Learning the Delicate Dance of I-ness and We-ness in Polyamorous Relationships

Why do I call polyamory an adventure? Often this question finds its way to me, and the answer lies in embracing life’s complexities in love and relationships, particularly in the context of polyamorous relationships. For me, polyamory isn’t about being an exotic creature different from monogamous individuals. Like everyone else, we do laundry, we go grocery shopping, we cook food for the people we love. In essence, we’re just like everyone else, except in polyamorous relationships we love more than one person at a time.

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Embarking on a Journey of Polyamorous Discovery

However, that last part is a pretty big deal. Loving multiple people in polyamorous relationships is not just a lifestyle choice; it’s a path to self-discovery and liberation. Once you’ve questioned the norms of monogamy, you find yourself questioning everything. It’s in the process of practicing polyamory that you learn about your sexuality, about who you really are, and about what you deeply desire. If you come from a conservative background, polyamorous relationships can be the first taste of free expression in the deepest part of the soul, a thrilling yet terrifying adventure.

The Dance of I-ness and We-ness in Polyamorous Relationships

Polyamory’s true gift is not just in self-liberation, but in the intricate dance between ‘I-ness and We-ness,’ especially prevalent in polyamorous relationships. This dance is about finding a delicate balance between your own individual development (the vertical integration) and your connections with others (the horizontal effects).

Vertical Integration: Embracing Individual Growth in Polyamorous Relationships

This refers to the alignment with self, akin to the strengthening of one’s core identity and personal growth. In the context of polyamorous relationships, it’s about nurturing one’s individuality and personal needs. For example, when my husband and I embarked on our polyamorous journey, we noticed profound growth in our individual selves, our own beliefs, desires and personal journeys were volving. This is the ‘vertical’ aspect — akin to a tree growing taller and stronger, reaching upwards.

  • Embracing Your Personal Evolution: In polyamorous relationships, it’s vital to continually engage in self-reflection and personal development. Embracing your evolution means being open to change and growth, which is often accelerated in a polyamorous lifestyle. This could involve exploring new hobbies, pursuing educational opportunities, or engaging in therapy or personal development workshops.
  • Communicating Needs and Boundaries: A significant aspect of vertical integration is understanding and articulating your needs and boundaries. Regularly check in with yourself to identify what you need for your personal well-being and growth. Transparent communication of these needs to your partners insures that your individual journey is respected and supported.
  • Self-Care and Independence: It’s important to cultivate a strong sense of self-care and independence. This could mean setting aside time for yourself, engaging in activities that fulfill you individually, and ensuring that your self-worth and identity are not solely dependent on your relationships.

Horizontal Effects: Nurturing Connections in Polyamorous Relationships

These relate to the interpersonal connections we have, the bond that ties us to our partners and others in our polyamorous network or ‘polycules’. This ‘horizontal’ dimension is like the tree’s branches, spreading out to connect with others. As we started to connect with more people, our relationship with each other — our ‘we-ness’ — began to shift, pulling us apart from each other. This change in our horizontal connections was challenging but also a source of new experiences and perspectives.

  • Building Strong, Respectful Bonds: Focus on building relationships that are respectful, empathetic, and supportive. Each connection in a polyamorous network should be nurtured on its own terms. Spend quality time with each partner, listening to their needs and sharing your own, thus fostering a deep, meaningful bond.
  • Managing Jealousy and Insecurity: In polyamorous relationships, feelings of jealousy and insecurity can arise. It’s important to address these emotions openly. Discuss your feelings with your partners, seek to understand the root causes, and work together to find solutions that reassure and comfort everyone involved.
  • Celebrating the Unique Dynamics: Every relationship within a polyamorous network is unique. Celebrate these differences and allow each relationship to grow in its own way. This means respecting the individuality of each connection and not comparing or ranking relationships.
  • Collective Problem-Solving: When issues arise, engage in collective problem-solving. This approach ensures that everyone’s voice is heard and that solutions are found that consider the well-being of the entire network. It’s about finding compromises and solutions that respect everyone’s needs and boundaries.
  • Continual Learning and Adaption: Finally, be open to learning and adapting. Polyamorous relationships are dynamic, and what works at one time may need adjustments later. Stay open to feedback, be willing to change and grow, and remember that the journey is as important as the destination.

By embracing these aspects of vertical integration and horizontal effects, individuals in polyamorous relationships can find a harmonious balance between their own personal growth and the nurturing of their connections with others. This balance is key to a fulfilling and sustainable polyamorous lifestyle.

The Alchemy of Relationships

The shift we experienced was profound, altering the very essence of our eight-year monogamous relationship. This transformation was not just about change; it was about growth and understanding.

Acknowledging and nurturing this alchemy — the interplay between the ‘I’ (the vertical) and the ‘We’ (the horizontal) — is fundamental in practicing ethical polyamory. This relationship style highlights the tension between individual agency and collective connection. Each relationship configuration, be it a dyad, triad, moresome, or polycule, navigates its unique dynamics, balancing the needs and growth of the individual with the impacts and connections of the collective. While there is often a focus on strengthening the individual, the very structure of our relationships simultaneously demands an awareness of the collective impacts.

This understanding and balance, this process of continually aligning the individual with the collective, is, to me, the greatest gift of polyamory. It’s not just about personal growth or shared experiences; it’s about the synergy of both, creating a dynamic and fulfilling relational landscape.


Polyamory is more than a mere relationship style; it’s a journey into the heart. It’s about taking risks, being vulnerable, and diving deep into love and full self-expression. It’s a path that is exhilarating, terrifying, and above all, liberating. The greatest gift of polyamory is this very process — the heightening of tension between individual agency and collective connection, the adventure of continuously discovering and balancing our ‘I-ness’ and ‘We-ness.’ This, to me, is the liberating dance of polyamory, an adventure that beckons to those who choose to explore it.

Kathy Slaughter, MSW, combines deep expertise in individual and relationship therapy with a passion for personal growth. Educated at the University of Michigan with a focus on human sexuality, gender transitions, and trauma, Kathy excels in guiding people towards richer, more fulfilling relationships. With 15 years in therapy and social work, they’re an advocate for self-awareness and personal liberation. When not leading at Soaring Heart or engaging in community events like Burning Man, Kathy offers clinical supervision and enjoys speaking engagements. Their commitment to connection and empowerment shines through in every endeavor.

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