Tag Archives: polyamory

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.)

Metamours.

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’.

Poly Groups are Only as Strong as the Weakest Link

Over the past few years of observing dozens of kinds of polyamorous relationships and talking to people about what they’ve also observed in their circles, I’ve come to the conclusion that poly groups (or Relationship Anarchist groups) are only as healthy as the people in them. Unhealthy-minded people tend to be in unhealthy poly groups that are either very dysfunctional or do not last long.

What makes someone a weak poly link? I don’t think it has anything to do with physical strength, self confidence, or even being free from mental or physical illness. I think that “poly weakness” comes down to a person’s inability or refusal to improve their communication skills, and a lack of motivation to learn from their mistakes and change their behavior. It also involves a lack of willingness to compromise and increase their empathy for all the people involved.

Regardless of how connected metamours may or may not be to each other, polyamory is always a team effort. If one partner is wearing out the shared partner with their unhealthy relationship practices that they refuse to change, then the shared partner will not have much energy or time left to be emotionally supportive for their other partners. If one partner is influencing the shared partner to give into bad habits and stop pursuing personal growth, that will always affect the other partners. One unhealthy-minded person, even on the fringes of a poly group, can have devastating effects on the entire group if it’s left unchecked.

Even the most fucked up people in the world can, and do, have wonderful healthy poly relationships. I see it all the time, and it warms my heart to see imperfect people supporting each other and growing as a group. But the thing they all seem to have in common is that they try really hard to communicate effectively, and they strive to learn and grow from each mistake. Those who don’t communicate and don’t learn from their mistakes tend to lose their relationship stability very quickly because poly is intense and complicated, and there’s no place for intentional emotional immaturity.

Poly is hard work, and it requires focused effort from all the participants in order to keep it healthy. Things that people could get away with in monogamy can’t be ignored in polyamory because poly requires such a healthy foundation and teamwork for it to function. Unhealthy relationship practices and mindsets must be dragged out of our dark corners and worked on until they are more compatible with a healthy poly situation. This is brutally uncomfortable sometimes, and I inwardly groan every time I have to face my weaknesses in communication, conflict resolution, and mental health management, but facing these weaknesses is absolutely vital to becoming a healthier poly partner.

The point is that we try, and we never stop trying. We learn and grow as a team, and that’s how we thrive.

Experienced poly people, especially ones who have been doing this for a long time, what tips do you have for people looking to start their own poly groups or improve their existing ones? What pitfalls have you personally observed in poly groups? Do you agree with my thoughts or think I’m way off? Respectful dialogue is welcome. 🙂

We become like those we spend time with.

poly-category

It’s an inevitable part of human nature to become like those around us. It’s easily noticeable for those who travel a lot; we tend to pick up on new accents and mannerisms without even realizing it. As humans we want to be accepted by other humans, so we subconsciously (or consciously) try to become more like them. This can be hilarious at times, such as when I catch myself imitating a Southern drawl with my dad’s relatives in Texas.

This imitation becomes a problem when the other people are exhibiting behaviors or attitudes that are not healthy for us to emulate. Although most of us can keep ourselves “on track” despite a few distractions, we are still very susceptible to the example of those around us. This is why racism, sexism, homophobia, and other negative attitudes are still so rampant: The people who hold these views tend to create their own “social bubbles” where they mostly associate with people who make them feel justified in their current attitudes. Or, at the very least, people who will not call them out on it.

But if we want to grow, then we have to get out of our comfort zones. We must pay more attention to what influences are affecting us the most, and make changes when necessary.

If you want to be a better Dominant, surround yourself with mature, experienced Doms who will be a good influence on your abilities.

If you want to be a Submissive with healthy communication habits, surround yourself with experienced Submissives who have these traits.

If you want to be better at polyamory, seek out people who are successful at managing multiple partners and metamours. Spending time with them will rub off on your own poly groups.

If you want to grow in emotional maturity, surround yourself with people who are more mature than you are, and don’t be too proud to let them lovingly point out areas that need improvement.

If you want to manage your mental health better, spend time with people who understand you and who will encourage you to develop healthy coping skills.
What often happens, though, is that we surround ourselves with people who are hindering our growth and then wonder why our lives are so chaotic and unhealthy. Instead of being influenced by people who will encourage us to better ourselves, many of us spend our time trying to win over people who do not really value us, or who don’t care about bettering themselves. Instead of becoming better, we start to lose momentum in our own growth because our closest influences are telling us that it’s ok to stop growing; it’s ok to give in to our unhealthy habits and negative attitudes. This stifles our personal growth and makes it much harder to increase our own emotional maturity.

