How to Balance Time with
One of the books that significantly impacted my relationships is Gary Chapman’s #1 New York Times bestselling book, The 5 Love Languages. In it, Chapman posits that everyone has a preeminent “love language” that best illustrates how they flourish in romantic relationships, while both giving and receiving love, attention, and affection.
“Your partner may express love in those ways, and it will be helpful to you to understand this about him/her,” explains Chapman via the website. “In the same way, it will benefit your partner to know your primary love language in order to best express affection for you in ways
that you interpret as love. Every time you or your partner speak each other’s language, you score emotional points with one another. Of course, this isn’t a game with a scorecard! The payoff of speaking each other’s love language is a greater sense of connection. This translates into better communication, increased understanding, and, ultimately, improved romance.”
The languages listed are “Acts of Service”, “Physical Touch”, “Words of Affirmation”, “Quality Time”, and “Receiving Gifts”. You can bypass having to read the entire book if you wish, and instead, take five minutes to complete the free quiz on the website to determine your own
personal love language profile.
Why am I talking about love languages in an article about polyamorous time management? Because I believe it’s crucial to recognize your own love language(s) – as well as the language(s) in which your partners are most fluent. If you organize your time management strategies around the love languages most prominent in your poly configuration, you’ll be setting everyone up for maximum success. In short, different partners need different things to feel seen and heard. There’s not a single prescription to fit every unique situation. My primary love language, for example, proved to be “Acts of Service”, which should surprise no one I’ve ever dated.
“Anything you do to ease the burden of responsibilities weighing on an ‘Acts of Service’ person will speak volumes,” the website explains. “The words he or she most want to hear: ‘Let me do that for you.’ Laziness, broken commitments, and making more work for them tell speakers of this language their feelings don’t matter. Finding ways to serve speaks volumes to the recipient of these acts.”
This information indicates that I’m an extremely busy individual with a full calendar and that I prefer to be in control of my calendar at all times. It says that any sacrifices that my partners can make in acknowledging how precious time is to me and taking extra steps to work around – and with – my packed schedule are invaluable. It also highlights how seriously I take any perceived disrespecting of my time, whether it be forgetfulness, chronic cancellations, or logistical ineptitude. This is all crucial information to have as a partner, especially from the onset of the relationship. Why wouldn’t you want to stack the odds for success and sustainability in your favor while learning more about yourself in the process?
“Love languages” aside, I wanted to give as many varied examples of how non-monogamous folks manage their time as possible. Since I’m only one person speaking from a single set of experiences, I asked my extensive, intersectional online network to tell me all about their own unique time management strategies. Here’s what they had to say – I encourage you to commit what intrigues or resonates with you to memory and skip over the rest! Big thanks to everyone who contributed.
Note: Some like-minded opinions have been combined with one another for efficiency’s sake.
Stop comparing your partners to one another.
While you are spending time with a particular partner, do not let your mind drift to thoughts of resentment towards what they can’t or aren’t doing. Instead of playing the “comparison game”, focus on that individual partner’s strengths and remember to be thankful you have other partners specifically to fulfill those other voids and create balance.
Do the work.
Know yourself well so you can clearly and honestly communicate your needs. More than anything, learn your own ebb and flow. Know your limitations. Know them well enough to be able to articulate: what you are and are not available for, how much attention/energy you have to give, any expectations you may have, and when you’re feeling taxed or stretched thin. Seek out what makes you feel sexy, seen, and cared for. Not having a sense of my own limitations and needs was the hardest part about the first years of balancing multiple romantic partners (not just play partners). It led to me feeling worn down and resentful without being able to articulate why.
Develop a routine.
Regularly scheduled things help with stability and predictability (Google Calendar FTW!). Don’t neglect the power of “me” time. Take time for yourself. Self-care is sexy. I prioritize scheduling time for myself or I get burned out on partners/metamours and have less energy for all of them. A free block in my calendar doesn’t mean it needs to be filled with partners/metamours. I know if I’m not taking care of myself, I can’t show up in deep and intimate ways for those closest to me.
Don’t forget to breathe.
Exert patience when abrupt changes in schedule occur. The disappointment can sting sometimes, but always remember that you can reschedule for a time that works better for everyone involved.
Quality, not quantity.
