In the last post 10 Things Monogamy can Learn from Polyamory- Part I, I listed the first five things that Monogamy can learn from polyamory. Here are the next five:
6. Having emotional connections with others is not the same as cheating
Often emotional cheating is perceived when someone spends more time and energy with another person, without keep the various commitments they’ve made with their intimate partner. Or, if there are topics that one person has wanted to be kept exclusively between them. If there has been an agreement made about these things, particularly in regards to commitments made (for example child care, time spent together, etc.) Then breaches need to be addressed. However, if no agreement has been made and you are uncomfortable with the way your partner is spending their time, then this needs to be addressed. Once again, taking responsibility for one’s own fears and or jealousy is important in this process. (See Jealousy in Relationships for more on this.
It is also important to consider how a partner’s outside friendships might benefit your own relationship with them. For example, if your partner speaks to their friends about issues in your own relationship, that person may be able to provide the emotional support needed, or new perspective for your partner to come back to you with renewed energy to work on your issues together. Men, in particular, have limited venues for discussion emotions and often turn to other women for this, if there is conflict with their intimate partner. Men need to learn to reach out to each other for emotional support. They can start by asking each other how they are doing and learning to be good listeners. Sometimes it helps to know that the role of someone providing emotional support is not to ‘fix’ the other person but simply to be present and empathetic to the other person. This will mean taking risks in relationships, but trust me, as a female counsellor, I can assure you that you are not the only man out there looking for emotional support. (See Men for more on this).
Sonja Stone, a friend of mine who is a part of the polyamory community, notes that:
“Most polyamorous people, who are in it for the long haul, seem to focus on how only some specific needs can be met in one relationship and how to meet other needs in other relationships; or by oneself; or via non-romantic relationships (advanced mindfulness of relationship dynamics and self-reflection).”
It is always good for couples to have friendships outside of their relationship. (See Not Finding ‘The One”, for more on meeting relationships needs outside of an intimate relationship).
7. You are allowed to ask for anything you want as long as you are okay with “no” as a potential answer
In any sex positive community (more on that in future posts), there is no shame in having desires that might not fit the unspoken (and sometimes spoken) norms of society, within the confines of consenting adults. Consent is attained through clear communication of desire and with a clear openness to any response, including “no.” For example if Gene asks his partner, Sue for oral sex, Gene should have done his own preparation for this question by working through whatever fears he might have about rejection. Can Gene imagine that if Sue says, “no” that this is not an attack on him? Can Gene imagine that if Sue says, “no” that he will be okay physically, emotionally and psychologically. If Gene can take responsibility for his own needs, both physical and emotional then asking does not need to be a shameful thing.
Making clear sexual agreements and talking about sexual desires and hopes will result in a much more fulfilling sex life. Many monogamous couples do not have these types of conversations as part of their regular interactions, usually citing discomfort as the reason they are avoided. When these conversations do happen, they are usually unplanned, and are often highly emotionally charged, and are coming from a place of hurt or dissatisfaction. We can do better. I recently heard a high school family studies teacher tell his students that if they could not talk openly about sex with potential partners then they were not mature enough to be having sex. In this case, many couples, some married for more than one decade, might have some work to do.
8. Sex is more than P & V intercourse
In the TedTalk “Sex Needs a New Metaphor- Pizza!”) Al Vernacchio speak about sex in very broad terms, noting that the idea that sex only means penis and vaginal intercourse actually contributes to situations where people feel that their sexual boundaries have been violated or that they were uncomfortable with what happened, even when they consented to the activity. In various poly agreements that I’ve seen in some of the books I’ve read, individuals will often set limits for themselves on the types of sexual activity that they will engage in with others outside of that relationships. This requires being very specific and not assuming that sex means only one type of activity and that everyone knows what it means.
We need to get better at expressing what we want to have happen in our sexual relationships. If you don’t know and don’t ask, you are less likely to have a positive experience.
For more on exploring other aspects of sex with your partner, check out the Pleasure Mechanics website and podcast.
9. Discussing STI’s is a non-negotiable in any intimate relationship, so get over yourself
Being monogamous, in this day and age, rarely means having only one sexual partner in your lifetime, therefore monogamous couples are not exempt from this discussion.This is something that many monogamous couples neglect to do when they meet and, if they have a long term relationship which includes children, they often neglect to talk to their own children about this. In the polyamory community I was somewhat tickled to hear about dates occurring early on in a relationship that included exchanges of paperwork between all people who were sexually involved with each other. This paperwork provided the results of all recent STI tests for all to review, along with the drafting of agreements regarding the type of STI protection to be used within each relationship. Poly people are encouraged to ask for this paperwork and to be wary of those unwilling to produce it. In an era where very few people expect to “wait until marriage” to have sex, and stats show that those who plan to, most often do not, these discussions are a necessity for everyone.
10. There is a lot of love in the world, you don’t have to fear being without
One message that came up repeatedly in my learning about polyamory was the idea of abundance. The idea that fear of being alone is not something that has to be a part of the human experience. If we approach relationships with the idea that there is an abundance of love to go around, that if someone does not choose you, you will not be “bankrupt,” takes a lot of fear out of our interactions with our loved ones. Loving the person you are with and being filled with gratitude for whatever time you have together will improve your relationship far beyond any ruminating on its potential loss. While loss is often full of grief, however it happens, no one need be alone.
This idea of abundance, also influences how enjoyable intimacy can be. If you think that you have to fight to get your needs met and hold on as tightly as possible to anyone who shows you affection, then fear will infiltrate your relationship. Fear in a relationship often oppresses both people within it. It is more likely to drive people apart then together. Love is a gift. A gift is only a gift if it is freely received. We need to remember that there is enough love for everyone.
Lastly, another great piece of advice by Sonja Stone:
“Your monogamy/your polyamory will never look the same as what’s on the media, how it’s represented by religion, etc. and to focus on that is only a distraction from creating a functioning relationship.”