Tag Archives: ethical

The Good, The Bad, The Poly: WCB Class Notes and Handout Text.

With permission from the amazing speaker Allena Gabosch, who I had the privilege of getting to know this weekend at Westcoast Bound, I’m going to share the content of her class handout. I’ll also include my notes and thoughts from the class for those who couldn’t attend.

I loved this class! A lot of my education in communication and relationship methods was from a religious background, so trying to apply them to poly as an atheist was difficult. Learning new communication skills in relevant contexts is awesome. Thumbs up for good poly classes.

The Handout we received in class, which I’ve typed out here:

Some of our principles we try to live and relate by:

* No surprises are allowed (except surprise parties and gifts and cards and that kind of fun stuff.)
* Make clear agreements on what each person is supposed to do.
* Each person should be clear about their intentions.
* Each person should be clear about their expectations of the other.
* No secrets or secret agendas are allowed.
* Find ways to be genuinely supportive and uplifting toward one another, especially when times are tough.
* Keep a sense of humour when working out differences of opinion.
* If one loses their sense of humour, the other should be forgiving.
* If one gets out of line, the other should be firm but forgiving, and the one out of line should acknowledge the infraction when it is pointed out.
* When disagreeing, interruptions, raised voices, angry movements and demeaning language during disagreements are never appropriate and must be apologized for when they are pointed out.
* Apologies for interruptions, raised voices, angry movements and demeaning language during disagreements must be accepted.
* When disagreeing, neither person is allowed to say “I already told you such and such”- they have to patiently repeat themselves.
* When disagreeing, neither person is allowed to accuse the other of starting the argument or creating the disagreement.
* If one has bad feelings about the other during or after a disagreement they are not allowed to blame the other for these bad feelings.
* Past disagreements are not valid issues during a current disagreement- no “generalizing” and no “bringing up the past” is allowed.
* Short breaks from arguments are allowed but when possible disputes should be resolved on the same day they begin.
* If a departure is necessary during a disagreement it must be civil and courteous.

(Created by Allena Gabosch and Steve Gabosch 1997. Allena’s website is eroticcoaching.com, email allena.gabosch@gmail.com).

My class notes and thoughts:

Reality is rarely the same as what we imagine in our heads. (This is especially true for those of us with anxiety or depression or other mental illness.)

I liked how she described making agreements instead of rules for poly partners (not counting D/s).

When we break agreements, we need to acknowledge it and make it right. Pretending the problem doesn’t exist or that the hurt never occurred just damages the relationship further.

Safer sex! The person with the strictest rules should set the pace for what’s allowed. Talk to all partners about what they’re comfortable with, and make agreements about it.

Disclosure. Different details for different partners; negotiate separately with each of them. Some partners may want to know everything about their partner’s other relationships, but others may feel uncomfortable or jealous with knowing too much.

People change over time; sometimes their relationship structures do as well. Partners should renegotiate or check in on their agreements on a regular basis.

We tend to be afraid to speak what we feel, but this causes problems. Poly works best when everyone involved is actively trying to communicate effectively and share their feelings in a healthy way. Bottling up our feelings causes resentment, misunderstandings, and avoids opportunities to deepen intimacy and trust with each other.

We are not therapists. If our partner has a mental illness or has dealt with trauma, we can only support and love them- we cannot change them or fix them. They need to take personal responsibility for their own mental health and get therapy, make life changes, etc.

Adding new partners.

DO NOT add more partners or open your relationship if your current relationship is not stable. It’s a disaster waiting to happen that can destroy both the current relationship and the new one.

Be considerate of each other when starting with a new partner. There will be lots of changes, which can be scary or frustrating for your current partner, and they will need extra support and communication while things are settling.

No surprises! Talk to people in poly groups before making big chances or decisions that affect them. Surprises (not talking about surprise parties) can result in partners feeling ganged up on, left out, betrayed, etc.

