Guest Blog: Building Obstacles to Autonomy

If you’re a frequent reader of this blog, you may have noticed the common thread of autonomy and how it applies to various types of relationships. Rusty and I strive to practice it in our relationships and encourage others to do the same. At its core, autonomy is what this entire blog is about.

The culturally dominant narrative of monogamy does not foster nor encourage much autonomy. That isn’t to say it can’t exist there, rather that it’s not as prevalent. Known generally as “the monogamy hangover,” bleed over of toxic relationship practices lead to eroding one’s autonomy. When we allow this bleed over to compel us to place restrictions of some sort on our partner(s), we refer to that as relationship protectionism.

As someone who’s practiced various forms of ethical non-monogamy, I will readily admit to having asked for and consented to various forms of relationship protectionism. Every time one of us would reach a point where these agreements would stop us from doing what one naturally does in a relationship, we saw how problematic they were. Not only was everyone’s autonomy in jeopardy, but the agreements caused other problems that then needed to be addressed as well.

Relationship protection agreements are often made under the misguided notion it will make everyone feel safe and secure by keeping fears at arm’s length. The reality is that it achieves neither and usually only lays the groundwork for future resentments. Honoring autonomy is scary because it means partners have agency to do what makes them happy, even if it’s not what you would have them do.

A common agreement in non-monogamous relationships is the ubiquitous “heads up,” requiring a partner to let the other know before they do a thing with someone else. I’ve been that person. On both sides. It felt like no big deal to ask for and give a “heads up” before proceeding with another person . . . in theory. In practice, we both noticed quickly that it being compulsory felt wrong. Instead of our other relationships (potential or existing) progressing of their own accord, we would occasionally hold back to make sure we honored our agreement. And on the other side? Who wants to wait around for someone to tell you they’re going to do a thing and OH MY GOD I NEED TO PROCESS THIS NOW.

Odds are you’ve either been a part of, have encountered, or will encounter the “heads up” agreement. You and/or your partners are going to do things like flirt with someone, get their number, go on a date, and maybe even doing things that adults do with people they’re into, like fall in love or haveThe Sex. It can’t be avoided, but we’ll be damned if we’re not going to build an obstacle course for them to go through first.

Many people use relationship protectionism to avoid doing the work they should be doing in the first place. Instead, people often try to redirect that responsibility onto others or push it out as far as possible by making it more difficult for their partner to proceed naturally in their relationships. I had a short lived agreement of this nature with one of my partners around sex in specific. We sat down and had a long, drawn out conversation and discussed all sorts of different options . . . you know, as poly people do from time to time. Ultimately, we wanted to be as loose as possible and keep it simple with “give me a heads up if you consider sex to be on the table with someone you’re seeing.” There’s a few ways this was problematic, but with how she and I generally operated, it seemed fine. We felt uncomfortable to varying degrees with the notion of telling the other this tidbit of information. I found myself delaying natural progression in relationships because I was nervous to tell my partner for fear of them feeling bad. Just another hurdle that doesn’t belong in what’s already a challenging enough process for people.

Getting rid of relationship protectionisms requires a strong sense of boundaries as well as proactively doing our work before it becomes necessary to do it. If you know your partner will eventually do something with someone else that may make you uncomfortable, why wait until it’s upon you to do the work? Identify the source of your feelings and do the necessary work of sitting with and sorting through them beforehand and save yourself and your partners the anguish.

* * *

Since mid 2016, Adam (he/him) has been an educator and presenter in the ENM community. He realized he was poly in high school and has practiced various forms of non-monogamy ever since. With a primary goal of normalizing a variety of relationship structures, he shows up as his authentic self: an egalitarian polyamorist who practices relationship anarchy.

Guest Blog: Coming Out as Non-Monogamous

In a perfect world, coming out wouldn’t be necessary; we would feel free to be our authentic selves and live our lives without negative consequences. But in most of the world, negative consequences are a valid fear for many.

Let’s not dismiss those. You may have heard horror stories: being ostracized by family, the vengeful ex-partner leveraging it to wrestle custody away, or employment in jeopardy. While these consequences are indeed possible, they are thankfully the exception and not the rule.

You get to evaluate what your risk profile is when deciding to come out!

When doing that, be honest. Don’t find reasons to not be out. Instead, find the reasons you want to be your authentic self. For the longest time, I thought I was “hiding in plain sight” to justify not being fully outright about who I was. In reality, I was still actively hiding this part of myself and not being honest about the nature of my relationships. That was unfair to my partner(s), those close to me, and even myself. Frankly? It’s caused irreversible harm . . . and I won’t do that again. As a result of coming out, my life and relationships have been that much better. It wasn’t the easiest decision I’ve ever made, but I have zero regrets. I found my fear was rooted in people not accepting me as my authentic self, rather than not accepting my partners. Rejection sucks. 