So how do we balance all this? Obviously no one is perfect, and limiting our circle of friends to those who are “good enough” is not exactly a healthy thought either.

I think what’s important is that we are simply aware of how our closest influences are affecting us so we are not sacrificing our own growth or stability for their sake. I think it’s not so much about cutting “bad people out” as “bringing good people in”. The more emotionally healthy, mature people we have in our lives, the better equipped we will be to help those who maybe can’t be a good role model for us right now. These good influences can also help us recognize when we are being taken advantage of, when we’re being an idiot and need to be reigned in a little, or when we are overreacting or lashing out. It’s uncomfortable, but accountability from those we trust is important if we’re going to become better friends, partners, lovers, Dominants, Submissives, etc.

By building a close inner circle of people that will help us grow into our best self, we can then help others grow too.

“Missionary Dating”

This was a term I heard back in my religious days, describing a Christian who dated a non-Christian in the hopes that they could “save” the other person. These relationships rarely worked out very well, as you can imagine.

But the basic concept applies to any relationship. We can’t “save” anyone, especially partners. All we can do is stand by them while they fix themselves.

There is a danger to this, though. People always rub off on each other, but it’s easier to be influenced by bad behaviour and attitudes than by good behaviour and attitudes. In other words, if you have a toxic partner and a healthy partner, it’s usually the toxic person that influences the other person the most.

Think of it this way. If you’re standing on a chair and offer your hand to someone to help them up next to you, which is easier? Being pulled down off the chair, or pulling them up to where you are?

Getting people to change their toxic mindsets and actions is really, really hard. They have to want to change, and be ready to make the tough changes. It’s much easier to be pulled down by someone who isn’t good for us than to get them to not be toxic anymore.

I’m a caregiver. I want to help people. But over many years of watching dysfunctional relationships in a variety of social contexts, I’ve learned that unbalanced relationships with toxic people rarely end well. Healthy relationships require BOTH people to be healthy partners. Relationships aren’t 50/50, but 100/100. One person cannot bear the weight of an entire relationship for very long; it will fall apart and the once healthy person may not be so healthy anymore. Both people have to give their all, and be healthy enough to successfully navigate relationship pitfalls.

And when we’re talking poly this is even more crucial because now even more people are at risk from the toxic person’s influence and actions. Poly is only as healthy as the group’s weakest link. Choose your “links” very carefully.

(We don’t have to be perfect, and of course we need to help each other grow and there will be moments when we need to carry the entire load for them when life stuff happens, but this is different than being paired with someone who is toxic.)

When someone is toxic, they need to fix themselves before they can be in a healthy relationship. If we get too close while they’re still unhealthy for us, we will likely cut ourselves on their broken pieces and become a needless martyr. We may also unintentionally enable them to continue as they are, since they already “won” us and now have little motivation to change. We need to let them change on their own, and become capable of handling a healthy, mature relationship BEFORE we get closely involved with them.

Our job is to make ourselves as healthy and mature as we can as potential partners, and also to wisely choose who we get involved with so we do not hinder our own personal growth or that of our other poly partners and friends. Choose your partners wisely; they will always affect how effective your own personal growth is.

Life is all about choices.

Life is made up of infinite choices. Sometimes we are aware of these choices, and sometimes we make them subconsciously. We may not realize that we’re choosing one thing over another until we look at the result- one thing is in our life, and the other isn’t anymore. How did it happen? Countless little choices we made that added up to a bigger result. We may not have intended the resulting outcome, but the outcome is still a result of our choices. Like they say, people vote with their feet.

For example, if I stop spending time playing my violin and start spending that time playing The Sims instead, my music skills will suffer but my Sims skills will improve. I might not have consciously meant to choose Sims over music, but how I choose to spend my time and energy is a choice and it always has consequences, whether good or bad or neutral.

If I start growing a garden but then stop watering and fertilizing it, that garden is going to start wilting and it’s not likely to give many flowers or edible produce. If I ignore the browning leaves long enough and don’t start tending it effectively again, eventually it will die and have to be replanted. It doesn’t matter if I didn’t mean to neglect my garden, or if I just forgot to water it, the damage is still done and now it must be repaired if I still want to have a healthy garden.

We have to be intentional about our choices when it comes to things that really matter, because ignorance of how our choices affect life doesn’t negate the effects. We are not slaves to life making choices for us. That’s like believing in a mystical fate that controls our destiny. We make these choices. We decide what we do, how and when we do it, and how we respond to other people’s decisions.

