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Four Types of Commitment in Polyamorous Relationships

Polyamory Relationship Commitment NonMonogamy Eli Sheff SDC
Polyamory Relationship Commitment NonMonogamy Eli Sheff SDC
How polyamorists let each other know they are in it for the long haul.

Although the popular imagination casts all forms of consensual non-monogamy as constant orgies with no-holds-barred and certainly no emotions, real life in polyamorous relationships turns out to be far less pornographic. Some people in intimate poly relationships establish commitments with each other, usually in these four ways.

1. Verbal Contracts

At the most basic level, people in all sorts of relationships negotiate verbal contracts. Polys use verbal negotiation to come to agreements about how much and what kind of time people will spend with each other, money spent on dates, safer sex practices, and what to tell the kids. As usual with polyamorous relationships, compassionate communication skills are key to successful negotiation of verbal contracts.

2. Fluid Bonding

Polys and others involved in CNM often take conscious steps to avoid contracting and/or infecting anyone else with a sexually transmitted infection (STI). People in poly communities generally assume safer sex as the baseline, and any fluid transfer is (ideally, although sometimes real life is a bit messier than it seems in the abstract and accidents happen) intentional and negotiated beforehand. Taking the step of agreeing to share fluid generally means 1) considerable negotiation and testing over time has built up to the decision; 2) these people intend to be involved for a considerable length of time in order to merit such effort; 3) other partners who are also fluid bonded to anyone in the affected circle have almost always been included in the negotiations; which means that 4) fluid bonding often signals admittance into a group.

3. Google Calendar

Google has a cloud-based calendar that allows users to share calendar information among a group they select. When someone is invited to view the calendar and granted access to see what everyone is up to, it is an acknowledgement that their involvement in the schedule is integral enough that they need to know what the polycule is up to on a daily basis (for instance, driving carpool or picking someone up from the airport). Being able to both view and modify the schedule is another level of commitment, similar for some folks to the level of commitment that comes with fluid bonding.

4. Ceremonies

Some poly families who establish serious, long-term relationships celebrate their unions with ceremonies. Commitment ceremonies can include anything from the usual Rumi poems and heartfelt toasts to handfasting — a Pagan ritual in which the lovers’ hands are bound with a soft cord. These ceremonies can be small, private affairs or huge blowouts with all the friends and family invited.

Dr. Elisabeth "Eli" Sheff

"Dr. Elisabeth “Eli” Sheff is a researcher, expert witness, coach, speaker, and educational consultant. With a PhD in Sociology and certification as a Sexuality Educator from the AASECT (the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists), Dr. Sheff specializes in gender and sexual minority families, consensual non-monogamy, and kink/BDSM. Sheff is the foremost academic expert on polyamorous families with children and her 20+ year Polyamorous Family Study is the only longitudinal study of poly families with children to date. Sheff’s first book, The Polyamorists Next Door (2014 hardback and ebook, 2015 paperback and audiobook), details the findings of the first 15 years of her research on polyamorous families with children. Her second book, Stories from the Polycule (2015), is an edited anthology of writings by polyamorous folks. When Someone You Love is Polyamorous (2016) is Sheff’s shortest book that guides family members and significant others who are trying to understand a polyamorous loved one."
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