Domestic Violence & Open Relationships

I have had the thought for quite some time, as I think many in the open relationship community have, that the values inherent to the open relationship and polyamory communities can go a long way in preventing gender based violence and domestic violence (here is the most recent piece I’ve seen). Those values go a long way in promoting egalitarian relationships and empower all partners involved to speak up about what they want and need. Nonviolent communication is one of those practices that many people in the open/poly communities practice.

But, I have also long wondered where the intersection is between domestic violence and open relationships: do those egalitarian and nonviolent principles mean that there are not any poly/open folks experiencing domestic violence? I can’t imagine that that is the case, although I am sure it is a tiny pool of people.

And today, at work, my supervisor got a call that very much sounds like a triad torn apart by domestic violence. When my supervisor was describing the call, she said “Yeah, she said it’s her and her partner- another woman- and it’s the guy they were dating that’s being abusive,” giving me this “what the heck” kind of look. The guy THEY were dating? It’s possible “dating” was code for a relationship with a pimp, but otherwise, the situation still made sense to me. I responded with, “Yeah I’ve wondered about that intersection for a while- the one between DV and open/poly relationships.” Her response: “I guess you’ve found it!”

I guess so, unfortunately. Assuming that one community has communication and boundaries down pat and flawless mental/emotional health is a recipe for disaster: nothing is perfect, and no one is perfect. Assuming that wealthy people never experience DV or that poly people can’t possibly experience DV or that the queer community never experiences DV is all highly problematic: domestic violence cuts across all demographics.

I don’t feel excited to have heard about this caller- it is saddening and troubling, like all of the calls I receive or hear about. But I do feel satisfied knowing that at least there is someone at my agency who is poly aware and kink aware, who won’t be weirded out by a call like this one (me!). (I do know several other queer and sex work aware advocates, and several advocates who understand poly and kink, at other agencies. Yay!)

Abusers abuse, and I think it can be unfortunately easy to be manipulated and hurt in even a relationship that was once marked by honest communication. And while open relationships and poly relationships are marked by an intense level of honesty, openness, trust, and personal awareness, any relationship can be damaged by one person trying to gain power and control through violence and abuse.

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