Jimmy and Michelle have known they were poly since their marriage, they have been in a blended family with a child together, and each having a child from a past relationship. Until recently, they have lived with their poly partners together as a family of seven. They have just decided to get a divorce.
How long have you known you are poly?
Michelle (M) : We started talking about it seven years ago when we got married, but we didn’t go into it right away. We decided to open up our marriage around October of 2006, five and a half years ago, when Jimmy was deployed to Iraq.
Jimmy (J) : From the beginning we thought of ourselves as poly. We went to one “swingers party” and looked at each other and said, “This is not for us.”
M : The reason we did open up our marriage, when Jimmy went to Baghdad, was we believed that we could love other people, and still love each other. Neither one of us believed that love needed to be limited, right off, from the beginning. I wanted Jimmy to have any comfort and solace in Baghdad any way he could get it. If there was someone he found over there, I told him to please take it. He told me he wanted me to have the same thing, solace and comfort, while he was gone. We knew that being with other people didn’t change how we felt about each other. Love is infinite and not limited by how many people you love.
We have had poly partners in the past who have been single, had kids, and also who had other relationships. At one time we were in an extended long distance relationship where they also saw each other, so essentially a quad.
Are you legally married?
J: Just shy of seven years, on April 28th.
Have you had relationships outside of your marriage?
M: We both have .
J: I saw one woman a few times, and then we each have had two different long-term relationships over the years. My first one was just under a year, Michelle’s was just over a year, and somewhat continues. My second long-term relationship was about a year and a half, and the same for Michelle. Her other relationship is still going strong. Mine has become a less frequent, long-distance relationship.
M : Jimmy had a few sexual encounters that didn’t develop into relationships as well. I haven’t. I have strictly been involved with long-term relationships.
Has your marriage relationship been primary?
J: We considered our marriage primary. I think the first time that really changed was about April of last year when we reached a point where we both saw that, to some extent, the “spiritual marriage” between us was over.
M: We weren’t meeting each others emotional needs so we did what we could, we tried marriage counseling. Other relationships aside, I don’t feel they had a lot to do with our problems together. We worked on our marriage, and haven’t been able to resolve that.
Do you do use some kind of scheduling of partners?
J: When they were long distance relationships, we didn’t really make our relationship a priority, at least not consistently. Once we had relationships with people who lived locally we did try a once a week meet up schedule.
M: Our first relationships were concurrent, long-distance relationships. Both of our second long-term relationships were also concurrent and they both ended up moving in with us. Amanda moved in for about a year and a half, before she moved out recently. Jimmy still maintains a long distance relationship with Amanda. Ryan is still living with us and that relationship is still going strong. During that time all together, things did get very hectic. We had Jimmy and Amanda’s date night, Jimmy and my date night, and my and Ryan’s date night. We had three nights a week where someone would be going out. We had a dry erase board to keep track of it all, and keep the schedule straight.
What are the challenges of being in a poly relationship?
J: One of the things a monogamous marriage does is it creates a crucible. There is no escape. One of two things happens. Sometimes it succeeds and with enough pressure turns that lump of coal into a “diamond”, but just as often it crushes the relationship into dust. Poly lets air into that crucible, it gives the pressure some place to go. The issue with poly is that by having that alternative, it makes it less necessary to come to transformational solutions together. I don’t know whether our marriage would have survived this long without that or not. We don’t think it would have, it would have been one of those that crumbled, and sooner. That is one of the issues, challenges, and risks within a poly relationship.
Can you have a relationship that is a ‘diamond’ and still have a successful poly relationship, or are they exclusive?
J: I don’t think they are mutually exclusive. If you find yourself in a relationship where it doesn’t need to provide the strength and the growth, and meshes well, and your needs are complimentary, it can be that “diamond” relationship, polyamorously. I think there are very few relationships that fall into that category, especially when you are talking not just romantically but a partner type of relationship or a parenting relationship, if that is involved. There are so many things that just have to click.
M: Had Jimmy and I not been poly, I believe we would have been divorced before now. Poly really encourages communication. Any relationship is difficult. If you add more people it will be more difficult. With poly you communicate, communicate, communicate, and then communicate some more.
We did not really start working with our marriage until we became poly. We started communicating and reading books and learning about communication. How people process communication. Being poly forced us to learn more about how we communicate with others than if we had been strictly monogamous. Not to say you should run out and become poly, it is not a solution to marriage problems.
