Do Non-monogamous and Monogamous Relationships End Differently?


New member
I read this line in a posting and thought it might make for an interesting topic:

"All relationships come with a clock attached. Even "til death do us part" is an ending." - GalaGirl

So apart from death, when relationships end, are there any differences in how they end, and the aftermath, between monogamous relationships and polyamorous ones?

Do people who self-describe as Poly tend to stay friends with their exes more so then others? Is there more or less turmoil involved? Or is it completely unrelated to one's persuasion?

Quick story that makes me think about this is when I went through my divorce. Not long afterwards I met someone new and we began to date, but in a Sheldon-like way, I wasn't sure of the protocol regarding a relationship with my ex. So I did what most geeks do in such situations, I consulted my female friends. Most let me know that it was going to make most women insecure if I kept any kind of contact with me ex, and that I shouldn't seek any kind of contact with her, so I didn't. I didn't really understand why this tradition existed, but believed my friends knew better, and I was much more into conforming with tradition when I was younger.

Now I wonder, are there any broad differences in attitude about breakups? Would I have received different feedback from a poly forum verses other groups?


Well-known member
Hey, that was me! I guess I could reply, huh? ;)

I don't think there's any difference. It just varies, but I think it varies based on their willingness to be friends more so than their preferences for "romantic relationship models" to come as monoships or polyships. It's more about the people involved and their willingness to stay in relationship after the end of the romance balanced against what brought the termination about.

Some people are just bad partners and bad exes. If it ended because they beat you up every night -- you do NOT need to be in relationship with them after! You may want to be, but it is just not healthy for you to do so.

If they cheated on you, you may not want to forgive them, much less be friends later. YKWIM?

But if the reason for parting was something not so ugly -- like it just not being a runner after the initial dating time or loving once and then growing apart...

Some people want to be good exes and just that. So if they bump into each other will be polite. But they don't take special pains to hang out together and include each other in their lives any more.

Some people want to be good exes AND friends, so they are more willing to do more than "basic polite." Maybe just a bit more, maybe a lot more. The "friends" spectrum is wide.

Sometimes they have kids together and need to coparent, so try to be friends to make that coparenting relationship easier. Certainly makes it easier on the kids if they can manage to be!

Now I wonder, are there any broad differences in attitude about breakups? Would I have received different feedback from a poly forum verses other groups?

There I would have told you "Why are you asking me? Why don't you ask yourself what your feelings are? Want to be friends with your ex? Be so then. Dating partner can take you as you are. Or not.

Or ask your dating partner what her feelings on the subject are? Maybe she would be bothered and would prefer not to date you if you are friends with ex. Maybe she doesn't mind and figures that's your post divorce biz to handle.

Me? I do not mind either way. But asking YOU or asking HER makes more sense than asking me, because who is in romantic relationship here? YOU AND HER."

Just my 2 cents,
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Active member
I am on friendly terms with all of my exes. Some were seriously mono relationships, two were open.

I know people who think thats odd, my husband was bothered by it when we started dating. But I just don't stop caring about someone because I establish we aren't a good romantic duo any more.

I consider it a warning sign if someone can't get along with any exes. It could be that they have very few and those were circumstantially not worth remaining on friendly terms, could be that their exes didn't want to be friends. But it also could be that they are just bad at breakups/ blaming others instead of finding where they went wrong and using endings as options for introspection and self improvement.

I have gotten MUCH more picky about who I will consider a potential date since becoming actively poly. If someone isnt HIGHLY motivated to self improvement, I don't need the added responsibility. I suspect this will result in far fewer breakups and will also help continue my ability to remain friends with any exes.


New member
I prefer to remain friends with former partners, and I'm willing and able to do that. I've done it. In fact, my former spouse is one of my closest friends. Although we now live in different states, we still talk most days and visit at least a couple of times per year. In fact, he spent two weeks at my place over the holidays. I'm also friendly (although currently not close) with a couple of other former longtime lovers.

My former spouse and I agree that if we hadn't decided to be poly several years into our marriage, learning all the skills and doing all the self-examination and exploration that entailed, we probably wouldn't have remained friends, let along close friends -- and that would have been a huge loss.

As far as I've seen, what most people expect to happen in the monogamous paradigm is that if you've found a partner, that's such a privileged and venerated state that you're obligated to stay in that relationship unless there's a "good reason" to leave. Which is why people often stay in mono relationships until resentments or boredom or despair accumulate to the point that there's some kind of catastrophic breakdown, a lot of drama, and somebody leaves in a huff feeling righteous about it. It's like you have to achieve sufficient anger or desperation to achieve escape velocity -- and to be able to justify that decision to others.

IME, the amicable "we just grew apart" is rare in mono relationships -- at least ones that have progressed to the level of living together or life partnership. It happens, sure -- but not as much as the blowups and subsequent blow-offs.

More importantly in a mono-dominant society, most people *expect* that exes can't or won't really be friendly. That's why people usually express surprise: "Oh, isn't it great that you two are still on good terms!" That common, brief reaction speaks volumes about social norms for intimate relationships that have ended (or, more accurately, transitioned). I get that reaction frequently -- and while I know people intend it to be positive, it bugs me. I wish our society wasn't like that.

