Motivation and emotion/Book/2016/Polyamory and emotional need fulfillment

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Polyamory and emotional need fulfillment:
How can polyamory contribute to emotional need fulfillment?


Overview[edit | edit source]

The term "poly" comes from the Greek word meaning 'many, several'. The term "amore" is latin for "love". These words combined make up polyamory, which estentially{{spelling]] translates to "many love" or "many lovers". This chapter explores the taboo topic of multiple partnered relationships and the emotional fulfilment they can create. The origins of polyamory emphasise expression of self, sexual identity and freedom from the monogamous "ideal". These values are key elements of why individuals choose to engage in polyamorous relationships. This chapter uses attachment theory as a means to explain the predisposed preference for multiple partners. We will also look into the coping mechanisms that polyamorous couples practice to overcome emotional complexities in their relationships - particularly the emotion of jealousy. This chapter describes how emotional need fulfilment can be obtained via polyamory according to Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. As a final note, this chapter will look at the benefits of monogamy vs polyamory - is one really better?

What is polyamory?[edit | edit source]

Case study: Multiple lovers under one roof

Sarah, Kelsey and Daniel all live together. They each have their own bedrooms and go about their daily routine in a carefree and habitual manner. They go to work every morning, have dinner together each evening and occasionaly[spelling?] enjoy a movie together over the weekend. However, occasionally, Sarah and Daniel may spend time alone for intimacy or just for companionship. The same applies for Kelsey and Daniel. At times, all three of them may engage in sexual activities together as an expression of love, intimacy and closeness. This arrangement describes a polyamorous relationship. All three individuals are romantically involved with each other and are able to express their feelings of love amongst themselves or extend their polyamorous lifestyle to other individuals who also value polyamory over monogamy.

Figure 1. Polyamory - Multiple lovers without jealousy

Definition[edit | edit source]

The case study describes a polyamorous relationship. All three individuals are romantically involved with each other simultaneously and are able to express their feelings of love amongst themselves or extend their polyamorous lifestyle to other individuals who also value polyamory over monogamy.

Polyamory is defined as the philosophy of being in love or romantically involved with more than one person at the same time (Graham, 2014). This definition has also been extended by other authors (e.g., Benson (2008) as cited in Graham (2012)), to include that the act of sex is a permissible expression of feeling as long as an individual is open and honest with their primary partner/partners. Other definitions of polyamorous relationship are also characterised as individuals who pursue simultaneous romantic pursuits with the permission of their primary partner/partners (McCoy, Stinson, Ross, & Hjelmstad, 2014).

It is also important to understand that polyamory is different from polygamy. Polygamy is the practice of having more than one husband or wife at the same time and is also generally illegal. Polyamory is not illegal and is not bound by religion, nor is bound by group sex or even being promiscuous in general. Some polyamorous individuals may or may not engage in sexual encounters with their partners. Individuals in a polyamorous relationship can also experience the same longevity, fulfilment and satisfaction as those in monogamous relationships (Graham, 2012).

Polyamorous relationships are characterised as being non-exclusive, committed relationships. Polyamory is not synonymous with infidelity because infidelity is what occurs in couples who break an agreement to have an exclusive and committed partnership. Polyamory also differs from open relationships in the sense that open relationships are characterised as being non-exclusive and non-committed. Although the two relationship types somewhat intertwine, open relationships tend to be more casual with less emphasis on commitment. The main principal of polyamory is that ""poly" individuals are committed to being open about each of their relationships present in their lives" (Graham, 2012, p. 1031). Polyamorous individuals generally have one or more primary partners whom they are committed to and may have other partners whom they are intimate with on some occasions (McCoy et al., 2014).

