Saturday, October 12, 2013

How it Works With Us

When it comes to Polyamory, people - and I'm referring to the inquiring public as channeled by the press - are fascinated with the "how does it work" question. How does this polyamorous lifestyle stuff actually work?

Well, okay, here's how it works with us. And as I've written and re-read this, I think it's important to say that none of this came instinctively or instantly; our practices are constantly evolving reflecting our commitments to each other and our partners; it's a work-in-progress.

The current dance card sits 3:3. Regina has me, Russell, and we're wife and husband. Regina has two other partners in her life and one of them lives with us, and I've two partners that live nearby.

Regina and I would refer to each other as primary. It's an expression we use to denote a legal, financial, and parental connection we share. This isn't to say that our needs unilaterally take precedence over our other relationships. It just reflects a practical level of entanglement that can't be ignored if our relationship is to survive, and, provides a compass for our decision-making.

Our personal agreements center around each other's happiness and growth. We try to avoid being stupid, we've promised to respect each other, talk through our problems, be honest, etc.. Neither of us carry "veto" power (the ability to outright reject the other's choice in partners). We would consider ourselves more community-focused in our practice of Polyamory; we select for partners who've a similar mindset and respect the value we place on our married relationship.

Okay, if you caught that, it (Polyamory) works for us because we've already covered 80-percent of the problem (if you believe as I do in the 80/20 Rule):

  • Regina and I value our relationship as a shared, mutual goal to avoid contentious self-interest;
  • We're natural communicators and have resolved to be open, honest, transparent in our affairs;
  • We don't use ultimatums like a veto to get what we want;
  • We select for partners who believe in similar approaches and value us as a couple; these aren't people who'll try to pull us apart or drive a wedge between us.

Now, the remaining twenty-percent rests in our practices of scheduling, community, and power exchange.

1. Scheduling.

This is a very critical requirement. Calendaring. Everyone involved needs something to look forward to lest they feel neglected, forgotten, or ignored.

Regina, I, and my partner, Camille, will often sit down with our calendars and start booking time in one to two month increments. Why us? Well, the three of us do this because we spend the most time together. We're the most fussy with details our circles. It's a 1.5-2 hour exercise and we put in the time because it's necessary. We're all extroverts. We want to own it.

We will all advocate what we want in terms of lunches, dates, overnights, trips, or special considerations. All of us will ask for private dyadic time, and, ask for group time when all three of us can share time together. We'll then individually find other places on the calendar to bring in/schedule our other partners.

2. Community and Family of Choice.

Time shared between the three of us, or with our other partners and their partners as a group, or with other Polyamorous pods, or in discussion groups, forums, or events - reflecting sex-positivism, BDSM, or Polyamory - reinforces who we are. We like to be part of the local community and share our experiences with others. Sometimes it allows us to see other approaches and question what we're doing. Community allows us to reinforce our family of choice: the people we've chosen to share our lives with. It helps with perspective and shared cause.

3. Power Exchange.

I'm using this expression as a euphemism for tipping points in our relationships that demanded an exchange of power between all of us. These kinds of exchanges have manifested in conversation that eventually rebalanced our expectations, communicated our fears, and brought us back to an even keel - all without totally imploding our relationships. Some good examples:

  • When I had to stop managing the dialog between my wife and my partner, Camille, in order to get what I wanted, and allow them to develop a relationship independent of me;
  • When Regina and I had to be more conscious and considerate of Camille for scheduling trips and times away without her being aware of our decisions;
  • When we realized that we were making too many assumptions in scheduling and needed to allow everyone a greater voice in days and schedules;
  • When Camille and I were recently asked to put more domestic time in so that Regina didn't feel like she was always holding down the parenting fort while Camille and I went on dates.

I call these moments an exchange because each of us have to give something up to get what we want. In the first example, I had to give up my control; in the second, Regina and I had to give up some aspects of couple privilege; in the third, we all had to give up time that we had always considered "ours"because that's the way it's always been; and finally, Camille and I have to give up our private time to give Regina more personal time.

Power exchanges are cyclic for us. They're a give and take - an ebb and flow - and represent a successful strategy in how it works with us. If we weren't able to do exchange power, the contention introduced by these periods could easily be breaking points that could have snapped our relationships. All of this would have crumbled. Instead power yielded - bent - and we mutually changed the conditions to allow our relationships to grow.

Okay, maybe this has been overly-analytical, but when I think about how it works between the three of us, all of these factors come to mind. Maybe you'll find them useful strategies and concepts to consider for your own pod. I'd be the first to suggest that good Polyamorous adventures just don't happen spontaneously, and it's not like these ideas fell from the sky for us either. Good working Polyamorous relationships are consciously acted upon and revisited - not neglected, unconsidered, or simply left to chance - and they start with your honest intentions.


