When you add more people to a relationship, things get complicated. One relationship can be a challenge. Adding more relationships to your life is not only going to increase the joy and love, but also the drama. With each added person, the issues don't increase linearly – they seem to increase exponentially because there are what I think of as “ricochet effects.” The bullet may have been intended for one person, but the rebound can hit others as well. One person's or one couple's drama can infect all. It wasn't clear to me that it worked that way when we got into a relationship with Julian and Hanne two years ago.
Alex and I have been a pretty low-conflict couple for most of our marriage. That's not to say that we didn't have issues, but we weren't in conflict very often. Hanne and Julian have a history of conflict in their relationship, though they say there was a period where they didn't have as much. But they had only been together for a year and a half before we started dating them, so they didn't have a long, solid foundation of getting along together before we met.
When Alex and I first started dating Julian and Hanne, and noticed they had conflict, we thought, “Oh, everyone has conflict! I'm sure that with our support and help they can talk it through and resolve it quickly.” But that's not the way it worked. Instead, Alex and I found ourselves arguing about their conflict. Hanne would share her viewpoint with Alex, and Julian would share his with me. Then Alex and I would come together and have totally different viewpoints on the situation and get into an argument. In addition, it created greater animosity between Hanne and I, and between Julian and Alex. I would hear about their relationship from Julian's point of view and get angry at the way it sounded like Hanne was treating him; Alex would do the same, but in reverse.
Instead of the drama being stabilized by the healthy relationship we shared, the conflict spread like an infection to a relationship where there hadn't been drama before. Since we've started dating them, both Julian and Hanne have done a lot of work to improve their relationship and reduce fighting. They have really put some work in, but a lesser level of conflict still continues. Alex and I have become much better about managing the situation so we don't fight over their arguments as often, but it does sometimes affect us still.
That's not the only source of richochet effects. For various reasons, Hanne and I ended up with a lot of conflict between us for quite a while. This dispute also affected everyone. Julian and Hanne would fight about our issues sometimes; Alex and I would, too. Hanne and I have spent quite a bit of effort in improving our relationship. We have much less conflict and try to be better about resolving it when it does arise.
Around the time Hanne and I got better about handling our issues, it became clear that Alex was having a lot of difficulty feeling comfortable with the relationship that had developed between Julian and I. When Alex started to get a handle on his issues, it emerged that Julian had become really uncomfortable with some things about Hanne's relationship with Alex. I have my own issues with the way their relationship is going – and our issues ricochet and cause pain and agitation, too.
Throughout all that, Alex and I found that having other relationships acted as a stimulus to bring up old issues between us that we had never dealt with. So on top of the conflict that was raised by the other issues, we were sorting through our own problems. And this affected Julian and Hanne, resulting in arguments between them. Alex and I took a few weeks away from the relationships altogether, and spent a time only seeing them once a month to work on our own issues. Those are some of the major negative ricochet effects we've been dealing with, but honestly there are many others that are more minor, but still affect us all in various ways.
In my opinion, without a doubt, the drama and conflict that seems to often come from multiple relationships is the biggest drawback. I can imagine there might be poly situations where all partners involved are very laid back and happen to magically have found multiple other people with needs and desires nearly perfectly aligned to their own where drama is low. But I haven't personally seen them. Every once in a while I hear tell of a conflict-free poly relationship, though it always seems to be a second- or third-hand tale. I've never met anyone in that kind of relationship.
I will be honest here. The seemingly nearly incessant discord — there still hasn't been a single week where all four of us were genuinely content with all the relationships we have at the same time – can be really stressful. I think it's a perfectly reasonable position for someone to decide that poly just isn't for them solely because of the potential for drama and the effort required to keep the relationships going, even if they believe in ethical non-monogamy as a theory.
Okay, all of that sounds awful, I know. This is a post about poly drama! Did you think it would be upbeat? Well, there actually is a bright side to drama. There is no greater force for relationship growth and development, as well as personal evolution, than dealing with challenging new issues that affect the very foundation of your life – your partnerships with the people you love most in the world.
If you embark on this adventure, you are going to come through this with much enhanced communication skills. You are going to understand what you want and need from your close relationships better than you ever did in the past. You are going to understand where your boundaries are because somebody will have walked all over them, either accidentally or on purpose. You are going to know things about your partner that you never would have learned if you had remained monogamous. You are going to learn how to negotiate for what you want in a relationship. You are going to learn things about yourself that might not fit in with the view of who you are that you started with.
Yes, there is the possibility that the drama will break your relationship. However, there is also the possibility that learning to work through issues and resolve drama will make your relationship more intimate, more connected and stronger that it could ever have been otherwise.
Hey, you're not here because you wanted the safe and easy path are you? If so, this is not the route to take. Turn back! Turn back! No, you're here because you're one of those people who understands that the most rewarding things in life are often earned by taking risk and struggling with the dark dragon when it appears, and beating it. Good luck on your quest.