Polygamy (used here to describe polygyny, a marriage in which one man has multiple wives; or polyandry, a marriage in which one woman has multiple husbands) and polyamory (here used to describe those having more than one husband and wife) are ways some relationships are enjoyed. They aren’t for everyone and not every person that identifies as “poly” is in a polygamous or polyamorous relationship. And that’s okay. There is a misguided idea floating around that choosing to make another person’s feelings and desires a priority in any way somehow makes that other person selfish. This is an extremely pessimistic and self-serving point of view.
Selfish or Selfless
One example is a couple, we’ll call Ken and Barbara. Ken and Barbara started off monogamous, and Barbara is still monogamous. Ken has discovered he is polyamorous. He has talked to his wife stating his intentions that if his wife has no interest in dating that he would like their marriage to become polygamous. Let’s say this example couple brings this to the Lord and Ken feels the Lord saying “yes,” while Barbara is hearing “no.” What does this tell us? That God isn’t going to ask us to do anything that we’re not comfortable with. And now, together, Ken and Barbara must make a decision.
Let’s remember, Barbara isn’t the one choosing to introduce a change in the way their relationship is defined. She can selflessly decide not to date and allow him to enter into additional relationships, being selfless. But for this example, let’s say it is simply too emotionally overwhelming. She just cannot do it. If what Ken wants more than anything is to maintain his relationship with his wife, then choosing to be monogamous with her doesn’t make his wife selfish. It makes him selfless.
Essentially, in our example Ken has to decide who/what he wants to put first: himself or their relationship. He has talked to his monogamous wife, and Barbara isn’t going to be content with him having poly relationships. The question is, will he be fulfilled enough to remain in a monogamous relationship with her? These choices are Ken’s to bring to the Lord and make as he is the one who has introduced change in the relationship.
To look at it another way, rather than wanting another woman in the relationship, let’s say Ken has an excellent job offer on the other side of the country. Ken decides not to take the job despite the benefit it would be for them, because Barbara just got a promotion and it would be a strain on her to move or find a new position. That too would be a selfless choice. Ken’s selfless choices doesn’t make Barbara selfish; Ken could have taken the job. Barbara didn’t force them to decline the offer, it was ultimately Ken’s choice.
On the other hand, if Ken had made the choice to take the job, Barbara would then have been given an opportunity to make a selfless choice; move with Ken and find a new position, maybe accept a pay cut, etc. or a selfish choice to stay where they are, keep their job, and end the relationship.
In Real Life
Obviously, relationship and life decisions are quite a bit more complex than this in real life, but the point is that self and selflessness are not exclusively dichotomous. Both can, do, and must coexist for any relationship to work. But, the simple act of accepting the selflessness of another person doesn’t make one selfish (not that there weren’t selfish and/or selfless decisions made by either party that may have led up to this point). This would be like telling a starving person that they are selfish for accepting an offered meal. Obviously, though, there should also be mutual reciprocation throughout the relationship, give and take, or it can become a one-sided energy sucker.
To flip our example couple’s perspective, if Barbara had given Ken the okay that wouldn’t have made Ken selfish but Barbara selfless. Why? Because both are willing to put their relationship first, to put their partner first. In this way, they are one. This is the goal of our relationships: to become one in Christ.
A Dangerous Point of View
There seems to be a dangerous idea out there that one has to be fulfilled by partners, whether by one or ten or more. A relationship is created and exists by people RELATING, not filling some hole or need the other person has. If someone is not whole, they shouldn’t expect anyone or any number of “someones” to fulfill them.
It may be that this is why some in polygamous or polyamorous relationships can’t seem to understand why monogamous folk desire to be in a mutually exclusive relationship. Maybe they don’t grasp that the mono person isn’t at all on any level expecting their partner to fulfill all their needs (or any for that matter) and isn’t trying to fulfill their partner’s needs. I believe that no one should ever be expected to meet any needs of anyone. That’s not a relationship. It’s codependence and it’s toxic. Rather, needs can be and are met by sharing in love, kindness, and support of one another. Again, by relating to one another. By doing this, the needs of all involved can be met naturally with love and acceptance.
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