This thesis was a study of seven long term polyamorous couples, couples who have been together and actively poly (i.e. they have both had other partners rather than simply being open to that possibility) for at least 5 years, and who consider themselves to be in a stable, committed relationship (as is common in the poly community, this will be referred to as their primary relationship).
An email request for participants was sent to poly and poly-friendly groups in Northern California and appropriate friends soliciting participants. The seven couples interviewed were selected from among respondents to that email based on a short phone interview or personal knowledge. Preference was given to couples who had been polyamorous for the most years, and in addition, a couple with a child living at home was specifically sought out. While it was clear that there were some issues in some of the couples which might eventually cause a breakup, all the couples seemed relatively stable.
What are the effects of using personal acquaintances as participants? McCracken (1988) stated that respondents should be complete strangers. However, he also noted that they are influenced by their impression of the interviewer. Just as a complete member of a group is given considerable latitude (Adler and Adler, 1987), a member of the poly community is likely to be given more trust, since the respondent can rest assured that the information gained will not be used to harm the community. I mean by that that it will not be used to attack the community, though it may contain critical observations. While friend respondents may have a tendency to bias their observations to avoid stresses on the friendship, the interviewer has the advantage of understanding the respondent's comments in the context of observed behavioral interactions, thereby reducing the likelihood they will get away with telling a story that is completely inconsistent with actual behavior. It is important in this situation that the interviewer have the reputation of being able to keep confidentiality.
As Lofland and Lofland (1995) pointed out, whatever the relationship of the investigator to the setting, whether as a member or an observer, it is simultaneously an advantage and a disadvantage. In this study I have been able to take advantage of the greater depth of data available, the greater openness of respondents that comes from their knowledge of my similar experience, and my ability to supplement the data with my own insights (Adler and Adler, 1987).
The participants all lived within a two hour drive of my home north of San Francisco.
No same gender couples responded to my solicitation, so all couples were male-female. One woman is only interested in other women at this point, with the exception of her primary partner. Another woman had had an important relationship with another woman, and was clearly interested in both men and women, and another had some sexual relationships with women. I did not specifically ask about sexual orientation. However, many of the participants volunteered that they were comfortable touching someone of the same sex when they were in a three way sexual situation.
The age of the respondents varied from 29 to 72, with an average age of 52 (two were 29, 4 were in their forties, two in their fifties, and the rest over 60). They had been in their current relationships for at least ten years (and as long as 44), and had been polyamorous within that relationship for at least 7 years.
I interviewed each person individually, using what has variously been called a qualitative interview (Babbie, 2004), an unstructured interview (Lofland and Lofland, 1995), an open mode interview (Kvale, 2003), or a long interview (McCracken, 1988). The essence is that there were some general questions, but unlike a survey interview, the questions were not phrased in a particular way, or necessarily asked in a particular order (Babbie). Additional questions were asked when it seemed appropriate. The point was to elicit rich descriptions of the respondents' experience (Lofland and Lofland) of their relationships and how they experience and practice commitment in those relationships by allowing them to talk freely (Kvale).
The participants were interviewed separately rather than as a couple, since there were some delicate questions about their sexuality with their primary partner (the other member of the couple) and their other partners. In addition, I wanted to see whether the answers of both members of the couple are consistent with each other.
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