NRE (New Relationship Energy) can be extremely devestating to poly relationships. People can become addicted to the “high” of new relationships. Some poly people do this so often that they start to get a reputation for always wanting this new high.

MRE, or Mature Relationship Energy, is different than NRE and takes longer to develop, but it’s much more satisfying in the long run. (I love that she mentioned this because it’s such an awesome relationship aspect that’s often overlooked in favour of NRE. MRE is so beautiful and precious and offers a depth of intimacy that we can’t get elsewhere.)


It’s unwise to allow partners to veto other partners after three weeks. By the time a few weeks have passed by, there are usually lots of feelings being developed and a veto causes much more pain.

Don’t make a rule about partners not falling in love with other people. But, you can ask to be informed before they act on it.

A known entity is less scary than an unknown entity. Metamours often do better when they are friends, or at least meet each other.

Couple Privilege: This attitude is devastating to other relationships in the poly group. If one partnership gets all the say, all the time and all the attention, and the other parties feel left out or unheard, things will fall apart very quickly.

Secondaries often have little to no power in their relationships. Hierarchies are very easy to misuse, and the primary couple is often unaware of how unfairly the other partners are being treated until things have already exploded or fallen apart. Treat secondaries as a beloved family member, not as disposable or less important, and watch them thrive.

Let metamours become an accessory to love! They can help you get excited about getting ready for your date, picking out a gift for the metamour’s birthday, etc. But make sure they are wanting to do this.

Have a regular date night with all partners, and never break them without offering an apology, valid explanation, and a replacement date night as soon as possible. Regular date nights are immensely helpful in keeping everyone happy and meeting their needs. Even if you are domestic partners with someone, make sure there’s a designated date night. Spending all day with them at home is not the same as focusing on them in a date setting and living with someone (or even marrying them) doesn’t mean we don’t need to date them anymore. Never stop pursuing your partners, even when you’ve already won them.

Group date nights, or “family date nights”, are also a wonderful idea for some poly groups. Being on happy terms with metamours, and regularly checking in with each other to make sure everyone is happy, is immensely helpful in promoting healthy poly relationships. The group can ask each other “what do you need to be happy?” The group can ask itself that question too. “What do WE need to be happy?”

Dealing with jealousy.

It is ok to be jealous in poly. Almost everyone is. It’s a normal human emotion. Emotions are normal and we cannot control what we feel, so judging partners for feeling jealous is not helpful.

What can we control? Our actions. “Jealousy is like kids. You can let them in the car, but don’t let them drive. And if you stuff them in the trunk they’ll get out eventually when you’re not prepared for it.”

Self reflection helps. Why am I jealous? Is this my inner issue, or is there a problem with the relationship that I’m becoming aware of? Communicate with your partner. “I’m feeling insecure. You don’t need to do anything about it, I just need you to know.” Verbalize the feelings, don’t act on them. If the jealousy is due to a problem in the relationship, talk it out.

Jealousy is “I’m going to lose something that belongs to me.” But we don’t own our partners (other than in D/s). We constantly choose our partners. We choose that person AND that person, not that person OR that person. It shouldn’t be either or, but more like adding a new member to the family.

Benefits of poly.

There are lots of them! The one that stuck out to me most was that there is so much support when one person gets ill. Instead of one partner trying to do all the supporting, there are multiple people to help.

Not relevant to me, but raising kids in poly is also a huge benefit. No need for babysitters if you’ve got 3-5 parental figures involved!

Ending poly relationships.

It’s ok to end relationships if they have run their course. But, end them with class and dignity (abusive relationships are different). Most relationships end when people drift apart, not because someone did something terrible. Poly can hide this drifting because we are distracted with other partners and don’t see the other partner slipping away.

An alternative to ‘ex’ is ‘former partner’.


What is Relationship Anarchy?

The following are some excerpts from an article about relationship anarchy, which you can read in its entirety here if you wish.

What is relationship anarchy?

