It’s been a little over 18 months since my last post to this blog. I used the time to begin a long-term nonprofit development project (more on the project in a future post!).
Over the 18 months, my practice has continued to serve diverse relationships, as well as individuals. About half of the relationships I work with are monogamous, the other half consensually non-monogamous (CNM). There is much to be learned about committed relationships from working with both relational types.
Diverse relational clients have deepened my understandings about personal development and committed relationships. I never think that one form of relationship as “better” than another, or ever work in that way. Different relationships & systems shape people in different ways.
Most (not all) open relationships I work with operate in a hierarchy, with primary and secondary relationship importance. These partners typically experience the tensions of a “mono/poly” relationship that can bounce between two very different sets of values.
I’ve also continued working with erotically, sexually and relationally diverse clients, across the wide spectrum practiced in greater Seattle and Washington. They are an evolved cutting edge of imaginative eros and sex, supported by durable subcultures. They thrive on fluid genders and orientations.
Free 2. Dickson Phau 3: https://www.iconfinder.com/icons/1586745 :4:www.hierarchydc.com; 5. Free; 6: The Rock Church
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.
“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.
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.
Few 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
…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.
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.