Heart farts – part 3/6: New relationship energy or: The energy equilibrium between couples in a polycule

If individuals are connected at the romantic level, an energy exchange takes place between all persons involved. This also happens between connected individuals at lower levels of the intimacy scale, but to a much lesser extent.

If a participating individual exhibits energy-draining behaviour and/or if the existing couple generates an energy-draining condition, this leads to an effect which does simply not occur in any romantic relationship which consists of two individuals. That’s why only few people think about these effects when dealing with polyamory.

A condition which is energy-draining over a longer period of time corresponds to an unstable intermediate level on the intimacy scale.

If a couple predominantly drains energy, this can occur due to the following setup:

  1. They are still in the phase of fighting out their relationship in order to reach stability
  2. They have an underlying unresolved conflict over their mutual interests, activities or desires.
  3. One of the individuals involved is missing something fundamental: The desire for sex and/or affectionate behaviour is not met or satisfied (enough).
  4. The persons involved believe in values from the poly ideology and define themselves as “secondary partners” which are allowed less co-determination in life decisions than “primary partners”.
  5. The relationship is built upon a secondarily motivated crush: Actually, the persons involved would have only desired casual sex with one another.

In my personal experience, I had a straight secondary relationship attempt for a few months. It was based on the points 2, 3, 4 and 5 in personnel union – that’s why a lot of my energy went down the drain with him.

Within a couple, the total number of all persons involved is the same as the number of persons who make up the couple: Generally, it’s always about two individuals. If the couple is unstable, thus only two people are directly concerned – and maybe also their children, if they have any.

This situation, however, is very different from the one in polycules:

A polycule consists of at least two couples by definition; the minimum is three persons involved. If one couple is unstable, the other couple(s) and metamour connections are also negatively affected by energy exchange, even if these couple(s) were perfectly stable on their own.

This energy exchange – similar to osmosis in chemistry – will take place at all points where two or more people are connected. In the graphics presented for the poly scheduling problem that is in all corner points, where two or more lines meet.

If an energy-draining (= unstable) structure meets an energy-generating (= stable) structure, a (mostly subconscious) dynamic is set into motion: I call this the principle of shifted boundaries.


Two individuals live in a romantic relationship which is unstable due to an energy-draining dynamic. Since something seems to be missing, they open their relationship emotionally, in order to find “it” with another person. Thus, their decision is not based on a primary motivation for polyamory (for that, the existing couple would have to be stable), but on a secondary motivation.

Supposedly, this emotionally open couple becomes acquainted with a suitable third individual. As a consequence, a person of the pre-existing couple falls in love with this new person. These two decide to enter a connection at the romantic level. Thus, the pre-existing couple is suddenly a part of a polycule.

The new couple can generate energy in two ways:

  1. Since both individuals are in love, freshly-generated energy comes along with their feelings. As long as these feelings are active, they predominantly provide energy. This is (ideally) meant to fuel the necessary relationship work at their conflicts in the beginning of the romantic relationship until both persons involved achieve a stable romantic level.
  2. The couple has arguments and agrees on solutions for the existing conflicts. Thus, they achieve a stable romantic level. As long as this level stays stable, it predominantly provides energy.

Now, there is the pre-existing couple (EV = energy vampire) and the new couple who generates energy (ES = energy source). They form a V polycule which looks like this:

In accordance with the principle of communicating vessels, the energy flows from the energy-generating to the energy-draining couple. That starts the principle of shifted boundaries:

From the view of person B, who is both a part of ES and of EV, the behaviour of person A which accelerates the energy drain of EV – e.g. actions, which are annoying, disrespectful or ignorant towards person B’s boundaries – suddenly do not seem so bad any more. That’s because person B has now access to more energy than his/her own – there is the energy of ES, which is used to balance the energy minus in EV.

Consciously, this manifests by lowered annoyance, exhaustion or destructive conflicts (also implicit ones!) within EV and previously unwanted behaviour is reinterpreted to “that’s ok” or “just a peculiarity of person A”. The EV-relationship between persons A and B seems to suddenly work better subjectively, although all energy-draining dynamics keep running underneath.

The other couple, however, does not remain uninfluenced by the principle of shifted boundaries, since the energy of ES is tapped. In the beginning, this can go by unnoticed, since more energy is generated than lost. If, however, the loss becomes greater over time, the previously energy-generating couple starts to drain energy as well since even their maintaining energy is drained by EV. This leads to destructive (and unnecessary) conflicts between persons B and C within ES. Usually, person B projects conflicts with person A onto person C. The result is annoyance and exhaustion between persons B and C.

The only way to break this vicious cycle is to find the causes for the energy vampirism within EV and to look at these as if EV would be a standalone couple without another connected couple:

  • Is the wish for a polyamorous lifestyle based on a secondary motivation?
  • Does one or several of the reasons for an unstable romantic relationship listed above apply to you?
  • Is there other behaviour of your romantic partner, which is energy-draining?
  • How can we change this step by step, mutually, so that we achieve a stable romantic relationship?
  • Could couple coaching, couple therapy or individual psychotherapy be helpful to us in our situation?

If, however, no constructive communication about any of these topics is possible (any more), or a romantic relationship has not been the most suitable social connection from the beginning, a separation remains as the only solution.

The poly ideology contains its own philosophy for such cases – it might not be very surprising that it is dysfunctional, again: The concept about new relationship energy, abbreviated to NRE.

New relationship energy describes exactly the effect that an energy-draining romantic relationship experiences an apparent “improvement” by the energy of an additional new romantic relationship. According to this philosophy, all persons involved would feel “compersion” in such a situation: All are happy about one another and about the beautiful energy. If there were no breaks of consent involved (“I tell you who I have started an additional romantic relationship with, but I don’t care whether you have consented to that!”), this can actually be the case – but only for a few days or weeks. Then the equilibrium loses its balance, and also the ES relationship starts to drain energy like the EV relationship. At this point, a new ES relationship must be found of course, which provides NRE for the next round, etc.

The respective ES relationship is always tapped: Instead of letting the energy flow to the respective couple which has actually generated it (where it belongs!), it goes into energy-draining structures and disappears therein, like in a black hole. If this dynamic is not removed, the entire relationship network will tumble towards an emotional mushroom cloud and blow up in a fiery finale.