I received a few requests to cover this topic. It isn't an easy one, as there is quite a bit of sensitivity and misunderstanding surrounding the subject...but here goes.
I've been in one form or another of a polyamorous relationship for over 10 years. I never set out with the intention of having more than one partner or lover at the same time, but it developed that way out of a recognition of my own nature.
Monogamy is a social construct. It is a choice. We choose to be with only one person, and we can choose to be with more than one. The only difference is, that monogamy is the socially accepted construct, whereas polyamory is not. What often arises out of monogamy, aside from the welcomed and expected feelings of joy, love, belonging, safety etc, are feelings of possession, jealousy, controlling tendencies, and other emotions that self-cycle and self-justify. We aren't necessarily taught that these shadowy feelings are something to challenge - we simply say, for example: well, if my partner has feelings for someone else, then I am entitled to feel heaps of jealousy. Or: well, I get to possess my partner because they are with me and only me. Therefore, they are mine. These mechanisms are almost subconscious in nature and we allow them as the natural ebb and flow of romantic relations with others. We don't formulate different responses to the same stimulus.
Polyamory challenges the normal way we approach relationships. Our minds and our emotional selves must bend and flex in ways that we are not used to. It may come more easily to some than others, depending on dispositions and relationship history, but the ways in which it poses challenges is positive for anyone to try to integrate if they feel called.
Everything is temporary. Life, relationships, everything. Even the most glorious love bond will someday take a different shape or die altogether. You fall in love, you fall out of love, you fall in love and then you or your partner changes, you fall in love and someone cheats...nothing is permanent. In monogamy, we have a tendency to hold onto one person at a time, often with the hope and/or expectation that this one person will be our ‘forever.’ Polyamory forces you to live through the temporary nature of relationships more often. Whether it is because you have a primary partner and many fleeting secondaries, or because you are poly in the sense that your lover world is more of a revolving door, you will see more people come and go and get used to the notion that no relationship is permanent.
As mentioned above, polyamory forces you to look at things like jealousy, possessiveness, and other difficult emotions in the face. If there is more than one person involved in the romantic scenario, the claws we tend to sink into our monogamous partners must retract. We begin to understand that they are not ‘ours’ - they are their own person who are entitled to be interested in other people other than us, and even have meaningful relationships beyond us. This inevitably brings up a lot of our buried shit. Challenging emotions come to the surface, and we have two options: throw in the towel, or face them. If our non-monogamy means enough to us, we will face them.
The aforementioned feelings are deeply unpleasant anyhow, and it is a worthy exercise to try and weed them out as much as possible. It is the same approach to worrying about things that are beyond our control. It isn’t easy, but we should seek to cease worry where our control ends. It may not be the automatic response or mechanism, but it’s only going to benefit our emotional wellbeing in the long run. Essentially, other people’s actions are beyond our control in any case. It is nothing but positive to place ourselves in situations that challenge our comfort zones and get the anxious emotions out.
Polyamory allows for unconventional, dynamic, growth-provoking relationships to flourish. Since it goes up against typical relationship models, it allows for gifts that may otherwise be overlooked or bypassed altogether. The dynamism allows for people to come together in ways they may not otherwise. It provides an arena for life experiences that you would never think of. It opens worlds. It leads you to be more open minded about a variety of life decisions and subjects. It strengthens your ability to love, how you love, how well you communicate with and relate to others.
So there are the benefits as I see them. Now comes the practical output:
Polyamory takes a great deal of effort and work, and often takes years of refinement, trial, error and limit pushing to really get a grasp on it. It is a commitment just like being in a monogamous relationship is. In fact, it is even more of one as there is more than one person involved. It requires taking responsibility and being accountable. There is an enormous difference between responsible polyamory and this ‘free love’ movement that has been taking place for several decades. Some people tout this notion of a poly approach/lifestyle when really they are wanting to take as little responsibility as possible for having as many lovers as possible. They want a smorgasbord, a tasting table; they are in it for the superficial, beautiful experiences and nothing more. They want to flit about and try different things on for size, hiding behind this explanation of ‘poly’. This not only is not actual proper poly, but it gives proper poly a bad name. Free love is like a fairweather friend - only there when it is good for them, when they want something from you. Also known as, a selfish person.
If you aren’t sure what kind of situation you are in - all you need to do is ask yourself if your needs are being met and if you feel properly communicated with. Do you feel respected? If all three answers are no, then you may have been bitten by a free love vampire. To be truly poly means that you genuinely care for the people you engage with beyond the simply ‘beautiful’ and pleasant experiences. It means having freedom and space to move around, but not in such a way that hurts or degrades anyone else. It may not mean committing, but it means being responsible. It means effective, consistent communication, checking in with feelings, ensuring everyone involved is ok, and if they are not, having respect enough to hold space for them.
Poly is not a human buffet. It is a chance to show up, be real, and grow in wonderful ways. It is certainly not for everyone, and if you’re going to embark upon it, ensure you know what you are getting yourself into.