Non-monogamous people are not a more evolved form of relationship-haver than monogamous folks, as a rule - we make many of the same mistakes of miscommunication and interpersonal conflict, and have a few unique to us to substitute in for common “monogamy culture” tropes around possessive behavior and jealousy being valorized. Often, however, in shifting our mindset away from those behaviors and trying to get better at communication (or just in the sheer amount of practice we end up getting by maintaining more than one relationship over time) we end up viewing our way of operating as inherently better. Generally speaking, it’s better for us, and monogamous people would be well-served by examining their cultural biases while choosing to remain monogamous, but there’s no basic superiority in any style of relating over any other.
Today I’d like to look at a faux-pas of interpersonal relationships that I think either monogamous or polyamorous people can engage in, but that I see more commonly as a problem in polyamorous (and especially newly polyamorous) relationships: undisclosed open phone policies. What I mean by an undisclosed open phone policy is that you and the partner with whom you have the phone sharing are aware of it, but other people with whom you interact (friends, new partners, family) are not, or are expected to intuit or “just know” that this partner has open access to all your communications. It’s a problem because most people communicate via text or email these days with the expectation that these are fairly private media/means of communication - that they’re expressing something just to you, as they would be on a phone call or over coffee. If you’re a long-time reader of the blog, or you’ve read my book, you’ll know that I advocate for being explicit about how much privacy folks can expect their communications to have within a polycule, because cultural conditioning tells us that we “tell our partners everything,” and this often includes the things we hear during the day, that are really others’ information and stories rather than our own - so being explicit about these agreements protects our partners’ boundaries around one another.
“Open phones” are, by and large, a maladaptive way of coping with trust issues, past traumas around cheating, and insecurity - a sense of “everything is OK because I can read all of it and regain a sense of control over all of my partner’s actions” that is essentially false. You never control another person’s actions just by being able to view them, and you should have enough trust in your relationship that you can have a discussion about a topic rather than reading someone’s private conversations. If you and/or your partner really need this as a structural backup, a security blanket rule (whether or not you ever use it) it’s absolutely imperative you inform people that such a rule (and therefore the possibility that a third party will see anything they tell you) exists before they get vulnerable over that medium. Discovering that your private conversations have been read by someone they weren’t intended for only when there’s an issue that causes conflict because of what was seen is a shock and a betrayal that I have seen end both romantic relationships and friendships.
The “phones” thing has become a bigger issue in our modern society because it’s a big jealous trope - “just go through their phone if they’ve got nothing to hide” in monogamous culture, and some of that carries over into polyamory - lots of people who aren’t necessarily dating together think that honesty or transparency in terms of process means perfect visibility, without a thought for the privacy of the other people involved. It’s a couple-centric model of thinking, to protect that first unit rather than thinking of yourselves as individuals interacting with other individuals. So, take a little time to think about the situation as individuals and in reverse. Would you want to find out that someone else had read the vulnerable, or sexy, or getting-to-know-you things you told someone? (Did you read Bad Art Friend and get horrified that they could subpoena group chats?) If you don’t want someone in your private conversations, is there anything you could get out of that that’s worth causing pain to a third party by being in theirs? At least, make sure they know it’s a possibility ahead of time so they can choose to be vulnerable mostly out loud instead in that case.
Polyamory is absolutely a choose your own adventure story, and completely personalized, so if you want and need supports like open phone policies, and upon considering them think they’re still the best option for you, that’s OK. But it’s only OK if you give people the information necessary to give real informed consent to a dynamic where a third party has visibility on their communications, so make sure you’re up-front in your early communication about it. Consider what you need out of honesty, transparency, and privacy, and set your boundaries accordingly.
You can find the podcast at readyforpolyamory.fireside.fm, you can join us on facebook at www.facebook.com/groups/readyforpolyamory, follow on Twitter @lauracb88 & instagram @readyforpolyamory, on TikTok @readyforpolyamory, and if you'd like to support us financially we're on ko-fi at ko-fi.com/readyforpolyamory. You can find 1-1 and group peer support sessions here. The book is available on Amazon; please leave a review if you enjoy it!
We're having a fun conversation over several videos on the readyforpolyamory tiktok today about polyamory and parenting, if you want to join us!