Pride Monthly Only - 20% off the first session - Get Started Now!

Home / Blog / Attachment in Polyamorous Relationships

Attachment in Polyamorous Relationships

Shamvi Naga Prathap

Exploring Attachment in Polyamorous Relationships


Daniel Sloss, a 32-year-old comedian, provided a novel existential perspective about life, including relationships, through a thought-provoking analogy, in his 2018 Netflix special called Jigsaw. The following is paraphrased from a specific bit in the show. 

If we conceptualize every human’s life as their very own jigsaw puzzle, then we are all slowly trying to piece together experiences and memories until the full picture is achieved. However, no one has the box to the jigsaw puzzle and therefore has no idea what the final picture is meant to look like. So, everyone is attempting to make confident guesses as they go along. Starting at the edges seems like the intelligent way to put a jigsaw puzzle together, so we typically attempt to fix four standard corners; family, friends, hobbies/interests and career. These are undeniably subject to change as we ebb with the flow, so we keep redefining our four standard corners. Nevertheless, the big gaping hole in the middle of the jigsaw is what society has conditioned us to believe should be filled by “the one”. Consequently, as we get into adulthood, we have an internal narrative that makes us feel like if we are not with someone, we are not whole and we feel incomplete. Driven by fear, we may end up jamming the wrong puzzle piece in the middle so aggressively that we are forced to move other pieces around or toss them away, including other relational, occupational and personal pieces, leaving us with an unrecognizable picture at the end. 

It can be a challenge to find someone who loves us for who we are unconditionally. So at the earliest sign of relational validation, we may change ourselves (sometimes in extreme ways that creates an altered image), until that someone loves us. And then what? We have developed a habit, and have fallen into patterns of reacting and processing insecurities in unhealthy ways.

This is descriptive of one of four attachment styles based on attachment theory described by John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth, which explains that there evolutionarily exists a need for children to bond with their caregivers, and the quality of those bonds influence attachment patterns, including romantic attachment, throughout their life. When needs are adequately addressed, children learn that they are cared about and consequently feel like they matter. If not, children may develop insecure attachment styles, which manifest in more complex ways if they also endured abuse, neglect, threat or other forms of trauma.

Intriguingly, monogamy constructs external forms of security with legal marriage, home ownership, etc., which does not guarantee internal emotional security. Consensual non-monogamy, on the other hand, provides the option to develop self-defined norms that can lead to fulfilling relationships of different kinds that satiates the layered and expansive needs of an individual, without having them demand it all from one person.  So as Sloss suggests, what if the gaping hole in the middle of our jigsaws was to be filled by happiness? It could be derived from a partner, but it does not have to be like we have been made to believe by the happily ever after of fairytale and the tear-jerking movie soundtrack of a great rom-com. The pressure of monogamy may force us to believe that all relational needs can (and sometimes should) be met by a single partner, and if these needs are emanating from what was lacking due to attachment trauma, we feel incomplete and broken when our partner fails to fulfill all of them. Whereas polyamory encourages each relational need to be met fully by different partners which evokes an interesting albeit self-focused thought; if this is your life, your jigsaw, then you get to decide what pieces fit best based on how you choose to grow and with whom. Be selective, be intentional.

Attachment in Polyamorous Relationships

After a recent break-up, I floated into an unfamiliar existential spiral about relationships and reached out to my mentor for some wisdom. Following a long vent session featuring the typical complaints of “how could he?”, “but he said” and “after all this time”, she asked me one question- “are people allowed to change their minds?” 

It took a couple of minutes for my wounded ego to process that question, and then a little bit of clarity sunk in. The circumstances of my break-up had more to do with what my partner was experiencing, which led him to communicate his thoughts and take a step back from the relationship because it did not fit into his reality as well as it did in mine. Although my feelings were valid, I learned that the “return on investment” expectation was a core belief that needed some challenging. Moreover, this opened up another conversation with my mentor, that shifted the way I understood consensual non-monogamy. 

If we were to broadly classify our relational needs as intellectual, emotional and sexual, our dream partner would meet all of them fully and completely, which is unrealistic and, truthfully, disappointing. So, we get to choose and sometimes prioritize our needs as non-negotiable and negotiable. This could lead to any combination of relational needs; 80% sexual, 60% emotional and 40% intellectual, or something else. We may also feel the need to demand our one partner to meet all of them, and feel unloved and unvalued if they cannot or choose not to meet them (which is understandable, let’s be real). But when compromise turns into sacrifice, it may create relational ruptures that cause conflicts and sometimes break-ups. For instance, my intellectual needs were almost 80-90% met by my former partner, but my emotional and sexual needs were dwindling. 

So what if all of these relational needs could be 100% met, just not by one partner?

That was how consensual non-monogamy was explained to me, as a non-society-endorsed choice that you make because you find that having your relational needs completely met is more important than finding “the one” that cloaks you in a security blanket to keep you cozy in capitalism. A jolt to the system, no? Same. I sat with this information and wondered if consensual non-monogamy is for me, and I learned that my needs can be met by platonic relationships in addition to my romantic one. I used to believe that finding “my person” would mean that I have won at life, but various perspectives about relationships, including the one presented by Daniel Sloss, has allowed me to reassess and lean on the many different relationships I have in my life to satiate my relational needs. I’d rather have my partner meet a little over 50% of those needs, and not a 100% because as a fully functioning human being with relational needs of their own cannot.

Have you wondered about your relationship style?

Here are a few questions that you can use to begin a thoughtful dialogue with yourself! 

  1. Have I wrestled with commitment issues? 
  2. Have I experienced falling in love with or having crushes on multiple people at the same time? 
  3. Am I okay with the idea of my partner seeing other people?
  4. Am I comfortable communicating my fears, insecurities, boundaries and limitations?
  5. Is consensual non-monogamy wrong for me or is it just hard right now? 
  6. What am I afraid of?

Curious about how attachment styles influence polyamorous relationships? Ready to explore the benefits of consensual non-monogamy? Dive deeper into your relational needs and discover new perspectives. Start your journey today by reflecting on your relationship style and finding what fits best for you

Ready to connect with a therapist?

Contact Us