I’ve been working on a relationship book over the last year or so and I want to share one of the first chapters of the book.
Healthy relationships take consciousness. It’s important that we enter into our encounters with others as consciously as possible. That means that we figure out whether we want intimacy with someone we want sex with (they are very different) or do we just want a sexual encounter that fulfills our current physical needs. And if that’s so, how do we make sure to communicate that to the person we are with? Being successfully poly means conscious communication as we have a lot more to navigate than most monogamous people. That said, conscious monogamy is totally possible. Monogamous folks can learn a lot from us poly people on entering into relationships consciously.
The best way to traverse the landmines in relationships, balance sex and intimacy healthfully, or just have a great fuck, is to be conscious. And in our current world, that is usually not the case. From the time we are young we just “fall” into relationships. All of a sudden we have a boyfriend or girlfriend and how in the hell did we suddenly start going steady? We add alcohol to the mix when we’re teens and then we have sex with zero consciousness. And intimacy gets lost in the shuffle. And relationships suffer and never have a chance to fully form.
Conscious means having a conversation about what you mean when you say “ I practice safer sex.” Conscious means knowing how to differentiate between a desire for intimacy and a desire for sex. Conscious means knowing that you can have intimacy without having to use sex as the tool to get the intimacy you need. Conscious means that you can make clear your needs, wants and dreams when you are forging a new relationship. Conscious means have the difficult conversations that come up in all relationships and not avoiding them or become passive/aggressive. Conscious means not getting shit-faced drunk at the frat house party. Conscious means not taking advantage of the person who got shit-faced drunk at the party. Conscious means understanding what ongoing consent means. It really isn’t that hard. It just means you need to be awake and aware and willing to communicate. That’s really all it takes to be conscious.
And as easy as it sounds, it takes work. First, poly or not, ask yourself the following questions when entering into a new relationship.
- What are your needs in a relationship?
- What are your desires/wants in a relationship?
- What are your dreams in a relationship?
Needs are deal breakers. They are those things that are non negotiable. When we closely examine them, we generally discover that our needs, while essential, are few. For me, one need is to meet my other partners primary partner. Another is safer sex.
Next, desires or wants. What is it you want in an ideal relationship? These are the things, that while negotiable are important. For me, I want all of my partners to be polyamorous. I also want my partners to not depend on me to be their sole sexual partner. This list is probably going to be fairly long and will be the basis for communicating and negotiating your relationship.
Finally, your dreams. Those things that would make your relationship(s) ideal. My biggest dream is to live in an apartment building with all of my partners; sharing a kitchen and family room and everyone having their own studio apartment. Dreams can be silly and they also can be practical. My other dream is to have all of my partners get along with each other.
Think carefully about all this and realize that you are always free to change your mind and renegotiate things in the future. Relationships are not static.
If you’re in a current relationship and are going through some changes, the Needs, Wants and Dreams list can be quite illuminating. I’ve had coaching clients who, when they shared their list with their partner, were amazed that their lists were almost identical. And that’s because we usually fail to communicate clearly when we are in a relationship (especially monogamous ones).
Living in the past
Awhile back I had conversation with a dear friend about a mutual friend who is having a hard time moving on from her former relationship. This person has been apart from their former partner longer than they were together and yet she still clings to the past. She bemoans that he’s moved on and has a new partner. She is not allowing herself to find successful relationships. She constantly compares everyone and everything to her former partner. It struck me that her clinging to the past gives her no room to be in the present or to plan for the future. She’s stuck. And this is something that many of us do. We live in our past. We base all of our decisions on our past mistakes so as not to screw up again. We are so caught up in our need to not hurt, to punish, to cling or to be right (or all of the above) that we just don’t live.
We should not allow our past to create our present nor our future. We should not look at a potential partner and compare them to a former partner or say “Well, they’ll just cheat on me like so and so did.” We should not expect them to be anything other than their authentic selves. And yet we do just this out of habit and unconsciously. We make up a story about what we think is so, never giving room to what’s really happening. We miss out on so many opportunities because we are so stuck in our past.
