Polyamory Is Going Mainstream (2nd update)

This 2nd update of “Polyamory Is Going Mainstream” is brought to you on a break from my project, letting you know I am alive (other than my Twitter feed.)

It looks like I am doing two year updates of my blog post of 7/1/13. With an update of 5/27/15, and now this. It’s quite coincidental to me, except that since my post almost four years ago, I have thought continuously about this subject. So, I’m motivated to follow this active relational/social shift, at least in the U.S.

Polyamory

“Married & Dating” (Showtime Networks)

A Paradigm Shift

Can a shift like this – from monogamous (in values; beliefs, including spirituality) to multi-relational – be connected to other social, historical, cultural developments? We don’t know whether multi-relational practices tend to drive social trends, or the opposite. The talk of monogamy’s “breakdown” is a bit of retailed panic; multi-relational life can include parenting a couple’s progeny.

Possible Privilege

We don’t know much about poly peoples’ diversity, though informal studies show a more affluent, white and younger demographic. It may reflect some degree of privilege to be able to relate, openly or not, outside of social norms.

Defining Self In Relationship

I work with clients who are trying to define themselves clearly in the fluid shifts between one paradigm and another, relationally speaking. Personal integrity is of course the one common foundation for both desire and commitment.

marriageFew Grew Up This Way

But in the new relationship paradigm, one that few people grew up with, a very personal integrity can come in a “qualified second” to indulging (or plunging) into the new world of wanting. Or mastering today’s new social skill, one with a considerable but often overlooked ethical canon. It’s been remodeled actively over the last two decades, and of course is subject to every possible variation. Many partners I see consider the shift after they have birthed and raised their preferred number of children.

Polyamory Mastery Is Hard

There is a significant number of people in multi-relational partnerships where the partners have had some experience with it, and have in fact developed ways of maintaining desire and clear enough commitments across them all. And yet even these folks would not lay claim to mastery of these skills. To open up desire in one’s life is indeed to open oneself to greater variability, and some pressures, including those related to spending so much time just relating closely.

Separating Commitment From Desire

The separation of commitment from desire, mainly for desire’s sake, is welcome. It can free desire up somewhat, if life’s other commitments can be carved away enough. It’s exhilarating, and then the larger number of moving parts start to bring change. More of life is devoted to relationship. That alone challenges most people’s levels of personal development.

Desire Least Understood

Desire is the least understood part of relationships, and the most frequent reason for breakups of all kinds. In monogamy, people usually stop wanting each other, and then stop choosing each other. In multiple relationship households desire can easily flicker too, though for different reasons, often about how difficult it is to maintain commitments that get built onto relationships made mainly from desire. Longer term, it’s more likely about how to maintain a robust individuality; clear but open boundaries, durable relationships, bringing and keeping people in your life.

An ethical framework for managing desire is becoming less and less controversial, and more frequently the basis for therapy and counseling.

What We Might Talk About, Part II (of a series)

A Brief Talk …

Here’s Part II of “What We Might Talk About”, an ongoing review of therapy-related terms that occasionally come up in the office. None of this content is linked to any expert, or research or tradition; it’s meant to be a more informal glimpse. Points are covered briefly, deliberately acknowledging that your questions are needed to see what’s really there. Relationships, emotional process and erotic/sexual issues are on tap.

relationship

Monogamy

What does it mean to you (or what did it mean?) It’s a question that most would struggle to answer. Many never thought they had to ask – almost like a ‘monogamy privilege’. The tension between being sexually or emotionally “gregarious”, and valuing the sexually exclusive “pair bond”, was usually ignored at the outset of the relationship.

narrative

The ‘parallel narrative’

Without discussing the true nature of monogamy, they have a difficult time developing an accurate perspective on it. Yet it’s an absolutely critical issue for the longevity of their union. What does monogamy mean to them and how will they address its dilemmas?

I have found that if eroticism isn’t treated as an essential “parallel narrative” (on a par with all the commitments and attachments that relationships set up) then desire problems will be a critical issue for many if not most relationships. Sometimes, partners settle for sex they report as mediocre yet mostly available, as reliable and safe as other commitments.

This “parallel narrative” is not some dreamy abstract notion. It shows up very concretely when partners experience eros/sexuality as a completely different way of relating. And necessary, if the notion of having only one sexual partner is a core value.

carving out time

Carving Out

Partners have to literally carve out time for erotic lives which want more than occasional, fatigued or unimaginative sex. With the demands of work, parenting and more, this fragile part of life seems to require a very sharp “pickaxe”, to clear away all of life’s serious commitments to make time for things such as sex dates, replete with discrete (utterly-separate-from-rest-of-life) narratives.

compassion talk therapy

Compassion

Perhaps the noblest of mutual human connections. To identify and support another’s experience and their vulnerability. To understand loss without consideration of individual fault. Error or tragedy are respected as unavoidable, often enough. And a deeper test: when the origin of the loss is mysterious, likely to repeat or rationalized as the result of past abuse.

