How To Do Open-but-Monogamous Relationships

Louisa Leontiades Epic Relationships, How Tos..., Polyamory, Unfenced Relationships

There’s a rumour going around, propagated by [some] polyamorists, that polyamory is a superior ideology to monogamy. Let’s face it, ‘limitless love’ does sound idealistic, even if ‘limitless sex’ with multiple partners sounds ~ for most of our sex-negative society ~ quite the opposite.

But polyamory isn’t superior. Full stop. So why does belief persist amongst [some] polyamorists? Maybe simply because it’s based on  underlying tenets which we as a society find valuable. Honesty. Communication. Forgiveness. Acceptance. Trust. Integrity

At its best, polyamory actively educates against relationships characterized by possession, entitlement and jealousy, but even whilst educating about them, does not deny that these emotions and instincts exist. Instead it encourages the self-growth required to work through them, that means resolution of insecurities, building trust and discarding ideas of entitlement (like those found in couple privilege).

It is a relationship choice which supplies by proxy, many of the challenges that humans require in order to develop emotional intelligence as well as a solid framework of ethics (don’t treat people like things, trust that your partner will love and cherish you given the choice ~ More Than Two). But it is by no means the only choice which does this.

Choices come our way every day. Those that push us outside our comfort zone or affirm the people we want to be, make us grow. Opening your relationship is one choice which pushes us far outside our comfort zone. But you don’t have to open your relationship to be growing in it. The growth that occurs as a result of opening your relationship is usually not the intended consequence and the open relationship is not the cause of growth, merely the structure in which it occurs.

In open relationships, growing is a choice that is is forced upon you, because the consequences are far more obvious and painful than in a monogamous one. Grow or die. But in a monogamous relationship if you do not choose actively to practice the underlying tenets of emotionally rewarding relationships, it means stagnancy, and the slow almost imperceptible erosion of your true self (and therefore your relationship).

Trust, honest communication and acceptance are the fundamental cornerstones of all emotionally rewarding relationships. These are relationships which do not trap, relationships which allow each person in the relationship to grow in integrity and relationships which reward honesty instead of penalizing it.

Should we be married to individuals who can not be responsible for themselves and their families within their freedom? Should we be in relationships with individuals who we can not entrust to their own values, integrity, and love…for us??? Here is how I will change my statement…Will and I both can do whatever we want, because we trust each other to do so. This does not mean we have an open relationship…this means we have a grown one.

~ Jada Pinkett-Smith

There was an outcry when Jada Pinkett-Smith made her statements about an open marriage. Even after her clarification (above), responses were critical, ranging from the presumptuous and dismissive “In other words…they both are bangin’ other people” to the derogatory and insulting “Sounds like they have been separated for a long time. They know they will get more attention if they stay in that fake marriage.”

The truth is that anyone in a conscious relationship open or otherwise, will recognize what she says, because they’ve ‘grown’ enough to become aware of the judgments ~ judgments like these ~ which prevent us from seeing the truth.

When we use adjectives, it is in order to describe what we see, feel or think to other people. Even the most basic descriptive word ‘blue’ assumes that the other person knows what blue is and sees the same thing we do. Many labels carry negative moral judgements which prevent us from hearing what the other person really means. Say ‘open relationship’ and people hear disrespecting your current partner, indiscriminate careless sex (commonly thought of to be a bad thing) and lack of commitment. These are judgements. Open relationships can be all of this, but they don’t have to be.

Polyamorists believe that monogamy is often characterized by a refusal to recognise each individual’s needs if they fall outside your partner’s comfort zone, lack of honesty about recognizing the evolution of your relationship, lack of trust that each of you cares enough to stay in the relationship and restrictive rules designed to stymie growth, if that growth rocks the dynamic of the relationship. These are also judgments. Because once more monogamy can be all of this, but it doesn’t have to be.

Applying the Underlying Tenets of Polyamory to Monogamy

One of my boyfriends often says that he doesn’t consider me to be a polyamorist, despite the fact that I have two relationships, some sexually intimate friendships (and currently hold the position of chairwoman of the national polyamory society). What he believes I am, is honest.

  • Honesty & Communication

The natural results of honest communication is vulnerability which often begets love. But communication can only happen if you tell the truth. There is no other way. In order to tell the truth you have to become aware of the games you are playing in your drama triangle (victim~persecutor~rescuer) and transcend them.

Telling the truth risks the other person rejecting you because of all their conditioning and game playing. You become utterly vulnerable which is why when you have an experience of true communication, you ‘fall in love’. You are both ‘you’ without the games. All your efforts at attending workshops, reading books and amassing techniques are in an effort to bring ‘falling in love’ back. They don’t work. In general, it is only when you get into a condition of no hope about communication that you finally tell the truth about how ‘you’ feel because at this point, you really are ‘you’. Ever notice how couples in crisis let all the pretenses go and finally start communicating? Ever notice how that tends to bring them far closer? The good news is that we can learn to communicate honestly without crisis. One way is by listening to our bodies.

Whenever I feel uncomfortable about saying something to my partner, I take it as a clear sign that I should say it. Whenever I want to protect myself or them with a white lie, I tell the truth. I’m not advocating brutality. Because brutality will trigger the very games I am trying to avoid. I will be playing the persecutor. And they will play the victim.

Honesty, must be accompanied with compassion and a hard look into yourself about why you feel, what you feel. A lot of it is probably from conditioning, which means it is false and you can get rid of it. And in all cases you can deal with it. If you want to be in an honest relationship, it will take both of you to be honest. Not only do you have to be honest yourself, but you have to make it easy for the other person to be honest if you want to avoid the drama triangle. Lying is a technique we use to protect ourselves and if cornered, most people will use it as a matter of survival.