That doesn’t mean we don’t celebrate our past successes and hopefully learn from our past mistakes. Nor does it mean that we can’t fondly remember wonderful things that happened to us or miss those who are no longer with us. That is all part of being human. And that is different than allowing the past to dictate our present and future relationships.
One of the most important parts of having a conscious healthy relationship is to put the past in the past where it belongs: to realize that every new relationship is unique and different and will not be the same as the last one (or two or three) UNLESS we make it so. This means that we must enter into all relationships consciously. That we stay aware and present at all times and when we catch ourselves reverting back to our old habits of living in the past, we pinch ourselves and get back into the present. That we stop making up stories about what we think is so and wait and see what the present gives us. It takes practice and courage and as I said, consciousness and it can be done. Put the past behind you and travel toward the future unburdened and ready for your next adventure.
And now for some fun. I was raised fundamentalist and the Bible was a part of my life. Here’s my take on the 10 Commandments for you polyamorous and monogamous folks out there (pardon the prescriptive language, it’s in homage to the original)
10 Commandments of Polyamory and Monogamy
- You shall not put anyone above yourself. No partner is better than you are.
- You shall not create false equivalencies between partners. Everyone is in your life for their own unique reason.
- You shall not curse or verbally abuse a partner.
- Keep the sanctity of all of your relationships at the top of your thoughts
- Honor all of your relationships.
- Do not “kill off” or erase former partners. All partners were with you for a reason.
- Do not break agreements, for that is equivalent to cheating.
- Do not steal your partners’ agency. You cannot impose your morals on them.
- Do not lie to your partners, integrity is of utmost importance.
- Do not covet your partners other partners without first talking to that partner.
1. You shall not put anyone above yourself. No partner is better than you are.
You are the most important person in your life.
If you are someone who is in a hierarchical poly relationship it’s easy to feel less than when you are a secondary partner. Always remember that you are in their life for a reason and primary, secondary, etc are just names not judgement.
If you are monogamous, remember that you are equals with your partner.
2. You shall not create false equivalencies between partners. Everyone is in your life for their own unique reason.
While this is definitely more about poly, for those of you who are monogamous, this means that you don’t compare your partner with others. They are who they are and with you because you both choose each other. The grass is not necessarily always greener on the other side.
3. You shall not curse or verbally abuse a partner.
This goes without saying. I will cover behavior more in other chapters. However, verbally abusing a partner is not any different than physically abusing them, in the long run, the wounds just take longer to show and sometimes longer to heal.
4. Keep the sanctity of all of your relationships at the top of your thoughts.
I use sanctity in this to mean devotedness. Stay devoted to your relationship(s) even when times are tough. Know that the blessing of being in relationship can be very rewarding.
5. Honor all of your relationships.
This isn’t just about romantic relationships, this is also about friendships and family. Be an honorable person in all relationships.
6. Do not “kill off” or erase former partners. All partners were with you for a reason.
This is hard for poly people and even harder for monogamous folks. All of our former partner give us gifts, even the ones that end horribly. Staying friends with former partners can be very rewarding in the long run. It takes communication and adulting to avoid feeling jealous and insecure and it can be done. And if children are involved it’s even more important
7. Do not break agreements, for that is equivalent to cheating.
Yes, poly people can cheat. Usually in the form of breaking agreements. And of course, for you monogamous people, don’t cheat on your partner. It’s that simple.
8. Do not steal your partner(s)’ agency. You cannot impose your morals on them.
You love your partner for who they are and who they are not. You can not expect them to change for you. This is true whether poly or mono.
9. Do not lie to your partner(s), integrity is of utmost importance.
No explanation needed, other than “white lies” are still lies. Open communication, no matter how difficult is the cornerstone of a good relationship (see the chapter on Difficult Conversations).
10. Do not covet your partners other partners without first talking to that partner.
This is primarily for poly folks, and again goes back to open communication. However, even monogamous people may find themselves attracted to a close friend or someone at work. Don’t hide that attraction from your partner. Have a secure enough relationship that you can talk about your attractions without your partner feeling jealous or insecure. And, if your partner tells you about their attraction to another, don’t feel less than, just acknowledge that they are a human being with feelings.