The Key Factor to Polyamory Relationship Success

In talking about polyamory relationship success, I do take as a given that you’re a rational grown-up.  Relationships are for grown-ups.  If you’re not a grown-up, fix that, first.  Own your own shit, realize the world doesn’t revolve around you, have some basic self-knowledge and the ability to communicate honestly.  If you don’t have those things[1], this article isn’t going to be worth a damn to you.


Okay, now that the children are upstairs listening at the doorway[2], I want to talk a bit about the single factor that makes the most difference in the success or failure of polyamory relationship success – partner selection.

I want it clear that you are a grown-up.  You know better than to map “good partner for you” to “good human being”, right?  There are billions of good people in this world that would make a crappy partner for you.   Got it?

Poly partner selection breaks down into two basic classifications.  The first question you need to ask is, “Is this person a grown-up?”  Only date grown-ups.  That’s flat.  You might make a badly-informed decision otherwise, but if you restrict your dating to grown-ups, even the mistakes will be considerably less painful and will not involve peripheral drama and nonsense.  Really, if you follow the rule of only dating grownups you’ve solved a good 90% of the problems right there.

A grown-up:

  1. Owns his own shit.
  2. Tells the truth.
  3. Knows how to set appropriate boundaries
  4. Knows that ultimately he is the one finally responsible for getting his needs met.
  5. Knows how to ask for what she wants.
    1. Knows the difference between a request and a demand.
  6. Knows that the world does not revolve around him, so is not quick to take everything personally.

There.  Really you can stop reading. If your partners meet those criteria, you’ve eliminated a lot of problems.   Even so, sometimes even two grownups are not a great match, though.  Once you’ve gotten past the “Is this person a grown-up?” the questions start getting really individual.  You need to know yourself and your personal tastes.  Here’s some good questions to ask:

  1. Do I like socializing best one on one or in a group?
  2. What sorts of things do I like to do?  Does the candidate for a relationship with me like to do any of them?
  3. How okay am I with people doing things without me?    If Significant Events in your life are ruined without the presence of all your partners, not only do you need to be up front about it, you want to select partners within a small geographic area who have few commitments outside of the relationship.  (This almost borders on “Not a grownup” in my book, as the joined at the hip paradigm is often an unspoken expectation.  But I let it slide because if you ARE up front about it and select for it, you’re owning your own shit, which means Grownup).
  4. Do I favor a communication form?  What kinds of communication make me happiest?
  5. How important are spiritual beliefs and practices (or the lack thereof) to me?
  6. How much time do I need to spend with a partner to be happy?
    1. Does the candidate actually desire to give and have that level of time to give?
    2. If the candidate wants more time than you were thinking of giving, do you have as much time as the candidate is happiest having and are you happy giving it?   Be cautious with this one.  Relationships are great, but we poly people tend to have a strong creative component to our lives.  Keep time to draw, knit, paint, blow stuff up, build siege engines, etc.   Yes, this can be something you do with a partner, and you’ll be getting a Cool Partnership with Extra Sprinkles.  It’s awesome when it happens and might even be something you want to look for.
  7. How strongly do I feel about kids or the lack thereof in terms of socializing with partners?  Is this in harmony with the candidate’s actual life? (Hint: If said partner has kids under 12 and lives with the kids full-time, if the kids are not a huge factor, he or she might be avoiding parenting responsibilities in favor of extra-curricular activities.  i.e. Might not be a grown-up.  Just sayin’  Be careful and aware).
  8. Do you agree on what’s “quality time” together?  You might find sitting together watching a movie a great thing to do together, or you might consider it a waste of time when you could be interacting.   Make sure you know what’s quality time for the both of you.  You might have differing views and that’s okay.  If you know and are cool with mutually meeting those differing needs, it’ll work out. But not knowing can be a recipe for disaster, even among grown-ups.  Make sure you’re actually cool with it, though.   If you’re tolerating it for TEH HAWT SECKIN go up a few paragraphs.  You really don’t have to compromise on that when looking for good relationships.

Are you patting yourself on the back and saying, “Oh I can get along with anyone and can make my style match anyone else’s for a good relationship?”

Stop pattin’.  No, seriously, stop it.  Either you’re so tapioca bland and tasteless that you aren’t worth having a relationship with, or your self-knowledge needs some work.  You do have tastes, desires, things that make you happy, and things that don’t.  If you pretend you don’t, that nonsense is just gonna explode all over the place one day like an overripe zit.   Even the most easygoing of people have tastes and preferences, for pity’s sake.  Don’t sell yourself short.  Choose wisely and your relationships will be awesome.

And if you don’t, realize they’re learnable skils.

Why yes, not only am I a parent, I remember my own childhood.

15 thoughts on “The Key Factor to Polyamory Relationship Success

  1. Inferno

    All super good stuff to ponder, but one of the great things about being open to more than one person is that it makes so everything doesn’t have to match up.
    Partner A may love to go dancing and partner B may like to stay home watching movies.
    If you are more into watching movies then partner B is your evening companion much of the time.
    Maybe partner B isn’t into running though and you need to run and wish a partner with you… Partner A loves to run!
    Nobody can be the perfect everything.

    1. Goddess of Java Post author

      No, your interests do not have to match exactly! You’re quite right.

      It’s why, though, that I was discussing personal style and preferences rather than activity preferences.