It helps to know where your support comes from and start there. Doing so helps foster a feeling of acceptance for who you are, aids in keeping you accountable, and generally allows you to show up as your best self. Having a proper support network will go a long way towards helping you feel safer in being your authentic self. For tips on finding/forming it, read Support Networks.

I’ve practiced some form of ethical non-monogamy my entire adult life, dating back to my senior year of high school when I dated multiple people at once. In my young adulthood I encountered people from the swinging community, but after very brief research I decided it wasn’t for me. Regrettably, I spent time as a much bemoaned Unicorn Hunter (for more on ways that route is often problematic, read Unicorns R Us). Ultimately, I craved autonomy. And for that, I needed to be honest about who I was.

Once I made the decision to come out, I opted to come out fully. Family, friends, work, you name it. I told those closest to me in person while most everyone else found out via social media. I no longer hide it and speak freely of my partners. Fortunately I haven’t had anyone walk away because of it. Some folks struggled early on, and some made snide remarks. When I reinforce my stance that this is who I am and others are free to be a positive part of my life or not, all that passes.

The best part about being out for me is not worrying about people finding out and dealing with the imagined fallout. I took that control back and did it on my terms. By coming out, I was able to show the important people in my life that they mattered more than outside opinions, and I showed myself that I matter as well.

When you treat non-monogamy like it’s something weird, (or shameful, deviant, immoral. . . you get the point), others will perceive it as such. Treat it like it’s normal because it is. Treat your partners the same as you would any partner in a monoamorous relationship. Include those who matter in your life at the level you WANT them at. You get to decide how you show up, not society.

* * *

undefined

Since mid 2016, Adam (he/him) has been an educator and presenter in the ENM community. He realized he was poly in high school and has practiced various forms of non-monogamy ever since. With a primary goal of normalizing a variety of relationship structures, he shows up as his authentic self: an egalitarian polyamorist who practices relationship anarchy.

Guest Blog: Support Networks

As with any group that doesn’t follow the dominant narrative, finding support as a non-monogamous person is not the easiest thing. Support networks are often taken for granted until you NEED one to help get through something. Generally speaking, coming from a place of need is not always the best starting point.

What happens when a relationship with one of your partners ends, or you have an exciting trip with one of them coming up? It would sure be great if you had people to confide in or talk with enthusiastically about it!

When you don’t follow the dominant narrative, you find out quickly just how limited your support network may be!

So how do we go about building support networks to carry us through the ups and downs? Ones that won’t take the route of assigning blame where it doesn’t belong or rain on our parade when we’re gushing with happiness?

Here are some options to consider:

  • Online discussion groups, such as those available on Facebook, provide quick and easy access to a wide variety of people. It may take some searching to find the right fit, but they’re out there.
  • In person discussion groups! I help moderate one in my hometown that regularly draws large crowds. We socialize and discuss in depth topics relevant to ethical non-monogamy.
  • Buckle up…this one is scary: being your authentic self. Yes, this means being open about being non-monogamous, but then people who won’t love and support YOU will self-select out of your life, creating a decidedly more effective support network. It’s hard to articulate just how much perceptions changed once people KNEW what was going on in my life instead of assuming and ascribing all sorts of toxic notions to it after I was open about being poly. A literal 180.
  • Communities of like-minded folks, and not necessarily non-monogamous ones. This is a broad topic, but that’s kind of the beauty of it. I participate in a few different local groups that are fully aware of how I relationship, and I’ve been very fortunate to have found solid support and acceptance in them.

Now that you’ve found your people, how do you know if it’s a healthy fit?!?

  • Do they accept you for you?
  • Do they call you out on problematic thinking and behavior?
  • Do they encourage you to show up as the best version of yourself?
  • Do they foster autonomy for you vs co-dependence?
  • Do you feel supported by their actions and words?

This list is by no means the be-all and end-all . . . just a good starting point.

Life is about the relationships we build along the way. Not just romantic or physical, but familial, platonic, and professional as well! No single style of relationship is more important than any other by default. It’s the quality of each that sets them apart. The more authentic you are, the stronger the relationships that come into, and stay in, your life will become.

* * *

undefined

Since mid 2016, Adam (he/him) has been an educator and presenter in the ENM community. He realized he was poly in high school and has practiced various forms of non-monogamy ever since. With a primary goal of normalizing a variety of relationship structures, he shows up as his authentic self: an egalitarian polyamorist who practices relationship anarchy.

Guest Blog: Breaking Up Well!