Origins of polyamory[edit | edit source]

Figure 2: Polyamory protests

Movement towards a polyamorous lifestyle was recently discussed by Aguilar (2013) whom suggested that the rise of polyamory was a result of the progressive social movements in the 1990s in which feminist groups challenged the institutionalised, heterosexual monogamy ideal as the dominant relationship model. The feminist movements at the time defined monogamy to be the "cornerstone of patriarchal privilege, enshrining men's rights over women's bodies, and as central to an ideology of romantic love through which women's compliance was secured" (Scott, 2002, as cited in Aguilar, 2013, p. 108). Feminists who advocated for polyamory advocated that non-monogamous lifestyles allow for remodelling of "gendered power relationships" (Aguilar, 2013, p. 109) and also act as a means for sexual expression and liberation (Aguilar, 2013).

Why is understanding polyamory important?[edit | edit source]

Despite the non-monogamy movement being in favour of empowering women, research by Emens (2004) has concluded that both men and women engaging in a polyamorous lifestyle can experience a rich set of values with an emphasis on five principles:

Values of Polyamory Underlying Principles
Self-knowledge Self-knowledge places emphasis on understanding oneself and listening to one's own feelings as vital processes in mediating the "emotional baggage" that may come with polyamory.
Radical honesty A characteristic consisting of honesty and openness. According to Emens (2004), polyamorous couples have a heightened sense of honesty and communication amongst partners because in order to make the relationship work, partners must all be completely open when sharing their wants, needs and desires to reach emotional fulfillment.
Consent Consent is important in polyamorous relationships because individuals need to make an informed decision about sharing romantic partners. Consent provides polyamorous individuals freedom of choice amongst relationship norms. They can choose to be intimate with one partner and provide companionship to another. Through negotiating consensual agreements amongst partners, emphasis is placed on the value of the individual rather than on societal expectancies of relationship norms.
Self-possession The value of self-possession consists of rejecting the "self-possessive" nature of monogamy and embracing polyamory as a means to explore and share relationship benefits such as sex, companionship, friendship and emotional support.
Privileging love & sex over jealousy Polyamorous couples can enhance their feelings of love and intimacy by overcoming emotions such as jealousy.

It is important to understand the emotional aspects of polyamory because positive affect may contribute to need-fulfillment which in turn can lead to greater satisfaction and happiness in an individuals[grammar?] life (McCoy, Stinson, Ross, & Hjelmstad, 2015). Studies have shown that polyamory provides a relief from conventional gender roles and provides expression through sexual agency and self-definition (Emens, 2004). It also allows to [grammar?] examine the differences in psychological well-being in individuals who engage in non-monogamy and those who prefer the traditional monogamous ideal.

Theoretical perspectives[edit | edit source]

[Provide more detail]

Attachment style[edit | edit source]

Researchers of attachment theory have suggested that the attachment process developed throughout infancy continues to guide relationship behaviour during the course of adulthood[factual?]. Attachment orientations differ along two constructs: anxiety (insecurity about partner's availability) and avoidance (discomfort with closeness to a partner) (Moors, Conley, Edelstein & Chopik, 2015). Polyamorous behaviour is closely linked to a secure attachment type as polyamorous individuals score low on both dimensions of anxiety and avoidance[factual?]. According to Moors et al., (2015) secure individuals are comfortable with the intimacy of an interdependent relationship. Attachment security is associated with stable relationships encompassing values of high trust, commitment, satisfaction, intimacy and low levels of jealousy.

Mental representations are another mechanism in which early experiences may contribute to adult relationship security (Bowlby, 1988). In his development of attachment theory, John Bowlby (1988) believed that mental representations set the stage for future romantic relationships in adulthood. Mental representations occur as a result of interpersonal experiences and can be defined as the expectations for the self and others in relationships. In his early research, Bowlby (1988) concluded that children who are nurtured by caregivers and are capable of having their physical and emotional needs met will internalise this mental representation to future relationships. Therefore, they can rely on their future relationship partners to provide intimacy, physical and emotional support just as their caregivers had done. This is an example of secure relationship expectations that lead to healthy romantic relationships (Moors et al, 2015).