Relationship anarchy is a lifestyle, a way of doing personal relationships. Relationship anarchy is a philosophy, specifically a philosophy of love. A relationship anarchist believes that love is abundant and infinite, that all forms of love are equal, that relationships can and should develop organically with no adherence to rules or expectations from outside sources, that two people in any kind of emotionally salient relationship should have the freedom to do whatever they naturally desire both inside their relationship and outside of it with other people.

How does relationship anarchy differ from polyamory?

First, let’s define polyamory.

Polyamory is the practice of having more than one romantic relationship at the same time, in an open and honest way that requires the consent and knowledge of all people involved. Polyamory is a secular movement about expanding and increasing consensual romantic-sexual love, an alternative way to build family and community.

Relationship anarchy goes further than polyamory in its departure from the monogamous norm. Relationship anarchy does share with polyamory an overall rejection of sexual and romantic monogamy, its common rejection of legal/institutional marriage, etc, but it also seeks to completely break down what I like to call the Romantic Sex-Based Relationship Hierarchy by erasing relationship categories determined by the presence or absence of sex and/or romance. Relationship anarchy consequently creates equality of all personal/intimate relationships, behaviorally and emotionally. The freedom to interact and value one’s relationships starting with a blank slate, distributing physical intimacy, sexual intimacy, emotional intimacy, etc. according to one’s desires rather than preexisting rules and categories of relationship types, is an expression of this equality.

A polyamorus person can be and often is just as much a sex supremacist or a romance supremacist as a monogamous person. That means, just like the vast majority of monogamists, a poly person can make their romantic and/or sexual relationships superior to their nonsexual/nonromantic relationships, solely on the basis of sex and romance. A polyamorous person can and often does separate romantic-sexual relationships from their friendships by restricting intimacy and certain behaviors to their romantic-sexual relationships.

A relationship anarchist does not assign special value to a relationship because it includes sex. A relationship anarchist does not assign special value to a relationship because it includes romance, if they even acknowledge romance as a distinct emotion or set of behaviors in the first place. A relationship anarchist begins from a place of assuming total freedom and flexibility as the one in charge of their personal relationships and decides on a case by case basis what they want each relationship to look like. They may have sex with more than one person, they may be celibate their whole lives, they may live with someone they aren’t having sex with, they may live alone no matter what, they may raise a child with one sexual partner or multiple sexual partners, they may raise a child with a nonsexual partner, they may have highly physical/sensual relationships with multiple people simultaneously (some or all of whom are not sexually and/or romantically involved with them), etc. Relationship anarchists recognize that no behavior is inherently romantic, and the only behavior that is inherently sexual is actual genital sex. What determines the nature of a given act is the individual’s feelings behind it.

For monogamists and many poly people, a “partner” is someone you are both fucking and romantically attracted to, and only that kind of relationship can be a space for commitment, for long-term cohabitation, for childrearing, for profound emotional intimacy and vulnerability, for financial interdependence, for sensual touch and nongenital physical affection, etc. For these people, a “friend” is not as important as a partner because they’re neither the object nor the source of sexual desire and romantic attraction. Normative friendship does not allow for commitment, for long-term cohabitation, for childrearing, for complete emotional intimacy, for financial interdependence, for sensual touch and nongenital physical affection, for legally binding agreements, etc. Monogamists rank their relationships in a very obvious, rigid fashion, and many polyamorous people follow the same basic ranking system by putting romantic-sexual relationships above nonromantic/nonsexual relationships and sometimes also ranking their polyamorous romantic-sexual relationships too. (Thus, the idea of “primary” vs. “secondary” partners—a tenet of what some call polynormativity.)