Acknowledging that we have made choices that have affected others, even unintentionally, is essential in having healthy relationships, especially in polyamorous situations or BDSM dynamics. Every choice that we make will affect the people we are closest too. Every moment that we spend with them in a positive way will improve our relationship with them. Every moment that we spend on other commitments instead is time that we are not investing into that relationship. It is our mutual choices as partners, lovers, friends, or family members that make our relationships with them thrive or whither.

We cannot control the choices of others, but we can control our own. We can choose to be more conscious about how our choices affect those who care about us, and we can learn from bad choices. I’ve made many bad decisions and I’m sure I’ll make many more even without meaning too, and sometimes without even knowing it, but my failures in making decisions help me learn what not to do next time, and it teaches me to be more conscious of what I’m actually choosing in everyday life.

Own life. Don’t let it own you.

Relationship Anarchy Vs Poly, Hierarchy vs Non-Hierarchy…

I spent several hours trying to write out my thoughts on Relationship Anarchy vs Poly, and hierarchical poly vs non-hierarchical poly. I’ve been trying to figure out what kind of label best fits me or what roles I would consider under which circumstances. I was having a really hard time figuring it out- but I’ve come to a conclusion.

I don’t give a fuck at the moment. There are so many if’s and but’s that I cannot sufficiently cover them all to narrow it down to which one I prefer the most and which I would never consider.

What I do care about is this:

  • My needs as a partner need to be met. If that’s not happening, then the type of relationship system doesn’t matter. If my needs are being met, then it doesn’t matter then either.
  • I need to be free to explore relationships with people as they come up, and to explore my sexuality and kink interests. Unless these activities and relationships directly affect or threaten my partners in some way, they should not have veto power over any of it.
  • I am not comfortable when other people’s relationships affect mine without my direct involvement and decision-making input as an equal. It raises my anxiety, makes me feel devalued and ignored, I feel betrayed, and I do not feel safe or secure in my relationship afterwards. I don’t trust people easily, I’ve been burned too many times before. When major decisions that affect me or my relationship are made without me being involved, it makes me very upset because that’s my life or relationship being affected too. When this happens and I’m already feeling like I cannot control anything else in my life, it can seriously exacerbate my anxiety levels. If it’s just an oversight and I wasn’t intentionally excluded from the decision-making process, that I can understand as long as it’s acknowledged and remedied soon afterwards.
  • I am not comfortable with role or titles that make me feel inferior or lesser in importance. If the role has a bad association for me, then it’s probably not being presented as a very stable or desirable option. If it’s presented in a way that sufficiently meets my needs and makes me feel desired and respected, then perhaps I’d consider it.

Here is partly why I am so wary of considering secondary or non-primary roles. My insecurities regarding these roles are not without valid reason.

Our society is set up to venerate and support primary relationships — while ignoring, trivializing, or vilifying non-primary relationships. According to society, non-primary relationships by definition are not supposed to be “serious.” This creates inherent obstacles for any significant non-primary relationship; but especially for those where at least one partner is also part of a primary couple.

The result: too often non-primary partners end up not getting treated very respectfully or fairly in the long term. This usually does not spring from conscious neglect, disrespect, or malice. Rather, the people involved usually are inventing how to manage their non-primary relationship as they go along — typically with scant support, few positive models, and tons of ingrained baggage from standard social models of relationships that don’t fit (indeed, that are designed to avoid) their very situation.

The problem, in a nutshell: There’s an overwhelming social narrative which says that anything other than monogamous life partnership is wrong or invalid — which in turn casts the perspective of non-primary partners as less important. This discourages people from developing skills to nurture healthy long-term non-primary relationships — and also to end or transition these relationships honorably. It also makes it easy for people who have (or desire) a primary partner to unilaterally write their non-primary partners out of the script, or at least recast them as threats or minor characters, when uncomfortable issues arise. This is why, very often, non-primary partners get summarily axed or shafted when a pre-existing primary partner gets insecure, or when a non-primary partner decides they want a primary relationship (with you or someone else).

Yeah, that sucks. But that’s just how social conditioning works, despite good intentions or deep feelings. Also, it sucks for everyone — even people in primary couples.

We need better models for how to conduct non-primary relationships — especially in the poly/open community. Because sadly, right now polyamory (or any approach to significant non-primary relationships) simply isn’t a very safe place for non-primary partners; not in the long run.

That needs to change — and it can change, through the conscious attention, goodwill, and courage of non-primary partners and the people who love us. (More here)

Of course many people make non-primaries and all that work, but it involves a lot of hard work, immense amounts of open and honest communication among everyone involved, and very high levels of of trust that not everyone is able or willing to facilitate. So it’s a much scarier situation for many of us to consider.

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.