Melissa MitchellMelissa Mitchell is studying polyamory, the practice of simultaneous consensual romantic relationships with multiple partners.

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Trailblazer in polyamory research

June 07, 2012
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By Carol Thorbes

Driven by a healthy appetite for academic challenges, Melissa Mitchell is graduating with a reputation as a trailblazer in virgin research territory: polyamorous relationships.

Before collecting her honours BA in psychology with an extended minor in criminology this month she has already co-presented new research on the topic at a major conference. Mitchell and one of her thesis supervisors, psychology professor Kim Bartholomew, presented a qualitative study in April at the Western Psychological Association meeting in San Francisco on why people become polyamorous.

Mitchell says research identifies “polyamory as a relationship form in which individuals have simultaneous consensual romantic relationships with multiple partners.”

After analyzing 161 posts on an online polyamory forum Mitchell and Bartholomew concluded that there are two main reasons why people become polyamorous. “One, they say ‘this is who I am’ and feel their relationship style is similar to a sexual orientation,” says Mitchell.

“Two, they are adapting to relationship circumstances. In several cases, an individual who was originally in a monogamous relationship fell in love with someone outside the coupled relationship, and instead of dissolving the original coupling, negotiated a polyamorous solution.”

Mitchell, who was on the Dean’s and President’s honour rolls and maintained an SFU open undergraduate scholarship, is now lining up international conferences to present her honours thesis on polyamorous relationships.

It investigates how getting needs met with one partner relates to satisfaction with and commitment to another partner. Mitchell’s research into an area of psychology that is rarely investigated and barely understood is all the more remarkable given her busy study and work schedule.

In her first year, she took on six courses — two beyond a full course load, while helping SFU psychology professor Rebecca Cobb, her other thesis supervisor, revise a manual for assessing couples’ relationships.

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