Relationship anarchists do not rank personal, loving relationships. They do not see any set of behaviors as innately restricted to romantic and/or sexual relationships, which certainly makes it difficult to elevate romantic-sexual relationships to a superior position above nonsexual/nonromantic relationships. RA’s see all of their personal, loving relationships—meaning, any relationship that isn’t professional or casual in nature—as equally important, unique, fulfilling different needs or desires in their life, and as possessing similar or identical potential for emotional/physical/mental intimacy, love, and satisfaction. A relationship anarchist does not place an emotional ceiling on nonromantic/nonsexual friendship or on a sexual friendship that’s devoid of “romance.” A relationship anarchist does not limit physical/sensual affection in their nonsexual relationships just because they’re nonsexual or nonromantic. A relationship anarchist does not expect to spend most of their time with just one sexual partner/romantic partner or with their romantic/sexual partners in general, nor does an RA assume that the romantic/sexual relationships (if they have any) automatically deserve or get more time and prioritization than the nonsexual/nonromantic relationships.

Musings on Jealousy

My views on jealousy have changed a lot over the past few years. I was raised to believe that jealousy was a failure, a very bad thing that was indicative of a lack of self-control and spirituality. Being jealous was a very great failing indeed. But the problem with demonizing natural emotional responses is that we then don’t want to acknowledge that they could possibly exist in us. After all, who woke up this morning wanting to feel like an emotionally immature child? This results in the root causes of the jealousy never being dealt with; the cycle repeats itself and there is more self-blame and loathing over the perceived failing.

So how does one effectively deal with jealousy when you’ve been taught that it’s inherently bad and mature people are above such things? You usually don’t. At least, that was my experience in the past. Being jealous was always a failure, and I didn’t want to be a failure. So back in my religious past I would just pray about it, prostrating myself on the floor in submission to a God that I thought hated my jealous feelings as strongly as if I had murdered someone (fundamentalist Christian doctrine teaches that thought crimes are just as bad as physical ones; hating someone is a bad as murder, etc.) I would berate myself for being so immature or blame it on “an attack from the devil”. There was rarely any understanding of the roots of my jealousies, nor any productive response to learning to actually deal with it. Jealousy was simply evil and to be avoided at all costs, even if that meant ignoring my true feelings so I could tell myself that I was above such things.

Now I have a very different view of jealousy. I see it as a natural response to life situations, a response that has its roots in my own insecurity and fear. And feeling fear and insecurity is not a failure either; it means we are human beings who feel and care and don’t always have things figured out yet.

Sometimes jealousy is rational. People in our lives may do things that understandably cause unnecessary jealousy, whether intended or not, and jealousy can be an indicator of relationship problems that need fixing or of a lack of communication. But often jealousy is more indicative of our own inner problems then of something the other person has done. When jealousy is rational and the cause legitimate, then talking to the other person is necessary to remedy it. There may be things happening that are unnecessary or hurtful which ought to be addressed. But if it’s irrational, and the other person is doing nothing that they should be changing, then making the other person change what they’re doing is simply us avoiding the real problem- ourselves. If I’m suffering from needless insecurity and fear and I ask the other person to change so I don’t have to feel that way anymore, is that really solving the problem or am I just running away from my own demons?

What’s important is not that we never feel these things in the first place, but that we deal with them when we do. Instead of pretending that we never get jealous, we must open ourselves up to it so we can identify and remedy the causes of it. Rather than being a failure, jealousy can be an opportunity to locate weaknesses in ourselves. What makes me fearful? What makes me feel insecure? Why don’t I think I’m good enough? Why do I feel unworthy of love or friendship? And most importantly, how can I change this? Jealousy can be an important stepping stone in self-improvement, if we handle it in the right way.

I certainly feel jealousy. Sometimes a hell of a lot of it. But I also lived most of my life never allowing myself to freely admit these feelings… jealousy was never effectively dealt with. So although it can be unpleasant working through it at times, it’s also a positive thing because it means that these parts of my nature are finally being brought to light so they can be improved. And I’d rather deal with a few moments of discomfort now than live another decade unable to face jealousy when it arises. Self improvement isn’t always easy, but it’s absolutely necessary and in the long run life is so much better for it.

I used to run from my demons. Now I face them head on and bend them to my will. Or at least that’s the goal.