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"A 6-year-old may not think of someone as mommy's girlfriend, but think of that person as 'the one who brings Legos' or 'the one who takes me out to ice cream,'" Sheff said.
From ages 9 to 12, kids became more aware of their families as different, but mostly said it was easy to stay "closeted," because people tend to mistake polyamorous arrangements as blended families or other relics of modern relationship complexity.
Researchers estimate that as many as 5 percent of Americans are currently in relationships involving consensual nonmonogamy — that is, permission to go outside the couple looking for love or sex.
The boundaries in these relationships are remarkably varied, with some couples negotiating one-off "swinging" or partner-swapping experiences.
Secondly, successful polyamorous partners communicate relentlessly, Holmes said: "They communicate to death." It's the only way to ensure that everyone's needs are met and no one is feeling jealous or left out in a relationship that involves many people.
For one thing, plenty of polyamorous relationships are very serious and stable — Holmes says he's interviewed people who've been legally married for 40 years and in a relationship with a second partner for 20.
"We tend to assume in our culture that if you have your needs met outside your relationship, some kind of detrimental effect is going to result, and that's not what we find here." Myth #2: Polyamorous people are still paired up Many polyamorous people do form relationships that orbit around a committed couple, with each person having relationships on the side.
But the primary partner/secondary partner model is an oversimplification for many poly relationships, said Bjarne Holmes, a psychologist at Champlain College in Vermont.
For their part, kids in the 5- to 8-year-old range were rarely aware that their families were different from the norm, Sheff found.
They thought about their parents' boyfriends and girlfriends as they related to themselves, not as they related to mom or dad.