Compassion is part of the “parallel narrative”, mentioned above in its erotic/sexual aspect. Compassion is the connection that puts all or most other commitments aside, the real world of right & wrong, and accountability. Can partners carve out a compassionate space of their own, one that operates by very different rules than those that govern the rest of their lives?

redemption

Redemption

…widely known as forgiveness, which is certainly synonymous. Redemption is more specific, and complex. It’s grace, expressed in light of everything that preceded it in the relationship. Redemption may be in acts which repair or re-establish commitment, or integrity. Accepting the other, usually with compassion and without any notion of the redeemer’s moral superiority. We all break promises, we all lie and we all want a road back to being OK.

mutuality

Mutuality

When one of your preferences blocks your partner from getting something they want, the gridlock can be painful. Partners could fear/hate the deprivation. Yet if each partner can show real knowledge of what the other(s) want, and how much they want it, they’ve made the basic steps of a mutuality process. When you choose in favor of what your partner wants, this simple mutuality process makes that decision sweeter and better understood. When you turn your partner down, going through the mutuality process will help put a hard decision in context.

 

To be continued….

What We Might Talk About: Therapeutic Dialogues

 Therapeutic Dialogues

(A bit of a break since the last post. I’ve been relying far too much on feeding @SeattleShrink! While Twitter allows me to draw on many sources, the blog is where some of those inputs can synthesize into information that is helpful to you – the ultimate test.)

The blog is also meant to give an ongoing picture about my practice, and the person leading it. Blogging about therapeutic dialogue(s) seems to fit that well.

I Talk To Clients About…

….Wanting and Choosing

Wanting is the verb of desire. Choosing is the act of commitment.

Wanting v. Choosing, a tension to manage. We get better at it as we age. This tension can create remarkable, resilient, self-aware decent people.

.desirecommitment

The Commitment Anchor

Choosing is how the world gets built – it’s fundamental, essential, powerful.  So, most people lean toward mastering the relative certainty of commitment over the more fluid, variable, playful desire.

The Tide Of Desire

Wanting must be constantly nurtured (by the imagination) and generally defended, as a priority in relational life. It’s highly perishable, needy. Yet desire problems drive so much breakup and divorce, mono and poly.

Who Wants to Be Seen & Known?

That’s understandable since most adults know that wanting powerfully reveals the self. Our sexual development is influenced by the fear of being seen and known, by intimacy we have to tolerate.

…Immunity

immunity

The term immunity comes from the study of biological life and health, of which psychology is but a subset. Immunity presumes exposure – to everything. To learn how to protect, it must fail often enough. But it copes well with each loss – it’s rarely fooled again by identical bacteria or virals. Think of how that might hold equally true for your emotional life, and your relationship(s). As long as you are vulnerable enough to connect with your feelings, yet with a solid sense of self, you will learn much about who you are. (Attachment-centered therapists may see this model as an invite to an “auto-immune disorder”. I don’t.)

… Differentiation

together and separate

The pursuit of a self, guided by thoughtfulness about intimacy and privacy (self-intimacy). Intimacy that’s understood to be both indulged (wanted) and tolerated (frustrated.) Right in that crease lives the kind of personal development that understands emotional pain (and joy) as part of ongoing personal development. That means balancing awareness with careful, accurate thought about your big picture.

….Mastery

mastery

Mastery speaks realistically to that core development process that we want in our work, and in life. This is a “modest and durable” module, grounded in the practical life of spirituality, gender and sex-role netural. It owes nearly everything to George Leonard.  It can fit into just about any therapy approach – it’s like ‘behavioral support service.’ And all about practicing self-control.

A ‘practice’ can be built to reconstruct a life and a self. It orients and organizes, but understands full well — that there can be ‘practice without progress.’ The model is usually helped by a meditation or greater body conditioning.

…..Anger…

spectrumofanger

is not an emotion

The vast majority of my clients refer to anger as an emotion. I don’t. Anger is affect, emotion’s visible/audible ‘wrapper’. It’s driven by many different emotions. I ask clients to identify the emotions that fuel their angers, and there are often surprises on that ‘list.’ This starts a process of exploration, where before there was only a fear of losing self-control. The heat of anger leads to the light of clearer thinking about

….Eroticism

eroticism

A missing element in many adults. Why? How you’ve been loved, or not (and just how so), truly surfaces in adulthood. Self-love (masturbation) migrates to & from the imagination, then expressed in adult relational play. Our erotic/sexual ‘template’ is a way to relieve worries (per Bader), to relinquish anxiety — to feel fully alive.

The erotic connection lovingly turns the world on its head. Relieved of of typical daily importance, familiars can safely be strangers. An endless paradox: taking for oneself — as a primary form of giving, of showing up, of wanting intimacy of all kinds.

…..Grief

grief counseling

Grief is the seam between life and death, where they “meet”. Through my critical incident practice, I’ve learned more deeply how to help those who have endured painful loss. While I think of grief as a system equally ‘elegant’ to gestation & birth, I also know that going through most of it is lousy. Sometimes with the feeling there’s little to no light at the end of the tunnel. When someone can make durable meaning from a significant death, the process ripens.

…..Kink Aware; Sex Positive

kink aware

To credibly present these two credentials begins to heal the long history of professional mental health abuse towards the sexually, erotically and relationally diverse. That abuse has evolved into a fear of psychotherapists who either moralize, or refer clients they know they can’t relate to – after the therapy relationship has begun. Ouch.

I’ve worked with many clients advanced in the imaginative & playful living (or educating) known as kink. Their sex positive beliefs are openly practiced, even as they face nearly universal problems of intimacy and integrity.

You’ll be safe in this office with your erotic and sexual selves, exactly as they are.

To be continued…..