PQ 10.6 — Do I feel like I need rules to feel safe? If so, will the rules actually keep me safe?

a splintered piece of wood with shadows falling across it. The board has the word "rules" painted on it as well as a smiley face.
Image by Steve Johnson / CC BY

PQ 10.6 — Do I feel like I need rules to feel safe? If so, will the rules actually keep me safe?

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Rules are funny.

I’ve written a few times about how disenchanted I am with polyamorous agreements with too many rules (e.g., in Rules Schmules, Rip Off the Band-Aid, Decriminalizing Cheating, etc).

As I wrote in the last post:

Too often, I see elaborate rule structures that are there to ensure that no one ever feels uncomfortable, ostensibly baby proofing the relationships – but the moment something happens that isn’t quite covered by these rules (and I’ve seen this happen so many times)… everyone involved is defenseless, confused. There may even be some finger-pointing.

As counterintuitive as it may seem, the easiest way to get more comfortable in the long term is to practice letting uncomfortable things happen, seeing how you react, and noting the world doesn’t end and that you can bounce back from upsets.  The monster under the bed isn’t so bad as all the rumors would lead you to believe.

The absence of rules doesn’t mean that reckless or ill advised actions don’t have consequences. They most certainly do. Those are decisions that we make for ourselves in response to what another person does. If both people can’t be happy conducting a relationship together, it doesn’t mean that anybody has done anything WRONG per se. It may just mean that you shouldn’t have a relationship together. Of course, there are easy tweaks that can be done for the sake of sanity – but soul-crushing compromises? Ugh. No thank you. I’ll pass.

And in a larger sense, by over-focusing on prohibiting certain behaviors as “off-limits,” we are essentially only practicing monogamy with the goalposts moved and taking on all of its attendant toxic qualities to social relationships.

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And I stand by this reasoning of course. Except…

I have to admit that when I was a brand new poly person, my partner and I did come up with rules. And plenty of them. To be fair, pretty much every one of those rules ended up evolving and changing as we explored polyamory (and boy, were those first 2 years interesting). Polyamory was so much different in practice than it was in reality.

But I can’t deny one fact: Having rules at all made me feel so much more secure setting out. And they also served as bullet points for what was important to us, a way of ensuring we were both on the same page.

At the end of the day, it isn’t the rules that keep us safe, no. That’s more a function of our integrity and our accountability to each another (practiced more or less perfectly, seeing as we’re human). But especially if you’re new to poly, rules can play a part in learning new ways to trust other people.

Ideally, once you’ve built trust with people (and with the idea that non-monogamy as a lifestyle choice can work out well)? You won’t really need them anymore.

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This post is part of a series in which I answer each of the chapter-end questions in More than Two with an essay. For the entire list of questions & answers, please see this indexed list.

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4 Comments

  1. Thanks fir these posts. They are truly helpful in try to figure out how to navigate within polyamory, especially while it’s still new.

    I’m curious if you can recommend a good online poly coach who may be available to act as a mediator for a couple from Western Canada- we’ve hit a roadblock when it comes to safe sex practices, and it could honestly be the end of our marriage if we can’t figure it out. We have a couples therapist, but he’s in high demand and we don’t see him again until November. We may not still be a couple by them if we can’t get this sorted out.

    Thanks in advance for any advice you may be able to offer.

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