Managing time in a polyamorous relationship
In Soviet Russia, time manages YOU!
I’m married, and we have trouble finding time just for the two of us. How on Earth do you find time for more than one relationship?
One of the things I’ve found in my own experiences in polyamory is that a lot of time management issues become much less pressing when partners get along with one another and with the partners of their partners. I’ve found that relationships do need a certain amount of “alone time,” and that having two partners can mean having less time to spend with each of them—but not nearly as much as you might suspect. Since it’s possible to spend quality time with more than one person, having two partners doesn’t mean that each of them gets only half your attention.
People new to polyamory often fear that embarking on this road means giving up time; every minute that your partner’s other partner gets is a minute that you don’t have, right? That need not be true, though, if you and your partner’s other partner get along well. When you can spend time with your partner in the company of his or her other lover, a minute given to that person does not mean a minute taken away from you.
Personally, I like spending time with all my partners, and I like having the ability to spend time with more than one partner at once. I also do not feel cheated or like I have lost something if my partner’s other partner goes along too. For example, I really enjoy going out to dinner with my partners and their partners as well. Part of healthy, successful polyamory, I think, is in knowing and accepting that not all of the time you spend with someone will be one-on-one time. (And frankly, I think that’s a benefit; I’ve met some awesome people through my partners, people who have become my friends independent of our connection by dating the same person.)
Some of it will be, of course. Like I said, one-on-one time is important for a relationship. But that doesn’t have to be the only way you spend quality time with your partner.
Update 12/14: Since first writing this page in 2009, my view on this subject has become more nuanced. See this more recent guest post by my partner Shelly, which touches on how time management decisions can affect consent in poly relationships.
What about conflicts? What if my partner’s other partner wants time alone at the same time I do?
In any family, even a conventional nuclear family with two adults and a couple of children, it’s always possible to have scheduling conflicts. What do you do if your spouse wants to go see a movie, but you’d rather stay home and catch Battlestar: Galactica on TV? What do you do if your child has a school play on the same night that your spouse is due to receive an award from a professional organization? These kinds of problems can happen in any home, and reasonable people can find reasonable ways to accommodate everyone’s needs. The same is true of a poly relationship.
To use a real-world example, I have had a situation where one partner wanted to go out dancing and another wanted to go to a movie. Simple solution: all three of us did both.
Part of being a reasonable person, in any kind of relationship, is accepting the fact that nobody gets everything he wants 100 percent of the time. Flexibility is important, and I suspect that flexibility is actually one of the keys to happiness, no matter what your relationship structure looks like.
But I don’t want to give up any of my time! I want to make sure my partner is willing to give me the things that are important to me!
Well, sure. Nobody really wants to give things up in any relationship. Here’s the thing, though: in any relationship, poly or not, a good tool for keeping things running smoothly is the understanding that you can’t expect to have what you want if you don’t ask for what you want.
Often, people will make tacit assumptions about the behavior of their partners, without actually clearly saying what their expectations are, and then become hurt and angry if the expectations aren’t met.
It’s not enough to say “The new Batman movie is coming out next Friday;” instead, it’s important to communicate expectations clearly, and say “The new Batman movie is coming out next Friday, and it’s really important to me to go to the opening with you.” Just that little bit goes a surprisingly long way toward helping to resolve scheduling difficulties and hurt feelings.
Unstated expectations can become toxic to any relationship. The best way to have your needs met is to state them clearly and directly, without implied assumptions. Your partner can’t read your mind, and “If he really loved me he would know that I want thus-and-such” is a great way to make sure that you won’t get what you want (and drive yourself batty in the process). When everyone’s desires and expectations are communicated clearly, everyone has a good sense of what everyone else expects, and scheduling suddenly becomes so much easier.
I’m worried that too much of this time spent together and time spent scheduling will detract from the relationship I already have with my partner.
That’s a reasonable concern. There are ways to maintain multiple relationships while still nurturing and paying attention to each one.
In some poly relationships, people do set up regular “date nights” with specific partners so that everyone has a sense of what to expect from the schedule. I don’t do that myself, but then, I’m not much of a scheduler. For folks who are, that’s an awesome tool to help let everyone know what to expect—though I would say that it’s also important to be somewhat flexible about it. Life isn’t always tidy, and should a conflict come up or should a partner become ill or injured, I think it’s reasonable to be able to rearrange the schedule without causing undue grief.
Regular date nights are a great way to help nurture any relationship, even a conventional one. They create a setting where the people involved can get back in touch with the romantic part of the relationship, free of distractions like chores, housework, and kids. Sometimes, polyamory actually makes this easier; when you have more than two people involved, it becomes easier to have one person take care of the little things that always seem to need taking care of while the other people spend alone time together. As long as the same opportunities are available to everyone, and everyone involved treats one another compassionately and without resentment, this actually helps all the relationships to blossom.
Keeping everyone on the same basic page with regard to scheduling is greatly facilitated by technology. Most of the poly groups I know use Google Calendar to manage and synchronize schedules; create a Google Calendar that everyone has access to, and let the people involved put their schedules on it.
This makes planning easy. It also makes it easier to deal with schedule changes; if something comes up, or something falls through, everyone can just glance at the calendar to see what everyone else is up to. Movie sold out and you have a sudden hankering for french fries instead? Take a look at the schedule and see what the other folks are doing, and who’s available for a late-night fast-food run! You get the idea.
I’m still concerned about the amount of time I might lose if my partner takes another partner. What’s wrong with just limiting the amount of time she spends with any new lover from the get-go?
That can become a dangerous road to walk down, and it opens the possibility of stunting any new relationship, which can breed frustration and resentment.
Any relationship can have time management problems. A person starts working longer hours at the office, a person picks up a new hobby, a person starts spending more time with friends, a person starts playing video games—when these things happen, people don’t generally say things like “If you start taking up photography as a hobby, I am going to want to start scheduling the time you spend doing it, because I want to be able to limit the amount of time you spend away from me.” We don’t see hobbies or interests in a time-constraint way; most of us would not think it reasonable to say “Well, okay, you can start playing the new Playstation game, but only if you do it for no more than seven hours per month on alternate Thursdays.”
Polyamory’s no different, yet we often see it as different. Good time management skills are the same regardless of the nature of the demands on one’s time. It feels different when we think “My lover is spending time with her other lover” than if we think “My lover is spending time in the darkroom,” yet from a practical perspective, the same sorts of tools for managing time still apply.
Compassion, respect, clear communication of desires and expectations…these go much further toward creating mutually beneficial relationships than seeking to control your partner’s time do.
Last updated: June 18, 2011