When I opened up a relationship that had been monogamous for 8 years, I was prepared to feel jealous. But what I wasn’t prepared for? The radical shift in my thinking about that relationship and the imbalances that came to light with our increased autonomy.
Prior to discovering polyamory, when I had a more traditional marriage, I didn’t give much thought to autonomy. Seth was the center of my social universe. And we acted as a unit. Pretty much always.
But after we opened our marriage, and especially once we started to date on our own, I began to really need to act independently. It was small stuff at first. When he was out on dates with Megan, I’d plan evenings for myself at home. But as time wore on, I made my own friends. And eventually found my own dates.
It had been scary to step out on my own at first. But once I got used to it? Well, it was the thing I most loved about polyamory. Being autonomous. Independent, but not alone (between my friends and loves). And it was something I never wanted to give up, even if I were to find myself monogamous again one day.
But that newfound autonomy did expose imbalances that were non-issues before, when we acted as a single unit.
And while comparing ourselves to our partner and needing everything to be even all the time is a recipe for disaster, it can be difficult to navigate imbalances and the discord that can result from them.
1. Having More Free Time
If one of you is working full time, overtime, or has two (or more) jobs, you’ll likely have a lot less time for dating and starting new relationships than a partner who is going to school part time, working sporadically, or unemployed.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and there can be a number of reasons why a person works more or less (e.g., difficulty finding a job in one’s field, chronic illness as in #5, etc.).
However, it is important to be mindful of the disparity so that neither partner ends up All Work, No Play and resentful.
2. Earning More Money
Even when finances are pooled, it’s very common that two people will bring in different amounts of money. I’ve personally been both the breadwinner and the lower earner at different times.
And while money can’t buy you love, dating can get expensive. Sure, there are low-cost or free options, but traditional activities like dinners out and going to the movies can set you back a ways. Especially if you’re actively looking for new partners and have a lot of irons in the fire.
It can be extra tense if the person who has more free time also earns less money and wants to go on a disproportionate share of spendy dates with others.
3. Doing More of the Housework
When you do more of the housework, of course it eats into your free time (as in #1). But it’s more than that. Doing housework is stressful and takes energy. And your dating capacity is limited by anything that stresses you out, even if that something is degreasing the stove.
4. Providing More Childcare
Parenting is a serious commitment. Of all the responsibilities a person can have, few are more difficult to balance than parenting. If one parent is consistently having to take on more parenting responsibilities than the other, it can lead to serious issues.
5. Having More Health Issues
Chronic illness can dramatically affect a person’s ability to date. Regardless of the kind of illness, whether mental, physical, or some mixture of both. As Christine Miserandino wrote in her famous spoon theory of chronic illness:
The difference in being sick and being healthy is having to make choices or to consciously think about things when the rest of the world doesn’t have to. The healthy have the luxury of a life without choices, a gift most people take for granted…Most people start the day with unlimited amount of possibilities, and energy to do whatever they desire, especially young people. For the most part, they do not need to worry about the effects of their actions.
Odds Are That Things Will Be Imbalanced
With so many ways that things can be imbalanced, odds are that you will encounter one or more of them as you open up.
No getting around it, really.
So the question is not “Will this happen to us?” The answer to that is, of course, yes. A more helpful question is: What should we do about it?
Correcting Imbalances, or at Least Correcting the Sense of Imbalance
Some of these are imbalances that we have some control over. Specifically when it comes to housework and parenting (#3 and #4), the clear way to address the imbalance is for the partner who isn’t helping out as much to start doing so. This is especially true if they’re also the partner with more free time.
But sometimes that isn’t possible. But there are situations where multiple imbalances actually balance out when considered together. For example, one partner might work all the time and the other partner might do the lion’s share of housework and parenting. Yeah, yeah, yeah, 50’s Nuclear Family. It does work for some people.
When it comes to uneven earning (as in #2), a number of different budgeting solutions can be sought. I’ve seen people have good success with setting “fun money” aside with each person’s share of that proportional to how much they earn. And I’ve seen people do the same thing and break it down the middle 50:50.
And though we can’t magically wish away chronic illness (wouldn’t that be wonderful?), being mindful of what our partner is going through and communicating that to them can go a long way.
Like everything, it takes communication and honoring the idiosyncracies of your particular situation. Relationships are custom jobs, after all. But it’s well worth the effort because ignoring these imbalances? Can be one of the riskiest decisions of all.