Based on this information, secure individuals are less likely to be unfaithful and are more likely to enjoy engaging in sexual intimacy within a committed relationship, as opposed to insecure individuals. In their study, Moors et al. (2015), examined how attachment orientations are associated with attitudes towards non-monogamy and the desire to engage in such behaviour amongst individuals whom have never participated in any forms of non-monogamy. Their findings supported Bowlby's (1988) original thoughts in that their results confirmed that individuals low in avoidance held positive attitudes and were willing to engage in polyamorous relationships. Participants who scored high on the anxiety dimension held negative attitudes towards polyamory. This recent research has provided grounds to apply attachment theory to a polyamorous lifestyle.

Figure 3: Attachment Theory Two Dimensional Model

Emotional work[edit | edit source]

Recent study of polyamory by Brunning (2016) has examined the emotional complexity involved in polyamorous relationships. The concept of "emotional work" originally developed by Arlie Hochschild, as cited in Brunning (2016), is defined as the activity of engaging with another person's emotional life. It is an attempt to manage others[grammar?] emotions through soothing tempers, enhancing confidence, preventing friction and overcoming egos. Brunning (2016) stated that emotional work is an important element within polyamory because polyamorous relationships generate a range of challenging emotions. Polyamorous relationships can be complex in practice and emotionally charged and therefore if an individual does not engage with his/her emotions, then the relationship may fail. The application of emotional work is important within polyamorous relationships because it manifests one's commitment to honesty and integrity (Brunning, 2016).

Compersion: Challenging the monogamous "ideal"[edit | edit source]

Research has attempted to examine how emotional complexities are managed in polyamorous relationships. It is believed that polyamorous couples develop their own language to make sense of identities, relationships and emotions that fall outside the traditional culturual[spelling?] constructs of love and relationships (Ritchie & Barker, 2006). The social constructionist approach states that the language and emotions within our cultures determine how we react in different situations (Rosaldo, 1984, as cited in Ritchie & Barker, 2006) and as a form of social control (Ritchie & Barker, 2006). For example, the emotion of jealousy has been constructed as a negative emotion and as a natural response to infidelity which further serves to maintain the dominance of monogamy. Jealousy is considered to be the "natural" response to any threat to a relationship, and relationships outside the monogamous "ideal" are categorised as "infidelities" which often lead to the break up of a relationship (Ritchie & Barker, 2006).

Polyamorous couples experience the emotional phenomenon of compersion. Compersion is defined as "the ability to transform jealousy into the vicarious enjoyment of a partner's pleasure when sharing closeness with another person" (McCoy et al., p. 136). The emotional experience of compersion challenges traditional monogamy because individuals who identify as polyamorous, have been able to transform the negative associations with jealousy (which is an apparent threat to monogamous relationships) to an experience that brings happiness, joy, and closeness amongst partners.

This research corresponds with the values of polyamory developed by Emens (2004). In particular, the research by Ritchie and Barker (2006) can be applied to the polyamorous values of "self knowledge" and "privileging love and sex over jealousy" in that compersion is the cognitive method in which a negative emotion is transferred into something positive leading to greater awareness of the self and overcoming the "emotional baggage" that forms part of polyamory.

How can polyamory contribute to emotional need fulfillment?[edit | edit source]

Figure 4:Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

Based on the research that has examined the emotional complexities of polyamory, it can be suggested that perhaps polyamory can contribute to emotional need fulfilment according to Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. Western ideals of love have placed reliance on monogamous individuals to meet many interpersonal needs including those for companionship, intimacy, intellectual involvement and sex (Drigotas & Rusbult, 1992, as cited in Mitchell, Bartholomew & Cobb, 2014). One theory of polyamory is that needs cannot be met by a single person and therefore it is valid and worthwhile for them to maintain intimate, loving and/or sexual relationships with more than one person (Haritaworn, Chin-ju Lin & Klesse, 2006).