I agree with the earlier poster that whether former partners remain friends is mostly a matter of the people involved -- and especially, IME, how willing they are to own up to each other. You can't transition a relationship that can't heal, and a relationship can't heal when big gaping wounds are left unaddressed. Some people are really willing and able to do this. Some aren't. Including many poly folk.

I blogged about owning up after a breakup here:

I had two breakups in the past year: One short but intense connection with an ostensibly mono guy who claimed to be open to dating a poly woman, the other a 3+ year relationship with a married longtime poly guy. Both guys, quite frankly, summarily threw me under the bus rather than work with me to resolve some issues. Both, intriguingly, also claimed at the time that it was important to them that we remain friends, that they valued their connection with me even though the intimate relationship had to end.

In both cases, I said fine -- could we clear the air here about what happened and what we each contributed to the situation, so we can move on? And I laid my cards on the table both times, owned up to my part. When I asked them to own up to theirs, they both got offended and decided to cut me out of their lives. So we don't speak.

Yeah, that was a shocker. Twice in one year. Fun.

Also, in both cases, after breaking up with me they were in other relationships with women who were actively hostile to me. I definitely think that influenced their choice to cut me off rather than resolve stuff and transition to actual (not theoretical) friendship.

The mono guy had dived immediately (as in: concurrently, although he concealed it) headlong into a monogamous commitment with a single mono woman. She was very hostile to him not only having any contact with me, but also with his longtime former partner with whom he was still sharing a house at the time. I hear many freakouts ensued (his former fiancee is a friend of mine). I dodged a bullet there. I hear he's engaged again now.

The poly guy's wife was fine with him having a girlfriend as long as she was feeling secure, which was the first couple years of our relationship. But as soon as some stuff happened in her life where she felt less secure, she became increasingly possessive, cold and hostile. She absolutely refused to discuss with me any issues she had with me. It all blew up when she freaked out on him about something I'd said at a conference months earlier. This freakout happened on the very night before I flew out to visit him the first time after moving to another state. He dumped me on the phone that day, after I'd made the trip but before I even saw him. Her freakout was pretty crazy, but the real culprit there was his willingness to adopt her grudges and his unwillingness to stand up for our relationship.

So yes, seeing a partner's other current/former partners as threats is part of the social script, and a lot of people default to that rather than accept that everyone has connections with other people that matter, and that it's ultimately up to you to deal with your own insecurities. But it's definitely not just mono people who do that.

...Long way of saying: ability and willingness to truly be friends after a breakup may correlate with some of the skills people learn when having relationships that don't match the social script. But that doesn't necessarily mean that being poly make you more likely to be friends after a breakup. I think whether someone is/isn't mono is not the deciding factor. But I think they do need to be willing to pursue a positive and genuine post-breakup relationship ("aftership") despite societal expectations that former lovers should have nothing to do with each other.
In my experience, poly relationships seem to be much more fluid than mono ones. For instance, with a mono relationship, there are all these fairly concrete levels: dating, being exclusive, becoming a couple, maybe getting engaged, maybe marriage, maybe breaking up. And when you break up, it's over, because it has to be before you can move on to another relationship.

Since I've become poly, however, those levels are all much more undefined. There's a more natural ebb and flow to the relationships. With all my poly partners, there was never a break up, just a divergence of lives or wants or needs. I'm friends, close friends, with them all, because it was very natural to let them take their own path. Sad, when that path turned in a different direction than mine, but there was no sense of scarcity, or fear of being alone forever, or having to jump back into the dating pool - all those things that can be daunting if you're only allowed to have one love at a time. I think that when you only have one, it's harder to let someone go, and I was more likely to hold onto a relationship much longer than I should have than I am now.

Of course, this is only my experience, and I'm sure if I had ever experienced a betrayal or some other devastating situation, I might feel differently. But, for me, the feel of a break-up is vastly different as a poly person than a monogamist. :)


Active member
I do think there is an element of a qualitative difference in breakups between poly and mono relationships as described by other folks in this thread. But I also think that there is an quantitative element. Poly communities tend to be small and everyone often knows and have dated everyone else. It's been my experience that small communities are more likely to have an expectation that people should at least attempt to remain in good odor with former partners. The lesbian communities I've been part of have had this dynamic. In fact it was downright odd if one was not close with exes.


New member
Some poly people stop dating and the transition from dating to being friends is so subtle outsiders may not even notice the difference, while others in their breakups cause explosions that tear apart social circles of dozens of people, as with so many people dating each other if two have a bad breakup and one expects their friends/partners to have nothing to do with them then much more drama can ensue than a normal friend circle where everyone may have been friends, but not so many lovers.

After I saw this happen a couple times in one poly circle I began branching out to others for friendships and haven't dated anyone from the original circle, just keeping them as friends.

It can be good practice, both in monogamy and polyamory, to look at how people have broken up in the past/how they relate to exes if you can find out. Ginko pays close attention to how people describe their exes, with the understanding that they could easily end up describing her in the same way.


New member
I think they tend to end differently but not as a rule. I have just noticed that poly people are more likely to maintain a friendship afterwards than monogamous people. Their partners are less likely to find that friendship threatening or poor form.

But I've known people who are monogamous and still put in the work to remain friends. They are also the monogamous people less likely to stay with a new partner who isn't comfortable with that style.