Open vs Polyamory

How do you differentiate between polyamory and "open relationships" and what do you do when it feels your relationship is moving into polyamory.

I have a question about when does an open relationship turn into a poly relationship? I know there is no line or distinct moment, but I would love to hear your thoughts on this.
For context, I am in a loving open relationship, and recently, my partner has been hooking up with an ex of his. This is fine by me, as I actually find exes to be less triggering for me. They have seen each other four times in the past six months, and each time they have slept together.
Recently, I brought up the question to him whether he feels like this is straying into polyamory or not. He does not feel like it is, but for me, it kind of feels like polyamory. I’m OK with being in a polyamorous relationship and I have been in the past, but I don’t want to do it accidentally.
To me, the fact that they sleep together every time they hang out seems like it’s more than friendship, and it’s becoming a sexual relationship.
What are your thoughts on this? And, do you have any advice for a couple who might be considering polyamory? What points should we discuss and consider together?

It was always my understanding that an open relationship is one where you have a prioritised romantic relationship with one person but you are free to sleep with and have sexual relationships with other people. So, unless your partner is developing a romantic relationship with it’s own sort of expectations and coupledom, for all intents and purposes, what he’s doing, even if it is “more than a friendship” as a sexual relationship, is very much still within the realms of being an open relationship.

I’m also a little bit confused as to why you know the frequency of their sexual encounters. Is there any reason for you to be so well informed about what’s going on with his other partnerships? I have been in polyamorous relationships where I didn’t necessarily know how often my partner slept with other people. We did make agreements about sexual health, but other than that, I didn’t really consider it to be my business whether or not he did have sex with other people each time he saw them.

Ultimately, I think when it comes to how people want to define their relationships, I’m not interested in becoming an arbitrator of that or policing anyone’s definition of it. I know that in my previous relationship, I defined some people as “partners” to my partner when my partner definitely didn’t see it that way. So different people will define “romance” and what a “relationship” is very differently between each other. Sometimes the specific strict definitions of things are not really applicable to all situations.

Instead of focusing on the specific words you’re using, focus on the intent behind them. What exactly would change if you were “polyamorous”? Is it that you consider this relationship less of a “threat” because you’re open? Maybe you are sitting comfortably in the idea that somehow because your relationship is defined as “open” and not “polyamorous” you are somehow “safer”? But if you think about it, being monogamous doesn’t stop people from falling out of love with their partners.

It’s important that you work with definitions in a way that explain and define your actual needs rather than contain your fears. If you have defined your relationship as “open” and not “polyamorous” because you want to make sure that you and your partner prioritise your time together over other relationships and that there will be no future expectation of, for example, someone else being introduced as a partner to your partner’s family, and that these roles will be specifically defined. But don’t do it because you think that not being “polyamorous” will save you from your partner leaving you for someone else, falling in love with someone else, or any of that — because no relationship definition will save you from that.

Maybe also do a little bit more investigation on what triggers you and why. Maybe exes are “less triggering” because, again, here you are afraid of and trying to prevent a loss. You maybe think that because someone has been with and split up with an ex, they already know what they’re missing and are less likely to break up with you for them but… that happens. People break up with their partners to go back to exes all of the time. The assumption that it’s not likely to happen may make you feel more comfortable, but it’s not based in reality.

The answer to this isn’t to become triggered by everything or afraid of everything but accept how much control you actually have and let go of trying to control it because it’s likely making things a lot harder. I have a little bit about this in my book101 and 102 articles. Ultimately, you need to release yourself from the responsibility to “keep” your partner through rules and your own “performance”. This doesn’t mean you stop trying in relationships, but that you are better able to identify where you have a boundary based off of a need or your boundary is more about trying to prevent something a boundary can’t actually prevent.

So all of that was a roundabout answer to say — it depends in terms of the definition. How you want to define your relationship is up to you but instead of being hung up on definitions, think about what you want and why. What do you want your ideal physical set up to look like? If you can start from there, along with the articles I’ve linked, you might be able to get to the heart of how to define your relationship together and how to go forward.

I hope this helps and good luck!

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