If you feel that you are polyamorous, learning about how relationships work is a plus! Because we were poly we were forced to learn about those things and learn some skills that we did not already have. When we went to a marriage counselor we told him that we loved each other and had some communication break downs. After a few sessions the counselor laughed and said we had better communication skills than anyone he had ever seen and better than most people after they walked out of his office.
It is not always about communication, it is often about meeting each others needs. We discovered that to meet each others needs it would require some fundamental changes in each of us. We got stuck on how to meet each persons needs without harming the other.
With children, staying together a little longer must have helped gets your kids?
Was there other benefits to being poly?
J: The fact that we did stay together has helped make this eventual divorce a lot more amicable. I am confident that if we had stayed monogamous, this divorce would have been a lot less amicable, there would have been a lot more anger. The long-term results with the children would have been worse. When people talk about polyamory it is usually about sex, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Polyamory is about loving more than one person, and not necessarily a sexual component. After this divorce, we probably won’t have a further sexual relationship, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t in a polyamorous relationship. That phrase may still be appropriate.
M: I love Jimmy, love him very much. He is wonderful partner and father. We just don’t have the romantic side anymore. As a poly family it is a huge advantage to have a core of built-in baby sitters. When Jimmy and I went out on a date, we had two other people there to care for the kids. Even for a night out with a friend, we all helped out with the kids. It takes a village to raise children. Our children know that they are loved by many people. They know if they can’t go to mom or dad, they have someone else they can go to. I plan to find a place nearby so we can continue to share raising the children.
Did you function as a poly family?
M: Sunday was always bowling day and we did that with what part of the family was home. We have one child together, and then one each with other people so it depended on which children were home on the weekend. It could be three to seven of us going bowling. During the week we definitely functioned as a family. We shared the chores and responsibilities, helped the kids with homework. It was also easier to have ‘alone’ time with each of the children. We functioned very much as a family unit.
What are traits a person needs to be successful in poly relationships?
J: A lack of jealousy.
M: I don’t agree.
J: Positive self-esteem and self-confidence, and good communication skills. To philosophically believe in the possibility of loving more than one person.
M: To believe that even if you love one person, you can still love another. The way we explained it to our children was that, “You have one child, and than you have another child, and it doesn’t mean you love the other child any less. You love them both equally, not love one less. That is true for love between adults, too.”
I am probably the least poly of the people in our family, but even so I have had three men in my life at one time. Loving more than one person doesn’t diminish love. A positive self-image and being secure with yourself are the most important things. Jealousy does happen, we fear we may lose something. That is what jealousy is. That fear is natural. When we hide from that fear or ignore it, it gets worse. Being able to face the fear, work on it, and get over it is essential to being successfully poly.
Is it easier to be Pagan and poly?
J: I’m not sure what you mean when you ask if it’s easier to be Pagan and Poly? Easier than what? I suspect it’s easier than being polyamorous and Christian, particularly as a member of those Christian religions that view sex as, at best, a necessary evil to be used only for the purpose of procreation. However, I don’t know that it’s any easier to be Pagan and poly than reformed Jewish and poly, since I don’t believe that Jews have nearly as many hang-ups on sexuality as many Christian faiths. On the other hand, if you’re asking if it’s easier to be Pagan and Poly than Pagan and Monogamous, I don’t know the answer. That begs the question is it easier to be polyamorous or monogamous. I don’t know which is easier. I suspect it depends on the individual. For me, for the past several years, polyamory has been a better fit.
M: I do think it’s easier being poly when you’re Pagan. I believe the Pagan community has more diverse beliefs than mainstream society and poly is generally more accepted. Having said that, I will also add that the people in mainstream society who have given me grief over being poly are far fewer than those who have accepted it.
Which is more important to you, being a Pagan or being poly?
J: I don’t know that I can answer whether I’m Pagan or Poly first. I believe in polyamory. I believe it is possible to love more than one person. I am Pagan. It is a part of how I view the world and the people in it. I believe in the innate divinity of everyone. I have a moral code that I live by, so both Paganism and polyamory guide my life. Over the past several years, they have both been driving forces in how I live my life on a daily basis so I don’t know that I can say whether I’m Pagan first, or poly first.
M: For me, Paganism and polyamory are beliefs that I hold. They are separate, but related. If I had to choose which one would be “first”, I would say that I’m Pagan first because my spiritual life impacts my daily decisions, and that will stay the same my entire life. I believe in polyamory, but it is not something that I need throughout my life. If it fits at the time, so be it. If I were to meet someone who wanted to be strictly monogamous, then that would be OK., too. I don’t need multiple relationships.
Last, and next week in this series of interviews with poly Pagans, what is it like to be poly and a single mom.