Joanne Hanks and Jeff were married for seven years before they welcomed Amanda, Jeff’s second wife, into their home. The addition required some, well, maneuvering. There were logistical matters to be sorted out — mundane things like the division of housework, and who gets to sleep with whom, where and on which night. The house was small, and Joanne and Jeff’s three children had to share her room on nights she wasn’t in his. Then there was the time she couldn’t sleep over the sound of her husband making love to Amanda in the bedroom below. “I stomped on the floor to let him know that I could hear them,” she recalls, “and he came upstairs a few minutes later and was fairly apologetic.”
Just another night in the life of a polygamist.
For polygamist and polyamorous people, such as Joanne’s former peers in the Mormon-offshoot True and Living Church of Jesus Christ of Saints of the Last Day (TLC) who believe that plural marriages are God’s word, sleep is the fulcrum of a healthy relationship — no matter how many people are involved. And the divvying of bodies, beds and nights, whether decided in casual conversion or rigorous scheduling, can mean the difference between a happy household and no household at all. Sleep brings intimacy, yet beckons jealousy; it doles out rest in one room, restlessness in the next. Whereas the bed is a sacred, un-shareable space for some, it is, for others, just another piece of furniture: Have sex on your partner’s partner’s bed if you like, just be sure to change the sheets before she gets home.
Franklin Veaux, who identifies as polyamorous, was married to a monogamous-identifying woman for eighteen years before they concluded their differences were irreconcilable. Now he lives in Portland with one of his girlfriends, who also lives with one of her boyfriends, though he travels often — including to one of his other girlfriend’s home in Vancouver, British Columbia, who lives with one of her other boyfriends.
“It’s a little bit confusing,” he told us. “When I’m at home we have kind of a rotating schedule, where usually she spends a few nights a week with him and a few nights a week with me. And that changes a little bit when I’m away from town, and it changes a bit because he has another girlfriend as well. So she spends the night with him when my partner is sleeping with me.”
In Franklin’s case, the scheduling process was reasonably painless. “It took a bit of trial and error,” he said, “but it was a natural process. We didn’t call a house meeting or anything like that; it evolved over time.” But Franklin, who has written more than one book on polyamory and non-monogamy, has observed other groups take other approaches.
“Some people in poly relationships absolutely swear by Google Calendar,” he said. “I’ve seen people really schedule things out in detail, which works to greater or lesser extent depending on the personalities involved. Sometimes the schedule starts ruling the people rather than serving them, and that’s when people get unhappy. I’ve seen at least one quint relationship — with five people — where they schedule everything almost down to the minute, and those meetings inevitably end up with someone in tears.”
Joanne eventually left the TLC with Jeff and her children, a story she documents in her bluntly titled book “It’s Not About The SEX” My ASS. For her, Jeff and Amanda, the arrangement was simple. “For the first years of the five we had Amanda with us,” she said, “we two wives had our own room and Jeff would come to sleep with me in my room two nights in a row, and then two nights with Amanda in her room. As time went on, and because of the experimentation of some of the other plural families, we tried a different plan. Jeff decided to have his own master bedroom and Amanda and I would go sleep with him two nights on and two nights off.”
Conflict was never far away. “Amanda was constantly jealous because she thought Jeff was sneaking into my bed after she left for work,” Joanne said. “That was not the case. But, having sex was the deciding factor in how to arrange the schedule of where and when he changed beds.”
Franklin appreciates the convenience of staying in a single bedroom as well — if only because his travel schedule often ends up with him coming home a bit frazzled. “I have one room that stays the same, and my partner changes the room between me and her other partner,” he said. “Part of the reason is, yes, I’m terrible at scheduling. I travel so much that I don’t always know what day it is, and it’s nice to be able to know where I’ll be sleeping — even if I don’t necessarily remember who else is gonna be there.”
Many relationships must eventually face the issue of who gets to use whose bed. Is it okay for your partner to sleep with her other partner in your bed when you’re not there? Can you use hers when she’s not there? For Franklin, the answer lies in communication and flexibility. “That gets complicated,” he said. “It’s one of those places you really have to be flexible and understand other people’s needs. I personally don’t mind if my partner has sex in my bed with somebody else. I don’t want there to be a wet spot when I get back, so my partner will change the sheets. But I also have a partner for whom the bed is her space, and that means I have to be willing to negotiate — to recognize that her need to see her bed as her space is just as valid as my desire to have sex there.”
Franklin’s reflections on the logistical tribulations of polyamory really just seem like solid life advice for anyone, polyamorous or otherwise. “A big part is understanding that other human beings are real,” he said. “This isn’t something that comes naturally to people. For me it means understanding that other people have just as rich a life as I do. They’re not just bit players in The Story Of Franklin’s Life — they’re full people in their own right, and I need to remember that their needs are just as important as my needs.”
Like anything, the basic principles of sleeping in polyamorous relationships are simple; like everything, it’s the execution that’s hard. “It requires everybody being able to work with everybody else in good faith,” Franklin concluded. “As soon as somebody isn’t acting in good faith, or isn’t willing to negotiate, it all falls apart.”