      1. Josh

        , Hey I love you even when you’re stupid and iranriotal because of sex chemicals. Now *exercising* the veto option is a very different thing, to me, than having it and not using it. Exercising the veto means a big mistake has been made on the part of one or both of the people in the dyad. It *is* a red flag that says Our relationship is unstable. It *is* a sign you should immediately switch to emergency relationship repair and renovation mode. And if you have to use it once a month? Um, what are you doing, doing poly that way? I would suspect less a relationship and more an unhealthy, co-dependent mess.To me, a veto is like owning a handgun. I hope I never have to use mine, especially not in anger, but I am damn well not so Pollyanna as to think I’m totally safe without one.

  2. Relsqui

    I think this is fantastic advice, but I have one basic disagreement with the model you’re using. Rather than two boxes of maturity and immaturity, I’d place people along a spectrum, and then look for someone on that spectrum who’s close to me.

    On her blog The Fluent Self, Havi Brooks compares self-marketing to keeping kosher: “anyone who does it more than me is doing too much, anyone who does it less is doing too little.” This applies to a lot of things (“anyone who’s tidier than me is a neat freak, anyone who’s messier than me is a slob”) and I think maturity is one of them. I don’t want to be the only child in a relationship any more than I want to be the only grownup. Thus, again, rather than finding “one of the good ‘uns,” I’m looking for a match.

    1. Goddess of Java Post author

      I have a personal problem with anyone over the age of 16 who does not at least have the GOAL of being a grown-up. Just one of my things.

      Yes, there are more mature and less mature people, but frankly, I don’t think that resting on immaturity is okay for anyone physically an adult.

      It’s less in my opinion about having a goal of FINDING one of the “good ones” as realizing that one should BE one of the “good ones”.

  3. Bernadette Bosky

    I also think you’re too binary about mature/immature. Being willing to work on oneself may be binary, but in practice we are still all both, as it says in *Illuminatus!*, the holy man and the shithead. Everyone has mature, sane bits and everyone has immature, crazy bits. Part of a good fit is the ratio, but part is how much we can tolerate each others’ immature, crazy bits. As one family sociologist said, a good marriage happens “When the rocks in his head fit the holes in hers.”

    (Fellow polyamorist, in a committed triad for over 20 years and counting.)

  4. Ally

    Yeah, I didn’t read this article as saying you have be perfectly mature. I interpreted it as saying that there are certain skills that are necessary in order to have that minimum level of maturity that allows your relationships to at least have a shot at being an overall positive part of your life, instead of overall negative. Perhaps I am overly pessimistic, but I have a hard time seeing how a relationship could work if the participants lack the (few, and basic) things she listed.

  5. Jennifer

    I’m not entirely sure my comment is welcome here, but I come in peace. I am a happily married monogamous woman. However, I want to say that I really enjoyed your rules of relationships and your qualifications of a grownup. I think those apply across the board to anyone that wants to have any sort of relationship. My husband meets all of my sexual needs, but certainly not all of my social/friendship needs. When I finally quit trying to make him be my god and single-handed-ly fulfill all of my relational needs, our relationship became more fulfilling. It is really good advice. I think there are too many non-grownups trying to make someone “complete” them, and it’s not going to work. I really liked your qualifications for grownups because it takes a conscience decision to become an adult and so many are still wanting to be adolescents. I recently listened to a video that said our g-parents generation didn’t know how to finish, so our parents generation didn’t know how to start, so our generation doesn’t know how to grow up! And being self-aware is so helpful in forming a relationship. It helps weed people out that will not make good partners for you. I wish more people were more particular about who they choose but so few are or can be because they are completely un-self-aware because they haven’t yet been honest about how they are wired. I thought you were very insightful into the human psyche and into human relationships, and your writing style is refreshing and amusing. Thanks!

    1. Goddess of Java Post author

      @Jennifer, yes, you’re more than welcome. Congratulations on a happy relationship that works for you. I hope that your happiness continues.

      Thank you VERY much for your kind words.

  6. SkorpionUK

    Nice. I can think of several people I’d send this post to, but it would mostly be snarky so I won’t. I know, I’ll link to it, because more people definitely need to find this cluestick!

  7. Susi Matthews

    This is wonderful advice, thank you. This came up while I was googling something for a potential new partner to read, who knows nothing about Poly. She’s definitely Mono but that’s ok; at this point in my life I am looking for ONE healthy relationship with an adult and if I can manage that, I’ll be thrilled.

    Like other good advice, this works well for *any* sort of adult relationship, if one removes the ‘poly’ label. Good advice is good advice, for anyone IN a relationship or looking for one.

    Thank you; I look forward to more good reading here.

  8. Pixified

    I’ve found this post and the rest of your blog very insightful and well-written, even so much that I’ve started translating some of the posts for my primary partner to read, since there is not much written text – and even less anything actually useful – in Finland and his language skills are at best very limited. I was wondering if it would be ok to share the translations in Finnish polyamory communities?
    I’m thinking of asking a poly-friendly-linguist friend of mine to proofread to lessen the amount of messages lost in translation. I think increasing the amount of text written on the subject in Finnish would help the community be better understood, for I’ve noticed that usually the people who would benefit the most from reading these kind of texts don’t have the required skill to understand the nuances and terminology of them.

    Best wishes and many thank yous for your blog,


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