Try to maximize your time with each partner according to what they like to do with you. For example, daytime dates with your bowling boo, Sunday brunches with your breakfast fanatic, and late-night fuck fests with your freaky night owl!
It’s really important in my relationships that quality time with my partners be maximized to the fullest. Because we get together so rarely, we often implement a block of time – or the majority of time – as device-free time. This is especially important for some of my relationships, as we have many people in common, so we’re frequently in group chats together and our phones will be ringing constantly. We’ll actually announce that we’re “going dark until further notice”.
No matter how prolific you get at scheduling, don’t allow spontaneity to die.
Spontaneity is also nice too, we’ve found. At times, the Google calendar ends up ruling everything. So it’s nice to be able to check in with a partner and be like, “Hey, what are you doing right now?”, “Do you have time for lunch today?”, or “Would you like to have a cuddle puddle with some friends tonight?”
Be careful not to make every hangout into a processing party.
In my one relationship, we specifically try to do our processing via text or email because we both tend to communicate better that way. It also helps to ensure that our limited time alone in person doesn’t always turn into heavy emotional conversations.
Acknowledge that your availability – as well as your partner’s – may fluctuate.
I am sure to let my partners know about my own level of energy, interest and time available, and I ask the same of them. We all are very busy people with other stresses and need to balance downtime with focus on each other time. This hasn’t been true with every poly relationship I’ve been in, but I currently have a primary and our agreement is to take care of sexy time with each other as a priority over time with others. We often wind up acting monogamous when time, energy, and/or libido are low, and kinda slutty when resources are in good shape! It really helps keep jealousy and envy issues in check.
Develop code words or phrases for when there is need instead of want.
“I need support” or “I need a few hours tonight” on hard days make a big difference and allow me to be alert when my priorities may need to shift around if/when a partner needs extra support.
I keep a Slingshot day planner religiously. A few days before each new week starts, I check my evenings and weekends. I make sure I’ve marked down anything I have to do or really want to do — work engagements, workouts, special events, babysitting, etc. — and see what’s left. Then I check in with my two solo partners individually to see if they’re free and want to get together during any of those times (if I’m not already seeing them during one of the other scheduled blocks of time, like a party we’re both going to, in which case we can spend the night together afterwards). Anything leftover I save for other friends, chores, whimsy, and/or me-time, depending on my needs that week. This works well for seeing each
of them one-on-one at least once a week, with very rare weeks that get skipped. If one of them starts seeing someone else (both are just seeing me right now), I’ll probably have to be a little less “fast and loose” with things, but right now, I appreciate the flexibility and the fact that we don’t have to set a rigid schedule. With my partner who’s married with a kid, we plan much further in advance by text and see each other one-on-one once a month or so.
Try balancing – and distinguishing between – “date time” and “life entwinement time”.
With my local partner, we do a lot of life maintenance things together, like grocery shopping and cooking together and co-working, vs. my long-distance or comet loves, who frequently mostly get only specific date time. Each of those things is intimate in their own way and
making sure each relationship gets the balance that fits it best is really important to me. I’ve been the less life-entwined partner longing for more day-to-day intimacy, as well as the day-to-day partner longing for more intentional time.
Hold scheduling “conferences” within your circle.
Make sure you’re having regular check-ins with everyone in your poly universe – either independently or all together – to discuss upcoming schedules and needs, as well as predictable emotional hiccups, such as scheduled family interactions, new dates, anniversaries, hormonal cycles, etc.
Andre Shakti is a journalist, educator, performer, activist, and professional slut living in the San Francisco Bay Area. She is devoted to normalizing alternative desires, de-stigmatizing sex workers, and their clients, and not taking herself too seriously. Andre wrestles mediocre white men into submission and writes about sex work, queerness and non-monogamy for Cosmopolitan, Rewire, Thrillist, MEL, Vice, Autostraddle, and more. She can frequently be found marathoning Law & Order: SVU under a chaotic pile of partners and pitbulls, and yes, she knows how problematic that show is. Andre is the reigning "polyamory pundit" at her non-monogamy advice column, "I Am Poly & So Can You!", which you can visit - and submit questions too! - via IAmPoly.net. Visit her on Twitter @andreshakti, on FB as Andre Shakti, and as a pleasure professional on the new inclusive educational platform O.School.