I mentioned last week that often good ideas or positive statements can become tools for abusers. Within polyamory, “There’s no right way to do poly” has become one of these tools. In theory, the idea that there is no right way to do poly is meant to be an affirmation. You don’t need to fit yourself into a box. You don’t need to do poly in a way that other people approve os. You can find a version of polyamory that works for you.
In one sense, this statement is meant as a response to criticism. No one can tell you how to do polyamory, because what works for other people may not work for you. Unfortunately, some criticism is valid. Some ways of having relationships are flat out unhealthy. Some ways of “doing” polyamory are wrong.
And for many people who do polyamory in a way that harms others “there’s no right way to do poly!” has become a useful tool to shut down conversation and deflect attention. As soon as someone says “There’s no right way to do poly,” the person confronting them has to defend their right to express their concerns. The conversation becomes about polyamory theory rather than whatever is concerning the person who spoke up.
This tactic can be used to shut down a secondary upset with the way their voice is being silenced, a mono partner who has agreed to try polyamory and is uncomfortable with the direct the relationship is going, other people in the local community calling out abuse or unethical behavior, and much more.
My suggestion is to see this idea as a red flag in discussing personal relationships. “There’s no right way to do poly” is a powerful idea in discussing the theory of polyamory. It has no place in discussing a specific relationship or relationship network. Shut it down hard.
“Yes, there is no right way to do polyamory, but there’re lots of wrong ways. I’m worried by XYZ in this relationship and how it is harming people. If we can’t at least discuss my concerns, then this is not a healthy relationship for me.”
This post is part of the Abuse in Polyamory blog series. It is related to Polyamory and Mental Illness.