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.



Sue said...

Some of the best "how it works for us" commentary I've ever read. Thank you!


Amanda P. Westmont said...

Can't believe I JUST found your blog. I'm gonna start writing about my own adventures in polyamory, so it's great to read how you all work it out.

Anonymous said...

Hi there -

Sue and Amanda: thank you, and thank you very much for reading! Hope to see you around ...