Which brings me to…

  • Forgiveness & Acceptance

Many of the things that are done ‘to’ you are in fact the experience you create ~ your choice to be hurt, your choice to suffer. I am not denying the validity of these feelings. I’m not saying that, taking into account our experiences and privilege, some things aren’t hurtful. I’m saying that we–and only we–can change our experience because they are our feelings. So your partner is attracted to other people. Big deal. Maybe even betrayed your trust. Okay, bigger deal (because it goes against your agreements and damages the integrity of the relationship). But many of these experiences can be made less hurtful by looking into ourselves to understand exactly why you feel what you feel. Usually the extent of our hurt, is not in proportion to what’s going on.

People can and do ‘do stuff’ to you. But your experience of it, can only be your responsibility to change. Nevertheless, people are accountable for doing that stuff, even if I believe they are not ‘wrong’ because ‘right and wrong’ are judgements. Making people ‘right and wrong’ moves you all away from awareness, it polarizes their positions and puts you (you guessed it) straight back into the drama triangle. So instead when they ‘do’ stuff to you, communicate. Or leave. They are playing persecutor, trying to make you the victim. Don’t play it. You could choose to let them know that you know the intended consequences of their actions and that it doesn’t work. . If they are so addicted to their games, then they will search for more people to play them with, but it won’t be with you. Because what you want is a relationship between two people who don’t play games or at least, are aware that they play them and want to change that.

Forgiveness is the act of choosing to release the hurt. I believe it is the act of you without your conditioned responses (remember how easy it was to forgive and forget when you were a child?). Of course you don’t have to forgive, you could carry the pain with you, blame others for your victim story and live inside your hurt. It’s not easy (and I’m not saying that I have always been able to do it) but from my own experience, life is a lot easier and happier when you choose to do it. I’ve been able to do with some things. But why might you choose not to?

Here’s my own take. As a child I always hated my mother (for many reasons). I felt safer distancing myself from her and the hate has helped me do that. It became my survival mechanism. But that hate hurts me. I know this intellectually. Deep deep down, I’m torn between releasing the hurt (and in my head, making myself vulnerable again) and keeping it (safer option). But it minimises my quality of life. It has peculiar repercussions on my own relationship with my children. So now I’m actively working on releasing the hate and the hurt it brings.

You cannot force someone else to choose not to hurt. But you can make it easier for them to do the work. You can accept them for who they truly are, what they feel and how they are changing. You can provide the safe space they might need to let it go.  What if it’s your partner who’s hurt you? My idea is to practise acceptance.

Accepting is not doing nothing. Because doing nothing about it is to play the victim (albeit passively); you have a choice, you always have a choice (about your life). Maybe they’re not the choices you want. Acceptance is the observation of what is going on and suspension of your judgment about whether what is happening is good, bad, right or wrong… and then choosing between the options before you. It is not about guilt, blame or shame… for either of you.

  • Trust & Integrity

The book quoted earlier–More Than Two–writes about practising polyamory within a framework of principles which respects your own needs and the needs of others. I recommend it for any relationships (not just open ones). It highlights the need for trust in one of its basic relationship axioms ~ “Trust that your partner will love and cherish you given the choice.”

It’s a difficult and painful thing to do, especially when in monogamy, we’re used not to depending on trust to keep our relationships together, but on social shaming, legal contracts and sometimes even, emotional blackmail. All these things eradicates any trust which in turn eradicates intimacy. And that means that your relationship is a shell.

Trust is a big issue in all conscious relationships. It’s what Jada Pinkett-Smith expressed so eloquently.

Should we be in relationships with individuals who we can not entrust to their own values, integrity, and love…for us?

The answer is no.

Truly respecting and loving yourself means making choices to be with people who love us. But the answer is also, that ‘it happens’ and that’s fine (up to a point). Acceptance, remember? Because we are all humans travelling our own paths of emotional growth and capable of loving a lot even if we don’t always do it perfectly. We do not live in integrity a lot of the time, especially when we aren’t even aware of the patterns we follow and the games we play. That may not be your fault, but it is your responsibility to change it.

Integrity comes into play in every agreement we make. An agreement has integrity because you make it and for no other reason. In monogamous relationships, the agreements involve sexual and (usually) emotional exclusivity. But the mind wants what it wants, when it wants it. And if an agreement gets in the way, the mind will go for breaking the agreement to get what it wants. It thinks that this is a matter of survival. But it isn’t. Your integrity therefore does not rest on the foundation of what your mind wants, but on your willingness to keep agreements aligned with your core values no matter what excuses your mind dreams up to break them.

The only way to be happy in life and in your relationships, is to keep your agreements. Cheating is instant gratification. But this is not happiness. If you find that you cannot keep the agreements you have made, then your best bet is to communicate honestly about why you made them in the first place (fear of loss? fear of social pressure?) and also to communicate about your difficulties before anything happens. If you don’t know why you have difficulties, keep communicating. Because the only way to find out, is to keep communicating until you sift to the bottom of your motivations. If you make mistakes, as we all do, forgive and accept. Don’t play the victim or the persecutor. If you do, admit it. Use the mistakes as gifts to supply more understanding about why you do, what you do. If your partner is, like you committed to creating an emotionally rewarding relationship and growing in maturity, you will be creating something magical every time you communicate. And if in the final analysis, they are not, you have a choice to stay or to leave.

The journey we make in this life is growth. It means making the hard choices which affirm the kind of person we want to be. And the choices to be in relationships which encourage us–all of us–to grow into the best people we can be.