Relationship needs can be distributed across multiple partners in polyamorous relationships. Need fulfilment in polyamorous relationships has a variety of domains, particularly those which encompass the importance of emotional intimacy and emotional support (Mitchell et al., 2014). These emotional needs are constructs of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, particularly the need for "belongingness and love" and "esteem needs". In their study, Mitchell et al., (2014) investigated how need fulfilment was related to relationship outcomes in multiple relationships. They developed three models which could be applied to test their hypothesis:

Relationship Model Description
Adaptive Model Polyamory as a means to achieve greater emotional and sexual need fulfilment than if they only had one partner.
Contrast Model Need fulfilment from one polyamorous partner may be negatively related to relationship satisfaction and commitment with another. Therefore, if this results in a relationship conflict, than monogamy may be seen as the better alternative.
Compensation Model Polyamorous individuals compensate for low need fulfilment in one relationship by seeking to fulfil those needs with another partner. Therefore, polyamory acts as an ethical way to compensate for lack of emotional need fulfilment.

Their findings did not significantly predict that couples engaging in polyamory do so to achieve greater need fulfilment and to compensate for unmet needs, but rather they found consistently high ratings of need fulfilment across couples engaging in polyamory based on the principles of the adaptive and compensation model.

Although this study does not explicitly relate to Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, the study can nevertheless be applied to the theory. These findings suggest that there are some implications of polyamory in fulfilling individual emotional and esteem needs such that polyamorous couples show high ratings of need fulfilment in their relationship (Mitchell et al., 2014). In addition to these findings, the information presented earlier within the chapter suggest that polyamory challenges emotions and requires the development of new skills to deal with such complexities (e.g., compersion). Therefore, it could be suggested that perhaps the "higher thinking" that is required by polyamorous couples to confront challenging emotional circumstances assists them in working towards "self-actualisation". According to Reeve (2015), some of the behaviours that encourage self-actualisation include:

  • Being honest
  • Being open to new experiences
  • Letting the self emerge

These are all considered to be constructs of polyamory. If you recall Emens' (2004) values of polyamory, her description closely relates to the self-actualisation principles of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. In theory, polyamory should be able to contribute to fulfilment of needs because multiple partners can assist one another in obtaining the required needs. Preliminary studies such as that of Mitchell et al., (2014) have been able to provide some support for this however, it is evident that more research is required, particularly in terms of applying polyamory to Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs.

Monogamy vs polyamory?[edit | edit source]

[Provide more detail]

How do monogamous couples perceive polyamory?[edit | edit source]

In Western cultures, monogamy is viewed as the natural and traditional approach to love. According to Conley et al. (2012), by biological definition, sexual monogamy refers to having a single sexual partner for an entire existence. Therefore, for humans to be monogamous by biological definition, it would mean that they are to stay with their first sexual partner (without departure) until the day they die. In their research, Conley et al. (2012), interviewed monogamous couples as a way to understand how they view polyamorous relationships. They perceive monogamy to be the "moral" thing to do, which is consistent with their moral value system. They also believe that polyamory is an example of relationship dissatisfaction. However, based on the information presented in this chapter, this statement can be considered false because polyamorous relationships have been shown to improve relationship satisfaction (Emens, 2004). People who are in monogamous relationships have also been shown to stigmatise those engaging in polyamory. In their research Conley et al. (2012) found significant results showing a high degree of negative bias towards polyamory.

Multiple passions increase well-being[edit | edit source]

There is also research to suggest that individuals who have two passions in their life report higher levels of psychological well-being as opposed to one (Schellenberg & Baillis, 2015). In their research, Schellenberg and Baillis define passion as a strong desire to engage in an activity that individuals enjoy, find important and in which they invest time and effort into. The ultimate goal of passion is to internalise the activity into one's self identity. Based on their research, Schellenberg and Baillis (2015) explains that passion can be developed for multiple activities as each different activity will satisfy areas of certain passion criteria (that is unique to the individual). Engaging in multiple passions subsequently leads to frequent experiences of positive emotions which then accommodates for high levels of well-being (Schellenberg & Baillis, 2015). Although this area of research is not explicitly directed towards polyamorous relationships, it can nonetheless be critically applied to polyamory. In polyamory, passion can be referred to as the multiple partners people engage in to participate in meaningful activities and to fulfill emotional and physical needs/desires. By engaging in multiple passions which fulfill multiple needs, polyamorous individuals then develop a rich set of values (Emens,2004) which are then integrated into their self-identity.

