Open relationships - Germany's polys speak out
By Marco Krefting Feb 23, 2012, 3:06 GMT
Stuttgart, Germany - Whenever Michael is away from home for a few days his girlfriend takes the opportunity to meet up with other men. Afterwards, Elisabeth calls Michael and tells him how the meetings went - and what the sex was like.
Michael and Elisabeth have a polyamory relationship: that means each person has more than one intimate relationship and the other one knows it. The pair live near Stuttgart, in what is a conservative part of rural Germany. Because open relationships of this sort quickly come into conflict with conventional thinking, polys - as they like to be known - prefer to remain anonymous.
The term polyamory developed in the 1990s. Christopher Gottwald from Germany's PolyAmores Network (PAN) says there are no figures for how many polys live in the country. 'Polyamory is a philosophy that's based on honesty, openness and self-development. It's a broad term that describes an open lifestyle.'
The polyamory community in the United States has an estimated 100,000 members - far more than in Germany. According to Gottwald, there are growing numbers of polys who regularly meet in Germany. But they are still encountering intolerance, according to Michael. 'People do not understand. Normally, a man betrays his partner and has a secret affair.'
Polyamories, on the other hand, base their relationship on openness and trust: each member of the relationship knows about the other. However, polyamory does not enjoy the same acceptance and understanding that the gay movement does in Germany, according to 67-year-old Michael. That explains why most polys prefer anonymity.
Ahead of a regular monthly meeting in Stuttgart, Maria describes why polyamory is so important to her: 'I wanted to experience myself as a sensual woman again.' After almost 20 years of marriage her children had left home. Her husband spent much of his time at work and Maria felt she wanted more from life. 'I was alone and I didn't want that. It was time to pay more attention to myself again.'
A 50-year-old man, with the spiritual name of Ganesh, separated from his wife several years ago and has lived a polyamory lifestyle since then. 'Every human being relates to a different part of my personality. That's very rewarding,' he says. After every polyamory meeting he feels a wave of enthusiasm that he takes to all of his female partners. 'My wife never understood that.'
However, sex therapist Ulrich Clement says this form of relationship can be plagued by jealousy. 'Sexual transparency without any secrets such as those found in an extra-marital affair is not easy to maintain in a polyamory relationship.'
Jealousy does play a role with polys. Michael says it's important to try and discover why feelings of jealousy emerge. Maria says: 'I know that another person can trigger my jealousy but they're not the cause.' Maria says that as soon as jealousy rears its head it's best to talk about it with the other person.
One advantage to a polyamory relationship, according to Maria, is that she can speak to men about problems she's having with her partner. 'They know him and appreciate his qualities. It means I don't have to fall into the old, typical relationship patterns.'
Polyamory is not about having wild sex, its adherents say. Michael describes his relationships with women as sexual friendships, however, they are not one night stands - they are meant to last longer.
'Polyamory should not be compared to the free love of the 1960s,' says couple therapist Abbas Schirmohammadi. 'It's more a concept that is dictated by thought.' Polyamory requires a lot more talk about worries, fears, desires and needs with the different partners. 'That can only work when you feel comfortable with yourself. If you are dragging an inferiority complex around with you, then it won't work.'
Schirmohammadi takes a critical standpoint on polyamory relationships. 'Is it possible to have more than one partner and to devote 100 per cent love to all of them? Or are they just using the concept to justify having an affair?' Another complicating factor in Germany is that polyamory marriages are not legal. 'Politicians are going to have to deal with the issue at some stage,' he says. But there is one concern that Schirmohammadi can set to one side: Studies have shown that children that grow up in polyamory conditions are not damaged by the experience.
Is polyamory a relationship model with a future? Michael says: 'Sex quickly becomes boring in a relationship with just two people.' Michael believes that leads to what he describes as serial monogamy: when a person regularly changes partner. Gottwald believes polyamory has one big advantage over monogamy: 'It's actually the more honest version of the two relationships.'