Doing Poly Wrong – A workshop presentation

These are the slides I used for my PolyDay workshop, simply click the first one to see the full presentation. Whilst the strength of the workshop was in many ways the invaluable contribution of those who took part, in this post I give the ideas and themes discussed. It is also an opportunity to explore some of my beliefs about training, in the broadest sense of the term, which can have links to how we bring ideas from clients (rather than imposing our own).


Slide 2 – Creating a safe, working, space.

Many people might groan at the setting of group rules at the start of a session. It can feel as predictable as the “creeping death” of a ‘name two truths and one lie’ ice breaker. However, setting the limits and boundaries of acceptable behaviour is vital in any space where we expect people to give of themselves. It not only means you create the right atmosphere, but means that should things go wrong you have an explicit document to refer to to get things back on the rails.

Slide 3 – Where do we belong?

The idea for the workshop came from reading, hearing, and working with people who had been told they were doing just that. Often the ideas of what is right and wrong have been absorbed, and can make people feel like they are failing at their relationships.

Group norms, which is what we are talking about here, give us a sense of belonging. SInce monogamous culture, which is dominant in the West, has many of its own group norms, it is unsurprising when people decide they are on Team Poly that they want to show they are just as much a team. That they have rules too. Part of the reason for this comes in slide 4

Slide 4 – The Castle of Monogamy.

Monogamy is right for some people, I see it as a spectrum. Some poly people are themselves quite monogamous, in that they have very closed relationships, whilst others are not. Indeed it might be more like a dual axis graph, the sort that are popular for identifying your political alignment. (And if anyone wanted to produce one of those for relationship styles, that would be amazing!)

However, traditionally, any deviation from monogamy has been seen as an attack on monogamy, and walls of “shoulds” have been built up. It is almost as if there is a fear that if people realised monogomy is not the only way, they might leave the castle, and go their own way!

Slide 5 – The Castle of Polyamory

Unfortunately a common reaction to being attacked and criticised is to build your own castle. Many of the early works on poly did exactly this, lists of their own shoulds, attacks on those on the outside, walls of their own built up. Each brick in the wall is often one person telling another person they are doing poly wrong. The term respectability politics can be useful here. Trying to gain the acceptance of the mainstream by saying “look we are just like you”. The similarity is often around being just as exclusionary, and using similar shaming tactics.

Which brings us to BINGO!

One way training is similar to counselling is that no great insights are reached by acting as a guru dropping pearls of wisdom. A discussion of group norms, (which is what the previous slides fundamentally are) may be a mini lecture, but imparting knowledge should take up a minimal part of the time. Where people learn and grow is in being given the time to ask, what does this mean to me?


Poly Bingo

Give it a go! If you are poly, or even if you are not, how many of these “rules” of relationships have you heard? How do these make you feel, and what do you feel about those who try to impose their way of doing relationships as the only way?  Slide 6 highlights one of the deliberate things about the bingo. If you did try to follow all the different rules of doing poly out there, you would end up contradicting yourself. Within those contradictions lie a lot of pain, as people have often blamed themselves for not doing poly right.

Slide 7 – Final Thoughts

How can we actually do poly wrong?

What does wrong mean?

Who gets to decide? 

Why have they been given that power?

The group discussion of these questions could have filled a book in itself. There were so many good points. From what harm actually means – we hurt someone when we break up for example, but it can be the right thing to do – through to ideas of consent, authenticity and full disclosure. If you are in, or thinking about a poly relationship, ask yourself and others how you would answer these questions.

If you are interested in counselling for non monogamous people, training in relationship diversity, or just have questions about non monogomous relationships, please get in touch on









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