On a Monday night in late January, Liam and Tracie are cooking dinner for their daughter Emily. It’s her 16th birthday, and they’re having nachos and birthday cake.

As Liam and Tracie prepare dinner in the kitchen, Emily is on the couch in the living room talking with Melissa and Matthew.

Liam and Tracie are a married couple, and so are Matthew and Melissa. But they are also polyamorous. Liam and Melissa are paramours, which means they share an intimate relationship with each other. Matthew has a paramour outside the group, and Tracie currently is not in another relationship.

“Right now I’m invested in my own individual exploration,” she says. “I have a couple of projects that I want to work on now and am not really looking for another romantic attachment.”

THE START OF LIAM AND TRACIE’S POLYAMORY

Liam and Tracie decided to open up their marriage after Tracie had an affair with a friend.

“I made the mistake of not talking with Liam before I went ahead with it,” Tracie says. “But we decided to see what this could add to our marriage instead of taking away from it.”

Tracie and Liam met Melissa and Matthew through an online dating site a couple of years ago in Missouri. Liam and Melissa immediately hit it off, and got permission from their spouses to begin dating. After two years of the couples living separately in Missouri, they decided they were ready for their next adventure. They found an apartment in Rock Creek, a Portland suburb, and moved in together. They’ve been here for five months.

John Rosman/OPB

Matthew and Melissa wearing snorkels while diving on their honeymoon in Mexico. “It represents the silly side of our relationship,” says Melissa.

THE CHALLENGES OF POLYAMORY

The couples asked that we not use their last names or show their faces because some of them have still not told family and friends about their choice to be polyamorous.

“A lot of people think polyamory means promiscuousness or being false with your partner, and some of that exists in our families,” Tracie says. “And right now we’re not willing to put our family or our happiness on the line just because someone has a closed mind.”

The foursome are quick to point out that polyamory is not about a failure of one partner to provide for another. In fact, it’s the opposite.

“It’s not about higher than or superlative to, it’s about different,” Matthew says. “When we love others, we learn more about ourselves that we can bring to the relationship with each other.”

“I think in monogamous relationships you put a pressure on your partner to fulfill every need you have,” Melissa says.

In the polyamorous community, “compersion” is a term that refers to a person feeling joy from a loved one’s intimate relationship with another person.

John Rosman/OPB

The front door of Liam, Tracie, Melissa and Matthew’s suburban home outside Portland.

JEALOUSY

This is not to say that jealousy has been eliminated from the equation.

“Trying to find time for Melissa is sometimes a struggle for Liam,” Tracie says about her husband. “And every once in a while, I’ll find that I’m jealous of the time that he’s spending with her.”

The solution? A strategy they call “over-communication,” which the foursome says is the most important rule of the house.

“We talk through everything,” Melissa says. “Whether it’s a severe issue or just a minor problem, we work on group problem solving and making everyone part of the solution.”

Matthew’s paramour lives out of the area, and he usually blocks Fridays off to be with her, a day Melissa works but he doesn’t. He says he is constantly checking in with Melissa to make sure that she is OK with the situation.

“I’m very careful to not take anything for granted,” he says. “I make sure that Melissa always knows that I value her opinion.”

HOW DO YOU TALK TO YOUR TEENAGE DAUGHTER ABOUT YOUR ARRANGEMENT?

Included in most of the family talks is Liam and Tracie’s daughter Emily, a self-professed “geek” who spent her birthday at Portland Comic Con. For some teenage girls, polyamorous parents might seem like too much to handle. But Liam and Tracie thought differently.

“Emily has always taken a really mature approach to it,” Tracie says. “We’ve tried to give her as much information as we felt she was ready for.”

When Tracie and Liam told Emily about their unconventional lifestyle a couple of years ago, she didn’t freak out.

“I was actually fine with it,” Emily says. “I expected them to understand and respect things I was going through, and I in turn would do the same for them.”

Tracie says that when Melissa and Liam’s relationship began to get serious, she and Liam immediately sat down with Emily to “over-communicate.”

“We said ‘Hey, Melissa and Matthew are going to be coming around more often. How do you feel about that?’” Tracie says. “Then later it was, ‘Hey, how do you feel about Matthew, Melissa and the three of us all going to live together in Portland?’”

Back in the living room, everyone gathers in the living room to sing happy birthday to Emily. Melissa sits on the couch, her hand on Liam’s back as he sits next to his wife Tracie. Emily’s eyes go wide as she opens a present, a wall hanging of one of her favorite anime series.

John Rosman

John Rosman

OPB

The possession Tracie chose was a scrap book dedicated to a favorite cat that died after 13 years with the family. “He was older then Emily at the time.” As a way of grieving, the family assembled the scrap book together.