Figure 4: Relationships are all different

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

All individuals are unique and complex in their own way. What works for someone, may not work for someone else. Polyamory is an example of this. This chapter explains why some individuals choose to engage in polyamory over the traditional monogamous ideal. Theoretical perspectives have been used to describe the values poly individuals develop and how they make sense of the emotional complexities involved in maintaining a healthy relationship. Polyamorous individuals hold the belief that a single person cannot meet all their needs and therefore Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs provides a good example as to how multiple partners can provide for need fulfillment - both emotionally and physically.

The aim of this chapter was not to determine whether one type of relationship style is better than the other (monogamy vs polyamory), but rather, to investigate the positive psychological benefits of polyamory and how their emotional needs can be met if they feel they cannot be fulfilled in monogamy. There is a misconception with polyamory in that some believe it to be a sign of relationship dissatisfaction and is not aligned with the "traditional norm" however, the evidence in this chapter shows otherwise. The application of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs does require further research however this chapter has aimed to provide a comprehensive understanding of this theory in terms of polyamory. There is no "superior" type of relationship, however it is not fair to provide stigma and bias towards polyamory when research evidence does suggest it can contribute to development within the self and provide fulfillment in relationships. Polyamory is a choice, and those who choose to engage in it, develop a rich set of values that allow them to be emotionally fulfilled.

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

Aguilar, J. (2013). Situational sexual behaviours: The ideological work of moving toward polyamory in communal living groups. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, 42(1), 104-129. doi:10.1177/0891241612464886

Bowlby, J. (1988). A secure base: Clinical applications of attachment theory. London: Tavistock Press.

Brunning, L. (2016). The distinctiveness of polyamory. Journal of Applied Philosophy , 1-19. doi:10.1111/japp.12240

Conley, T. D., Ziegler, A., Moors, A. C., Matsick, J. L., & Brandon, V. (2012). A critical examination of popular assumptions about the benefits and outcomes of monogamous relationships. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 17(2), 1-18. doi:10.1177/1088868312467087

Emens, E. (2005). Monogomy's law: Compulsory monogomy and polyamorous existence. New York University Review of Law & Social Change, 29, 277-376. doi:10.2139/ssrn.506242

Graham, N. Polyamory: A call for increased health professional awareness. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 43(6), 1031-1034. doi:10.1007/s10508-014-0321-3

Haritaworn, J., Lin, C.J., & Klesse, C. (2006). Poly/logue: A critical introduction to polyamory. Sexualities, 9(5), 515-529. doi:10.1177/1363460706069963

McCoy, M. A., Stinson, M., Ross, D. B., & Hjelmstad, L. R. (2015). Who's in our clients' bed? A case illustration of sex therapy with a polyamorous couple. Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, 41(2), 134-144. doi:10.1080/0092623X.2013.864366

Mitchell, M. E., Bartholomew, K., & Cobb, R. J. (2014). Need fulfillment in polyamorous relationships. Journal of Sex Research , 51(3), 329-339. doi:10.1080/00224499.2012.742998

Moors, A. C., Conley, T. D., Edelstein, R. S., & Chopik, W. J. (2015). Attached to monogamy? Avoidance predicts willingness to engage (but not actual engagement) in consensual non-monogamy. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 32(2), 22-240. doi:10.1177/0265407514529065

Reeve, J. (2015). Understanding motivation and emotion: Sixth edition. Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Ritchie, A., & Barker, M. (2006). 'There aren't words for what we do or how we feel so we have to make them up': Constructing polyamorous languages in a culture of compulsory monogamy. Sexualities, 9(5), 584-601. doi:10.1177/1363460706069987

Schellenberg, B. J., & Bailis, D. S. (2015). Can passion be polyamorous? The impact of having multiple passions on subjective well-being and momentary emotions. Journal of Happiness Studies, 16(6), 1365-1381. doi:10.007/s10902-014-9564-x

External links[edit | edit source]