Decades of researching polyamorous relationships have clearly demonstrated that the beginning of these consensually nonmonogamous (CNM) relationships can be incredibly exciting and tremendously difficult. The first year of a new polyamorous relationship is often difficult for people who attempt to sustain lasting intimate partnerships with multiple people simultaneously.
While some poly folks are able to transition into new relationships smoothly, it can be incredibly challenging for others. This is primarily because of new relationship energy and the challenges of meshing multiple relationships.
New Relationship Energy
Image: Irridescent heart
It is very common for people who have just begun a polyamorous relationship to experience new relationship energy (NRE), in which they become fascinated with their new partner and tend to pay less attention to their longer-term partners.
Too often, this leads to people accidentally taking their longer-term partners for granted while they pour most of their romantic energy (and potentially a lot of their free time) into their new relationship.
Practiced polyamorists learn to expect this dynamic and take measures to ensure that they give their long-term partners a lot of attention too in order to counteract the temptation to focus intently on the new and shiny partner. These practiced polyamorists who are dazzled with a new partner will be sure to make dates with their long-term partners, woo their long-time lovers, and share fun free time in addition to the mundane chores of life.
Even with this intentional compensation for the allure of the new and shiny, it can still be difficult for many people when their partner is distracted by a new love. Tolerating those feelings can be painful. For some, it is also tinged with or sometimes turns into comparison – a word that polyamorists created to describe the happy feeling they have when their beloved is snogging/enjoying/falling for someone else.
For others, comparison is simply too much to expect, and tolerating the situation is perhaps the best to hope for at that point. With demonstrated goodwill and shared trust, comparison can grow over time. Comparison can be especially difficult to cultivate at the beginning when people are just getting to know each other and exploring their boundaries in the situation.
Integrating New Partners
Another reason the first year can be difficult for people engaged in new polyamorous relationships is that it can be incredibly challenging to blend multiple partners simultaneously. Even though the amount of love they can feel is limitless for many people who identify as polyamorous (or some other form of CNM), the time has some very strict restraints that care nothing for anyone’s expansive heart.
Spending time and resources on a new partner almost always means redirecting them from somewhere else. That can be challenging when some of those resources were previously spent on personal time, co-parenting, work, sleep, education, existing partners, etc. Other areas of life start to feel the squeeze of that loss, and it takes special attention to make sure that things like parenting, partnering, and self-care do not fall by the wayside in favor of the new relationship.
Image: three pairs of feet in sandals on grass
While attempting to balance multiple partners’ boundaries and emotions with each other is difficult enough if everyone discovers that they agree on most issues, some partners have clashing needs that make finding compromise quite difficult.
As people attempting to form polyamorous and polyaffective relationships begin to practice meshing with each other over time, they often realize that they simply do not get along. This configuration will not work, or they are able to blend their boundaries and work things out in an increasingly comfortable and balanced way as they get to know each other better individually and as a unit.
As I have mentioned previously, the polyaffective relationships among the metamours are the key to a happy and resilient polycule. In polyamorous relationships, non-sexual partners who share a partner in common can make or break their mutual relationships with that shared partner. Earning each other’s trust and friendship takes time. It can be hard to get started if people make mistakes at the beginning of their polyamorous relationships, which is quite common (in monogamy as well).
All of these different factors – the steep learning curve, many pitfalls and possible mistakes in this complex relationship style, and all too human propensity to become fascinated with the new partner – can combine to make the first year of serious polyamorous relationships quite challenging. While this turmoil may settle down over time and transform into a smoothly functioning, happy, and supportive relationship, some folks who attempt polyamory find it such a poor fit or so difficult to establish and maintain that they bail out before that first year passes.
Overall, the first year of a serious and lasting CNM relationship can be a lot more challenging than the rest of the relationship turns out to be over time.