Sunday, October 6, 2013

Emotional Doormat

Being poly doesn't mean being an emotional doormat to your partner's other relationships.

We spend a lot of time in our pod considering how decisions within individual relationships, or as individuals, impact our partners, our metamours, and affect the larger grouping as a whole.  This is largely selfish.  That may sound kind of counter-intuitive, so bear with me.  When my relationship sphere is stable and well-nourished, my life is more relaxed, and I am better fed by my partners.  In taking care to consider the needs of others, as well as myself, I create the best conditions for my own health.

That said, there comes a point where the desire to put others before self becomes destructive. There is such a thing as too much generosity, and giving beyond the point of one's ability is a line to remain cognizant of.

When thinking about giving something that one values to another relationship/partner/metamour, consider for a moment:  Are there are feelings of martyrdom attached to that choice?  Is the offer being made as a preemptive strike to avoid being asked for something you don't want to give?  Would it be difficult to say "no", were a partner to make the suggestion? Will it damage you, or your relationship with a partner to say "yes" to a request?  If those answers aren't clear, don't put that into the pot, or let your partner/metamours know that this involves a, "Make it up to me." scenario.

Recently, there was a night slotted for a date with Russell at a time where the need was high for a shared conversation with Camille, between the two of them, and the three of us.  It could have been pushed off, but that likely would have caused additional discomfort to all involved.  At the same point, I wasn't really jazzed up about missing that date night, since it was following a trip they'd been on together, and I had a need for reconnection.  In the end, I opted to offer up the date night to have that important conversation together, but also made clear requests for additional time and energy to be slotted into our relationship within the next few days to meet my need for reconnective time.   Everyone got what they needed, even though it wasn't an easy balance to strike in the moment.

It's all too easy in poly to inadvertently become an emotional doormat to a partner's other relationships; to cease advocating for self, and just give until drained beyond renewal.   Saying yes generally feels better to most of us than no, particularly when people we love are making those requests.  Putting more on the table is lauded as a virtue, and asking for something "selfish" is often discouraged.  Having needs can be seen as being needy, particularly in one's own mind, but when it comes down to it, the reality of human interactions boils down to, "What's in it for me?", and if that question has an unsatisfactory answer, the relationship isn't sustainable.

Avoiding the Me in Polyamory

"What I want trumps what you want."

"What I'm doing is morally and ethically transparent. So what's your problem?"

"Your issues are your own weakness. Consider this a 'growth opportunity' for you."

"You're an adult. Figure out something to do. I'm going out tonight."

"Why are you blaming me - I told you I was going to sleep with him."

"I decided to fluid bond with her over the weekend. Any questions?"

"Maybe I did promise to go with you to that family event this weekend. Still, she's in town, so I'm going to go with her."

"I see you all the time! I so rarely get to see her!"

"My husband and I, we've decided ..."

"Listen: I can't handle it if you two have an overnight so it will never, ever happen."

"That's my favorite thing to do. How could you be so insensitive and take her to that?"

"Our relationship is the older and more established. You need to make more space and time for my new relationship. It's courtesy."

"Fridays are always going to be my night. If that changes, I'm leaving you."

Selfishness. Dictating Terms. Guilt trips. Tantrums. Absolutes. Ultimatums.

You know, for a relationship style that supposedly promotes such lofty concepts as compersion and sacrifice, there's a whole lot of ... me ... that gets in the way.

Me, me, ... me.

Certainly there's nothing wrong with being your own advocate and asking for what you want. But if what you want becomes the last word and you've left no recourse for your partner, then your will is forcibly imposed and the issue is closed. That's not healthy. Abruptly silencing your partner's voice to simply get what you want isn't conducive to building trusting, long-lasting relationships. It's not even very friendly. It's manipulative and selfish.

If you're practicing Polyamory, then you've an opportunity here to catch yourself in selfish moments and attempt to rise above it. Look carefully at what you're saying, or your potential action, and think about how to redress it. Become aware of yourself, your words, your feelings, and your actions, and how they might affect others you care about.

That means:

  • Leaving time for conversation instead of doing what feels good for you in the moment;
  • Engaging in artful negotiation to get what everyone wants instead of issuing demands and ultimatums;
  • Considering other points of view;
  • Listening to others and their needs;
  • Instead of talking-down to someone to make your position favorable (i.e., "You obviously need help in this area; this is a growth opportunity for you, etc."), treat them with respect;
  • Consciously making critical decisions jointly as a triad (or quad, or whatever) instead of as a dyad, and then just informing others of your edict;
  • Looking for ways to reconsider your standing beliefs and assumptions;
  • Evaluating what you're afraid of, and what would satiate that fear.