Demystifying the Types of Polyamorous Relationships

Demystifying the Types of Polyamorous Relationships

Polyamory Basics

Learning the lingo of multiple partners

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Communication is one of the base tenets of healthy polyamorous relationships. Having clear communication begins before you even develop a connection with discussion of what it even means to be polyamorous.

Polyamory in general falls under the wider umbrella of ethical non-monogamy. In practice, polyamory is an umbrella of its own, encompassing many relationship styles. Understanding the relationship configurations you might encounter is a great first step to deciding what types of relationships you might want to participate in.

Hierarchical Poly or ?One Primary Plus?

In this style of polyamory, there is a central relationship referred to as the person?s primary relationship. This often comes with things like cohabitation, marriage, shared finances, children, and possibly owning a property or business together.

Other partners outside of this central relationship are viewed as non-primary, secondary, or tertiary partners. Partners are not equal to each other in terms of power within the relationship and things like interconnection and relationship intensity. Some resist the idea of primary hierarchy, but acknowledge in many ways one partner is primary or some are primary in some ways and not others. For example, if you are in multiple relationships, but only one involves shared children, that relationship might necessitate more time or involvement in the course of performing parenting duties.

Hierarchical polyamory is often the type of relationships structure that is assumed by people outside of the world of polyamorous dating and relationships.

Non-hierarchical Polyamory

Some people choose to have relationships where no one is defined as a primary partner. Relationships may all be equal, or may vary in time, energy, commitment, and significance. Participants are focused on all parties having their needs met.

Folks who prefer this type of relationships model won?t refer to any of their partners as being more or less important than any other. Partners are not ranked, regardless of length of relationships or living arrangements, and everyone has an equal voice.

Kitchen Table Polyamory

Kitchen table is a style of polyamory that places emphasis on family-style connections among the people involved in a network, whether they?re romantically involved with each other or not. The name comes from the idea that everyone involved would be comfortable gathering around the kitchen table for a meal.

This tends to denote a cozy atmosphere where people get along well. It may involve the entire polycule gathering for visits, movie or game nights, or other types of family-style gatherings. Many who practice kitchen table polyamory focus on a lifestyle that includes communal support and chosen family, building their own villages for support.

Parallel Polyamory

Parallel polyamory is a term that describes a relationship structure where members have no interest in meeting each other or being emotionally involved. Within polyamory, people have varying preferences to how involved they are with their partner?s partners.

In parallel polyamorous relationships, while members acknowledge each other?s existence, they don?t have the desire to be friends with or establish relationships with their metamours. There are a myriad of reasons someone may choose to practice parallel polyamory.

Mono-poly Relationships

Mono-poly relationships are those in which one partner identifies as polyamorous, and the other identifies as monogamous. This usually means that the polyamorous partner is looking to be in relationships with more than one person; while the monogamous partner is only interested in their relationships with their polyamorous partner.

There are a variety of reasons someone might be choose a mono-poly relationship, including different relationship orientation, mismatched sexual appetites and desires, and distance, time, and energy limitations.


Folks who practice solo-poly are not interested in having a primary partner. These people are often dedicated to polyamory, but not interested in serious relationships or their attached strings.

Some people think of this as being the equivalent to having several secondary partners, but no primary. Really, it?s a much more varied category. Elisabeth Sheff, author of The Polyamorists Next Door, explains:

Solo polyamory is a fluid category that covers a range of relationships, from the youthful ?free agent? or recent divorcee who might want to ?settle down? some day but for now wants to play the field with casual, brief, no-strings-attached connections, to the seasoned ?solo poly? who has deeply committed, intimate, and lasting relationships with one or more people. Some solo polys have relationships that they consider emotionally primary, but not primary in a logistical, rank, or rules-based sense, and others don?t want the kinds of expectations and limitations that come with a primary romantic/sexual relationship.

Some who practice solo polyamory see themselves as their own primary partner, and aren?t interested in giving up their time or personal pursuits to dedicate the time needed for a serious primary relationship. They prefer to make their own decisions and have the freedom to do what they?d like.

Relationship Anarchy

Though it isn?t a style of polyamory, per se, relationship anarchy is a term you might hear within the poly community. This is a philosophy in which all parties are seen as free to engage in the relationships they choose without labels or sense of duty to one?s partners. Often, there is no clear distinction between partners and non-partners, and spontaneity and freedom are core values of the people involved.

Other Lingo

In addition to descriptors for the types of relationships poly people have, there are some other commonly used words that you?ll run across on a regular basis.


Simply put, your metamour is your partner?s partner. It?s a way to describe a person with whom you have a partner in common.


A polycule is a romantic network, or a set of relationships within a romantic network. It is described as such because when drawn out, the diagram often resembles a molecule as diagrammed in organic chemistry.


Some people describe compersion as the opposite of jealousy, but I don?t think that?s quite accurate. Some also describe it as getting pleasure from your partner?s pleasure. To me, compersion is a positive emotional reaction to a partner?s activity that doesn?t involve me. It is not limited to romantic or sexual pleasure, but can happen when my partner experiences satisfying or pleasurable events in life outside of their romantic relationships as well. It?s a bit like secondhand happiness.


Polyamorous, but not currently seeking or open to new relationships/partners. People become polysaturated because of their number of current partners, or constraints on their time or other factors that make new relationships difficult.

Navigating polyamory can seem daunting at first, but before you know it, you?ll find yourself tossing around all of these terms like an old pro. Of course, by the time that happens, some people will probably be coming up with new ones for us to learn! If you?ve got more questions about polyamory, check out Polyamory Today?s list of The Best Polyamory Resources. Happy reading!

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