A while back a dear partner determined their life was too complex to carry on our intimate relationship. Having only experienced breakups with bad behavior in the past, they approached me with anxiety. We had been friends for over a decade, but our increased level of intimacy was only six months old. They feared this break-up would flush our friendship down the toilet, but there was no huge fight and no name calling; just two old friends negotiating new boundaries.

When you begin a relationship, things are amazing and fun and exciting and intoxicating! No one will tell you to stop and ponder the end, but I think you should consider talking about it. Maybe not on the first date, but before saying “I love you.”

A discussion about past relationships and why they ended can give insight into how this person works in a relationship. If all their exes were the problem, you may end up being their next problem. Some people have rules about not remaining friends with exes or allowing partners to remain friends with exes. They may be prone to harboring resentments or feel possessive of mutual friends, social groups, or even locations. These can be red flags indicative of emotional immaturity.

So how does one go about negotiating the end of a relationship?

  • Avoid making territorial agreements about shared spaces and mutual friends. Break-ups are not easy and adding drama with friends is a terrible way to draw it out. If you need a clean break, state your boundaries and negotiate that clearly.
  • Don’t make promises you can’t or shouldn’t keep. Even during the beginning stages of a relationship. 
  • Take some time to determine if you really want to break up or if it’s a strategy to negotiate a problem with your partner or relationship. 
  • Make sure the newly negotiated relationship is truly acceptable to you. Don’t accept crumbs you really don’t want for fear of having nothing. 

Afterwards . . . 

  • Utilize introspection and acceptance, and gratitude. 
  • Examine the lessons learned: Did communication falter? Were you really asking for what you needed? Did your goals align?

Each relationship is unique and each connection we make brings something different to our lives. Practicing gratitude for what each person has brought to your life helps you move on and be open to new opportunities. 

The healthiest relationships are built on a foundation of mutual support and compassion. Sometimes that means those involved grow in ways that call for the relationship to end or change its shape. Every relationships ends! Whether in death, or at some point before that. I’ve found it helpful to examine the Buddhist concept of impermanence, known as anicca.

Learning to let go in healthy ways can make the transition easier on everyone.

* * *

This post was written by guest blogger and relationship anarchist, Christina S., aka “Red.” She lives in Minneapolis where she spends her free time immersed in her favorite hobby: collecting new hobbies!

Guest Blog: Pitfalls of Passive Communication

Stop me if you’ve heard this before:In a healthy relationship, it’s all about communication, communication, communication!” I really should add a fourth one in there because there are Four Basic Types of Communication: Passive, aggressive, passive-aggressive, and assertive.

One of the least understood is passive communication and as such, it can be a sneaky little bastard . . .

Passive Communication is a style of discourse in which individuals avoid expressing their opinions or feelings, protecting their rights, or identifying their needs/wants for fear of rejection by leveraging plausible deniability.

I generally fancy myself an assertive communicator, so imagine my surprise when a partner of mine suggested an issue I was having in another relationship was the direct result of passive communication. On my part! THE HORROR! I abhor passive-aggressive behavior so surely I wouldn’t do anything passive. And yet? There it was. Clear. As. Day.

So how did I, someone who prides themselves on being assertive, become someone who employed passive communication?

In my case, I wanted something and was uncomfortable receiving a ‘no’ (read more on that here). Instead of doing the work to be okay with a ‘no’, I opted to passively communicate what I wanted to avoid feeling rejected. Why? Because it was easier to blame the other person for not giving me what I felt I was so clearly asking for.

For example: Let’s say I want to snuggle with a partner while we watch a movie.  

Passive communication: ”Do you want to snuggle during this movie?”

Assertive communication: “I’d like to snuggle with you during this movie.”

The difference may seem subtle, but its impact is significant; learning this has been a game changer.

When I communicate assertively, I am clearly and respectfully stating my desire and giving the other person an opportunity to answer authentically. The key component missing in the passive example was an expressed desire; it felt implied, but it wasn’t actually stated. Worse yet, it set us both up for failure. My partners aren’t mind readers and I bet yours aren’t either . . .

Assertive communication is the goal, but there can be a learning curve as you get used to it.

  • Use “I” statements to advocate for yourself and express desires
  • Avoid asking leading questions with an outcome in mind
  • Accept “no” for an answer, and work on not taking it personally
  • Demonstrate your ability to take “no” for an answer by allowing it to be the end of the conversation, not a platform for coercive follow ups like “why not?”

Employing these techniques allows for a greater level of control in your life by directly addressing issues, concerns, wants, and needs in a non-violent manner, respecting the autonomy of whomever you’re speaking to by giving them pertinent information as well as a true choice in the matter.

After all, each of us is 100% responsible for our own happiness. Continue reading “Guest Blog: Pitfalls of Passive Communication”