then later open their sexual choices to include others beyond the group and become polyamorous. For others, especially those who accidentally fell in love with each other and were not necessarily seeking a poly relationship per se but one happened to them anyway, the relationship expanded beyond two is quite enough and the idea of adding even more people to their lives is not appealing.
At the very core of fidelity in CNM is the emotional fidelity people have when they can trust each other to be honest with each other. For some, this extends to reserving emotional intimacy for a core group (usually a couple) and allowing sexual interactions with others as long as they do not become emotionally intimate. Emotional exclusivity is especially common among swingers and monogamish people who distinguish strongly between the core couple and the additional partners.
For others, especially relationship anarchists and non-hierarchical polyamorous folks, emotional fidelity has nothing to do with exclusivity and instead depends on the honesty, trust, and transparency it takes to build real emotional intimacy. Fidelity here equals trustworthiness and intimacy rather than any form of exclusivity.
Being able to count on each other and trust that partners will live up to agreements is a significant form of fidelity in CNM. For people who share money, trusting partners’ financial fidelity is crucial for a happy and healthy relationship. Other elements of practical fidelity can mean taking care of children, doing household chores, providing transportation, and other things families do for each other. Fidelity in this sense means taking responsibility and living up to agreements – being trustworthy.
This is not to say that cheating never occurs in polyamorous or other CNM relationships. In another blog I explain how polyamorists can break agreements, lie, and sneak within their ostensibly consensual relationships. Having sex outside agreed upon bounds is not the only thing that can count as cheating, though, and it is the lying or dishonesty that is often the most damaging in CNM (and ostensibly monogamous) relationships.
At the root of all of these levels of fidelity is the polyamorous assumption of honesty. The most basic form of fidelity for CNM is the consensual part, and that is built through negotiating agreements and telling each other the truth in order to establish true consent. Another important aspect of consent is the ongoing nature that requires reaffirmation or renegotiation as things change over time. Prioritizing true and ongoing consent, being honest with each other, and following through with agreements or renegotiating when they are not working allow polyamorous individuals to maintain fidelity even when they have multiple lovers.