Polyamory lends itself to many unique situations that rules alone will never plan for. Setting boundaries is a very healthy way to start any relationship but the work of building trust is not simply about boundaries and rules.
Simply deciding on rules does not guarantee every partner in the relationship is going to follow them. Naming boundaries does not ensure that they were understood and cannot keep them from getting crossed.
Managing this uncertainty is much easier with the power of trust. Trust is a way to keep anxiety, insecurity, and danger in a relationship at bay to leave room for all of the good, fun, and rewarding things the polyamory has to offer.
Unfortunately, trust does not happen overnight.
Even though you cannot make trust magically appear in a relationship, you can take steps to trust right away.
This one seems easy, right? Be honest!
However, simply telling the truth is not the only pillar that trust stands on. It is important when defining our boundaries, rules, discernment, and values that we are doing our best to be honest with ourselves and our partners.
Honestly is also about being realistic. Having an authentic view is how we avoid stepping over boundaries, breaking rules, and destroying trust. Instead of framing polyamory as what we can “get away with” it is important to frame behaviors by what is okay for this moment in the relationship.
What actions are we taking and how would the other people in the relationship feel about it right now? If you set a rule months ago or they mentioned a boundary yesterday, keep this context in mind. Context is a part of honestly because we fail to act in accordance with our values and boundaries if the relationship we have is in a different place.
I won’t have a very good handle on how trustworthy you are until I know the kind of choices that you make. Lots of conversations about the past can be helpful, but this relationship is different than the ones in the past. I need to know how you will make choices when we are together.
When we say “communication is key”, we are not simply talking about sex and boundaries until we are blue in the face. We can use that powerful communication as a tool for trust by talking about why we make romantic and sexual choices as they happen. We can also be honest with our partners about how their choices make us feel and what choices make us feel safe.
Hypotheticals in the heat of argument aren’t useful, but in moments of connecting conversation, we can use “what if” situations to learn more about discernment. What do we think would feel safe or okay? How would we handle things if we were long distance? If another partner were in the picture?
These conversations are an insight into decision making that can provide much more clarity and security.
If we all have a similar value that we can name as important to the relationship, we can love more confidently. Creating a list of values together can be a really strengthening practice in a relationship.
Determine some things that are not just important to the individuals in the relationship but also the couple or the group. For example, we might have a value of putting the children’s needs ahead of the needs of new partners (if you want to get super deep, you can specify what a “new partner” would mean).
Naming out values instead of listing rules is also a good way to be emotionally safe if you are a rule-hater. It ensures that we all have free choice and get to do what we think is best without an unhealthy fear of “breaking rules”. These values also give partners a point of deep connection to come back to in times of struggle. They are a reminder that in a time of change, there are places that we fundamentally agree.
Trust is hard. It is much harder to earn than it is to lose. Some of the distrust we feel might be rooted in things that are not our partner. Maybe we have some internalized feeling that sleeping with other people is cheating. Maybe we have insecurity about being alone that could use some healing.
While we take steps toward trust with each other, it also takes trust in ourselves. Trust that we can be okay in the midst of dramatic change. We can trust our ability to communicate, heal wounds, and love deeply.