Episode 96 – Polyamory: Navigating the Complexities of the Heart

Jan 30, 2020


Polyamory, a current phenomenon, endorses open relationships with multiple lovers. The term means many loves, and polyamory strives to legitimize the benefits of non-monogamous romance and sexuality among adults.

Jung engaged in an open, extramarital relationship with Toni Wolff. Does polyamory represent an overthrow of outdated cultural mores in an age when sex can be safe? Or is committed, often sanctified bonding a deeply rooted part of human nature and development? There are parallels in the development of a relationship between two people and the relationship of ego to the unconscious.

Jung discovered that the alchemical images in The Rosarium Philosophorum, depicting stages of relationship for a couple, illustrated the individuation process. Is polyamory a way of rationalizing ego gratification and avoiding monogamous commitment? Or is polyamory a call to forgo outmoded cultural restrictions and experience connections with others that can facilitate inner growth?


“I am walking alongside the man that I am currently dating. He is on my right side. Suddenly on my left side, the man I am still in love with appears with the woman he has a child with (in waking life, he has a child with a woman he did not marry and co-parents. I am still not over him and wish we were together). In the dream, he has had another child with her. I’m surprised he’s had another child with her. It makes me think he has had even more intimacy and “work to do” with her in his life path. I am stuck in the middle… the man I am dating is on my right side, but I am not really interested in him (even though he treats me wonderfully in real life, he doesn’t feel like “the one”). The man I desire is on my left, with a woman and two kids, a life and world he’s been focusing on. He sees me, and I feel this strong and pleasant attraction and connection between us – like a youthful friendship mixed with love – I realize/know that he continues to be interested in me too, even though we are apart. I wake up, confused but happy to have a positive dream about his feelings towards me (In waking life, I continue to regret our breakup and he has ignored attempts I have made to rekindle a friendship and begin communication again).”

Check out this episode!


  1. Michal Ginter

    This conversation clearly constellated some marriage complexes among you guys, and it was really educational and inspiring to see how you worked with them.

    That said, several times during the conversation, institutionalized monogamy was refered to as being traditional, conventional or even “tried and tested by millenia,” while “sanctioned” or institutionalized non-monogamy as being the opposite. In the context of the long history of homo sapiens as a species, that assertion is simply incorrect.

  2. Addie Liechty Kogan

    While I learn much through this podcast, as a queer non-binary person, I find it lacking as it pertains to folks outside of heteronormative and cisgender-normative constructs. I am a monogamous person, but have seen folks in my practice have the exact same struggles with intimacy whether in monogamous or non monogamous situations. Deb and Lisa, I worry that your personal slants regarding polyamory could be impacting those clients, with whom you work, much in the same way that gay and lesbian clients were potentially impacted before the DSM depathologized homosexuality. It is possible that your lens has attributed their struggles in relationship to polyamory and I wonder if that is causing an impasse when there might be an opportunity to go deeper if personal biases were able to be set aside. In addition, I loved when you had Fanny Brewster on the podcast and would greatly enjoy a diverse perspective from the LGBTQ community! Thank you!

  3. mango

    This was a spicy one! Thank you all for being so real and genuine in your explorations, questions, and misgivings on polyamory. I use the term to describe my approach to relationships (hip edgy millennial here), and what I like to say when people ask me about it is: disclosing that I’m polyamorous is the BEGINNING of a conversation, not the end of it. I am fortunate enough to have a community of people who are actively curious in discussing and unpacking relationship norms, and I 100% agree that reflection and maturity and keeping an eye out for pitfalls is required for getting into polyamory. I would also say all those things should be just as required for monogamy 😉

  4. Sam

    Gosh, what an interesting conversation to observe. So many layers to the discussion that remained in the dark. Would be really interesting to revisit this conversation and for you all to reflect on these ‘other’ conversations. The charge was palpable, even on the other side of the world!

  5. Travis Bryant

    So I’m very late to this party (and to the podcast). I’ve been doing a deep dive into past episodes and just listened to this one. While I believe there were many valid points brought up by everyone, I was surprised at how dualistic the thoughts were at times.
    Also, I was incredibly disappointed that the subject of bisexuality was not even considered as an aspect of why some people may embrace polyamory. In fact, as a bisexual male, I find the lack of LGBTQ consideration I’ve found so far in many of the discussion around relationship issues a little disappointing. I’d like to see more of that viewpoint brought to the table of this delicious banquet you bring us time and again.

  6. Alexandra

    There is a BBC mini-series called Trigonometry which would be complementary to this conversation. Thank you for a lively discussion 🙂

  7. Julianna

    I couldn’t help pick up on a lot of judgment toward people who are polyamorous. While I imagine avoidance of intimacy can in fact drive some to this lifestyle, some people who are polyamorous make this choice very consciously with their spouse as a way to preserve their relationship and be in integrity with themselves. Sometimes people are (mostly) content in sexless, companionate marriages for whatever reason, and there can be a mutual agreement from both parties to take a poly route so that each person’s sexual needs are met. For example, if one partner cannot have sex for a medical reason, or if someone is more on the asexual spectrum. Dan Savage and Esther Perel speak/write well on this complex topic.

  8. Marc

    Love your podcast.
    But this episode was an anomaly for me – instead of offering your subjects (polyamourous persons) compassion and empathy, you more hit them with religiously-themed moralizing and negative judgment that seemed to come from personal bias. I respect all of you, but on this topic I’m afraid Deb and Lisa presented views and speech that makes me say, were I struggling

  9. Andy

    I appreciated this discussion. I’m wondering if any of you have read “Sex at dawn” by Christopher Ryan? I know there are good critiques against his argument. That being said, it is interesting to wonder whether the dominant view today (marriage/monogamy being the ‘Way’) is actually completely backward and a newer invention of some of the abrahamic religions.

    I’m not very persuaded by the anecdotal data brought up about polyamorous clients having bad outcomes. It’s not that I don’t believe that – it’s that why should that be successful when the prevailing culture and incentive systems we have in the west are completely against it? Thought experiment: If the entire society was structured around polyamory as the norm – would the clients who wanted monogamy be struggling?

    I’m in a monogamous relationship but I wonder how much of that is just a matter of the culture and time period I find myself in.


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